Born in 1906 in Himera, Indiana, Esther Stanton was just 14 years old when she began playing piano at the local nickelodeon. These were the days of silent movies, when musicians set the mood for the flicking images on the big screen. In this episode, she explains how live music was used to enhance the movie-going experience before “talkies” came along.
It was this experience that prepared Stanton for a career as a professional pianist. Along the way, she met several famous entertainers, like Red Skelton, one of the most beloved comedians of the Twentieth Century, who grew up in nearby Vincennes, Indiana. Stanton recalls playing piano for Skelton in home talent shows and discusses his meteoric rise to fame.
When WWII erupted, Stanton joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corp or WACS, serving as director of the female dance band. When the WAC became part of the regular army, Stanton chose not to reenlist because of the limited opportunities being offered them. After leaving the WAC, Stanton formed an “all-girl” jazz band with several of her former band-mates. She credits the band's popularity to the shortage of male musicians during the war.
PODCAST EXTRA: While touring with her band in the 1940s, Ester Stanton met, and became friends with, popular pianist and showman, Liberace. She remembers his friendly demeanor and devotion to his mother.
In 1954, as half of a performing duo with her husband, Stanton moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. She played and performed until 1966, when she retired in Biloxi.
Lawrence Semski was the Biloxi City Attorney when Hurricane Camille struck on August 18, 1969. In this episode, he recounts how the city government struggled to provide basic services after the storm. After Camille devastated the Gulf Coast, offers of assistance poured in from around the world. Semski remembers how Biloxi Mayor Danny Guice’s professional contacts were the first to arrive with aid.
Next, according to Semski, hundreds of professional contractors descended on Biloxi looking to make some quick money. He explains the process of screening and monitoring these companies to prevent fraud and waste.
Semski characterizes the days following Hurricane Camille as bringing out the best and worst in people. He describes the storm as an equalizer that kindled a spirit of determination to recover and rebuild.
PHOTO: Wiki Commons
Dr. Paul Cotten enrolled at Southern Miss in 1954 with the idea of being a choral director. In this episode, he explains how that led him to a career in music therapy for the treatment of the intellectually challenged. In 1960 Cotton started a music therapy program at Ellisville State School. He describes the how music was used to develop motor skills, affect mood and instill confidence.
One of the major challenges the mentally impaired face is being isolated from the rest of society. Cotten recalls how the Ellisville State School choir helped ease racial and intellectual segregation.
PHOTO: William Carey University http://www.wmcarey.edu
Vernon Dahmer was a Hattiesburg businessman and civil rights activist who helped blacks register to vote. Dahmer’s house was riddled with bullets and firebombed by the Ku Klux Klan on the night of January 10, 1966. Holding off the attackers while his family escaped out the back of the house, Dahmer’s lungs were damaged by the flames and he died the next day. After confessing to Dahmer’s murder, one of the Klansmen agreed to turn state’s evidence against the rest. Buck Wells served as a juror in one of the trials. In this episode, Wells discusses why Dahmer’s efforts put him at odds with the Ku Klux Klan despite being well-liked within the community. He recalls some details of the crime and how the district attorney built an ironclad case.
Prior to the Civil Rights Movement, all-white juries rarely convicted whites of crimes against blacks. Wells explains how their jury drew inspiration from a higher power to reach a guilty verdict. After the jury voted to convict the defendant, the names of the jurors were published in the newspaper. Wells describes the harassing phone calls, as well as, words of support.
PHOTO: Hattiesburg American – Ellie Dahmer holds photo of her late husband
During the first part of the Twentieth Century, Mississippi experienced a timber boom as Northern business interests bought up huge tracts of virgin pine trees and began harvesting the wood with little regard for the future. All that remained when they left, were fields of stumps as far as the eye could see and unemployed timber workers.
When the Hercules Powder Company opened a plant in Hattiesburg in 1925, they brought jobs and a renewed sense of hope to the area. The company put men back to work digging up the seemingly endless supply of stumps and limbs the sawmills left behind to extract the resin the wood contained. The resin was then processed and shipped around the world for use in the manufacture of a variety of products.
In 1925, Buck Wells’ father went to work for the Hercules plant in Hattiesburg. In this episode, he remembers how the town struggled during the Great Depression and the way Hercules looked out for its workers. When he turned 16, Wells went to work for the company, himself, harvesting stumps. He recalls how clear-cutting had devastated the land and how Hercules turned those stumps into gold.
