Pride and Chaneyville Focus on Oral History

Rivergate Building History

Life Under "Jim Crow"

Fannie Baumgartner Interviews at UNO

Southeastern Offers Oral History Course

Jazz Archive Adds Rhythm and Blues

Video to Augment Oral History

OHA Meets in Albuquerque

SOHO Calls For Papers

Huey Long and LSU's Golden Years


Published by the T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History . Louisiana State University.

Vol. III No. 1 Fall 1994

Pride and Chaneyville Communities Focus of Oral History Presentation

Nearly one hundred residents of the East Baton Rouge Parish communities of Chaneyville and Pride, Louisiana, gathered in the gym of Northeast High School on June 25 to celebrate the history of their towns.

Anthropologist Lorraine Hawkins (M.A. LSU 1991) drew on the more than seventy oral history interviews she had conducted to explore the history and social structures of this rural area. Hawkins supplemented her talk with an exhibit featuring photographs of community leaders and landmarks. Characteristic of the support she received throughout her research, the audience joined in an enthusiastic discussion after the formal address, confirming and correcting their neighbors' contributions.

"This participation added an important element to the overall presentation by making the entity of community a reality for the audience," said Hawkins. "One of the comments that came back from the audience's evaluations was that the presentation conveyed a `sense of community,' and in my opinion, that response was due to the discussion."

Hawkins began studying Pride, which is predominantly white, and Chaneyville, predominantly black, for her master's thesis. Finding few written historical works for the rural northeastern section of East Baton Rouge Parish, Hawkins turned to oral history to supplement such sources as censuses, conveyance records, maps, school board and church minutes and country store accounts. She found that in addition to the land itself, schools, families and churches defined the communities.

Reflecting this emphasis, the topics of her talk included: the Sandy Creek settlement; early Chaneyville and the Philadelphia Church; place names, post offices and schools; early black landownership; staves, sawmills, railroads and Milldale; Pride leadership and Pride School; Chaneyville School, Wheeler Hughes and Masonry; rural change and modernization; church life and benevolent societies; and community life today.

"The continuation of an oral history project to document the history of all the churches, which make up the fabric of rural community life, would be well worthwhile, added Hawkins. "There is a great deal of interest in these churches to participate in such a project."

The presentation was supported by a grant from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities and sponsored by Chaneyville Community Builders, Inc. It was professionally videotaped and will be made available locally to allow those in the community who were unable to attend to enjoy also. Hawkins is currently working on her Ph.D. in anthropology at the State University of New York at Binghamton. Her interviews were conducted with the assistance of the Williams Center, and the tapes have been deposited at Hill Memorial Library.

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Historic New Orleans Collection Preserves History of the Rivergate Building

The Rivergate Convention Center in New Orleans, slated for demolition to make room for the world's largest land-based casino, is the topic of the Historic New Orleans Collection's current oral history project.

Built in 1968 at a cost of $13 million, the Rivergate could not compete with newer New Orleans convention facilities. When gambling interests bid to build casinos in New Orleans, the city stipulated that the Rivergate be renovated and that a casino be located there. Now, however, the casino companies plan to tear down the building altogether and rebuild on the site.

Historic New Orleans began documenting the history and architectural significance of the building in May. In addition to oral history interviews with the Rivergate's architects and builders conducted by the project's director A. Lee Levert, Historic New Orleans has acquired photographs of the present structure, blue prints and written documents. They have also sought to involve the community in the project by a public solicitation for additional information.

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Life Under "Jim Crow" in Louisiana

Three graduate students working with the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies spent the summer in New Iberia and New Orleans collecting oral history interviews and related archival material about life under Jim Crow segregation laws.

Felix Armfield of the University of North Carolina and Michelle Mitchell of Northwestern, both students of African American history, and Columbia anthropology student Kate Ellis conducted about seventy interviews in each New Orleans and New Iberia as part of Duke's documentary project "Behind the Veil: African American Life in the Jim Crow South." Their work will be included in a forthcoming book and may also be used in a film. Ellis also plans to return to New Iberia to gather more interviews for her dissertation.

