$86 FOR HARRY'S 86TH
New Faces at Williams Center
New Faces at Williams Center
ORAL HISTORY IN LOUISIANA
Vol. III No. 2 Spring 1995
"$86 FOR HARRY'S 86TH"
SPECIAL BIRTHDAY PARTY TO CELEBRATE HARRY'S 86THWe are inviting all friends of T. Harry Williams and the Williams Center to come to an eighty-sixth birthday party for the late, beloved professor of Civil War history and pioneering oral historian. We'll be celebrating not only his birthday but also the conclusion of a special fund drive, "$86 for Harry's 86th."
Money raised in this campaign will help support a graduate student assistant at the Center. Donors to the fund will receive an invitation to the party and will have their names inscribed on a birthday card that will be presented to Mrs. Williams on that occasion.
"We hope that alums who remember Harry's classes, friends of the Williams family, and everyone who is interested in the work of the Williams Center will join this campaign," Mary Frey Eaton said. Eaton is the chair of the Williams Center Development Council. "This fund drive is part of our on-going effort to raise an endowment for the Williams Center," Eaton continued. "We've already raised two-thirds of what we need for the assistantship. By May 19, we hope to have the rest."
"I was a student of both Mrs. Williams and T. Harry," James Peltier, president of the LSU Foundation. "They were among my early mentors and I welcome this chance to pay back some of what they gave me."
Send your donations in increments of "$86 for Harry's 86th"--$8,600, $860, $186, $86, or any other sum--to the Williams Center, Hill Library, LSU.
For more information and to reserve your place at the party, please call us at 388-6577 or see the pledge form at the back of this flyer.
New Faces at Williams CenterThe Williams Center recently hired two new assistants, Lola H. Purvis and Emily Trabona.
Our new transcriber Emily, a junior majoring in English literature, is a native of Livonia, Louisiana. She plans to teach high school and says that she would like to use oral history in her classes.
Lola received her Masters of Library Science from LSU in December and is currently pursuing her C.L.I.S., Certificate of Advanced Studies. This degree requires an internship, and her work at the Center fulfills that requirement. A member of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, Lola says that working at the Center combines her interest in the oral tradition of native Americans and genealogical research and her technical skills. Her responsibilities include accessioning, abstracting and readying our interviews for deposit with the Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collection.
Interviewers Needed for African American
Oral History ProjectAs the River Road African American Museum and Gallery reaches its first anniversary, it is beginning to collect oral history interviews of the African American communities of the River Parishes. Director Kathe Hambrick is looking for volunteers to help with this project.
Most of River Road's black communities--Iberville, Darrow, Sunshine, Modeste, Vacherie, and Donaldsonville--are near the old plantations where the ancestors of many of today's residents were slaves and later sharecroppers. Hambrick wants to gather the recollections of life and work handed down to these residents using oral history, and to make them available at the museum.
Located on Tezcuco Plantation in Burnside, the museum and gallery display historical documents and artifacts, most of which have been donated or loaned by families from Ascension and surrounding parishes. A storehouse of local black history, it highlights the successes and hardships of African Americans from slavery through the present.
If you are interested in volunteering to conduct interviews, to help with documentary research, or to take photographs, please contact Kathe Hambrick at (504)644-7955.
Williams Center Graduate Assistant
to Work With Duke's Center for Documentary StudiesThe Williams Center for Oral History proudly announces that Mary Hebert, our research assistant, will spend the summer working with Duke University's Center for Documentary Studies on its research project, "Behind the Veil: Documenting African-American Life in the Jim Crow South." The project is a collaborative research effort of students, teachers, and researchers at the Center for Documentary Studies, historically black colleges and universities in the South, including Southern-New Orleans, and community-based history projects.
Mary is one of six graduate students hired by the program. She will be conducting interviews, gathering archival materials, and setting up oral history programs in high schools in Summerton, South Carolina, and Norfolk, Virginia.
"We're very glad to have her with us," Leslie Brown, co-director of the project told us. "The fact that she's a trained and experienced interviewer and has done a research project on this subject already will be a great asset."
