LSU Oral History Center Opens
More than 300 people turned out February 21, 1992, for the official opening of the T. Harry
Williams Center for Oral History at Louisiana State University. Established in the fall of 1991,
the Williams Center is an independent, interdisciplinary program that supports and encourages
the collection, preservation, and dissemination of the history of Louisiana through the use of
tape-recorded interviews. Topics covered by the program's collecting efforts include the social,
political, cultural, and economic history of the state, as well as family and local history.
The Center, located in Hill Memorial Library, is named for T. Harry Williams, popular LSU
history professor, biographer of Huey Long, and pioneer in the field of oral history. "It's no
secret," Williams said, "that I am a great believer in oral history. Trained researchers using a tape
recorder ought to interview people to get the information that is in their heads and no place else."
In researching his Pulitzer Prize-winning book on Long, Williams recorded 295 interviews with
friends, admirers, and critics of Long. He noted that it would have been impossible to write the
biography without such interviews as the governor left few personal or professional papers.
Pamela Dean, director of the Williams Center conducts workshops and classes on oral history
methodology that are open to the public as well as members of the university community. Tapes
and transcripts generated by the program and its affiliated researchers are deposited in the
Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections in Hill Memorial Library.
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An oral history of LSU is the first major project of the Williams Center. This project is
sponsored by the University Commission on the History of LSU, which was responsible for
initiating the oral history program at LSU. Funding for the series and one-time start-up funds for
the program are provided by Chancellor William E. Davis.
Among the topics that will be covered by this project are the history of athletics at LSU; the
integration of the university and the African-American experience on the campus; women at
LSU; the "Ole War Skule" and the military tradition at LSU; agriculture and veterinary medicine
programs; the chemical and petroleum industries and the departments and other divisions of the
university that are related to those industries; the Southern Review and other special publications;
music and the performing arts; the university's libraries; religion and the campus ministries;
student activism in the 1960s; and state politics and the university.
The Williams Center expects to conduct approximately 400 hours of interviews on the history of
LSU over three years. Interviewees will include significant administrators, such Chancellor
Cecil Taylor, President Martin Woodin, Dean of Men Arden French, Dean of Women Margaret
Jameson, among many others, and other members of the faculty. Alumni will also be
interviewed about student life at LSU and the impact of the university on their subsequent lives
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The Williams Center is a campus-wide resource for the support of faculty and graduate school
research and graduate and undergraduate teaching. Several professors have turned to the Center
for help with class projects. Professor Spencer Maxcy's students from the College of Education
are depositing with us their taped interviews and papers on the history of education. Center
director, Pamela Dean, has been a guest lecturer in undergraduate history classes, qualitative
research methods courses of education professors Petra Munro and Charles Teddlie, and in Jean
Coco's composition class. Dean will be providing training for students of Professor Leonard
Stanton (Foreign Language and Literature) who will be researching the life and career of
Russian emigre conductor Emile Cooper. In the spring students in Professor Dale Thorn's public
relations course will be preparing a public relations plan for the Williams Center as a class
Graduate students in art history (studying four self-taught Louisiana artists), history (voting rights
and the 1967 election in Wilkinson County, Miss.; the history of a Baton Rouge church; political
movements in Latin America), anthropology (local history and the response to the Horizon 2000
plan in Pride and Central, La.), and education (life histories of women school teachers) have
come to us for training in oral history methods and are using our equipment in their research. In
return, they will be donating their tapes to our collection. We have already received forty tapes
with indexes from anthropology student Lorraine Hawkins.
The history of education in Louisiana has become a major collecting focus for the Williams
Center. Education professor Petra Munro, along with two of her graduate students, have been
collecting life histories of women teachers, including a number who are LSU alumnae. The
interviews they have done to date include material on student life for women at LSU in the
twenties and thirties, the growth an development of public education in Louisiana, the role of
women in that process, and the ways in which women conceive of and make sense of their lives.
These interviews, along with those of the students of professors Maxcy and Teddlie and our
university history project, will make the Williams Center an especially strong resource for
researchers in this field.
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The Williams Center is available to help non-university groups and individuals with local and
family history projects. The staff advises on project planning, funding, costs and equipment.
Among the projects that we are assisting with are an oral history of the Louisiana supreme court.
