ORAL HISTORY IN LOUISIANA
Published by the T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History, Louisiana State University
Vol. V No. 2 Spring/ Summer 1997
Louisiana Hosts OHA MeetingThe Oral History Association will hold its annual meeting in New Orleans, 25-28 September, at the Royal Sonesta Hotel. With workshops for beginners and experienced oral historians and over 20 sessions with presenters from across the country and around the world, this conference offers Louisianians a unique opportunity to meet others who share our interests and to learn more about the process and results of doing oral history.
Pre-conference workshops on Wednesday, September 24, will provide opportunities for professional training and development. These include: A Crash Course in Oral History for Beginners, a full-day session led by Valerie Yow, author of Recording Oral History: A Practical Guide for Social Scientists; Video Taping and Editing, conducted by the staff of New Orleans Video Access Center; Oral Historians as Independent Contractors; and Oral History On Line, with Aaron Tuley and Coleman Kitchens of the Center for Landscape Interpretation in Port Allen, La., who have designed a number of Web pages featuring oral history. Oral History in the Classroom, a full day workshop for teachers, will be offered Saturday, September 27.
The theme of the conference, "Looking in, Looking Out: Retelling the Past, Envisioning the Future," sets a context for discussions of some of the major themes and issues that have shaped the last half of the twentieth century. Session topics will include uses of oral history for business, schools, and museums, how current reflection alters and shapes memory and identity; World War II and the home front; land rights, public history and ecology; religion and identity; shifting categories of racial and ethnic identity; bohemian culture and the arts; social migration and migration; and international oral history projects.
Highlighting the proximity of the Caribbean, keynote speaker Michel-Rolph Trouillot, author ofHaiti, State against Nation: the Origins and Legacy of Duvalierism, will discuss the distinctions between written history and oral memory in Haiti and the roles each has played in the political upheavals since the over throw of "Baby Doc" Duvalier in the early 1980s.
Civil rights and race relations are the subject of a number of sessions including screenings and discussions of The Strange Demise of Jim Crow, on desegregation in Houston; and Journey for Justice: A. P. Tureaud and Civil Rights in Louisiana. "Deep in Our Hearts: White Women in the Freedom Movement," features a round-table discussion with movement veterans Constance Curry, author of Silver Rights, Joan Browning, and Casey Hayden; while George King will discuss "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" the recent public radio documentary sponsored by the Southern Regional Council.
In a special Friday evening program at the Old U. S. Mint, Lindy Wilson, South African documentary film maker, will show segments from her work on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings. Wilson sites her work in the tradition of Africa's griot/imbongi story tellers. Paul Gaston, professor of history at the University of Virginia, who has written on race relations in South African and the American South, and Tom Dent, oral historian, former director of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, and author of the forthcoming Southern Journey: A Return to the Civil Rights Movement, will suggest comparisons with the experience of Americans, particularly Southerners, in the generation since the climax of the civil rights movement. This special presentation is supported by a grant from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities.
Friday's luncheon speaker, John Maginnis, who has been writing about Louisiana politics since Edwin Edwards' first year in the Governor's Mansion, 1972, will endeavor to explain to our visitors the state's unique brand of politics. Maginnis is the author of two books on Louisiana politics, The Last Hayride, and Cross to Bear, about the campaign for governor between Edwards, Buddy Roemer and David Duke. Maginnis publishes a weekly newsletter and a syndicated column and often comments on Louisiana politics for the national media. He is currently writing a book on the politics of gambling.
Since food and music are the essence of New Orleans, Friday night local hosts will take conference attendees to their favorite restaurants, and/or night spots, the places tourists don't always find. A variety of types of food will be included--vegetarian to seafood to soul food to Cajun to haute Creole--with a range of prices as well. Registration packets will contain further information and you'll find sign-up sheets at the registration desk.
Saturday night, following the OHA banquet, we'll dance the night away to the music of Kristie Guillery and Revéille. Guillery, just 18, has been playing accordion since she was 11 and organized her first band when she was 13. She has won several awards, as an accordionist and vocalist, and released her first CD, "Revéille: The New Cajun Generation," in 1995. "La Dance des Ancêtres" came out the next year. The band's name comes from a Zachary Richard anthem about waking up the culture, and Guillory is committed to reviving interest among her generation in Cajun music and culture. She is majoring in French at the University of Southwestern Louisiana.
