TABLE of CONTENTS|
LA Folklife Collection
Meet the Center Staff
Stell: In Her Words
ORAL HISTORY IN LOUISIANA
Published by the T. Harry
Williams Center for Oral History, Louisiana State University
Skolfield Williams' life was closely tied to Baton Rouge,
and especially to Louisiana State University. When she
passed away this March, her loved ones lost a dear
friend, and Louisiana lost someone with a unique
perspective on her hometown and state.
Estelle was born
in 1908 in Baton Rouge. Her two older sisters would be
her close companions through life. When Estelle was two,
her father became warden of the penitentiary. The family
moved into the Warden's House on Laurel Street in
downtown Baton Rouge, where they would live for two
years. Prison trustees worked as servants in their home.
owned a plantation called Gracelane, located ten miles
from downtown Baton Rouge. She loved country life,
especially horseback riding. She spent every summer from
childhood through her mid-teens at Gracelane.
When Estelle was
eighteen, she married Frank Lore. She attended LSU for
two years following the marriage, but left school when
she became pregnant. After the birth of her daughter, Mai
Frances, Estelle returned to LSU and earned a bachelor's
degree in commerce and a master's degree in English. In
1938, she took a job teaching English at LSU and remained
there for twenty-five years. Shortly after she began
teaching at LSU, she and her first husband divorced.
father's death in 1938, Estelle and her mother took on
farming at Gracelane where Estelle lived happily with her
mother and daughter. In the early 1940s, she met
historian T. Harry Williams, and they married in 1952.
Estelle and Harry were close companions and also enjoyed
a fruitful working relationship.
|Estelle aided her husband in his
research and typed and edited many of his books. Their
two biggest projects were his Pulitzer Prize winning Huey
Long, and his uncompleted manuscript on Lyndon
Johnson.Estelle retired from LSU in 1963, and she and
Harry bought a summer house in Wisconsin. They spent many
happy summers there working and boating.
Harry passed away in
1979, and Estelle carried on his work. She finished
preparing the manuscript for his book, The History of
American Wars from 1745 to 1918, and assembled a
collection of his essays for publication.
maintained a friendship with a group of widows who called
themselves "La Girls": Mary Frey Eaton, Mary
Miles Walker, Jean Collier, Nouge David, Pat Womack and
Beryle Lapenas. They socialized and traveled together,
visiting China and England, riding the Orient Express and
cruising the Mediterranean Sea.
attending LSU football and baseball games and made many
trips to Omaha for the College World Series. However, she
most enjoyed spending time with her daughter and four
granddaughters. In 1996, she wrote a family history,
From Under the Magnolia Tree.
The T. Harry
Williams Center for Oral History was named for Harry in
1991. Estelle was a wonderful friend to the center. We,
as well as her family and friends, miss her.
Two of La Girls --
Mary Frey Eaton & Estelle Williams
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Williams Center News
continues to finish and acquire many interesting
projects. Sticking close to its roots, the center added
more than 50 hours of interviews on LSU history to its
collection this year. Dr. Hebert has worked closely with
LSU's Museum of Natural History to document its
beginnings. Graduate student Jennifer Abraham is
collecting interviews with former SGA presidents.
finished or in progress include:
our move to the Agnes Morris House on Raphael
Semmes Drive, where we share space with the U.S.
Civil War Center
- more than
sixty hours of interviews with Congressman Jimmy
desegregation interviews digitized and included
in LSU's Digital Library -- http://appl005.lsu.edu/dglV2.nsf/homeframe?OpenForm
with sailors who served on the USS Kidd
outreach -- Dr. Hebert lectures in university and
high school courses
Voices: Remembering World War II, published
by the center, has sold more than 260 copies
center's Talking Gumbo: A Teacher's Guide for
Using Oral History in the Classroom and
accompanying video continue to be used by
Photograph by Dr.
Benjamin L. Price
weathered some personnel changes this year. Center
founder Pamela Dean resigned to pursue her independent
scholarly work. Interim director Mary Hebert, who has
worked at the center since its inception, will continue
heading the center until a permanent director is named.
successfully defended her dissertation "Beyond Black
and White: The Civil Rights Movement in Baton Rouge,
Louisiana, 1945-1972" this July, officially becoming
works as a 3/4 time library associate. She holds an MFA
in fiction writing from LSU and has worked in the field
of Louisiana history for three years.
Hintlian is the new Estelle Williams Graduate Assistant.
Persephone is working on her masters degree in
anthropology. She comes from California, where she did
her undergraduate work at the University of California,
returned for another year as a student worker. Mindy is
from Franklin, Louisiana, and is studying to be a
Eric Rivet, a
history major and Baton Rouge native, joined the center
staff this year. He also works part time on the USS Kidd.
Hung Le is
majoring in computer science. He came to Louisiana via
Vietnam and California.