Prior to World War II, Germany and Japan were important customers for the Hercules Plant in Hattiesburg. Wells explains how the loss of that business hurt the local economy until America entered the war. The boom that followed would grow the company into a giant of industry, and continued until the end of the 1950s, when tree stumps became increasingly hard to find. Wells discusses the company’s cost-cutting efforts and how the move to management led him to a second career. He retired from Hercules in 1980, after 45 years with the company.
Founded in 1889, the Neshoba County Fair is the largest campground fair in the nation. In this episode, Mac Alford discusses his family’s long history with the fair beginning with the story of how his grandparents built their first fair cabin in the early 1900s. According to Alford, the early fair cabins were primitive structures built with reclaimed materials. He explains why the cabins require yearly maintenance and recalls how his father enjoyed the work.
Alford began coming to his family’s cabin when he was just a toddler. He recounts his earliest memories and the family food traditions that made their time at the fair so special. One of the traditional entertainments at the fair is harness horse racing. Alford remembers how his family would travel to different events to watch their friends compete.
One of Alford’s favorite things to do at the Neshoba County Fair is to sit on the front porch of his family’s cabin. He describes the peaceful mornings there and the joy of watching friends and former students pass by.
Judge Harvey Ross grew up in Clarksdale, Mississippi, in the 1920s when racial segregation was absolute and unquestioned. After college, Ross joined his brother’s law firm and represented many black clients. During this time, his own views on race and segregation evolved. As demand for civil rights began to grow, a Japanese Episcopal priest, Daisuke Kitagawa, came to Clarksdale to help ease racial tensions. In this episode, Ross remembers the meetings Kitagawa hosted between white and black community leaders and how those meeting laid the groundwork for future projects.
Ross was served in the State House of Representatives from 1948 to 1956. During that time, the White Citizens Council was formed by Robert “Tut” Patterson, to maintain segregation in the South. Ross recalls the group’s initial popularity and their office in Greenwood.
Coahoma Opportunities, Inc. was organized in 1965 with grant money from a Community Action program, set up by the Kennedy administration. Ross discusses the challenges of dealing with the all-white county board of supervisors. And he looks back with pride at the positive effect that C.O.I. has had on the entire community.
Hattiesburg restaurateur and author Robert St. John had been majoring in Communications when he took a job managing a small delicatessen. In this episode, he recalls how that experience lead him to a career. While working at the deli and as a waiter, St. John returned to college, studying Hospitality Management, where he preferred to spend his time designing restaurants. He opened his first one in the late 80s, the Crescent City Grill where he began to establish a reputation as a chef and food writer.
After 29 years in business, Robert St. John knows what it takes to be a successful Hattiesburg restaurateur. With five unique restaurants, currently in operation and another opening soon, he discusses what makes his home town special and how to give customers what they want. He also describes two of his newer dining concepts and the process of creating them.
Whenever St. John is on the road, he always seeks out locally owned places to eat and shop. He believes these one-of-a-kind businesses are what gives a town its unique identity.
PHOTO: Hattiesburg American
Lunch counters and cafeterias have long provided time-strapped Americans with fast, affordable food. In this episode, restaurateur and author, Robert St. John discusses the evolution of Hattiesburg dining, beginning with three early Hub City eateries and why they were close to the train station. He also recalls the Frost Top, a franchise fixture from the 50s - 70s, all the times he ate there and what made the Frost Top so special.
Throughout the 20th Century, large companies and boarding houses provided plate lunches for hungry workers. St. John describes some of Hattiesburg’s favorite lunchrooms and their “meat and three” menus. For hungry shoppers, the department store lunch counters provided a ready respite, before eventually being replaced by mall food courts. St. John remembers some of Hattiesburg’s department store food fare and hanging out at the Cloverleaf Mall.
PODCAST EXTRA: Jimmy Faughn, an early Hattiesburg restaurateur, operated several eateries including The Collegian, Le Faughn’s, and the Sea Lodge. St. John reflects on Faughn’s reputation as the fine dining patriarch of Hattiesburg.
PHOTO: Coney Island Café in the same location since 1923.