Saturday afternoon's tours will offer a sampling of all thing wonderful in south Louisiana. There will be a choice of tours to Laura Plantation, Honey Island Swamp, the French Quarter, and the Garden District. In addition, Greg Osborn will lead a tour focusing on places important to New Orleans' African American history.
The local arrangements committee co-chaired by Pamela Dean, Williams Center for Oral History, LSU and Susan Tucker, Newcomb College Center for Research on Women, Tulane University, includes Al Kennedy, New Orleans Public Schools; Karen Leathem, Louisiana State Museum; Alfred Lemon, Historic New Orleans Collection; Mark Cave, Historic New Orleans Collection; Dorothy Schlesinger, Friends of the Cabilldo; Bruce Raeburn, Hogan Jazz Archives, Tulane University; and Sailor Jackson, Old State Capital Center for Political and Governmental History.
For more information or to register for the conference contact the Oral History Association office: Oral History Association, Baylor University, P.O. Box 97234, Waco, TX, 76798-7234; phone(254) 710-2764; e-mail OHA_Support@baylor.edu; or, visit the OHA website: Http://www.baylor.edu/~OHA/
Williams Center Holds Annual CelebrationSupporters of the Williams Center, friends of Estelle Williams, and many of our interviewers and interviewees gathered in May at Mary Frey Eaton's home for our annual party. Held on the anniversary of T. Harry Williams' birth, the party concludes our spring fund raising drive and celebrates the achievements of the past year at the Williams Center.
Pamela Dean, Williams Center director, announced that the Center had added over 200 interviews to our collection this year, including several on Steele Burden, the renowned landscape architect and founder of the Rural Life Museum. These interviews were conducted by Tracy Stakley for his masters degree in landscape architecture. The Center also received a series on the Houma Indians, collected by Daniel D'Oney; and several interviews on hurricanes in Louisiana, folk medicine, sugar cane culture, and the desegregation of local schools. The latter interviews were the results of projects in a spring-semester graduate course in the College of Education.
Dean also announced that nearly $30,000 had been added to the Williams Center endowment fund in the 1996-97 fiscal year. Dean thanked all of the Center's faithful supporters and enthusiastically welcomed new contributors.
A high point of the event came when Jennifer Cargill, Dean of Libraries at LSU and Faye Phillips, assistant dean for special collections, presented Mrs. Williams with an attractively framed photograph of T. Harry Williams.
**********Sound Bites**********Cajun music, folklore traditions, veterans of World War I, oil field workers . . . information about the culture and people of south Louisiana will be cataloged and made available to the public soon thanks to a LEQSF grant. The Acadian and Creole Folklore Archive at the University of Southwestern Louisiana contains an array of information, including oral history interviews, that the public will be able to learn more about on-line at the USL web site. For more information call Dr. Bruce Turner at (318) 482-5702.
****Sailor Jackson and staff of the Old State Capitol are in the process of transferring two of their major video collections to Beta so that the tapes can be made available to researchers. The collections are from long-time Baton Rouge reporter Brooks Read and from TV station WWL's news archives. A number of other political audio and video recordings are currently open to researchers on a limited basis and by appointment. For more information call Sailor Jackson at (504) 342-0500.
****An innovative computer program has been added to the exhibition, Celestial Brightness: 150 Years of Evangeline, currently on view at the Historic New Orleans Collection's Williams Research Center on Chartres Street in New Orleans. Incorporated into a French and English CD-ROM are the text of Longfellow's poem Evangeline and hundreds of interactive points that permit the user to explore aspects of Cajun culture. Celestial Brightnessis free and open to the public Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 AM until 4:45 PM. For more information call the Historic New Orleans Collection at (504) 598-7171.
