Prior to the end of slavery in the United States, educating African-Americans was discouraged or prohibited by law throughout the South. After emancipation, opportunities for blacks to attend school were still scarce, but began to improve during the Reformation. Lounett Gore’s father was born a slave, but emancipated while still an infant. In this episode, she describes how he was educated by his mother’s former master.
As the youngest child of a sharecropper’s family, Gore was kept by her big sister while their parents worked. She remembers sitting in a classroom, as a toddler, while her sister attended school, and learning along with the older children.
During WWI, many African-Americans migrated from the southern states, northward, in search of better jobs. Gore recalls how her father went to St. Louis and earned enough money to buy his own farm. This gave them the chance to: improve their diet by growing their own food, keep all the profits their farm produced, and raise their standard of living. Even so, because black children were needed during planting and harvesting, their school year was only three months long.
PODCAST EXTRA: Prior to WWI, Home Demonstration Clubs were established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These clubs taught young women food preparation and other homemaking skills. Gore explains how belonging to a Home Demonstration Club gave her the opportunity to attend Tougaloo College—a historic black school, founded just north of Jackson, Mississippi in 1869 by New York–based Christian missionaries for the education of freed slaves and their offspring.
PHOTO: The Mansion at Tougaloo College, Mississippi. http://cds.library.brown.edu/projects/FreedomNow/scans/TJ0071.jpg
On Friday morning, Feb. 2, 2018, an unveiling ceremony was held on the USM campus for a new historical marker detailing the efforts of Clyde Kennard to enroll at Mississippi Southern College.
Kennard had tried to enroll as a student at Southern Miss multiple times in the late 1950s, but was denied admission because of his race. He was later arrested on trumped-up charges and sentenced to seven years in prison. In this episode, Raylawni Branch of Hattiesburg recalls Kennard’s attempts to integrate the all-white college. Branch was active in the Civil Rights Movement between 1959 and 1965. She describes her work with the NAACP and the limited opportunities for black people in Hattiesburg.
In 1965, Branch was a young mother, trying to make ends meet. She remembers being offered the chance to become one of the first African-American students at Southern Miss. Shortly afterwards, Vernon Dahmer, a popular businessman who led the local effort to register black voters, died from injuries he sustained when the Ku Klux Klan firebombed his home at Kelly Settlement. Branch recalls Dahmer’s generosity and how he died fighting back.
When Elaine Armstrong and Raylawni Branch became the first black students at USM, they were assigned six bodyguards for protection. Branch reflects on how they were accepted by the other students.
In the Jim Crow South, African-Americans had limited access to doctors and hospitals. One of the goals of the Civil Rights Movement was to improve healthcare for blacks in segregated states like Mississippi. In this episode, taken from a series of interviews conducted in 1998, Dr. Gilbert Mason recounts conditions as they existed in 1955, when he came to the Gulf Coast as a young doctor. He explains how black patients were crammed into a two-room annex in the New Biloxi Hospital. As a black physician, Mason was prevented from becoming a member of the hospital staff or joining the Mississippi State Medical Association. He recalls the struggle for recognition by his white colleagues.
As a civil rights activist, Mason is best known for leading a series of wade-ins on segregated Biloxi beach, but he also worked to improve healthcare for black Mississippians. He remembers Dr. Bob Smith, who led the Mississippi chapter of the NAACP Medical Committee for Civil Rights.
In 1965, the Biloxi School District was ordered to completely desegregate all its schools. Mason describes being attacked by a white man with scalding hot coffee after the ruling came down. When asked why he became a civil rights activist, Mason would credit his training as a boy scout and a physician. In his view, medicine and civil rights share an inseparable bond.
In this episode, we hear from Jobie Martin, a Jackson broadcasting pioneer who broke through the racial barriers of the day with his smooth vocals, jovial personality, and kindhearted nature. The only child of a single mom, Martin grew up in Mississippi at a time when job prospects for African-Americans were limited largely to menial labor. He takes us through his unlikely journey into broadcasting, gives us a sample of his disc jockey radio persona, discusses the challenge of selling advertising on the first black-hosted TV show in Mississippi, and lists some of his famous guests like Mohammad Ali, James Earl Jones, and Mahalia Jackson.
