Civil Rights Research Funded
ORAL HISTORY IN LOUISIANA
Published by the T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History, Louisiana State University
Vol. II No. 1 Fall 1993
College of Arts and Sciences Funds Research on Civil Rights in Baton RougeThe College of Arts and Sciences, under the direction of Dean Karl Roider, provided the T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History with a $5,000 grant this spring for an oral history project on the civil rights movement in the Baton Rouge area. During the summer, project coordinator and chief interviewer Mary Hebert conducted over twenty hours of interviews with community leaders such as Judge Carlos Spaht and attorney Johnnie Jones, Sr. In them, she focused on the Baton Rouge community as a whole, placing special emphasis on the roles played by Southern and Louisiana State Universities.
Further interviews with supporters and opponents of desegregation are planned. The goal of this project is to collect an inclusive and balanced account of this important period in Baton Rouge history. These interviews will be an invaluable source for researchers because Louisiana in general, and Baton Rouge in particular, have too often been left out of the documentary and published record.
The issue of civil rights remains a volatile one in Baton Rouge as it has in the nation as a whole. Longstanding desegregation suits involving the Southern University system and the Baton Rouge public schools have filled the news recently raising many questions about the nature of public education in Louisiana.
Should Louisiana maintain two public university systems? Does the Southern system perpetuate segregation in higher education or does it provide African American students with a learning environment in which they can develop pride in their heritage while receiving a quality education? Why are the courts still trying to enforce desegregation decisions handed down over thirty years ago? There may be no easy answers to these questions, but we hope the interviews conducted this past summer will help us understand how and why this situation developed.
From The DirectorRecently, Dr. Dale Thorn's public relations class offered to help us publicize the Williams Center. Among their many excellent suggestions is our new logo! Thanks to Dr. Thorn, Adrienne Credeur, Sonny Marks, Laura McClellend, Sharon McNabb, Saeko Yatsuka, Tommy Young, and Mei Zhang for their hard work.
* * *Chancellor William E. "Bud" Davis has come through for the Williams Center once again, offering to extend our funding and to continue to underwrite the basic budget for the program. Funding for the LSU Oral History Project, which has been our chief source of support to date, was due to expire in June, 1994.
More secure funding will enable us to continue our long-range plans for new projects, including
interview series on Louisiana's petroleum and chemical industries, folk and outsider artists, and
jazz in Baton Rouge; interdisciplinary courses using oral history methodology; and exhibits,
plays, and other public programming.
We are extremely grateful to the Chancellor for his backing.
* * *Three new student assistants have joined Director Pamela Dean and graduate research assistant Mary Hebert at the center recently.
Sophomore Robin Cate attended Captain Shreve High School in her hometown of Shreveport, and she is majoring in Medieval and Renaissance European history with a minor in political science. She plans to earn her Ph.D. Cate likes her job as a transcriber because she enjoys learning about LSU and Louisiana's leaders.
Steven Coward, a graduate student in British literature and a native of Arkansas, earned his M.A. in American literature at UNO. His responsibilities include editing and abstracting interviews in preparation for depositing them. Coward says he is fascinated by all historical periods and expects to learn a lot about the history of both LSU and the state while working here.
Tara Zachary, a native of Sulphur, La., will graduate this May with a double major in history and broadcast journalism. She plans to attend graduate school to study southern history. Along with transcribing, Zachary edits the newsletter and handles other special projects. She says she is grateful for the chance this job gives her to combine her love of history and her journalism skills.
Two of our student assistants will be leaving in December. Melissa Perez is off to attend pharmacy school. Robert Cole will finish his degree in secondary education. They will be missed for their speedy and accurate transcribing and conscientious attention to detail. As founding members of the staff, their contributions to the success of the Williams Center have been crucial.
Life in the Quarters Subject of
Magnolia Mound ProgramThe Williams Center will be collaborating with writer Ruth Laney, Sid Gray, historic preservation specialist, and the staff of Magnolia Mound on a lecture and slide show and exhibit scheduled for 15 January 1994 at Magnolia Mound. The program, which is underwritten by a grant from Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, will focus on "Cherie Quarters, the People and the Place." Buildings from Cherie Quarters, originally the slave quarters on River Lake Plantation in Pointe Coupee Parish, have recently been moved to Magnolia Mound, where Gray will be in charge of restoration.
Cherie Quarters is the former home of Ernest Gaines, author of A Gathering of Old Men, and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, among other notable works.
Laney, who wrote and co-produced a recent documentary on Gaines, will speak on life in the Quarters and Gaines' use of the setting in his fiction, drawing on her interviews with Gaines, his relatives and neighbors. Gray will discuss the original construction of the buildings and the process of moving and restoring them.
