ORAL HISTORY IN LOUISIANA
Published by the T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History, Louisiana State University
Vol. IV No. 2 & Vol. V No. 1 Spring/ Summer/ Fall 1996
Friends of the Williams Center Gather of Annual Celebration for T. HarryJust as she promised last year at our celebration of the life and work of T. Harry Williams on the occasion of his eighty-sixth birthday, Mary Frey Eaton hosted another wonderful celebration marking his eighty-seventh. The party was held on 21 May 1996 at Eaton's home. The decor was supplemented with a selection of Williams' books and other memorabilia. The video of the last class session in his civil war course was available for viewing.
Nearly 200 people attended the affair, which marked the end of our spring fund drive. We raised close to $30,000 toward our 1996 goal of $50,000. Several contributions were made in the memory of the late Robert Reily, former curator at the Old State Capitol who shared Williams' interest in military history. We are deeply grateful to Mrs. Reily for thinking of us.
Funds from this campaign will be used to underwrite travel and transcribing costs for graduate students and junior faculty who are using oral history in their research.
Janet Barnwell, this year's Estelle Skolfied Williams Graduate Assistant, was present, as was Tara Zachary, last year's recipient.
A special thanks to Mary Frey Eaton and the members of her family and household who made the party such a great success.
And to all of you who have contributed to our endowment, thank you! We are especially grateful to our new donors. We appreciate your interest in the Williams Center and hope you will continue to find our work worthy of your support.
Williams Center Announces Publication of
Guide to Oral History Collections in LouisianaThe Williams Center is proud to announce the publication of A Guide to Oral History Collections in Louisiana! The first in a projected annual series of publications based on or about oral history in region, the Guide provides access to nearly 7,500 tape-recorded interviews in thirty-two repositories across the state. Repositories range from Allen to Vernon Parish Libraries, from LSU-Shreveport to SLU in Hammond, with numerous other parish and university libraries, historical societies, museums, and archives in between.
The collections are indexed by interviewee and interviewer names as well as by subject. Descriptions of the repositories provide full information on how to contact them and includes addresses, phone numbers, persons to contact, and descriptions of major series.
There is a wealth of fascinating local history material hidden away in many local libraries and historical society collections that have until now seldom been used. It is our hope that this guide will become an essential tool not only for scholars studying twentieth-century Louisiana history, but for teachersseeking to enliven high school history classes, journalists writing feature stories on local figures and events, documentary film-makers and anyone interested in the state's rich and colorful past.
The Guide to Oral History Collections in Louisiana is available from LSU Press for $19.95 or through your local bookstore.
*************Sound Bites*************The Amistad Research Center at Tulane University has added to its oral history collection an interview with Laverne Brown secretary for Operation Crossroads Africa. Founded in the late 1950s, Operation Crossroads Africa sent young men and women to Africa to help in improving farming techniques and health conditions. This organization served as a prototype for the Peace Corps.
***Louisiana State University at Shreveport continues to work on its Shreveport physicians project with history professor Allen Thompson and J. Woodfin Wilson conducting the interviews. Interviews with former mayors Hazel Beard and John Hussey and former state legislator Virginia Shehee have also been added to their collection.
***The Louisiana Forestry Association is also turning to oral history to document the history of the industry in Louisiana. Pamela Dean recently conducted a workshop with the group. Copies of the tapes and transcripts will be deposited at the Williams Center as well as other regional repositories. If you would like more information, contact Zebulon White.
***The Old State Capitol's political audio and video collections are now open to researchers on a limited basis and by appointment only. The staff there recently set up a special carrel that allows scholars to listen to or view tapes which document our state's colorful political history. For more information, call Sailor Jackson at (504) 342-0500.
***The University of Southwestern Louisiana will be celebrating its centennial in 2000 and to commemorate this anniversary has been collecting and transcribing interviews with alumni, administrators, and faculty. The interviews are deposited at Dupre Library.
***A committee of the First Presbyterian Church of Baton Rouge is planning to record interviews with some of the church's senior members to supplement their existing archives. Pamela Dean conducted a workshop for them in March.