Jobie L. Martin was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi in 1919. His father, George Martin, died in a car accident when Jobie was an infant. His mother, Leona Scott Martin, scrubbed floors to provide for her son and Jobie recalls her as a strict and protective single parent, not allowing him to play sports for fear of injury. He spent time growing up in Gulfport and Hattiesburg, attending Eureka High School.
While waiting to be called into service during WWII, he traveled to Chicago and enrolled in Worsham mortician school. After his military service, he returned to Chicago and graduated as a mortician, but didn’t like the work, taking a job at St. Luke’s Hospital as an assistant pathologist. He also joined Pilgrim Baptist Church Gospel Choir, under the direction of famed composer Thomas A. Dorsey, and sang with such notable gospel singers as Mahalia Jackson.
The following excerpt is from an article published in the Clarion Ledger on April 1, 2011:
“After returning home to Mississippi to assist family, Jobie worked as an airport porter, but his smooth voice drew the attention of supervisors' who had him announcing the airport's flights over the loud speaker.
From there he sought the job of a radio announcer. Instead, he was sent out to sell ads to black businessmen. He did so well, he was hired for the same job at Jackson's WOKJ. It was in Memphis that Jobie auditioned again for a disc jockey's job and was on the air for eight months until new owners came and spun Jobie back to Jackson.
He settled in as a Disc Jockey at WOKJ where he was known as "the loud mouth of the South". At the urging of his wife, Dorothy, Jobie enrolled in Jackson State College and earned his undergraduate degree. He also played on the Jackson State College football team earning the nickname "the Flash". [at the age of 39!]
Jobie taught school for ten years at Westside Elementary School where he taught Special Education and rehabilitation.
He opened two restaurants in Jackson, Valerie's and Jobie's Restaurant. He also hosted the Jobie Martin Show, becoming the first African American to have a commercial paid television show in Mississippi. He has served on the Board of Hinds Community College for the past 20 years.
His awards includes, Jackson State University Alumni Association Hall of Fame, Jackson State University's Sports Hall of Fame, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc., Mu Sigma Chapter, L. T. Smith Lifetime Achievement Award, Living Legend, and Mississippi's 2007 Outstanding Older Worker, just to name a few. However he was most proud of his work after retirement as a substitute teacher for the Jackson Public Schools where he continued to be a drum major for a whole new generation of students.”
Jobie Martin died in a car crash in March of 2011, at the age of 93.
Last week, Mississippi lost a legend of the Civil Rights Movement. Peggy Jean Connor of Hattiesburg owned a beauty shop on Mobile Street in the early 1960s. In this episode, she shares some of her memories of joining the Movement, like becoming a citizenship teacher after hearing a speech by Fannie Lou Hamer, being arrested in Hattiesburg for picketing for voter rights and spending a week in jail, and going to visit Civil Rights activist, Vernon Dahmer at Forrest General Hospital after his home was firebombed by the Ku Klux Klan in 1966.
After Mississippi’s public schools were forced to integrate in 1970, Connor enrolled her daughter in a white Hattiesburg school. She recounts the experience as a positive one.
Peggy Jean Connor passed away on January 13th, 2018
Founded in 1941, Church Women United is an ecumenical group with local chapters across the US. In this episode, Jane Schutt of Florence, Mississippi, recalls how the group's progressive stand on racial equality caused many chapters in the South to fold. Schutt served as state president of Church Women United from 1960 to 1963. She describes the group’s national program for racial reconciliation introduced by the Methodist members called “Assignment Race” and the daunting task assigned to the Mississippi delegation.
In 1962, Schutt was appointed to the Mississippi Advisory Committee to the US Commission on Civil Rights. Later, when she was named chairperson of the Advisory Committee, her name began appearing in national and local news stories. Schutt explains how that exposure made life difficult for her husband and children. She also remembers the support she received from the Episcopal Church and Church Women United.
Jane Schutt received many awards including the Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. Award, an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humanities from the Prentiss Institute, the Mississippi Religious Leadership Conference Award, and the Church Women United’s Valiant Woman Award.
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
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.
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
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
In 1969, two professors from Millsaps and Tougaloo, Jim Loewen and Charles Sallis, decided to write a Mississippi History textbook with the help of their graduate students. Mississippi: Conflict and Change was considered a ground-breaking textbook when it was published in 1974. Despite receiving universal critical acclaim, the book was banned from use in Mississippi classrooms by the State Textbook Purchasing Board.