Exhibit Offers Voices
of LSU FootballTapes from Williams Center interviews are featured in Hill Memorial Library's newest exhibit, "A Golden Century: 100 Years of LSU Football." Visitors to the display can hear former athletes and coaches talk about how LSU got its purple and gold colors, where the name "Fighting Tigers" came from, Huey P. Long's interest in Tiger football, the excitement of the 1958 national championship, the first black players at LSU, and the time honored rivalry between LSU and Tulane.
A grant from the Athletic Department funded these interviews by Scott Purdy, which are part of the Williams Centers continuing effort to compile a history of LSU.
LSU Libraries and the Athletic Department co-sponsored "A Golden Century: 100 Years of LSU Football." The exhibit, curated by Jo Jackson, will run until December 15.
Louisianians Featured at
Oral History Association MeetingLouisiana will be well-represented at the 27th Annual Meeting of the Oral History Association to be held November 4-7 in Birmingham, Alabama. The theme for this year's meeting is "Thirty Years After: American Society and Culture since 1963."
Charles Chamberlain and Carolyn Thompson of Tulane, speaking on "The People, The Land,
The Idea: Telling the Story of the Southern Cooperative Movement," and Wayne Coleman of the
Amistad Research Center on "The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund"
will be part of a panel, Archives, Civil Rights, and Culture. Barbara Malone, also of Tulane, will
discuss "Ruth and Rosalie: Two Tales of Jewish New Orleans" as part of the session, Varieties of
Southern Women's Experience.
Tom Dent of New Orleans will give a talk entitled "Testimony into Southern Journey," part of
the Oral History and African-American Writing and Writers session. Beatrice
Rodriguez-Owsley's (University of New Orleans) paper, "A Public Awareness of Hispanic
Culture in New Orleans" is included in a program on New Communities in the Newest South.
Williams Center director Pamela Dean will present "College Culture: University Archives and
Oral History." In addition to contributing to the session, Oral History, Archives, and
Institutional Culture, Dean organized the book exhibit for the conference.
Joel Gardner, formerly a prominent figure in Louisiana oral history and folklore circles, will chair a session on oral history and health care. David Stricklin of Tulane will conduct a workshop on beginning oral History interviewing, and Paul Stekler's film on Louisiana's favorite spectator sport, Louisiana Boys: Raised on Politics, will be featured.
Golden Tigers Recall
Their Golden MemoriesAt the 1993 commencement, the Williams Center continued a tradition of interviewing members of the Golden Tigers, alumni back on campus for their 50th reunions. Six members of the class of 1943 shared their memories of that eventful year with our tape recorders and their classmates. We hope to work with the Alumni Association to make this a formal part of reunion activities in the future. Mary Hebert and Melisse Campbell, a graduate journalism student, assisted with the interviews.
This project builds on the efforts of Nina Pugh, '45, and Jeannette Singleton, '42, who recorded interviews with classmates and friends who were on campus for their reunions.
Guide to Louisiana Oral History ProgressingThe Williams Center's Guide to Oral History Collections in Louisiana is moving into the indexing phase under the direction of David Richards. The guide will provide information about both institutions which have oral history collections and individual projects. Subject, interviewee, and interviewer indexes will be included.
The guide is based on responses to a survey sent in April to all parish libraries, genealogical and
historical societies, and colleges and universities. Perhaps the most important benefit of the
survey has been renewed awareness of the vast amount of oral history material held in the state.
Over twenty-six Louisiana institutions have some sort of oral history in their collections,
including over 9100 tapes.
We want to make this guide as complete, inclusive, and useful as possible! We welcome any questions or comments.
BOOK REVIEWRogers, Kim Lacy. Righteous Lives: Narratives of the New Orleans Civil Rights Movement. New York: New York University Press, 1993.
Oral history serves as the foundation of Righteous Lives: Narratives of the Civil Rights Movement in New Orleans, and Kim Rogers cleverly interweaves the personal accounts of twenty-five black and white civil rights leaders into the text, allowing the participants to tell their own stories. Members of three separate generations, these twenty-five men and women used different methods to achieve the same goal--an end to segregation. The older two generations (born in the 1910s and early 1920s) used cooperation, compromise, and the courts to fight segregation. On the other hand, the younger, all black, third generation refused to wait for change to come from within the system and challenged New Orleans's Jim Crow laws with protest and open defiance.