Folklife Commission donated its papers, which include
1,500 audio and reel-to-reel tapes, to LSU Libraries
Special Collections early this year. We indexed 500 tapes
from the Louisiana Storytelling Project, which provide
the basis for the book Swapping Stories: Folktales
from Louisiana. Most of the remaining 1,000
recordings come from the various folklife festivals and
folklife surveys sponsored by the Commission and deal
with history, culture and Louisiana lore.
tale came from storyteller Charles Rex Record III,
recorded in May, 1990, at Ethel, Louisiana:
was riding down the road one day, he and his wife,
sightseeing, out in the country. He was on this blacktop
road. He look out his window and he says, "Wife!
That's a three-legged chicken!" And by this time
that chicken had got tired of them looking at it and took
off down the road. Well she [his wife] looked
over that way, and she said, "I don't see
anything." He said, "Well I'm going to catch up
with him. That thing had three legs!" Boy, he put
down on the accelerator and took off down the road to
catch up with this chicken. Finally after a mile or so he
caught up with this chicken. And she [his wife]
looked over there and sure enough that thing had three
legs. Well they rode along down looking at that chicken
and marveling over how in the world that ever got to be.
The chicken got tired of it and just took off down the
road and left them. He floored that car and that car
couldn't catch up with that thing but he could see him.
Finally he saw him turn down this little dead-end road,
and the thing was making dust. He said, "I'm gonna
follow that dust and see where that chicken went."
So he turned down that road and followed that chicken
down in there and finally ended up in this farmer's front
yard. The farmer's wife and daughter were sitting there
on the porch, and the farmer got up and went out,
"Howdy! You looking for somebody?" The fellow
said, "Well, I thought I followed a three-legged
chicken in here." The farmer said, "Well, yeah,
you probably did. I got a field full of them back there.
You want to see them?" The man said, "My
gracious, I sure do, and my wife does, too." The
farmer said, "Well come on, we'll go round
there." So they went around back of the house, and
there was an acre and a half of three-legged chickens. [The
city slicker] said, "This is the most fabulous
thing I ever saw in my life! How in the world, Mr.
Farmer, did you come up with these three-legged
chickens?" [The farmer] said, "Well,
you know, we like to eat fried chicken, and every time we
sit down to the table it would be two drumsticks. And I
like drumsticks, and my wife likes drumsticks, and my
daughter likes drumsticks. There was always an argument
over who was going to get the drumsticks. So I bred up
these three-legged chickens; I was going to stop all that
arguing." "Oh!" the city boy said,
"That is just marvelous, that's the greatest thing I
ever heard of in my life. Did you ever eat any of
them?" The farmer said, "Nope, couldn't catch
In the 1970s,
LSU history professor Beatrice Spade coordinated a series
of interviews with Vietnam veterans. The interviewees
included men who fought for every branch of the military
and several Vietnamese refugees residing in Shreveport.
Spade's students found a group of men with wide-ranging
experience, from career military to reluctant draftees,
from soldiers who flew helicopter missions to officers
who worked to improve village education systems. The
veterans talk about their combat experiences, feelings
toward civilians, black market activities, prostitution,
attitudes toward commanding officers and the American
this collection can be accessed at Hill Memorial Library.
If you know of anyone involved with this project or have
any questions about this collection, contact Mary Hebert
at 225-388-6577, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Her Own Words
Here are some excerpts
from an interview former Williams Center director Pamela Dean
conducted with Estelle Williams in August 1994.
On Estelle's childhood
father wanted so much to get away from Mama's family that
he had built a house out on Florida Street, which was
considered way out. It was in the sixteenth block, I
believe. It was two blocks [away from] the Magnolia
Cemetery. We moved there during World War I. It was 1918,
probably, when we moved there. Daddy had built that house
on the lot that my step-grandfather had given my mother.
It was a brand new house, and it was a nice house, too,
very nice house. We were living there during the flu
epidemic. Now, the flu epidemic in the First World War
was a great, great thing in this country, because nobody
had ever had the flu and the people died, maybe five or
six a day, in Baton Rouge. And, you see, we were right
near that cemetery, and we watched through the windows
one funeral after another, every day the funerals going
attending convent school:
catechism every day. And one day the question was
something about who would go to heaven. Of course, the
answer was only those that belong to the Roman Catholic
Church would go to heaven. Well, I rose up and said I
didn't believe that. I had a good friend who was Louise
Hoag, and I said, "Surely, the Lord will not shut
her out because she's not a Roman Catholic." Well,
about that time, the catechism class was over, and Sister
DeSales called me, and she says, "Now, you know, you
shouldn't have done what you did; you should not question
the catechism." And, we talked, and she says,
"Now, I'm not going to report you to the Mother
Superior, but just don't do anything like that
again." Well, I did do things like that again. Now,
even though there was never any indication of the
ecumenical movement, I was moving by that time because I
had a lot of friends who were not Catholics, and a lot of
good people I knew that were not Catholics. It was just
absolutely ridiculous for us to be taught that we would
be the only people to go to heaven.
her education at LSU:
year, I decided I had better get a teacher's certificate.