In this episode, Dr. Jeanne Middleton Hairston, a member of the team of graduate students who assisted in writing the book, discusses the felt need for a more inclusive narrative in teaching Mississippi history. She also recalls their efforts to convince the State to reconsider its ruling and the decision to file a lawsuit against the Board.
Podcast Extra: Thirty-five years after winning their lawsuit against the State Textbook Purchasing Board, Hairston reflects on the judge’s ruling and the importance of history in making Mississippi a better place to live.
Prior to desegregation in 1968, black students in Ocean Springs, Mississippi attended Keys High School. In this episode, Jeanne Meggs remembers the dedicated teachers there and how they pushed her to succeed. She also recalls how the schools were separate, but not equal when it came to resources. And she explains how issues still arose as to the treatment of black students, even after the schools in Ocean Springs integrated.
Even so, Meggs looks back favorably on her childhood in Ocean Springs. Despite the turbulent social upheaval of the 1960s, the one constant she recalls, was the caring and charitable nature of the people who lived there. Since retiring, Meggs has returned to Ocean Springs. She describes it as a community with a historically progressive outlook. Finally, she reflects on how growing up there gave her the confidence to achieve her goals.
PHOTO - msmohp.com
Prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, African-Americans across the South were denied the right to vote through the use of poll taxes, literacy tests and other tactics of suppression. In 1964, David Kendall was a 20-year-old Indiana college student. In this episode, he recalls coming to Mississippi to participate in the voter registration drive known as Freedom Summer.
Over the course of that summer, Kendall would be jailed multiple times. He shares his memories of that first arrest and being introduced to the best cheeseburger in Holly Springs. In preparing for Freedom Summer, Civil Rights workers received extensive training in a variety of tactics, but he explains how growing up on a farm proved surprisingly useful in helping to gain the confidence of black farmers in the Delta.
Image: Voter Registration Holly Springs, McCain Library & Archives, USM
Joseph Wroten of Greenville was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1951. During his three terms in office, his progressive views on issues like civil rights often put him in opposition to the rest of the legislature, so much so that he was dubbed “The Great Dissenter” by the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
In this episode, Wroten reflects on Washington County’s history of Progressivism. He discusses the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission—created by the legislature in 1956 to promote continued racial segregation—and why he first supported and then opposed the agency’s formation.
Wroten details how his liberal views often made him the target of threats and hate speech and how his support for the admission of James Meredith to Ole’ Miss cost him a fourth term in office.
PODCAST EXTRA: As a minister’s son, Wroten grew up Methodist in segregated Mississippi. He remembers how the United Methodist Church sought to lead by example during the Civil Rights Movement.
When Don Frutiger moved to Hattiesburg in 1964, he was surprised by the size of the LGBT community. In this episode, Frutiger shares his memories of a time when being gay was still considered a crime. He also discusses how a police raid on the Forrest Hotel ended in tragedy.
By the 1970s, there were several bars in Hattiesburg that catered to the LGBT community, but according to Frutiger, police were still monitoring the community well into the 70s & 80s. He explains how one bar protected their customers.
NOTICE: This episode of the Mississippi Moments podcast contains frank and explicit language. Listener discretion advised.
Roscoe Jones of Meridian grew up watching the news with his grandmother. He credits her for inspiring him to get involved with the Civil Rights Movement. Jones was 16 years old when he joined the Meridian chapter of the NAACP Youth Council. In this episode, he shares his memories of meeting Civil Rights workers Mickey and Rita Schwerner in the spring of 1964.
Schwerner, James Chaney & Andrew Goodman were killed in Neshoba County on June 21st, 1964. Jones recalls begging Schwerner to take him along for the ride. The deaths of the three men taught Jones to avoid publicity whenever possible. It wasn’t until the release of Mississippi Burning that he decided to speak up about his time in the movement.
Doug Smith grew up in Hattiesburg during the 1950s. In this episode, he recalls how his mother inspired him to join the Civil Rights Movement. He discusses such topics as the March on Washington, Freedom Day in Hattiesburg, voter registration drives and being arrested 32 times. Smith also shares his memories of how his mother came to have the first integrated funeral in Hattiesburg and of running for his life through the woods of South Mississippi with fellow activists.