The Supreme Court of Louisiana Historical Society plan to hire us to conduct and transcribe their
interviews. We also will be providing technical advice, training for interviewers, and
transcribing for the preliminary interviewing for a documentary on the life of A.P. Tureaud, the
attorney whose court cases led to the integration of LSU. This project is being sponsored by the
Tureaud chapter of the LSU Alumni Association.
In addition to regular introductory workshops held at the Williams Center, we have conducted
special training sessions for a consortium of several historical and other community groups in
Rapides Parish; for the Louisiana College Faculty Women's Club, who are planning a history of
their organization; and for students in the Iberia Parish schools' gifted and talented program, who,
in conjunction with Shadows-on-the-Teche, are interviewing members of the area's
Topics of other projects with which the Williams Center is assisting include Greeks in New
Orleans, Holocaust survivors in central Louisiana, and T. H. Hamilton, the founder of Piccadilly
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Nearly 200 interviews comprise the T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History Collection. Sixty
of these are related to the history of LSU. Among the sixty faculty, administrators, and alumni
who's memories of the university have been recorded by Williams Center's interviewers or others
who have donated their tapes and transcripts are:
Marcia Arnold; Andrew Babin; James Babin; Marguerite Baham; Janie Bankston; Robert H.
Barrow; Thomas Blakeney; Cleanth Brooks; Helen Brown; Walter B. Calhoun; Roe Cangelosi;
John James Capdeville; Powell A. Casey; Jewel Claitor; Quinn Coco; J. Perry Cole; Claude
Couvillion; Maxine Crump; Melvin Dakin; Eleanor Dalrymple Fauver; Arden French; Fred C.
Frey; H. L. Fuqua; Ordell Griffith; Caroline Hargrave; Francesca Heberle; Sara Francis Hinckle;
Anna Hinson ; John Hunter; Audrey Nabors Jackson; T. Earle Johnson; Thomas Kirby; Fred
Kniffen; David Lange; Rufus J. LeBlanc, Sr.; Houget Alexandre Major; Patrick Mascarella; John
McKeithen; John McNeese; Paul Murrill; Bennett Patterson; James Reddoch; Grover J. Rees;
Roger Richardson; Mrs. Roger Richardson; George W. Schwab; Ray Sommer; Donald Stanford;
Margaret Stones; Jo Stumberg; Dorothy Dameron Sutz; Donald Tabb; Cecil Taylor; Charles
Teddlie; John A. Thompson; Virginia Hamilton Vercher; James A. Whitty; Charles Wood; and
Paul C. Young.
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Pamela Dean, director of the Williams Center, is an experienced oral historian with a long
standing interest in the history of higher education. Dean began her career in oral history at the
University of Maine--"I'm a fugitive from Maine winters," she admits--where she earned a B.A.
and M.A. in history and worked with the Northeast Archives of Folklore and Oral History. She
will receive her Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill with a dissertation on
student culture at a turn-of-the-century southern woman's college. While at Chapel Hill, she
served as acting director of the Southern Oral History Program.
"If I had written the description for my dream job, this would be it," Dean says. "I'm delighted to
be able to start a program from scratch and to pursue my interest in the history of higher
education at the same time. There's a lot of interest in oral history in Louisiana. It's an area with
a rich, colorful, and diverse history that needs to be recorded. We're going to do everything we
can to help get that job done."
Melissa Perez is one of the center's two student workers. She is originally from Round Rock,
Texas, a suburb of Austin, and is now an undergraduate in pre-pharmacy here at LSU. Though
her career interests are not specifically in history, she still enjoys working here. Along with
Robert Cole, Perez transcribes our interviews, checks out equipment, handles all the attendant
paperwork. She says that she enjoys listening to the tapes because she is interested in learning
about LSU's past and how that past shaped today's university.
Mary Hebert serves as the Center's research assistant (and now Director, 2000). A native of Kaplan, Louisiana, Hebert
received her B.A. in history from McNeese State University and her M.A. from the University of
New Orleans. Her master's thesis, entitled "John T. Monroe: Race, Politics, and the Police
Force, 1858-1866," dealt with race relations in New Orleans. She is currently working on her
Ph.D. in history here at LSU, and for her dissertation plans a comparative study of the
Charleston, S.C., Memphis, Tenn, and New Orleans police forces.
As the Center's research assistant, Hebert is compiling time line of the University's history (250
pages to date). She provides interviewers with background information and suggests questions
and topics to be covered in the interviews. Although her primary field of study is the
nineteenth-century urban South, she admits to having developed an interest not only in the
university's history but in oral history as well. Recently, she has added interviewing to her duties
at the Center. According to Mary, oral history is not only fun, it's also addictive, and she
encourages anyone who is interested in talking to people and recording their reminisces to
volunteer as an interviewer for the Center.