"Behind the Veil" is a multi-year effort to document the experience of Jim Crow from the perspective of African-Americans. Using oral history, documentary photography, and archival research the project will help make the era of segregation more visible to all Americans and to begin filling the gaps in our understanding of this critical period in American history. One of the project's research teams spent last summer in New Iberia and New Orleans collecting oral history interviews and archival material about the Jim Crow era in Louisiana.
The "Behind the Veil" project is directed by the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ford Foundation, the Lyndhurst Foundation, and other research institutions.
Historic New Orleans Preserves
Jazz History TapesThe Historic New Orleans Collection recently completed its campaign to preserve the tapes recording William Russell's interviews with over 600 jazz artists, including such greats as Louis Armstrong, Sweet Emma Barrett, Eubie Blake, and Alphonse Picou.
The Collection gave special attention to preservation and accurate reproduction. The tapes were carefully rewound and placed on fresh reels and simultaneously copied to analog open reel tape, DAT (digital audio tape), and two audio cassettes. "At no point has any effort been made to edit out extraneous noises or what might be mistakes in recording technique," said Alfred E. Lemmon, curator of manuscripts. "The combination of the analog, digital, and cassette copies should preserve these invaluable recordings for researchers for years to come."
Williams Center Series
Put on CD-ROMThe Williams Center and LSU's Center for Instructional Technology (CIT) are collaborating on a project to put oral history interviews on CD-ROM. The interactive program would allow a researcher to read the transcript, to hear the audio tape, and to call up photos and other related documents.
The oral history CD-ROM is the pilot project for CIT's new multimedia development center. It will include interviews from the Williams Center's series on the desegregation of LSU, beginning with A.P. Tureaud, Jr., the first African-American admitted to LSU as an undergraduate, plus newspaper articles, court documents, and photographs from the Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collection at Hill Library.
UNO to Interview New Orleans RestaurateursNew Orleans is known for its ethnic diversity and the wonderful food that goes with that. These two characteristics are the subject of the University of New Orleans Archives' most recent oral history project.
The series will include twenty-five New Orleans restaurateurs, selected to reflect the wide variety of food the city offers--black and white Creole, French, and Spanish, among others. The series seeks to document how the different restaurants got started and any problems they may have encountered, according to Associate Archivist Beatrice Rodriguez-Owsley. This project combines two aspects of the Archives's mission statement-- to collect information on both business and ethnic groups in the New Orleans area.
*********S O U N D B I T E S*********Marie Windell of UNO Archives presented a paper entitled "Oral History Under Oath: The Supreme Court of Louisiana Collection of Legal Archives," for a program of the Friends of the Cabildo, Louisiana State Museum, January 14.
Thanks to a $5000 donation from the LSU Athletic Department, the Williams Center recently purchased a new and more powerful computer. In addition to providing another transcribing station, which will facilitate depositing our interviews with the Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collection, the computer will directly connect the Center to the Internet. Go Tigers!
***UNO Archives's Beatrice Rodriguez-Owsley was appointed to the Oral History Association's publications committee. Serving a three-year term, she will act as the liaison between it and the multi-cultural committee.
Remembering the Scandals
by Mary Hebert"I've Got a University," Huey Long declared proudly in 1935. Since 1930, Long had pumped large amounts of money into LSU, intending to make it into one of the nation's premier schools. During those years, the University flourished, but his death brought dramatic changes. "Boys, if I ever get killed, all of you are going to the penitentiary," Long warned his associates, J.D. Whitty of the LSU physical plant recalled. "Long, you see, he controlled it. Well, the minute he got killed, it just went wild. Everybody was getting all they could get." Money that had once flowed freely into the University now flowed freely into the pockets of University administrators, contractors, and politicians.
LSU's president James Monroe Smith appointed his cronies to key administrative positions. He made George Caldwell, a Baton Rouge contractor, building superintendent and named E. N. Jackson business manager. Smith also used his office to ensure that he and his associates prospered financially. He circumvented the Board of Supervisors to give himself and Jackson thousands of dollars in pay raises and Caldwell a 2 percent kickback on all University construction.