Righteous Lives is an important work. Not only is it one of the few studies done on the civil rights movement in Louisiana, it also occupies an important place in the scholarly literature on civil rights. Rogers' use of the generational model to explain the radicalization of the civil rights movement in New Orleans supports the works of other historians who see this generational shift as a major force behind the transition from the passive resistance tactics of Martin Luther King to the militant black power stance of Stokley Carmichael and H. Rap Brown.
For anyone interested in the ways oral history can be used in scholarly works or in the civil rights movement in Louisiana, Righteous Lives is a must read. [Mary Hebert]
Johnnie Jones Fights for an
Education in Segregated SouthEducation is the key to change and those who want to maintain the status quo closely guard that key. This is a theme heard again and again in the interviews with African Americans we have been doing for the civil rights series and is especially prevalent in the one with Baton Rouge civil rights attorney, Johnnie Jones, Sr.
Jones was born in 1919 and grew up in the small rural community of Laurel Hill, Louisiana, located mid-point between St. Francisville, Louisiana and Woodville, Mississippi. The son of Sarah Ann and Henry Edward Jones, an independent farmer, he received an education that differed from most other black children of his generation.
At the time I was coming up, most black children or all had to go to the field. They would go to school that day and would get the books on opening day. We only had three months schooling, public schooling. When Huey Long came along with the free books, everybody, all children had books. [Before Long,] my daddy always got us books.
We went to school every day, my brother and I, every day. We didn't miss a day, rain or shine, sleet or snow. We went to school for those three months, and then, when school would close down, my daddy would hire a teacher another additional two to three months to teach us. We went to school five, six to seven months out of a year.
We were, we were considered one of the most successful black farmers in the area, but we didn't
have any money. We paid to the teacher with pigs, eggs, collard greens, and chickens, and red
beans that we grew on the farm. Because he needed those things so he would teach us for that.
Several other children also attended the extended school with Jones and his brother and reaped the benefits of those extras months of class.
At one time, it would be just my brother and I in school. And then, then, and the teacher's children [joined us]. He had a daughter and a son our age level. . . . We would be in school, the four of us, sometimes. Then, there was another family in Laurel Hill by the name of Perkins. And his name was Robert Perkins. He came to school every day like I did except the days when it rained. He lived across the creek. If the creek was up, he couldn't come that morning. Then, next door to me, which was about a block away, there was another family moved in by the name of White. The girl was named Amanda White and she went to school every day. We all walked to school together every morning. All of us finished college, and all of us got two degrees.
Educating his sons was all-important to Henry Jones, but his own life experience taught him that pursuing an education and working on a farm did not complement one another.
My father went to school only one day in his life. He picked up the books and brought them back home. . . . My daddy worked in the field all day long, and he said when he came home at night he was just too tired to study. So, he didn't study, but he learned to write his name.
But Henry Jones saw to it that farm work did not interfere with his sons' educations.
Every morning, I had to walk three and a half miles to school. In the morning, before I would leave to go to school, I had two cows to milk. That was every morning. And I'd milk those two cows and then get ready for school. And maybe a few other little things that I might do, might have to go out in the garden and pick a few tomatoes. But my dad never demanded that we do any of that if it was going to make us late for school. It [going to school] was the only thing we had to do every morning when we got up, and that was mandatory.
My daddy always said that the answer to success was education, even if he didn't have one. [He was] the only black that I ever knew around there then that really stressed that you've got to be educated.
His father told him, "I'm trying to get my children from behind the mule." He say, "I want them to do something different. I want that boy there, if he can do all of that. . ." He called it all of that what I was doing up in Woodville. [After completing his elementary school, Jones went to work for a lumber company in Woodville, Mississippi. Once his intelligence and abilities became evident to members of the white community, his father, fearing for his son's life, forced him to leave Woodville.] "If he can do all of that, I'm going to send him to The Southern." That's what he called it "The Southern." He didn't say Southern University, it's "The Southern." You see because "The Southern" meant something here you see because that was the most outstanding educational institution in Louisiana. That means the highest level of education they had. That's what he really was saying, "to The Southern." And so as a result I came to Southern University Demonstration High School. And got in.
Henry Jones wanted to insure that all black children, not just his own, could get an education.
While my daddy was on the school board, [in 1918] they [the black residents] built an independent elementary school. The people got together and built it. . . . It was for the public school, but the people raised money to build it. Then, it became a school board property, you see, and that's where we went to school.
Other black children in Laurel Hill (and undoubtedly other areas of the segregated South) did not have the same educational opportunities as Jones.
During the three months most of them [the other black children] just came and picked up their books and came back and then when, when the school closed, they came back to return the books. . . . Rainy days they came [to school]. Because they couldn't farm, they couldn't be in the field.