As the cost of a college degree soars and the debate between a classical versus career-oriented curriculum rages, corporate recruiters are beginning to recognize the value of a Liberal Arts degree in the business world. In this episode, Donald Drapeau recalls his interest in History and the decision to attend Southern Miss.
After receiving an undergraduate degree from USM, Drapeau studied Economic History at West Virginia and the University of Pennsylvania. He explains how that experience landed him a job with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Focusing on Financial History led Drapeau to became a successful currency trader. He details his work with the International Monetary Market and using supercomputers to spot trends.
Drapeau looks back fondly on his undergraduate days at Southern Miss. He remembers how lunch with President Emeritus Aubrey K. Lucas led him to establish an annual Liberal Arts Symposium at USM and explains how the spirit of cooperation within the university has inspired him to give even more.
Growing up in Rosedale, Mississippi, Stanley Ferguson’s house was surrounded by cotton fields. In this episode, he remembers watching the airplanes fly overhead and his decision to become a crop-duster.
In the early days of crop-dusting, the airplanes were usually small, re-purposed military surplus. Ferguson describes how crop-dusting equipment has grown in size, complexity, and price. He also explains how crop-dusters have adopted new methods to increase efficiency and quality.
Podcast Extra: Even though cotton production has evolved over time, some aspects of farm life remain unchanged. For those who didn’t grow up next to a cotton field, Ferguson defines the term “Boll Wars.”
PHOTO: By Stefan Krause, Germany - Own work, FAL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28262700
Richard Giannini began his professional career as a sports information director, first at the University of Florida and later at Duke University, where he produced a weekly sports TV program. That experience landed Giannini a job with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) producing the ABC College Football Highlights show in 1976. In this episode, he recalls those primitive days of sports television production and the grueling schedule he maintained.
Broadcast television afforded college football limited nationwide exposure. Giannini discusses how ESPN changed longstanding gridiron traditions by increasing the amount of primetime coverage available. By offering live college football—first on Thursday nights and later Tuesdays and Wednesdays as well, smaller schools could reach new audiences never before possible. However, these new opportunities came at a cost.
With so many sports networks vying for content, college football teams have more opportunities to be seen on TV than ever. Giannini reflects on the hazards of overexposure versus broadcast revenue. He explains how the trend to schedule more weekday games forces families to watch games instead of attending them. This trend, combined with higher ticket prices and streaming internet access, can mean smaller crowds, even as the number of viewers continues to grow.
Richard Giannini served as the Southern Miss Athletic Director from April 1999 – Dec. 2011.
The Battle for Guadalcanal, known as Operation Watchtower was the first major offensive by Allied Forces against the Nation of Japan during WWII. Willie Hammack served on the crew of the U.S. Navy destroyer Sterett (DD-407) during the Battle for Guadalcanal. In this episode, he recalls their mission to support the Marines on the islands while fighting off the Imperial Japanese Navy.
During the Third Battle for Savo Island in WWII, half of Hammack’s shipmates were killed or injured. As the night battle raged on Hammack describes assisting the ship’s doctor, despite being wounded himself and holding a friend’s hand as he died. He remembers the fierce ship-to-ship fighting and the advantage radar gave the US Navy. After the battle was over he recounts the 20+ burials at sea and the welcome back they received from the Pacific fleet when they reached Pearl Harbor.
PHOTO: By U.S. Navy, photographed from a USS Chenango (CVE-28) aircraft. - Official U.S. Navy photo 80-G-321653 from the U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1991079
William Locke was living in the Gulfport Naval Home in 1999, when he shared his memories of Pearl Harbor with us. In this episode, he recalls with pride being assigned to the battleship U.S.S. Pennsylvania, in 1939, the flagship of the Pacific fleet. He remembers how they were sent to Hawaii for a three-month training mission at the Pearl Harbor Naval Base, a place they had heard of, but knew little about.
That three-month assignment stretched into two years and Locke was waiting for their return trip stateside, at which time he would be discharged and on his way home. History had other plans.
Locke recounts the events leading up to the “Day which will live in infamy.” How he and a friend left the ship that Saturday to watch a University of Hawaii football game. He recalls waking up the next morning as Japanese dive bombers began to attack the fleet. During the battle, Locke looked on as the low-flying enemy planes relentlessly attacked anything that moved. He describes feeling helpless and relates how a shipmate’s body saved him from an exploding bomb.