Smith and his friends also banded together with several business and political leaders to overcharge the University for goods and services. They formed a supply company which was given an exclusive, unwritten contract with LSU and charged inflated prices for goods. George Schwab, bookstore manager in 1939, recalls , "I'd been manager about two and a half months when Ike Mayeux [soda fountain manager] came in and said he needed some dishes. For some unknown reason, I started getting quotations when I was over there. I had quotations from Lubback's in New Orleans, from another firm in New Orleans, and from Baton Rouge Supply in Baton Rouge here. I placed an order with Lubback's. The day that I placed the order the sales representative came out from Baton Rouge Supply wanting to know about the order. I told him that I had placed the order with Lubback's. He questioned me about that. Did I know anything about buying china. 'Why did you buy this china from Lubback's?' I said, 'Well, because I got the best buy there.'"
"I thought he would leave then, but he didn't." The salesman kept probing, "'How do you know you got the best buy?' By this time, I was more or less shaky, knowing the background of Baton Rouge Supply and who owned it. . . . Emory Adams [Mrs. Smith's nephew], E. N. Jackson, George Caldwell, [James] Monroe Smith, and Dr. Clarence Lorio [a prominent Baton Rouge physician and director of LSU's Student Health Center], and a few other people. I was really nervous, turning red, white and blue and purple and gold. He turned and opened the door and put his hand on the doorknob to close it as he was going out. He said, 'Well, I'll have to report this one to the Doc.'" Schwab feared that he would be fired for not purchasing the china from Baton Rouge Supply, but E. N. Jackson laughed and told him, "If it happens again, tell them the same darn thing."
Many blamed Thelma Smith for her husband's downfall, charging that her desire for a lavish lifestyle led Smith to misappropriate University funds. In his book, Louisiana Hayride, Harnett Kane claims that Thelma Smith wanted to be a "great lady" and that she emulated the lifestyle of the very wealthy, purchasing fine silver from Mexico and crystal from France. Her lavish parties featured catered delicacies trucked in from New Orleans's Roosevelt Hotel. She engaged LSU's landscaper, Steele Burden, to design a formal garden at the President's House. "I developed it into a formal garden," Burden said, "in which they had a stage outside and a little section where they had all kinds of birds, and, of course, a formal rose garden, and then in one end of the garden they had sort of an allée which led to an arbor that you sat in."
The Smith's daughter, Marjorie, was the focus of some of her mother's greatest extravagance. George Schwab remembers, "When the daughter made her debut in New Orleans. They called on Roe Cangelosi [who owned Crescent Laundry] and got his largest truck, which was a covered vehicle, and had it crammed full of evening gowns and accessories that belonged to the daughter and Mrs. Smith." Chancellor Emeritus Cecil Taylor, who as a young professor, tutored Mrs. Smith in French, commented on the "highfalutin pretentiousness" that surrounded the Smiths. For Marjorie's debut, "They rented a floor of the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans. Of course, here were the really the arrivistes coming to the city, you see. You can imagine the reaction of the real established society of New Orleans. Imagine trying to sort of invade that society."
When Marjorie married, the extravagance escalated. J.D. Whitty vividly recalls her wedding cake. "They had the wedding here on the LSU campus over at the president's house. A baker made a fruitcake, wedding fruitcake, in New Orleans. It was so big they couldn't bring it in a van, so I went in a ton-and-a-half truck from LSU, picked it up, brought it back, and unloaded it over there at Dr. Smith's house. Can you imagine it being big enough to haul in a ton-and-a-half truck?"
Using University vehicles for transporting material (often purchased by the University) for private use was not unusual, and Whitty drove many of these missions. "When they got trucks, they told me to take one home, told me, 'You'll be called day and night, anytime we need you.'"University officials were true to their word. Whitty recalls, "I'd been all over the state to different places, in Covington, Metairie, and all over where it was necessary to go. But I was given orders to go, to pick up its material, haul this material and stuff there." He often made these deliveries in the early morning hours. On such occasion, Whitty noticed he was being followed. "I went to Baton Rouge Lumber Company and loaded it up with 6' x 6'. Right on the river front, the Baton Rouge Lumber Company was right on the riverfront. I had it loaded, I guess, at six or seven o'clock, so I just went on home and put it in the yard, put the truck in the yard, loaded. So, I got up, two o'clock, and got dressed, got in my truck an backed out in the street. When I backed out in the street, starting off, car lights came in the back glass, you know. I said, 'Well, that's funny, for those people to just be parked down there.' The more I looked in that rear view mirror, the more I could tell they were following me. When I'd speed up, they'd speed up. When I'd slow up, they'd slow up. So, those lights stayed in my mirror all the way to Hammond. . . . So, I went on and went into Covington."
