Elmer McCoy represented Prentiss County in the Mississippi House of Representatives from 1936 until 1952 and was chairman of the Education Committee for nine years. He authored important legislation including the free textbook law, homestead exemption, and state supported public schools. And he played a crucial role in the creation of Northeast Mississippi Community College.
McCoy was born in 1902 in the New Site community of Prentiss County. In this episode, he explains how a love of public speaking and debate, led him to consider a run for the state legislature. When McCoy began teaching in 1923, Mississippi did not have state-funded public schools. He recalls running for the legislature in 1935 on a platform of state-funded schools and free textbooks. As a teacher serving in the State House of Representatives in 1940, McCoy wrote the bill to provide Mississippi children with free textbooks. He remembers the hard work of everyone involved. He also discusses some of the memorable characters he met during his time in office.
Elmer McCoy passed away on November 17, 1995.
PHOTO: Clarion Ledger
In 1933, W.C. Nelms graduated from Mississippi State with a degree in Civil Engineering. In this episode, he discusses working for the Civilian Conservation Corp and their efforts to control the erosion that devastated so many Mississippi farms.
By 1934, it was estimated that 100 million acres of US farmland had lost its topsoil due to erosion. Nelms recalls how the CCC worked with Mississippi farmers to develop soil conservation techniques. One early solution, imported from Japan, would soon gain infamy. In the 30s and 40s, Kudzu vines were planted throughout the South as a way of controlling soil erosion. He explains the logic behind introducing the invasive plant to our ecosystem.
The U.S. Congress passed the Soil Conservation Act in 1935 and the Soil Conservation Service was formed. Nelms describes how the work of the SCS evolved into the development of state soil conservation districts.
To learn more about soil and water conservation in Mississippi, go to http://www.mswcc.ms.gov
PHOTO: Alamy Live News
Throughout WWII, U.S. armed forces remained segregated along racial lines. Even though over 900,000 African-Americans served in the armed forces during the war—proving their worth time and again—they were still viewed with suspicion by many of their white commanding officers and others.
LaMont Martin of Gulfport was drafted into the Army after graduating high school in 1942. In this episode, he shares some of his memories from that time, like how he and his buddy got left behind when the bus carrying them to Fort Benning, Georgia stopped for a meal in Alabama. After basic training, Martin was stationed in Massachusetts before being deployed to the European Theater. He remembers the day that he and a fellow soldier accidently wandered into a “white” USO club while visiting Boston.
Waiting to cross the English Channel into France, black soldiers were restricted from fraternizing with English women. LaMont Martin discusses the prevailing attitudes of that time and remembers how the reported rape of a German woman almost led to a race riot and the court-martial of their entire company.
This episode of Mississippi Moments was researched by Sean Buckelew, and produced by Ross Walton, with narration by Bill Ellison.
Gulfport native Aurabelle Caggins lost her parents at a young age and went to live with her uncle’s family. In this episode, she shares her memories of growing up in a household where everyone was required to earn their keep. For Caggins that meant getting up each morning at 5 AM, to wash clothes in a cast iron pot, before walking to school.
When Caggins began attending school in 1925, students were required to purchase their textbooks. Often having no money for books or supplies, she remembers having to do homework, late at night, using books borrowed from her classmates.
Caggins began working odd jobs in high school to earn money for things like material for Home Economics class. Her grades earned her a $50 scholarship and she arrived at Alcorn State with enough money for her tuition and entrance fees, plus fifty cents. She describes her fear at being called to the matron’s office and the opportunity that meeting provided.
Aurabelle Caggins taught Home Economics in Gulfport for 38 years. She discusses the important life-skills her students received, and laments that Home Economics classes are no longer offered at many schools.
This episode of Mississippi Moments was researched by Sean Buckelew and produced by Ross Walton, with narration by Bill Ellison.