After the attack, Locke compiled damage and casualty reports for the Navy. He explains how the U.S.S. Pennsylvania’s trip to dry dock for routine maintenance the day before, saved them from a torpedo, but how claims from the Japanese of sinking what they thought was the Admiral’s ship, lead his parents to think he was dead for ten days. He also discusses the horrible things he witnessed and why his memories still haunt him today.
The Council of Federated Organizations or COFO, was organized in 1961, to promote voter registration in Mississippi. In this episode, Benton County, Mississippi native Ernestine Scott recalls joining the group as a teenager. She also remembers one civil rights worker arrested for attending a basketball game.
Prior to the Voting Rights Act, election officials used reading comprehension tests to prevent blacks from registering to vote. Ernestine Scott describes how they worked to prepare for the test.
Growing up in Benton County, Mississippi in the 1950s, Ernestine Scott had limited contact with white people. Her father would shield his children from visitors to their farm to protect them. Her first impressions of the outside world and the role of African-Americans in it came from television programs of the day. In response to depictions of blacks as porters and maids and personified by such characters as Amos and Andy, Scott’s father would tell her that black people were better than that and someday, whites would understand the need to show them in a better light.
In this episode, Scott shares her memories of that time, like being chastised by a white man for drinking from the wrong water fountain, how her mother warned her of the need to be careful when speaking to a white person, and her father’s prediction for a better future. She also recalls riding 12 miles on an overcrowded bus to reach the county’s one black school each day.
PHOTO: Benton County courthouse
Ocean Springs native Jai Johnny Johanson got his first big break as a professional drummer in 1966 when he joined Otis Redding's band. Over the next couple of years, he played for several big names including Percy Sledge, Joe Tex, Johnny Jenkins and Clarence Carter, but by 1968, found himself struggling to make ends meet. Johanson was about to leave the south and move to New York to pursue a career in Jazz when he heard of a young guitar player named Duane Allman, looking to form a new band. The two men were soon joined by bassist Barry Oakley and that trio would serve as the foundation for the Allman Brother Band.
In this episode, Johanson shares his memories of that time including the phone call he got from Cadillac Henry about joining Otis Redding’s band. He recalls going to see Percy Sledge at the Apollo and how he got the nickname, Jaimoe. Finally, he discusses what made Duane Allman such an exceptional musician and the legacy of the Allman Brothers Band.
Photo Credits: Carl Vernlund
Born in 1948 in Montezuma, Kansas, Stanley Giesbrecht was the fifteenth of seventeen children. His grandparents were Russian Mennonites who escaped religious persecution by immigrating to Canada where they joined a group who had left the Church’s general assembly to follow the teachings of a Mennonite reformist named John Holdeman. That group became the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite or Holdeman Mennonites.
Giesbrect moved to Brooksville, Mississippi as a young man, searching for a place where he could live the quiet life of a Mennonite farmer. In this episode, he explains the difference between Holdeman Mennonites and other Mennonites. He recounts how their preacher convinced him to serve the Church as a teacher at the Southaven Mennonite School, and explains why they don’t believe in education beyond the eighth grade.
Podcast Extra: According to Giesbrecht, the Church doesn’t allow its members to vote, participate in politics or serve in the military. He recalls how he worked in a hospital for two years during the Vietnam War to fulfill his obligation to the nation.
Growing up in a small town fosters feelings of community through shared experiences. In this episode, Georgia Taylor shares her memories of Macon, Mississippi during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. She recalls the government-issued coupon books used to ration commodities during WWII and how her mother would buy groceries one day at a time. It was a time when people didn’t lock their doors and grocery stores would delivery your food and even put it in the refrigerator for you.
As teenagers in a small town, Taylor and her friends found ways to pass the long summers, together. She recounts the good times at the Dreamland Theater, dances at the American Legion Hut, getting sunburned at Choctaw Lake, and trips to her grandmother’s farm. One of Taylor’s favorite places was Farris Brook’s Book Store. She recalls buying ice cream there and how the children would sit on the floor and read comic books.
When Choctaw Indian Chief Cameron Wesley was arrested for murder in 1939, the story made national headlines. Taylor discusses Wesley’s two trials: the first in a Mississippi court and the second under Choctaw Tribal Law.