Robert Cole, our second student worker, calls Vick, Louisiana his home. (Vick is located about
thirty-five miles south of Alexandria.) After spending three years at Louisiana State University
at Alexandria, he transferred to the main campus in Baton Rouge in 1991. Cole is currently a
fifth-year senior in Secondary Education, majoring in English with a minor in Social Studies.
His work at the center compliments his academic pursuits and his love for his native state, he
says. "I expect to have my students do oral history when I start teaching. They'll learn about
local history and practice their writing skills by transcribing and editing the interviews. I think
they'll enjoy listening to the stories people tell as much as I do."
John Everett serves as the Center's graduate administrative assistant. He edits transcripts, helps
coordinate the work of the rest of the staff and assists with business matters. He also is involved
with the Center's project on the history of athletics at LSU that is sponsored by the Athletic
Department in honor of the 100th anniversary of football. Everett is from Baton Rouge and
attended University High School. He graduated with honors from Millsaps College and is now
pursuing a master's degree in Business Administration at LSU. He says, "Oral history is great
because it allows me to talk to as well as learn from some of the greatest people who have ever
lived in Louisiana. Learning from people like that can help a person in any field of study."
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Louisiana State University is fondly remembered as the "Ole War Skule" by generations of
alumni. Recollections of lessons of self-discipline and pride learned on the parade ground,
company triumphs in drills and maneuvers, the feminine admiration a uniform might elicit, along
with those of resentment of reveille and resistance to hazing, feature prominently in the
interviews recorded by the Williams Center as part of an ongoing series on the history of the
university. Interestingly enough, stories of hazing, those ubiquitous initiation rituals that college
administrators have so long and so unsuccessfully tried to stamp out, are among those retold
with the most relish. This may be due to the fact that they succeed in their underlying purpose, to
forge lasting bonds between the individual and the group, between the freshmen and their alma
mater. Whatever the reason, these stories provide a glimpse of an important part of the history
and tradition of LSU and its relationship with its students and alumni.
The military tradition at LSU dates to its founding as a military academy in 1860 under the
direction of William Tecumseh Sherman. Although nearly the entire student body as well as the
president soon abandoned the fledgling institution to fight on opposite sides of the Civil War, the
pattern was set. Since Sherman's day, most of LSU's presidents have been retired officers, and
for over a century compulsory participation in the Reserve Officers Training Corps [ROTC]
dominated the college experience of male students.
Grover Rees, '12, retired Gulf Oil attorney and at 101, probably LSU's oldest alumnus,
remembers then president Col. Thomas Duckett Boyd with affection. Making his rounds to
deliver the mail, the self-styled Cajun farm boy from Breaux Bridge was often invited into Col.
Boyd's office for a chat. Rees credits the president with helping him get into Harvard Law
School. As clear as his memories of Col. Boyd, but considerably less fond, are those of the
rituals of the college military regimen. "We were woken up by the reveille, of course. We had to
get up and be down stairs and to answer roll call, I don't know, I'd say about half a dozen
times[a day]. When we went to mess hall, we had to line up and answer roll call. What happened
is that our commandant of cadets, Captain [Lewis S.] Sorley, who was just out of West Point, he
tried to make a West Point out of LSU." Rees liked neither military uniforms--"Imagine that
damn thing with a collar up your neck like this" --nor military discipline. "We country boys,
including myself, didn't like to be called early in the morning to take exercise or to answer roll
call. I didn't like it, so I quit, or maybe they quit me, I don't know." No longer eligible to live in
the Pentagon Barracks, Rees joined an informal group of ex-cadets known as Hobos. "The
Hobos lived in the Pest House," that is, in rooms over the entomology lab, where he and his two
roommates, Saul Pressberg and Herman Moyse--"Two Jews and a Cajun in one room. Can you
imagine that?"--became life-long friends.
When Mr. Rees celebrated his 100th birthday, over fifty members of his immediate family,
including five children, thirty-three grandchildren and twenty great grandchildren, joined him and
his wife Consuelo Broussard Rees (LSU 1918-19). That the four medical doctors and half of the
eight lawyers in the family graduated from either LSU Medical School or LSU Law School and
six others attended LSU is a testament to his abiding regard for his alma mater, if not for all of its
T. Earle Johnson, '26, spent a day talking with us about LSU in the inter-war years. Johnson,
emeritus professor of speech at the University of Alabama, stayed on at LSU after graduation as
an instructor in the Department of Public Speaking. In 1928, he left LSU and went to the
University of Alabama, where he taught for over thirty years.