[One rainy day], I knew all of these other children were going to be running out of the field. So I stopped to wait for them, you see, and that would make me late for class. But my daddy was a very smart man, believe it or not, very intelligent. When the rain would come, he got on his horse. It rained him out of the field, and he say he knew we were walking. He saw this rain so he want to get us out to school before the rain. He would always run and catch up with us like that when the rain came in the morning. And pick us up and snatch us up behind him on the horse and bring us on to school.
I stopped on the side of the road to wait for the children to come out the field. Because, you know, I'd have all these kids to walk with and talk with, to play with and everything going to school, you see. So, when he came, I was sitting on the side of the road waiting for them.
Now, he expected to catch me further, to be nearer the school than that. Here he come galloping on the horse, and there I was sitting on the side of the road. When he saw me sitting on the side of the road, he just jumped down. He never hit me a lick in his life, never hit me a lick in his life. But he beat all around me with that riding whip, and I'd be jumping, jumping, jumping, you see. But for all practical purposes, I was hit. . . .
He said, "Look, you don't have to wait for it to rain to go to school. And when its rain, you keep right straight on to that school just like everything else. These children got to wait for rain to go to school. I don't want you to. You don't have to do that. So you go on to school just as, just as religiously as you would if you were going to church. You go straight to that school." That's what he'd says. "Straight to that school everyday. When you leave home, I want you to go straight to that school. When you get out of that school, you come straight back home. And don't wait on these children. Because they got to work in the field everyday. And they glad to see rain. But you got to go on to school. I'm trying to get you out of the rain, and they glad to see the rain come so that they can go to school." And so that followed me all the days of my life.
Yet, as strongly as his father encouraged him to obtain an education, members of the white community discouraged him and other black students. Sometimes, their methods were subtle.
I would take three dozen eggs to the store called Mercantile Store for a pencil. Three dozen eggs to get a single pencil. I would take three chickens to the store to get a scratch pad to write on. Three fryers to get a scratch pad to write on. . . . My daddy had a credit account there, and things that he got on credit he paid for it when the crop came in. Yes. But pencils and all of that, that wasn't credit. They didn't credit your children, black children, pencils and paper. You had to pay for that as you go. It was a thing, you see, cause education was sort of taboo, taboo for blacks.
Other methods used by the white community were more serious, even life-threatening. Jones recalls this about one of his childhood friends:
There was a boy going to school with us. His name was Theodore Robinson. Theodore Robinson was doing calculus in fourth grade. Theodore didn't go to college. . . . When he finished elementary school, he had finished, and he went to work. Theodore went to work for the railroad company, lifting cross ties and all of that. The superintendent of the railroad crew, that's a gang, he kept the records, counting the ties and things of that sort. When he would be counting the ties, [he would have members of the crew go] around counting, "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven," all the ties in the stack. Theodore would look at the stack. Because ties was so many in a square and they was put in square, you could just look and count down one and count across and multiply. Then, if you got fifteen stacks, you know how many in the whole fifteen. Theodore was doing that. The man, the superintendent got up on top of the stack and told him, "Come here." Then, they took a tie and dropped down on the head and killed him.
Because of his fierce desire for an education, Jones also put his own life in danger.
When we were going to school up in Laurel Hill, the white didn't want us to go to school. The white people driving the log trucks, when they would see us on the road they would run us off the road. We had to run and jump the fence you know. And they call us all kind of names off those trucks. But that wasn't the white people from Laurel Hill, that was the white people from out in Woodville, Mississippi. All those people who was hired, who came down there to haul logs.
I didn't run off the road when I was up there in Laurel Hill when the white people would run you off the road going to school. I'd get as far to the edge as I could get, but I never left the road.
Jones still has his feet planted firmly on the road. By Laurel Hill standards, his education was complete after six years, but by his and his parents' standards, it was far from over. Wanting their son to receive a college education, Sarah and Henry Jones sent him to Southern Demonstration School and then to Southern University. World War II interrupted his education, but he later returned to Southern and earned a law degree. His wartime experiences only strengthened Jones's determination to stay on the road and to bring an end to segregation. Armed with his law degree, Jones ignored threats to his life made by opponents of the civil rights movement and eagerly represented defendants who were attempting to bring an end to segregated buses, schools, parks, and lunch counters in Baton Rouge. Jones's determination to stay on the road continues to this day. Still a practicing attorney in Baton Rouge, Jones carries on the fight to make the ideal of equality put forth in the Constitution a reality for all Americans. [Mary Hebert, based on interview with Johnnie Jones by Mary Hebert, 1 September 1993, Williams Center for Oral History Collection, 4700.0321, LLMVC.]