The Mississippi Moments Decades Series continues counting down to the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2021.
1971: Luther A. Smith came to Hattiesburg as a young attorney in 1908. In this interview, conducted on June 18, 1971, Smith shares his memories growing up in North Georgia. As the son of a Methodist minister, Smith was taught to avoid certain groups and activities. He recalls how his mother found him at a party one night on the Chattahoochee River.
Even though Smith’s family did not have a lot of money, he was determined to attend law school. He recounts how a chance reunion with a childhood friend provided the means to pay his tuition. While attending law school at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Smith became friends with Hattiesburg native, George Curry.
Smith moved to Hattiesburg with his classmate to establish a law firm in 1908. He shares his initial impressions of the town and the story of how he met his future wife, Lorraine McInnis. The Hattiesburg National Bank of Commerce expected the Curry-Smith law firm to provide the bank with fulltime support. Smith explains how the partners flipped a coin to divvy up the work.
PHOTO: National Bank of Commerce facade, Hattiesburg, MS.
As the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage approaches its 50th Anniversary in 2021, we continue our Mississippi Moments Decades Series by starting at the beginning and working our way through the collection, year by year. This week we look at Volume 1.
1971 New York Times Editor Turner Catledge began his newspaper career at the Neshoba Democrat in 1921. In this episode, he recalls those early days and how publisher Clayton Rand helped him get started. Newspaper reporters and publishers have often been attacked for writing unflattering stories. Catledge remembers two fearless Mississippi journalists: Clayton Rand and Fred Sullens.
In 1971, the New York Times published a secret document on the US war in Vietnam known at the Pentagon Papers. Mississippi native, Turner Catledge, discusses their decision to run the story.
Even though Turner Catledge left Mississippi as a young man to purse a Journalism career, he was always proud of his home state. He opines on the state’s reluctance to change and expresses hope for the future.
PHOTO: New York Times
1971 One year after the courts forced Mississippi to fully integrate its K -12 public schools, the newly-formed Mississippi Center for Oral History at the University of Southern Mississippi sat down with former governor Ross Barnett to discuss his life and career in politics. Barnett was a good storyteller and had much to share about his childhood and career as a young attorney. During his tenure as governor from 1960-64, Barnett worked hard to bring much needed industry to Mississippi and had several large-scale construction projects of which to boast. But his views and actions as an unrepentant segregationist have rightfully defined his place in history. This episode focuses on his memories and opinions surrounding that time.
Barnett campaigned as a diehard segregationist, promising to maintain the status quo in Mississippi as the winds of change in America began to blow in earnest. That promise would soon be put to the test when a young African American named James Meredith attempted to enroll at the all-white University of Mississippi. After a Supreme Court ruling in his favor, Meredith was finally allowed to enroll at Ole’ Miss in 1962. When President Kennedy sent in troops to enforce the court’s ruling, the standoff turned into a riot. Three years after the riot at Ole’ Miss, it was revealed that Barnett had been in secret negotiations with the Kennedy Administration. He shares his version of those events.
The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission tried to maintain racial segregation by investigating civil rights workers and through public relations campaigns. Barnett discusses traveling the country presenting his views and the hostile reception he received in Michigan. Segregationists claimed the Civil Rights Movement was really a plot to destroy America. In the interview, Barnett argues why integration would ultimately fail and how the communists were involved.
Caution: this episode of Mississippi Moments contains racially derogatory language.
In 1971, Charles Evers, brother of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, became the first black Mississippian to run for governor in modern times. That same year, he agreed to be interviewed by a new group of scholars at the University of Southern Mississippi called the Mississippi Oral History Program.
At the time of the interview, Evers was forty-nine years old and had lived through a lot. He was frank about his early days in Chicago, describing how he worked in illegal gambling and prostitution before opening a series of successful night clubs. Evers stated he had always intended to return to Mississippi eventually, but his plans were upended when his brother was assassinated in 1963. He returned home the next day and took over Medgar’s duties as field secretary for the NAACP. From there, he became politically active, running for and becoming mayor of Fayette, Mississippi in 1969.
The interview is a snapshot in time, taken exactly halfway through his ninety-eight years. In this episode, Evers recalls how a white lady named Mrs. Paine became like a second mother to him and Medgar. He discusses how his life in Chicago was interrupted by Medgar’s death and how he tried to share his brother’s fate by actively provoking confrontations with law enforcement and the Klan upon his return to Mississippi.
He describes his reasons for going into politics, his vision for a better, more inclusive Mississippi, and why more black citizens needed to run for political office at all levels.
Charles Evers passed away on July 22, 2020. Now in our forty-ninth year, the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage is proud to share with you excerpts from the seventh volume in our collection: The Honorable Charles Evers, Mayor of Fayette, Mississippi.
CAUTION: CONTAINS RACIALLY EXPLICIT LANGUAGE.