****Beatrice Rodriguez Owsley, oral historian and librarian for special collections at the University of New Orleans, retired at the end of 1996. For information regarding current holdings, contact Dr. Florence M. Jumonville, Head of Louisiana and Special Collections at Earl K. Long library: (504) 280-6543.
****On October 5, 1997, during this year's Sugar Festival, a new oral history exhibit will open at the West Baton Rouge Museum in Port Allen. Folklorist Kellie Frey has been interviewing local citizens about the sugar cane industry, and their tape-recorded stories will be "displayed" as part the exhibit. Stories will capture the spirit of those who have dedicated their lives to this intriguing industry--from the field workers to the mill owners, to the children who walked to school through the cane fields. For more information about the opening, contact the West Baton Rouge Museum at (504) 336-2422.
****The Brusly Centennial Committee will host an Education Reunion on October 25, 1997 at the Brusly Upper Elementary School. The general public is invited to view memorabilia from Brusly's public school past and enjoy a slide show of school pictures that date from the turn of the century. The presentation will also include the voices of Brusly residents collected in an oral history project conducted by the committee. As part of the preparation for the Brusly centennial, which takes place in 2001, the committee will interview members of the faculty and staff of Grambling University who knew the late Charles P. Adams, founder of Grambling and a Brusly native. For more information on the reunion or plans for Brusly's centennial celebration, call Lucy Landry at 749-2981.
****The history of Louisiana's Gillis W. Long Hansen's Disease Center, at Carville, La., is the focus of an extensive oral history project headed by Julia Elwood. Project participants include nurses, nuns, chaplains, doctors and patients who tell stories of living with and treating Hansen's disease. To date 38 interviews have been recorded and ten have been transcribed. Once the interviews have been indexed, they will be deposited with the T. Harry Williams Center collection and made available to the public at LSU's Hill Memorial Library as well as at the museum at the Carville facility. Many of the interviews have been videotaped.
****Among sessions offered at this year's OHA conference is a Journey for Justice: A.P. Tureaud and Civil Rights in Louisiana, featuring a video presentation and a paper given by the Williams Center's own Mary Hebert. A.P. Tureaud, Jr. will be present to comment at the end of the session. In addition, the session Three Baton Rouge Parish Communities will focus on the work of local oral historians Judy Boyce, of the West Baton Rouge Parish Library; Caroline Kennedy, of the West Baton Rouge Parish Museum; and, Lucy Landry and Joanne Bourgeois, of the Brusly, Louisiana, Centennial committee. Roger Busbice will comment at the end of the session. See page 1 for more information on the OHA conference.
Churches Focus of Summer
Oral History ProjectThanks to the McKinley Summer Youth Oral History Project, the Williams Center has added to our collection nearly sixty interviews on the history of the churches and the role of religion in the South Baton Rouge neighborhood to the north of the LSU campus. This is the third year we have sponsored this project in conjunction with the College of Education, JTPA, and the East Baton Rouge School Board. In the previous summers, interviews focused on the history of McKinley High School and the businesses in the area.
The JPTA workers--Beau Bogart, Shawnte Green, Melvin Heard, Rhashada Jenkins, Veonetta Jewell, Chasity Lovely, Heidi McGee, and Katina Welsh, all students or recent graduates of McKinley High School, along with Shanta Jenkins, an alumnae of the project from the first summer and currently a student worker at the Williams Center for Oral History--worked with Helen Haw, Toni Morrison, Tayari Kwa Salaam, Levada Taylor, Paula Jacobi, Christy Sanders, and Rose Joubert-Thompson, graduates students enrolled in a college of Education summer school course on oral history for secondary school teachers taught by Dr. Petra Munro. The course was made possible by a grant from the Louisiana Educational Quality Support Fund.
Included here are excerpts from "Visions: the Soul and Spirit of South Baton Rouge Churches,"
the booklet compiled by the workers and graduate students at the end of the project.
New Sunlight Baptist Church
"Baptism is an outward showing of people that you know you have accepted Christ. And we
believe in the full baptism, so that means you are to merge into water. Usually when a female
accepts Christ and she wants to be baptized she has on white gown or robe and the man has a
handkerchief or a white garment, a white piece, around his arm. And once you're baptized and
you take your first communion you are accepted into church."