I had to change to Teacher's College. Well, there were so
many courses that I hadn't had. I had to have all those
fool educational courses. I took two, and then I took one
by correspondence. Well, anyhow, I took enough of them to
get to graduate in '33. I could not get a job teaching in
Baton Rouge, and I didn't want to go anywhere else. So
[my friend] Ethel Cologne's aunt, Mrs. Heidelberg, was
the secretary to President [John Monroe] Smith. Ethel
called me, she hadn't been able to get a job either, and
neither had [our friend] Mary Bird, there were three of
us. She said, "My aunt can get us a scholarship to
go to graduate school. It will pay only a hundred
dollars." Mary was living with her family, Ethel was
living with her aunt, and I was living at home. So we got
the scholarship, and then we went to the dean of the
graduate office, who was Dean [Charles] Pipkin. Dean
Pipkin was a high-flying man. He had a bald head; it was
the reddest thing you've ever seen in your life. He
associated only with people in the Music School and
society people in Baton Rouge. When I went in, I had my
transcript, and my grades were fairly good. Now, they
were not all A's, I assure you. I said to him that I
wanted to get a master's degree in economics. He says,
"Economics! Whoever heard of getting a master's
degree in something like that? You will get your degree
in English." And, with that, he made out my program.
the reign of Huey Long:
[Huey Long] did a lot for LSU.
He got money for LSU, and goodness only knows, we needed
money. Now, that scholarship that I had was a Huey Long
scholarship, and though it paid only a hundred dollars,
it enabled three of us to go to school for another year.
I don't think that he interfered very much with the
academic part of the university. I think he would like to
have, but that was stopped right away with the band
business. When he wanted to increase the band, and he
wanted to fire the band master. Major [Fred] Frey
told him that if he did, it would ruin the accreditation
of the school. But he was very much interested in the
football, and in the band, and making a great to do about
thought he was wonderful, and my father called him a you
know what. My father could not stand him. My father
belonged to that old school of politicians in Baton
Rouge, in Louisiana, that had been running the state for
many, many, many years and running it completely in the
ground. Huey Long, well, he did a lot for Louisiana. We
got all those good roads and bridges, and, of course, he
was very interested in working out a plan whereby every
student who wanted a college education would get it.
did more good than he did harm. Now, he was crude, but a
lot of the things that he did, he felt he had to do
because of the people he was dealing with.
he was doing good things for LSU, for Louisiana. He
really did. She would recognize his good qualities, but
my father would not recognize them. He was going to be
whatever [former governor Jared Young ] J. Y.
Sanders said to do. Daddy was very interested in politics
and had a lot of pull in politics. He had a lot of
friends in politics. They were the old order. But, my
mother thought Huey was great.
mind saying exactly what she thought, and Daddy would say
what he thought. But they didn't come to blows over it.
When the election would come up, they would go and cancel
out each other's vote without hesitation.
researching Huey Long
with T. Harry:
We had just
bought that [tape recording] machine, and I had really
not learned to use it. It was very difficult to use. You
had to do a lot of connecting of parts, you know, like
for the speaker and the repeat, and the recorder, and all
the various things. So, the first person that we went to
interview was [Huey Long supporter] Jess Nugent,
and we called him, of course, "Cousin Jess,"
because that's what Huey called him. We went one
afternoon and interviewed him, and he talked and talked
and talked about Huey. He would always say, "Well,
Huey, if that's the way you want it . . ."
Everything would be just the way he wanted it. So, we
came back and we put the tape on to listen to it. It was
absolutely blank. I told Harry, I said, "It's just
blank. I'm sorry." Harry didn't say one single word.
He just got up and walked out in the yard, I guess maybe
to keep from murdering me, I don't know. But anyhow, he
never said one single word. He got up and walked out.
When he came back in, he sat down, and he says,
"Well, just sit right down there and write
everything that you can remember, and I'm going to write
everything that I can remember." I'm sure that we
got every bit of it down. It was all nothing but praise
of Huey Long to begin with because Cousin Jess could not
envision that there was anything that wasn't perfect
about Huey Long.
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History Around the State
Louisiana Division of the
Arts Folklife Program
Program has created a website about Louisiana folklife at
www.crt.state.la.us/folklife. The site provides
information about the Folklife Program, Louisiana's
traditional cultures, and Louisiana Voices: An Educator's
Guide to Exploring Our Communities and Traditions. The
Louisiana Voices Folklife in Education Project also
offers professional development workshops and institutes
for Louisiana teachers and librarians. Workshops are
available to school districts or individual schools. To
set up a workshop, contact Donna Onebane at 318/237-3110
Hogan Jazz Archive
holds videotaped oral history interviews recorded by the
New Orleans Jazz Commission and the National Park
Service. Music historians Tad Jones, Barry Martyn, Dr.
Jack Stewart, and Dr. Michael White conducted the 45 (so
far) interviews with jazz greats.
Graduate student Erin
McInnes interviewed prominent local businesspeople for
her public history degree. Among the people interviewed
were Lafayette businessman and philanthropist Herbert
Heyman, and Alfred and Gloria Knox, two pioneers in the
south Louisiana oil and gas industry.
at McNeese celebrated the institution's 60th
anniversary by interviewing members of its 1941-1943
classes. The interviews are doubly interesting because
they talk about starting junior college at the end of the
Depression and the start of WWII.
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Oral History in Louisiana is edited by Teresa Bergen.