PHOTO: McCain Library & Archives, USM
Retired Justice Reuben Anderson was the first African-American appointed to the Mississippi Supreme Court. In this episode, he recalls growing up during the Civil Rights Movement.
When Anderson enrolled at Tougaloo College in 1960 he dreamed of becoming an Civil Rights attorney. He remembers the campus as central to the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi. Anderson was the first African-American to graduate from the University of Mississippi Law School in 1967. He describes the challenges black students faced at that time.
As a young attorney in the late 60s, Anderson litigated school desegregation cases across the state.
In 1962, James Meredith attempted to become the first African-American to enroll at Ole’ Miss. In this episode, Ken Fairly, then, a Hinds County Deputy, discusses being selected to be part of Governor Ross Barnett's security detail when the Governor traveled to Oxford.
Fairly describes how Barnett and his advisors conspired to stop Meredith from attending Ole’ Miss by arresting him en route to Oxford on trumped up charges. During the standoff between the Governor and the Kennedys, Fairly recalls having a front row seat to history.
PODCAST EXTRA: As protesters continued to pour into Oxford, Fairly remembers being ordered to quietly return to Hinds County, just hours before the riots broke out.
The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party was organized in 1964 as an alternative to the then-all-white Mississippi Democratic Party.
The MFDP, after holding a statewide election open to people of all colors, sent its delegates to the 1964 Democratic National Convention in an attempt to be recognized as the legitimate representatives of the State.
In this episode, Dr. Aaron Henry of Clarksdale remembers the long bus to Atlantic City, New Jersey and the crowded accommodations the delegates endured.
After impassioned speeches by Fannie Lou Hamer and Dr. Martin Luther King, President Lyndon Johnson offered to seat two of MFDP delegates with the Illinois delegation. Henry discusses they decision to decline that offer.
He also explains that even though they were not seated at the 1964 convention, their efforts lead to the reform of the Democratic Party.
In 1964, as SNCC coordinators trained volunteers for the Mississippi Freedom Summer project, three others, Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman traveled to Philadelphia, MS to investigate a church burning.
In this episode, Cleveland Sellers recounts how he and seven other coordinators went in search of those three when they went missing. Sellers describes the extraordinary lengths their group went to, to avoid being spotted as they searched for their friends.
After several days of searching through woods and empty buildings in the dead of night, Sellers’ group was forced to abandon their search.
The bodies of Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman were eventually found on August 4th, 1964.
After attending a Freedom School as a high school student in the summer of ’64, Charleana Cobb of Blue Mountain was inspired to become active in the civil rights movement. In this episode, she recalls promoting a speech being given at her church by civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer. Cobb remembers the thrill of hearing Hamer speak that night and the shock of being told that the church had burned to the ground the next morning.
That December, college students from Oberlin, Ohio came to Blue Mountain to rebuild the church as a project called Carpenters for Christmas. Cobb recalls how members of the community reacted to the sacrifice these Oberlin College students made in giving up their Christmas holiday.
After attempting to register to vote, Fannie Lou Hamer was forced to leave the plantation where she had lived and worked for 18 years. In the episode, she explains how she became active in voter registration and the challenges they faced.
Prior to passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Mississippi required voters to pass a literacy test and pay a poll tax in order to vote. Hamer recalls how she passed the test and the first time she was able to vote.
Hamer went on to become a leader in the Civil Rights movement and her speech at the Democratic National Convention in 1964 touched the nation. She reflects on her time in the spotlight and the friends she made along the way.
Fannie Lou Hamer passed away on March 14th, 1977.
In 1962, Fannie Lou Hamer was a sharecropper’s wife, living on a plantation in Ruleville, Mississippi. In this episode, she recalls the first time she tried to register to vote.
After leaving Indianola, the bus carrying Hamer’s group was pulled over by state and local law enforcement. She describes how they were forced to return to Indianola to face an assortment of trumped up charges.
Later that same day when Hamer returned home, the owner of the plantation confronted her about attempting to register. She describes how she was forced to leave her home of 18 years that very night for refusing to withdraw her registration.
The plantation owner's harsh treatment of Hamer led her to become an inspirational figure in the Civil Rights movement.