Calvary III Baptist Church
"I was about thirteen years old and I was baptized down in the creek in the woods. We'll go
down and the preacher will go out and stick you in the water with a white flag, you in that little
white gown. Majority of the members were there. They take you to somebody's house and dress
you and take you on to the church with your white dress on, you had revival and you sit on
moaner's bench and you pray and all that kind of stuff."
Rev. Lionel Lee
St. Joseph Baptist Church
"Churches are moderner now. We got to build a new church, we have a very fine pool. We don't
have go into the Mississippi River now and preach and things to be baptized. Old fashioned
baptisms were very much enjoyed by African Americans during that time in the Mississippi river,
or out there on the L.S.U. lake, people very much enjoyed that. My mother was baptized in the
Mississippi river and people from that generation. They used to walk for miles, singing down the
street -- there were not many cars then -- just singing hymns until they get to the river, and then
they baptized. Great time back in that day."
Ebenezer Baptist Church
"I got religion in 1931 on August 16. I even know what the man was singing. 'Swing low chariot,
let's take a ride,' that's what he was singing. When I came out, when I came back, I was a new
person. The world didn't look the same and I didn't feel the same and the people didn't look the
same. I'm born again. I didn't make no mistakes, I can feel it all in me. I got Jesus in my life.
I'm satisfied. I'm going home."
Ida Mae Whiten
St. Joseph Baptist Church
"My baptism was an old fashion one. The year I was baptized they must of had about 12 of us
and I was the last one to go in the water which was a hallelujah time. It's different from baptisms
now. Back then that feeling was like, "Oh Lord." I just can't describe it to you. I mean the
church would rock. I mean the singing and jumping and the noise, but now there is silence."
Eula Mae Hatter
New Prospect Baptist Church, WXOK Radio Station
"We didn't know of gospel when I was a youth at that time like we know of it today. First, there were spirituals, Negro spirituals, and then came blues, and then jazz and then gospel. This is the order of our music types in Black music. And gospel didn't come in until the thirties.
"I heard an announcement that a woman was needed to play gospel on the radio. They said you didn't have to have any training whatsoever, that you would be taught what you would have to do. It was a must, however, that you know a little bit about gospel music. So, I had been going to gospel concerts, and I knew about the Five Blind Boys and I knew about Brother Joe May. I knew about Albertina Walker and the Caravans. I knew about Mahalia Jackson. I knew their music, what they sang. And that's how I started off with them and working in this job.
"As a younger woman when I started to work here, there have been quite a few changes because the music has changed in that it is more instrumental now. We used to have no instruments -- probably a tambourine or maybe a light drumming. But, the people more or less sang without music, and they, as my uncle used to say, they clapped their hands and they tapped their feet, and that made some rhythm, you know, that gave the music some rhythm.
"I say that gospel is the word of God put to music. Spirituals come from the cotton fields. These
are the songs that our fore-parents sung when they were picking cotton or raising gardens and
that type of thing. They sung spiritual songs. Songs without music. The hymns have come from
the hymn book where you have the notes and the musician sits down, reads the notes and plays
the hymns and that's how I describe it, a hymn from spiritual song."
Mt. Gillion Baptist Church
"I used to be a member of the choir, but I have heart trouble. I cannot hold a key and stuff like
that, I get tired. Oh, but I sing when sometimes the pianist is late. They always say, "Betty start
a song." I always have a song in my heart, you know I keep a song in my heart."
St. Francis Xavier
"I was christened at the cathedral. Most Catholics went to St. Joseph's Cathedral for christenings.
We didn't have a church of our own until we got St. Francis Xavier. We lived in the St. Agnes
area, so we went there on Sundays, but it was a white church. At the time there was a certain
mass said for black Catholics. If other people wished to attend they could, but it was mostly for
black Catholics that one mass for Sunday. From St. Agnes we went to St. Francis Xavier where
we are now. I must have been three or four years old holding hands with my grandparents to go
to St. Francis Xavier.