***The University of New Orleans continues to gather interviews with New Orleans restauranteurs. Since last spring, it has interviewed fourteen restaurant owners, including Ella Brennan of the world famous Brennan's Restaurant, and collected photographs, menus, and publicity materials from each. Some of the interviews are transcribed. In addition, the university recently added an interview with Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge John Minor Wisdom to its collection. Wisdom issued the ruling which desegregated public schools in New Orleans and helped to formulate affirmative action.
***At the annual meeting of the Louisiana Historical Association in March, Pamela Dean, director of the Williams Center, chaired a panel on using oral history to document Louisiana's political and social history. Mary Hebert, Williams Center research assistant, presented a paper on her research on the civil rights movement and the bus boycott in Baton Rouge in 1953. Victoria Mocsary, of Southeastern Louisiana University, discussed her master's thesis and how oral history allowed her to trace the development of the Hungarian community of New Albany, Louisiana. Joy Jackson, director of the Center for Regional Studies at Southeastern Louisiana University, told the audience how oral history added depth to her biography of her father, a Mississippi riverboat pilot, Where the River Runs Deep.
***As we go to press, Shanta Jenkins, Shanda Hollins, Carmen Posey, Roderick Jones, of theMcKinley High School Oral History Project and chaperone Jennifer Jenkins are on their way to New York City. Along with college of education graduate student Molly Quinn, these young people, who collected more than fifty interviews with McKinley alums, will be presenting their slide-tape show on the history of Louisiana's first public high school for African-Americans at the American Education Research Association meeting. The students and their supporters raised more than $3,000 to finance their trip.
Second Summer Youth Project
Documents BusinessesOn July 25 at McKinley High School the Williams Center's summer youth oral history project presented a slide tape show about the South Baton Rouge business community based on twenty-six interviews with business owners and other community members. This is the second phase of a long-term project to document the history of the community which is adjacent to the LSU campus and which historically was the heart of the city's African American community. Last year's program chronicled the history of McKinley High School. [See above for an update on this project] This year we turned our attention to neighborhood businesses.
Under the direction of LSU College of Education graduate student Toby Daspit, who had conducted a similar study in New Iberia, this year's staff, Khary Carrell, Nedra Carter, Michael Goods, and Rudolph Henry conducted twenty-six interviews, prepared photo exhibits, and produced a book based on their interviews. The book, "'Picutres in My Mind': An Oral History of South Baton Rouge Community Business and the Business Community," included photographs, biographical sketches of the interviewees and transcribed excerpts from the tapes. Tapes and the transcripts and indexes for them as well as photos and other documents that were collected for these two projects will be available to the public at McKinley High School Library and at the Williams Center for Oral History at Hill Library on the LSU campus.
This project was made possible by the support of Jobs Training Partnership Act and the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, and the encouragement of the McKinley High School Alumni Association and the Metropolitan Community Housing Development Organization.
Long for President!!Louisiana politics were just campus politics writ large, one might argue. Just as sound trucks, fiery speeches, and political deals marked state political campaigns, so they characterized many student elections at LSU. The Williams Center is launching a series of interviews with former student body presidents to record their memories of the political process on the campus.
The following article is based on interviews with Russell Long by Robert Mann. The son of the charismatic governor and later senator Huey Long, Russell no doubt learned much from his father, but as he told Mann, he didn't initially share Huey's passion for LSU.
"When I mentioned [to my father] that [I wanted to go to Princeton,] the roof blew off the house. 'My God,' he said, 'I worked and strived and risked impeachment to build a university here that the state could be proud of and the people could send their sons and daughters to, and it's not good enough for my own son.' He was utterly disgusted that I would even suggest it.
"When my father was assassinated, as far as I was concerned he wanted me to go to LSU, and that's what I was going to do. I respected his wish. Looking back I'm glad I did because in future years it proved to be a tremendous asset to me that I went to LSU, mainly because I knew so many people from around the state.
"The first year at LSU, it seems to me as though they spent mainly bringing these young people from those rural schools to qualify them to do college work. Because by my lights I learned practically nothing that freshman year. I learned a lot about campus politics. I made a fair average, but I could have passed a final exam with a decent grade when I signed up as freshman. So, I spent my time running for president of the freshman class, which I won.