The men trailed Whitty to his destination. "I pulled up into this gentleman's driveway. It was [Governor Richard] Dick Leche. Pulled across the cattle guard, pulled down just a ways and stopped. And they pulled up to the cattle guard but would not come in. So, I drove on down in there, and we got the stuff unloaded"
The men following Whitty were FBI agents. In addition to using University vehicles and materials, University and state officials, including Governor Richard Leche, had also been using federal Public Works Administration and Works Progress Administration (PWA and WPA) workers for private construction. Whitty remembers, "When Roosevelt came out with the PWA and the NRA [National Recovery Administration] and all the other A's. They were funding money for the workmen. And, we were abusing PWA labor, you know, using them around on campus and off campus, in people's private homes. . . . They had those WPA workers and WPA money in here, you know, and we were picking those workers up at Istrouma at 4:30 and 5 o'clock in the morning and hauling them to Covington, staying all day with them, and hauling them back."
When this misuse of federal employees came to the attention U.S. Attorney General Frank Murphy, he instructed J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, to investigate. Murphy and Hoover even visited LSU in June of 1939. On that visit, Smith awarded Murphy an honorary doctorate. Law Professor Melvin Dakin remembers their visit. "I have the recollection from sitting in the stadium being eaten up by mosquitoes in June of 1939. The principle speaker was to be then Attorney General Murphy. The proceedings were delayed for an hour or more while conversations were going on evidently in the governor's mansion attempting to temper the attorney general's zeal in the general matter of the violations of federal law and so on. But the commencement exercises did finally get moving, and the president was finally in the act of conferring the doctor of philosophy degrees. We thought President Smith said, as he conferred the degree on the candidate, invested him with his hood, that he said, 'And I confer upon you all the rights and privileges and immunities thereto appertaining,' instead of 'emoluments.'"
The subject of immunity may well have been on Smith's mind in June of 1939. By the end of that month, what would forever after be known as the Scandals broke, and the corruption that permeated both the University and the state were exposed.
The end began with a seemingly minor incident. J. D. Whitty recalls, "That morning Sam Boudreaux and I loaded a bunch of door frames, window frames and doors, out of the old tin warehouse where the extension of the brick warehouse is. They built all these doors and stored all these door frames and doors in there, and we loaded up that morning, bright and early with the door frames and went to Metairie, where Dick Leche's father-in-law lived. They were building a new house.
"Sam and I pulled in there, and we were in a hurry to unload our truck so we could get through, I was on the ground, and Sam was up there handing it off to me. I looked up over there in a live oak tree, and I said, 'Sam!' He said, 'What?!' I turned that thing a loose. He said, 'What?!' I said, 'Look at that guy up there taking our picture!' I say, 'Boy, look a here. He's taking pictures of us unloading this stuff." So, I said, "Let's get it off of here and let's go. Let's get out of here.' Man, we got in those trucks and hauled off. The next morning, the damn scandal broke, and there was pictures of us and the trucks on the paper."
After the door frame incident, the corruption at LSU and in the state government soon came to light. Louisianians learned that Smith had been playing the stock market with LSU money under an assumed name. According to Cecil Taylor, "Well, he was secretary to the Board of Supervisors, that is, he wrote up the minutes. And he was playing the futures market. He had his own office in New Orleans for the future markets, and he ran short. He had to put up some money to back up his futures. So, he wrote up a set of minutes authorizing him to borrow in the name of the university, and he borrowed, if I remember, the first three hundred thousand. I think that he borrowed that from a New Orleans bank, and some bank in Baton Rouge said, 'Why do you always go down there to borrow when you can borrow some here?' So he wrote up another set of minutes authorizing him to borrow two hundred thousand more. So he borrowed a half million dollars to keep his enterprise afloat down there in New Orleans." Smith later claimed he had planned to use the profits from these investments to create a student aid fund.