Bridget Jackson Brister
St. Francis Xavier
"This was the original colored settlement. The people came from Point Coupee' and the Felicianas with strong ties to African roots and European roots. And some of us are descended from Cajuns, you know, from the Nova Scotia bunch. I say "us" in the sense of people who were either born or raised or migrated to the South Baton Rouge area. When you take that and integrate in the African tradition, for South Louisiana, you really have what could be considered Creole tradition.
"Let's see, when I started school there in 1960, the new school wasn't built. It was the old school I went to. So that's why I said, "Now let me think back to my history." The old school resembled a big house. If you see the old pictures, that's kind of what it looks like . The nuns lived on the third floor, and the school was housed on the first and second floors. So, that's really where we went to school.
"It wasn't until they built the interstate and split the community in two, did people actually leave what had been their home-base since, I guess, their families first came to this area. That, to me, had a very devastating effect on our parish. When that interstate came through it really changed my life. Because when I told you that we moved out of South Baton Rouge to another area of town and started to attend St. Paul Catholic church, well that's why. Because our house was taken when the interstate came. And a lot of families experienced that. Some continued to reside in the South Baton Rouge area. Most people, though, ended up moving.
"And to leave everything that you're familiar with and kids that you've grown up with, a neighborhood where you felt comfortable walking to your door and around the corner or down the street, or a group of you would get together and you would walk over to the YMCA, or go down to Lincoln Theater. Because when I was growing up, the Lincoln Theater was very much part of Baton Rouge. And it cost 25 cents, I want you to know, to go to the movies. That says something about my age.
"But it had a very devastating effect, I think, on all of us. Then, when they took the high school! Oh, my, I can't tell you what it did to this parish. People from our parish went to the interstate. Particularly where the curve is that comes across the Mississippi River Bridge, because it would take the high school.
"We were told at that time that originally, the way that it was supposed to have been done, it would have taken St. Agnes Catholic church as opposed to ours. But, it is and was a white man's world. And as a result of that the decision was made to take our high school even though it was only a couple of years old. And that's what was done.
"To this day, we have no Catholic high school for African American youth in this parish. I personally believe that there's one that's desperately needed. I really think so. And I'm not the only one that feels that way.
"When I first started attending mass at St. Francis again as an adult, I guess what drew me wasn't so much the service as much as it was the comradery of the people. There's a very strong sense of family that's a part of that parish. So many people were grown up there or it had been an integral part of their lives in some way or another.
"For some people, church is all about taking, getting, but church should really be about giving and taking. Now that's really participating. You come to our church, it's not unusual to hear a good "Amen" or a "Well," or some other comment made. Or when the choir sings a song that's moving it's not unusual for folks to stand up and throw their hands in the air to let people know that I relate to this and this is touching me and maybe this is something that I've gone through. It's not unusual for people to sit and rock from side to side because they feel the music and they've taken it into their hearts and their souls. It's not unusual for people to sing with tears running down their eyes. It's not unusual for people to clap if it's good and just really get into the music.
"Now women, there's been some changing lately in the role women play. To be perfectly honest with you, women have always been the backbone of the church, I don't care what church. They've always been the backbone. We now have women altar servers, women lecturers, women Eucharistic ministers. We cannot be ordained as priest or deacons, and cannot say Mass. However, depending on the priest, we can give homilies. And probably I shouldn't say this, but it's been very inspiring when it happens. I think the doors have opened somewhat.
"You know, if there is ever a classless revolution, it will be made up of women, led by women,
and we would take over, change the world. And we'd be good at it too -- a real gumbo of
Ida Mae Whiten
"Women play a very important role in the church and they still do. I feel the women is the leader
of a lot of things at the church. I really must say that they're much stronger in the church than
back then. Back then they didn't have women preaching but now they do. The duties of the
mother of the church is very much like a leader. She comes right after the pastor. When you
need something but couldn't get from the pastor you go to the mother. You go to the mother for
advice or whatever she feels she could do for you. She's like your mother, she listens to you.
You talk with her really for anything."
Mother Sarah Jones
Magnolia Baptist Church"The church where I was baptized was Little Lezone Baptist Church on Plank Road. I was baptized in Redwood Creek. I remember that day like it was yesterday. The Reverend Handy had ran revival at our church. It was around maybe fifteen head of us was baptized that year.