"I was rushed by quite a few fraternities. But none of them offered me a bid. I think that's because, in every last one of them, there's somebody that didn't like Huey Long who would black ball me, even though my father had been assassinated. Oscar Allen [Jr.] had recommended me at the DKE [Delta Kappa Epsilon], which I thought was the best fraternity out there. When I was black balled, he proceeded to sit there and black ball everybody. I did not know this [then].
"It came up to the point that these fellows were getting desperate. They couldn't get anybody past the chapter. [They] said, 'Look, something's got to happen here. This fraternity will go out of existence. We've got to get some in. Who in the hell is doing this black balling?' So, Oscar said, 'I am, and I'll tell you why.' He said, 'You've got a man down there who's not being considered for what he is. Someone's judging him because they don't like his father, and that's not right.' He said, 'Now, whoever is black balling that man stand up and admit what he's doing. If he's willing to do what's right, I'm willing to quit black balling the others.'
"So, the guy who'd been black balling me got up and said, 'Well, fellows, I'm sorry to admit this, but Oscar's right. I'm the guy who's been black balling Russell Long. I quite agree that Russell's a decent kid, and there's no reason why he shouldn't be offered a bid.' He was the son of a judge who'd been very, very much anti-Long, and he said, 'If you'll pass the box again, I don't think you'll find a black ball in it.' So, I was given a bid. If I had known that, I probably wouldn't have accepted the bid.
"They also had these political fraternities [on campus]. They had an outfit named the TNEs, which means The New Era, and the Cavaliers. Those outfits were dominated by fraternity members. The Cavaliers would be stronger in one fraternity, the TNEs in another. Those two political fraternities dominated the campus. They elected president of the student body, and president of most the colleges.
"Well, when I ran for president of freshmen, of course, I didn't have any one of those outfits for me. I just went from room-to-room all through the barracks. Every night, I'd just start right out until they had lights out, shaking hands, and asking them to vote for me. I had a lot of fellows who were offering to help.
"There were several young people running, including some TNEs and Cavaliers. I got a lot more votes than all the rest of them put together. That's because I worked at it. It just proves they're no substitutes. It's one thing for some fraternity to tell their pledges to vote for somebody, but hell, there are so many more kids out there hadn't been offered a bid in a fraternity. If you go out and talk to them and act like you're interested, then they'll vote for you.
"I organized my friends in the freshmen class [into] a nice little political organization. We'd meet about once a week, and each fellow would bring somebody with him that he'd like to recommend to us. We built a massive organization there. There were more votes in that lower division than there were anywhere else, about a third of the votes.
"So, in the race that followed, we just absolutely swamped them. We had that gang out at the polls, talking to people and urging them to vote for this ticket that we were supporting. We called [ourselves] the Independent Party. Basically, our pitch was, 'We'll nominate our candidates. We'll hold our own convention. You're invited to join our cry. We'd love to have you. Just one condition, you can't be one of their gang.' [We were] overwhelmingly successful. I guess that's why they referred to me as the dictator [of the] campus. I guess I was a dictator of the campus in the same way Huey Long was a dictator, a dictator by a world of people.
"That first year we, we slaughtered the other gangs. The second year they united to form one political fraternity, and we just slaughtered them all over again, just beat the living bejesus out of them. After that they ceased to exist as political fraternities. I don't know whether they thought of me to even bring my name up in the Cavalier crowd, but somebody at the TNE had the privilege of black balling old Russell, but I would think they lived to regret it because it's mainly because of my work [that they went] out of business.
"My sophomore year, I was president of sophomores in Arts and Sciences, and I was chairman of the sophomore presidents. Then, I felt like I was losing esteem with some of the students because they think I was just always out there running for something. So, I dropped out. I was involved in campaigns in my sophomore year, but I didn't run for anything, nor was I running for anything in the fall as a junior. Then, I ran for president of the student body, and that was a real hot campaign.