Other graduate students conducted interviews throughout the South to show the diversity of experiences under Jim Crow laws, especially those in different work cultures. Project Coordinator Annie Valk cited as examples cane farming in the New Iberia area and music and shipping in New Orleans. Rural-urban migration was also a topic.

Shadows-on-the-Teche, the public library and NAACP in New Iberia, and the Center for African American Studies at UNO helped interviewers with both logistic support and selection of interviewees. Valk wishes to thank these agencies for their assistance. The Center for Documentary Studies plans to deposit the tapes at the New Iberia Public Library and at the African-American Studies Center.

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Oral History Aids

Collection Development at UNO

Oral history continues to uncover unmined historical sources. The University of New Orleans Archives, Manuscript and Special Collections was able to acquire the papers of New Orleans activist Fannie Baumgartner as a result of interviews they conducted with her family. Baumgartner, the first woman elected to the Orleans Parish School Board, was involved in creating most of the social service agencies in New Orleans.

"As in the past, oral history has provided the archives with an opportunity to receive archival collections of rare quality," said Associate Archivist Beatrice Rodriguez-Owsley.

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Southeastern Offers Oral History Course

Director of the Center for Regional Studies Joy Jackson offered an oral history class at Southeastern University in Hammond this semester with nineteen takers.

"It used to be four people would sign up, and that was good," said Jackson.

The class requires about fifteen interviews, and so far the students have covered such topics as immigrant families and university history. In addition to these interviews, the students have the opportunity to practice their interviewing techniques on guest speakers. For example, this semester a researcher of early Hammond hospitals and physicians spoke to the class about her findings, and she is now writing a history about the subject that Jackson plans to publish locally.

Jackson has taught a course in oral history at Southeastern since the 1970's but until recently offered it only every two years. From now on, the course will be taught every year. It is a requirement for the cultural resources management curriculum but is open to all students.

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Hogan Jazz Archive Adds Rhythm and Blues

Interviews with New Orleans rhythm and blues artists are being added to the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University as the program extends the focus of its collection to include other facets of the city's rich musical heritage. Tad Jones, co-author of Up From the Cradle of Jazz, interviewed producer Cosimo Matassa and Earl Palmer, dean of New Orleans rhythm and blues drummers. Long-time jazz fan and benefactor Floyd Levin is conducting interviews on the West coast with clarinetist Evan Christopher, trumpeter Don Goldie, and Anne Davison, wife of coronet player "Wild Bill Davison."

In addition, the Archive is cross-indexing its oral history collection according to place, person, and band. Graduate students Dirk Van Tuerenhout and Kahne Parsons are handling that project, and curator Bruce Raeburn says it has done much to improve access to their holdings.

Other new staff include Monifa Johnson, an intern provided through the Tulane music department's new masters program in New Orleans music. Johnson, who will be transcribing interviews, is an accomplished vocalist and instrumentalist.

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American-Italian Renaissance Foundation Goes Video

The American-Italian Renaissance Foundation recently purchased video equipment for conducting its oral history interviews.

"After years of collecting American-Italian information in the immigrant voice," said Foundation founder Joe Maselli, "we felt the visual image, added to verbalization, would stimulate the interest of more American-Italians to participate in the program by filming their histories."

Maselli also suggested that video will be of more interest and value to the researcher because it can capture group interaction.

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Albuquerque Meeting of OHA

Draws Record Crowd

The annual meeting of the Oral History Association in Albuquerque drew a record 412 participants, attracted not only by the spectacular weather and scenery of New Mexico, but also by a fine array of panels, speakers, workshops, and field trips.

At the conclusion of the conference Williams Center Director Pamela Dean was installed as a member of the governing council of the association. She will serve a three-year term. Cliff Kuhn, president of the Southern Oral History Organization, was also elected to the council.

The 1995 OHA meeting will be held in Milwaukee and in Philadelphia in 1996. The 1997 convention will take place in our region, possibly in New Orleans or Baton Rouge. For more information contact the Williams Center, (504)388-6577.