Johnson established a reputation at LSU early on with his refusal to passively accept the
traditional freshman hazing. "I was living in the room with the company commander [Ambrose
D. Warner] and. . . he called all the freshmen together and announced to us that we were living
under the same rules as a cadet at West Point. That he expected us to act accordingly. And that
the least little thing we were hazed. By hazing I mean usually beaten with a broom. And he had
a philosophy that a freshman was not properly oriented until a broom handle was broken when
he was struck with it." When Johnson's turn came, the flair for the dramatic that he would bring
to his career in speech and drama manifested itself. Johnson recalled that he was holding his
broom handle-end down. "And I took about two steps towards Captain Warner, and then, I
stopped, and I looked down at the broom and said, `Hello darling.' And then I started making
love to it, talking to it very sweetly and on, carrying on, anything I could think of. And he looked
at me, of course, in just amazement at first. And then I noticed that he was smiling. And then
suddenly he started laughing. And when he started laughing, everybody else did. And so I don't
know how I kept a straight face, but I did. And I went right on through my act and did my act for
. . . several minutes. And in the meantime, they were all just laughing and laughing and
laughing. . . . I put my hand somewhere I shouldn't have, you know, and moved it away quickly
and said, `Ouch, that hurt!' as if I had been slapped, and stopped with that then.
"Well, Captain Warner stopped and looked at me and he said, `I have never seen anybody sling it
around the way you do. I think you deserve a nickname, and I am going to call you "Bull" from
here on out.' I was Bull Johnson on campus."
Johnson's and his classmates' response to another LSU tradition led to a change in university
policy as well as a reprise of his performance as a lover. Sophomores had long claimed the right
to shave the heads of freshmen cadets and, as the class of '26 understood it, the freshman had the
right to go on a rampage following this initiation rite.
"We assembled out near the Pentagon and then some of them raided the university paint shop
and got some buckets of paint, and painted all around some of the buildings and lamp posts.
Well, I was in the group, and I guess one of the ring leaders of the group, that headed down
Third Street. And we went there, and there was a fruit stand in the first block there. And he was
just setting out his fruit, fresh fruit and so on, when we got there. But we turned over all the
crates of fruit, we picked up some, threw some in the gutter and the like, and kept on, and kept
going. Merchants heard us coming, I guess, and started locking their doors. So, we continued . .
. on all the way on up Third Street all the way up to the capitol, the old capitol building."
Col. Boyd, who served as president until after LSU moved from the downtown campus to its
present location in 1926, ordered the freshmen to pay for the damage they had done and named
Johnson to head the class's fund raising efforts. Johnson organized a very successful production,
the "Bald-headed Review," which featured, by popular demand, his love scene with the broom.
A more significant outcome of the freshman frolics, potentially at least, was Boyd's decision to
ban all hazing in the future. Boyd told Johnson, "`You've given me a real good excuse to stop all
of this hazing.' He said, `We are going to stop it.' And he had the Board of Trustee pass a
resolution to . . . make it an expelling offense to have your hair cut. Either the person doing it or
the person who it was done on, the freshmen. And that stopped it. So our class was the last one,
as far as I know, to have the haircut."
However, Col. Boyd's reform was neither as effective nor as long lasting as he and Earle Johnson
expected. Col. Thomas Blakeney, '39, commandant of cadets in the late 1960s, recalled its
continued existence a decade later. "There was some [hazing]. We all got our heads shaved at
that time. In fact my uncle and his friend shaved my head. So all freshmen were supposed to
have their heads shaved, and we did. There wasn't much else like that though."
General Robert Barrow, LSU student in 1941 and 1942 and retired Commandant of the Marine
Corps, remembers it differently. "The kind of harassment that the freshmen took from
upperclassmen was a given, and it was pretty severe. You could get paddled, and it was a lot of
hazing. The freshmen had all had their hair cut, absolutely short, short, like going to Parris
Island [Marine Corps Recruit Depot], almost skin-heads, and you wore a little cap with the bill
turned up and you had your name on it, but preceded by the word `dog.' In my case I was `Dog
Barrow.' And we were called dogs, and you did the bidding of the upperclassmen."