To escape prosecution, Smith and his wife fled to Canada. In the days prior to the Smiths' departure, J. D. Whitty realized that something was wrong. "I knew something was funny the day before he left, though. You see, I was just mainly a flunkey. I did anything and everything. What they wanted done, that's what I did. Two days before, I went over to the president's house, and I started packing crystal and silver, crystal she'd brought back from France. I thought it was funny then, 'She isn't going to move. Why pack all this stuff?' We, my crew and I packed for two days over there. So, I went back there that last day, and we'd packed up all the crystal, all the silver, and everything else. I asked Mr. Nabors [head of physical plant], 'Where's it going?' He said, 'J. D., I don't know. They don't tell me nothing. They just told me to send you over there to do it.'"
The FBI conducted a nation-wide manhunt for the Smiths and even had law enforcement agencies in Mexico and Canada looking for them. LSU Foundation president James Peltier, a boy at the time, recalls "In 1939, my father and mother took the family, there were four of us, to the World's Fair in New York and then went on into Canada. It was a summer vacation for the whole family. We were driving through Canada and stopped at this small town. The car was parked out in front of this hotel. As I remember it, around seven o'clock at night the police from Canada had knocked on the door and asked to speak to my father. The first question they asked him was, 'Do you know James Monroe Smith?'. He said, 'Oh yes, he's very good friend of mine.' My father had been on the Board of Supervisors so he knew James Monroe Smith very well. We had been gone from home for so long that we hadn't gotten the news about the Louisiana Scandals, which were just breaking. They had noticed the Louisiana license plate, and that's how they came to knock on the door. They took him down to the police station to answer some questions."
Smith, George Caldwell and several others, including Governor Richard Leche, served time in prison for their illegal activities. Despite his transgressions, many within the University continued to support Smith, in part in recognition of his significant contributions to LSU. Cecil Taylor was one. "President Smith was, by associates in the University, sort of fairly well regarded, respected, I think. When he returned there was a matter of putting up money to assure, bond money, I guess. Even some of my friends actually went bond for him, so to speak. When we saw him walking around the campus, we, I guess being just I, I had a little sense of pity for him. He looked like a man heavily burdened with a weight of things upon him, and I think we all thought that he was conscientious in his concerns for the University." Taylor and another foreign language professor, John Thompson, even arranged for a scholarship for Smith's son at their alma mater, the University of North Carolina, allowing the young man to escape the anti-Smith attitude that permeated Louisiana. Some, including Thompson, believed Smith's claim that he intended to use his profits from the future's market for student aid. "President Smith was a victim of some of the political background, and he was doing the best he could for the university. He got caught playing the commodities market, which I think he was doing with sincerity, expecting to turn the money over to the university, but he was caught and left in disgrace. His cronies had deserted him like rats deserting a sinking ship." Thompson also cites Thelma Smith as the cause of her husband's criminal activities. "One of the big problems that President Smith had was the social ambitions of his wife. She may have urged him to get involved in this . . . commodities market where he lost money and lost his job and his reputation, but I think not his character. I think he was a sincere friend of the university and did everything he could to promote the welfare of the university. Similarly, Dean of the University Fred Frey recalls, "He [John Monroe Smith] told me this three years later when he got out [of prison]. He would have made two million dollars, and he was planning this for a student aid fund. See, after Huey got killed, they [the state legislature] just started cutting down on the student aid funds."
In 1939, Huey Long's university went from being one of the country's premier schools to being a laughingstock. In the aftermath of the Scandals, several outside agencies, including special state auditors, investigated LSU's internal and financial operations. Following their suggestions, University administrators created new organizational structures with financial safeguards built in. This restructuring allowed LSU to recover, rebuild, and become a better institution. According to Walter Calhoun, formerly of the business office, people who worked at LSU "could recognize a vast difference in the operation of this University before and after this happened. Of course, there was a lot of good, as far as LSU was concerned, that happened because of that. But for a period at least, I'd say twenty years. I think the University attained the stability and reputation for integrity and straight dealings that made it a real wonderful place for us to work."