The Korean Conflict began in June of 1950, when North Korea invaded South Korea. Aubrey Freshour of Noxubee County joined the Army in October of 1951, as the war was heating up. In this episode, he shares his memories of that time like how his basic training got off to a rough start, the long journey from San Francisco to the front lines, and the importance of wearing dry socks during the harsh Korean winters.
During his sixteen-month deployment, Freshour often experienced times of loneliness and uncertainty. He credits his creator and letters from home with giving him the strength to make it though and shares with us the full experience from beginning to end.
As the son of a Noxubee County sharecropper, Aubrey Freshour learned to be self-sufficient at a young age. During harvest time, he and his six siblings would pick cotton after they got home from school. Then it was time to do the chores and finish their homework by the light of a coal-oil lamp.
In this episode, Freshour recalls how his family grew their own food and cured their own meats. In the 1940s, living in the country meant finding creative ways to have fun. He remembers how they would swim during the summers, hold impromptu dances and spend New Year’s Eve serenading the neighbors.
As a teenager, Freshour looked for opportunities to make extra money. He remembers helping to build a new highway near his house and the primitive roadbuilding equipment they used.
Photo: Mississippi Dept. of Archives and History
As the son of a WWII Marine fighter pilot, Hardy Stennis of Macon, Mississippi was determined to follow in his father’s footsteps. In this episode, Stennis discusses his military career spent as a combat pilot during the 1950s & 60s. Determined to see the world, he requested to be stationed in Suga, Japan immediately after graduating flight school. At that time, regulations required that new graduates be assigned to a stateside training squadron, but somehow Stennis was granted his request. He remembers how a veteran pilot named Trigger Long took him under his wing and gave him the chance he needed.
According to Stennis, there were plenty of ways for a young pilot to get into trouble in Japan in those days. He credits the fatherly advice of a major who encouraged him to stay away from wild living and stay in shape if he wanted to excel as a fighter pilot. It was the major who convinced Stennis to try out of a local rugby team in Yokohama.
Stennis goes on to detail his involvement in the Vietnam War. He remembers a mission to destroy a ferry in Laos, wiping out a large group of North Vietnamese soldiers attacking the Fifth Marines, and an altercation afterwards with an overbearing reporter.
Ernest Potter boarded a troop ship bound for Italy on September 5, 1944, the same day his daughter was born. In this episode, he shares his memories of receiving the news a month later and meeting boxing legend Joe Louis. He also describes the luxurious accommodations of his first post and the primitive conditions of his second.
Working an air traffic controller with the Allied Forces, Ernest Potter’s group supported the British 8th Army. He discusses how much tea the British drank during the course of a day, how the Germans would shell their positions at night and recounts a couple of opportunities he had to aid a young Italian girl and a German POW.
As the son of a Choctaw sharecropper in the early 1950s, Hubert Wesley had limited opportunities to further his education beyond the basics. In this episode, he recalls how a Missionary Baptist preacher, Willie Nix and his wife Ethel brought him from Mashulaville to Birmingham. The couple took him into their home and found him a job at a local service station. Her brother, Charles Wells, an accountant with Hayes Aircraft Company, began tutoring young Wesley and teaching him the skills required to land a good paying job.
It was Wells’ determination to instill confidence in Wesley that led him to suggest they apply to be contestants on Strike it Rich, a controversial TV gameshow that pitted people with hard-luck stories against each other for the chance to win $500. Wesley describes their trip to New York City to compete on the gameshow in March of 1954. His story touched the nation and donations and job offers poured in, afterwards.
Wesley accepted a job with Hayes Aircraft on Wells’ recommendation and details his career with the company until his retirement at the age of 55. His story is remarkable for the way people responded to his earnest efforts at self-improvement.
Hubert Wesley was only five when his family left the Choctaw reservation and became sharecroppers. In this episode, he shares his memories of how they came to live in Noxubee county and the hard times they endured. As the son of a Choctaw sharecropper, Wesley worked year-round, cutting timber and chopping cotton. He recalls the primitive lifestyle and the spirit of cooperation it fostered within the Choctaw community.
After Wesley’s family harvested their crops each fall, they were paid to help the white farmers. He explains how the Choctaws were treated differently from their white coworkers and recounts paying ten cents for a ride to Macon and sitting with black customers at the cinema.
Photo: Mississippi Dept. of Archives and History