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.
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