"Now child, at that time we had to pray. You could not do like people do today just come up and join church. We had to pray. We had to have something to say, how we felt, you know.
"We would pray to the Son to show us some kind of sign that we had religion. If they didn't believe that you had religion, they would send you back and say you got to pray some more.
"You didn't pray in the church in front of everybody. You would go out to pray. Do it all during the day. You would have something like a praying ground maybe behind the house. You would go off to yourself and you would pray.
"Having religion is a real personal thing. The way I got religion, I was real young. But my daddy told me I was too young and he would not let me be baptized. Finally, I went on and I was baptized.
"We would meet at the church that Sunday morning, we would have service, there wasn't many cars then for us to ride, and some people would walk to where we got baptized. Some went by wagons.
"We would go to the creek and we would get baptized. Then we would come back to church and we would fellowship in church that Sunday. And we took our communion that Sunday. We'd wear white cause that means pure. Everybody was dressed in white and we had something white on our heads.
"When you get religion, well you pray. You ask the Lord to convert your soul. I was about six years old then and my daddy thought I was too young. Old peoples would think that children would be too young. They always say that the sin wasn't on you until you get, I think it was twelve years old. If you did something bad the sin would be on your parents until you got twelve. That's what old people used to say at that time.
"When I was twenty-one years old, I left Zachary and I moved to Baton Rouge. I start going to Magnolia cause I lived on Buchanan Street with my brother and sister-in-law. For a while I sang in the choir. Then I became a member of the deaconess board.
"By and by, I start helping out Ms. Mary McCauley. She was our other mother. I had been on the deaconess board a long time. I mostly took her place as the mother of our church after she got ill and kind of down and wasn't able to serve and I was really serving a lot.
"I would go to see the sick. I would call up the sick. See how they was. Fix the communion table. See to the ones that was going to be baptized. See that they bring the right clothes, putting their gowns on when they was ready to be baptized. And I would go around and take the communion to the sick with the deacons. People take communion because it pertains to what Christ left for us to do.
"The children are also real involved at our church. Oh yes indeed! They like to go to other churches to sing. And, like if we have something, they like to come down. If we have Thanksgiving dinner, they like to serve. We had dinner for the elderly people, they like to serve. And, they love Sunday school. They're real polite. They'll help you getting down and out you know. They'll open the door for you.
"Last year for Thanksgiving they fixed a dinner for the elderly people. Any elderly people in the neighborhood were welcomed to come. The children of the church did that. They served us elderly people at the church. We just sat there and the children served. The children had a dinner for the children of the community too. They had toys. And, they had a clothes drive not too long ago. And we're having another drive soon, Magnolia Hope.
"When I look back, you know . . . the church has really changed. Yes, it's changed a lot. With the children of today, you can join church now if you three years old (chuckle). Your parents don't mind you join church. As I say, when I was coming along they wouldn't let you join church that young.
"The deaconess, they would bear up the Preacher. When the Preacher be preaching they would sing, (Mother Sarah begins to sing in a melodious voice) "The Lord is my shepherd and I shall not want." But you don't hear the people say that anymore.
"The deaconess board was the Amen corner. When the Preacher be peaching that's what they'll be singing but they don't do that anymore. The deaconess' will pat their hands and maybe say amen now. You know years ago the Mother of the church use to make the bread for communion.
"But for the Spirit part it's about the same. We use to have a Friday night -- what we use to call: Tell Your Determination. When you say, I'm determined to go to heaven. And, you would ask the church to pray for you. Now we don't have that any more. If you do have anything to say now they would call it a testimony.
"The testimony is pertaining if there has been something that happen to you and the Lord had
blessed you. And then you want to tell the church that you done overcome whatever that
happened to you. Maybe you been very sick and you want to tell the church that you're doing
better. Or, maybe there's something that you have wanted the Lord to do for you. Or your
parents have been going through it or the family has gone through a distress and the Lord has
eased that. You would want to express that. You'd want to tell what the Lord has did for me."