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SOHO Call For Papers

The second annual meeting of the Southern Oral History Organization will be held in Durham, North Carolina, March 10-12, 1995. The theme of the conference will be "Oral History in the Contemporary South: Community, Academy, and Connections."

Conference sponsors, the Duke Center for Documentary Studies and the Southern Oral History Program at UNC-Chapel Hill, have called for proposals for individual papers or panels. Send a two page proposal with a short resume by December 15, 1994, to Annie Valk, Center for Documentary Studies, Duke University, Box 90802, Durham, NC 27708, (919)660-3651.

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"I've Got a University:"

Huey Long and LSU's Golden Years

by Mary Hebert

"I've Got a University," Huey Long declared proudly in 1935. Long's preoccupation with LSU was so great that T. Harry Williams devoted a whole chapter to it in his Pulitzer Prize winning biography Huey Long. By 1930, Long had taken an interest in LSU and decided to make it into one of the nation's premier schools. As a result, while the Depression was decimating other colleges, the thirties are remembered as LSU's Golden Years.

Long, however, was not always a fan of the university. In fact, as former Dean of Men Fred Frey recalls, the governor attacked it. "He [Long] was elected in '28, and of course, Baton Rouge was solidly against him and most of our higher deans and so on out at the university were against him. He said, "When I'm elected, I'm going to make a cow pasture out of Third Street, and I want to invite all of you people out in the state to come to the big parade when I fire all these pot-bellied professors."

Of course, Long did not destroy LSU or fire those "pot-bellied professors." Instead, improving the university became one of his pet projects. It was not LSU's academic standing, however, that first attracted his attention--it was the band. On his first visit to LSU in the fall of 1930, Long demanded that Band Director Pop Guilbeau be fired. Frey, in the absence of the president and business manager the only administrator available, met with the governor and tried to dissuade him. Frey said he invited the governor into the president's office, and Long "walked around and went and sat down in the president's chair . . . then he put his feet on the desk . . . and looked at me with that million dollar grin and said, `How do you think I would look as president of this damn outfit?'

"I said, `I think you would look wonderful, Governor. You look like a college president.'

"He said, `Just as well get serious. Since I can't get hold of the president, I want you to send for Pop Guilbeau. I'm going to fire the s.o.b. . . . I want a band.'

"I said, `Well, that's the wrong way to get it. I have seen in the paper in the last few weeks a statement that you have made publicly that you are going to make a great university of this.'

"`Yes, that's what I'm getting ready to do.'

"I said, `No, you are getting ready to ruin it. You can't fire somebody and get away with it. You might be a good politician, but you don't know how to run a university.'

"He said, `Yes, but I want a band. . . I want you to get him [Guilbeau]. I'm going to fire him. I have made up my mind.'

"I said, `Governor . . . if you really want to help the university, I think I can give you some suggestions. Now, you tell us what you think ought to be done out here and go back to the governor's office and help us get the money. But you can't do it. The president is the man who has to do it.'

"He said, `Well, I'll get me another president. . . . Pops is not the only one I'm going to fire. He's only the first one I'm going to fire.'"

Long did not fire Pop Guilbeau. Instead, Guilbeau, who was also superintendent of grounds, stepped down and was replaced by A.W. Wickboldt. The governor then demanded that the band be enlarged from twenty-eight to one- hundred-twenty-five pieces. In 1934, he decided that both further expansion (100 pieces) and a new band director were required. His band would be one of the largest in the country. Ordell Griffith, '36, describes the new band's premier performance.

"LSU had a military band. It was a wonderful band, but it was military. Huey was very much interested, in every aspect of the university, and he was interested in the band. He had Castro Carazo, who was the Cuban orchestra leader down at the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans, to be the band leader of this military band. I remember the consternation because people were very proud of that military band . . . The first football game started off very well. Everything was very fine until half time, when they were used to having a close ordered drill and all that kind of thing. The boys came waltzing on the football field, just a nice waltz. It was a tune as well as I can remember, it was called `Dancing On The Moon.' I thought it was wonderful. I'll tell you, some of those die hard Tigers didn't like it."