Like Johnson, Barrow responded creatively to the indignities visited upon the freshmen; in his
case however, the upperclassmen were not amused by his methods. According to Barrow, he
became adept at short sheeting beds and administering "barber pies."
To administer a "barber pie," "you wait until the victim is sound asleep. . . . You would go into a
common bathroom and create out of heavy paper--even good newspaper would do it--and folded
it up so it was like a dunce cap. Turn it upside down, you've got this triangular shaped
receptacle. And you whip up a concoction that knew no limits in terms of imagination, but
mostly soap suds and maybe some shaving, shaving lotion. If you really wanted to get revenge,
you might put a little ammonia in it. And you'd go in, and if you really showed full courage you
just didn't administer the barber pie, which was just put it over his face, you shook him gently so
that he got the full benefit out of it while he was coming out of a deep sleep. And then you
Asked who won this "guerilla warfare" he waged against the upperclassmen, Barrow ruefully
admitted, "They did," recalling the many Saturday afternoons he spent marching off demerits on
the parade ground.
Nonetheless, General Barrow says that his experience at the "Ole War Skule" played an
important role in his life. ROTC at LSU was "a super good institution," he states, noting that
many enrolled here precisely because ROTC was compulsory. Did ROTC influence his decision
to make his career in the Marines, Barrow was asked. "I think my reading I did as a child, my
love of the ROTC at LSU, and my initial experiences when I came into the Marine Corps, which
I know moved me to want to be a part of it forever, all played a part. Had I gone to some school
that didn't have an ROTC unit, it might have been that I would have not had the same kind of
motivation. I'm sure of that."
By 1968, when School of Education professor Charles Teddlie, '71, enrolled at LSU, attitudes
toward ROTC had changed a great deal. Inspired by the antiwar movement and protests against
ROTC on other college campuses, many students and faculty joined together in condemning the
university's military tradition and in demanding the end of compulsory military training.
Teddlie remembered, "By that time, the cultural revolution had even hit the deep South. So that
when I went home with a shaved head, I was sort of perceived by friends of mine at other
regional institutions as this incredible dork coming home. I said, `There's nothing I could do
about this.' But as soon as I was out of ROTC, I don't think I shaved or cut my beard for, you
know, the next several years, two years at least. I cut my hair maybe once a year, but shaved,
An era seemed to have ended in 1968 when the Board of Supervisors abolished compulsory
ROTC, a move that delighted Teddlie and many of the other nearly 4,000 cadets. But although
the military tradition at LSU was wounded--enrollment in ROTC dropped to approximately 150
cadets--it was not a fatal blow. The University continues to honor its war heros such as General
Sherman; General William E. Brougher, Commandant of Cadets from 1926-29 and a survivor of
the Bataan Death March, General Claire Chennault, commander of the Flying Tigers; and
General Troy Middleton, war hero and president of LSU from 1950 to 1962. On the fiftieth
anniversary of World War II, we continue to point with pride to the fact that LSU provided more
officers for that war than any other institution. And he tradition clearly lives on, not only in the
remembrances of alumni but in the students and faculty of today. In 1991, over 250 members of
the LSU community--students, staff, and faculty--answered their country's call to arms and
served in the war in the Persian Gulf.
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If the oral history program at LSU is to continue to serve the faculty and students of LSU and the
people of Louisiana, if we are going to be able to go on with the important work of recording and
preserving the unique memories and stories of Louisianans, we must raise an endowment to
support the core functions--staff, space, and equipment. The Williams Center receives no funding
from the university's regular budget. It is dependent on grants, contracts and donations. A
one-time appropriation from the chancellor's office funds the Center's current project on the
history of the university. When this project is completed in 1994, we will be on our own. In fact,
the university's current budget crisis may mean that we will face the necessity of being
self-supporting even sooner.
Chancellor William Davis and Mrs. T. Harry Williams announced the start of our endowment
campaign at the Williams Center's official opening in February 1992. Since that time we have
received more than fifty contributions and pledges in the following categories: Donor, up to
$500; Supporter, $500-1,000; Sponsor, $1,000-5,000; Patron, $5,000-10,000; and Benefactor,
more than $10,000.
We are asking you to join the good people listed below who have so generously demonstrated
their belief in oral history and have pledged themselves to helping us continue the work so well
begun nearly forty years ago by T. Harry himself.
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