If Long loved "his" band, he was obsessed with the football team. He hired and fired coaches and even presented them with game plans. He also wanted to ensure that students were able to attend at least one out-of-town football game per year. Roe Cangleosi, '38, recalled, "He said he wanted the whole student body to go up to Nashville. And so the round trip was $19, but he got the railroad company and pulled something over on them and said, `It's got to be $6.' He got it for $6. He said he would loan each student $6 to take this trip to Nashville."

Long's interest in LSU, however, did not remain restricted to the band and football team. In 1934, as he had promised Frey, Long, now a senator, hired himself another president, Dr. James Monroe Smith. John Thompson, former professor of Romance languages, describes how Smith was hired. "He reportedly got James Monroe Smith, who was on the faculty at Southwestern Louisiana Institute, and called him up and talked to him, said, `Go get yourself a new suit of clothes, run that old Ford into the lake, and get a decent car. I want you to be president of LSU.'"

Once his own man was in place, Long began to pour money into the university. Frey recalls that other universities "didn't have enough money to pay the professors. They started cutting salaries and laying off faculty people. Here, we had more money than we knew what to do with." Cleanth Brooks, former English professor and founding co-editor with Robert Penn Warren of The Southern Review remembers that LSU "had some of the most brilliant young writers and professors I have ever known. The other universities in the country weren't expanding. Huey Long was pouring money into the university. It [LSU] was swelling its ranks. It was taking on new scholars, faculty people and students. It was in a buyer's market, for everybody was looking for a job. It got one from Oxford in [Robert Penn] Warren, it got one from Harvard in [Robert] Heilman, it got two more, from Johns Hopkins,[Thomas] Kirby and [Nathaniel] Caffee."

Chancellor Emeritus Cecil Taylor, discussing his appointment to the faculty, confirms Brooks's account. "When I was offered the position I conferred with one of my former Chapel Hill professors. . . and he said he thought this was one of the most promising places in the country. The Depression had not hit LSU in the same way that it had hit the rest of the country. . . by the mid-thirties, LSU was booming ahead of the other parts of the country, and it was one of the few places where there were university positions available. "

In addition to bringing a top-notch faculty to LSU, Long pumped money into other programs that brought almost immediate praise to the university. One of them was The Southern Review. Cleanth Brooks describes its founding. "Warren reported to me one morning, he said, `You know yesterday morning, President Smith drove up to my house in his car and asked me and my wife to get in the car, ride around, presumably to see the landscape. And finally asked me, `Mr. Warren, what would it cost to produce a quarterly review?' Warren, who could think very fast on his feet, said, `Ten thousand dollars would do it.' `Ah, ten thousand dollars.' (This is in February.) `Do you think you could get one out by June first?' Warren said, `Yes,'" and the Southern Review became one of the country's most prestigious literary journals.

To further improve the quality of the faculty, the university encouraged members to complete advanced degrees and even gave them financial support to do so. Claude Shaver, a former speech professor, was one of the faculty members who took part in this program.

"[Smith] called a faculty meeting. He said that he thought that if a number of young faculty members who did not have advance degrees would plan to go away and study that the university would support them in a limited sense and that they wouldn't be replaced if the rest of the faculty would agree to carry their load. Well, I was one of the recipients. I went to the University of Wisconsin, and the university [LSU] paid me a hundred dollars a month, and we could live on it in those days."

Despite Long's largesse, faculty members and students felt the bite of the Depression from time to time. Faculty members never took a pay cut, but for a while, the university paid them in script instead of cash.

"They set up a commissary system," Shaver recalled, "and you received, half, maybe a little more, of the money in script, but it was good in the grocery store, the meat market, the dairy, so we had almost complete shopping in the script. You couldn't buy suits or dresses or this kind of thing, but everything else we could buy with script. We got along very well. In fact, some people asked them to continue the script." The Depression also affected LSU's students, but Long took steps to see that those in need received financial aid. Frey contended that "we had less political interference during Huey's time than we ever did. Huey said this, with these scholarships we were setting up, given by the legislature. The legislators started running out there, wanting this and that. I don't know who conveyed it to him, whether Smith or somebody else, he issued a public statement that if he caught any politician out at the university telling anybody what to do with it, it was his neck. They better stay away from the university."

Ordell Griffith worked in the business office as a student and recalls a similar situation in 1935.

"Of course he [Long] had fallen into disfavor with the federal government. And as I understand it, for some reason they were withdrawing the funds for the NYA [National Youth Administration] program, from LSU. I was in the student employment office, and we had already written to the students and told them that (they were they neediest students) those jobs would be available. He [Long] heard about, and he told Mr. [Ian] Jackson [LSU's business manager] that we could not start these students and then leave them in the lurch, so to speak. So at the time he was killed, we were writing letters to all those students telling them that their jobs were safe, and of course they were."

Though anti-Long sentiment existed in Louisiana, Huey Long for the most part reigned supreme in his home state; no doubt his aid to the university helped. But he had aspirations to extend his realm to include the entire nation. As Roe Cangleosi recalls, Long was not the only one who believed the Louisiana senator and former governor could be president. His support was evident as the train carrying LSU students to the football game in Nashville passed through "all these towns from Baton Rouge to Nashville--Vicksburg, everything--they wanted to see Huey Long. . . . They crowded down wherever the train passed. They thought he was--they knew that he was going to succeed Franklin Roosevelt as president."

Huey Long never had a chance to run for president though. An assassin's bullet took his life in 1935, and his death had an almost immediate impact on the university. In his book, The Southern Connection, former English professor Robert Heilman recalls the day Long was shot.

"On our seventh day in Baton Rouge, we walked the block or two to the Capitol to look in on a meeting of the state legislature, which, it had been announced, United States Senator Long would attend. We had already toured the imposing skyscraper Capitol. . . . We found our way to the visitors' gallery at the rear of the lower-house chamber. In time Huey appeared on the floor, and we saw him in operation--chatting with members at various desks, striding from spot to spot, gesturing, sitting on the speaker's dais, summoning and sending. . . . Before too long, Huey strode out passing underneath our gallery; my memory is of many henchmen running along or following, and a chamber still formally at business but now semi-empty, all but dead. A few seconds later there was a strange outburst of sounds in a rapid but irregular sequence. Firecrackers, I thought, puzzled. Then men came running back into the chamber below us and ducking behind desks. It had to be gunfire, thought to a new young Ph.D., fresh out of Harvard, this was unbelievable. We were hearing the shots that killed R. Carl Weiss and fatally wounded Senator Long, who died a day and a half later.

"Several days later, another shock: Dr. William A. Read, then head of the English department, dropped in at our flat to tell us that he wasn't sure that the university would open on schedule the next week. Longer mourning period was my first thought. But no; Dr. Read evidently feared that Senator Long's death would totally disrupt all the institutional processes of the state. . . . What kind of world was it in which one man's death might bring a whole state to a standstill? Happily, Dr. Read's fears were not borne out by fact. Though still shaken, we began teaching on schedule."

John Thompson also remembers Long's death.

"During the summer of 1935, I returned to complete research for my doctoral dissertation at North Carolina and had just gotten up early and went downtown to catch breakfast before returning to Baton Rouge. The morning newspaper had headlines that Huey Long had been assassinated. A dignified and, I may say, even pompous university professor whom I did not know was reading that and commenting, `Well, I guess that's a good thing maybe,' and I told him that I knew Huey Long very well and that, in my opinion, he was a great statesman as far as bringing Louisiana out of the nineteenth into the twentieth century, that he was in the process of building a fine university, that he was not enriching himself at the cost of the state. The only flaw I could find in him was that he had had to use some tactics, political tactics to get his loan for the highway system, for the university, for the state capitol, and various other things, and that his followers had learned how to wangle political concessions for themselves, and they were likely to take advantage of the techniques that they had learned from Huey Long, as far as politics were concerned."

Long's followers did take advantage of the techniques they learned from him, but they did not have his savvy. Within five years of his death, their lack of political acumen became apparent, and the world that Huey Long built at LSU fell apart. The story of how and why this occurred will appear in the next edition of the newsletter.

[Based on interviews from T. Harry Williams Papers and Williams Center for Oral History Collection, LLMVC.]

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