"In our sophomore year, when we just pretty well cleaned up the operation, there was one fellow who survived that landslide. That was a fellow named Blondie Bennett. He was the guy out there [at LSU] who would announce those fights, and people liked the way he'd announce. His voice would reach way out, a high pitched voice. He was an entrepreneur and a promoter. He established his own laundry off the campus [and] had guys who were working for him pick up laundry, strictly against [university] regulations. But he'd get away with it. He was popular on the campus.
"So, I made a deal with him. 'When you're a junior, I'll support you for president of the student body. If you do the same thing for me when my turn comes.' That was the understanding, but he made a mistake in his junior year. He thought I was going to move in on him and get a head start. So, [when the] time came to make his move, he had been preempted by some of the other fellows. So, he never got around to asking me to do what I could to help him. Since he let this thing get away from him, he [decided he] was just going to wait and run against me for that job, which is not a nice thing to do.
"He planned all that time to run against me for president of the student body, when he promised me he was going to support me for it. He was working to undermine me thereafter, finding fellows I'd be counting on to support me. So, he did have the advantage over me. It gave me some question whether I should run at all, and I just decided that, well, I'd go ahead and make that effort. After I got started, I saw I could win it.
"Things were going well. I had this fellow named Dayton McCain, who was later a state senator, willing to be my campaign manager, and Dayton was doing a great job working for me and bringing fellows [to my side]. I was hustling votes and was doing fine.
"[About that time,] Blondie and his gang set a trap for me. I had talked to him about if he'd support me, that I might be able to get him help with his laundry, and that I would think that if I wanted to, I could help him get that job I had at the state legislature. As far as I was concerned, that was a political deal. There's a fellow who was an engineering major who said, 'You ought to find what that guy wants.' He said, 'My guess is that if you find what he wants, then he'll make a deal with you.' So, I discussed this deal, and frankly, he [Blondie] had decided that he was going to do that. He was going to go back and talk to some friends of his. But, one of his friends, I'd always been opposed to everything that guy ran for, which wasn't much. That guy absolutely raised unsure hell about the idea of making a deal with Russell Long. So, it didn't come off.
"Finally, we had this meeting [in the Field House], and Blondie accused me of trying to buy him out of the race. He was a bigger man than I was, and he grabbed me by the arm and had his gang all set to spring that trap. Well, I just said, 'That's all a lie,' and I walked out of there.
"But the one thing I did in the course of it that came to my advantage, I said, 'Now, Blondie, if you want to lie about me, you made your one great mistake. You told such a big lie that nobody's going to believe you.' I said, 'Anybody in his right sense who knows who Blondie Bennett is and knows your record, knows if I'd offered you all that, you would have taken it.' That thing just blew over. He really thought he had something on me, but that was kind of a mark of desperation. If they hadn't been losing, they wouldn't have done that.
"Then another fellow got in the act, a fellow named Claiborne Dameron. He was well regarded and well respected. He was in law school. That's who I had to run it off with. Now, frankly, by the time the election occurred, Bennett was a poor third. He just dropped completely by the wayside. He saw he was losing and didn't know what he could do to offset it. So, he just kind of kept going down, down, and down.
"At that time, I had a yard man working for me who had an old beat up automobile. It was a big old thing. We put some magnifying horns on that thing and some kind of a turntable. We could run around and play music right on campus. You could talk from inside that thing. So, some of our gang, like Dayton McCain would drive around, talk to all the guys they saw on the street, call them by name and so forth. They had a sign about Long on the side of the car and all that. At the time, they had no regulations about sound trucks.
"My buddy Bill Dugan was very helpful. I had helped Bill to buy an airplane. I loaned Billy's brother six hundred dollars to make a down payment on a piper cub airplane. So, they were teaching people how to fly and working their way through school. Well, I wanted Bill to drop some circulars on the campus. They got this big bunch of circulars, and at the regulation height, he turned a bunch of them loose, didn't even hit the campus. The wind just blew them completely away. He had to go about a thousand feet in the air to be within regulation. He said, 'Well, Russell's my friend. Am I going to come through for my friend or not? Well, I'm going to do it.' So, he just came on down. He just flew that thing so low he could almost shake the students' hands as he zoomed through. He just put those circulars all over the place. Thank God the inspector wasn't there that day to see, because he would have been grounded the rest of his life. He just broke all the laws that day to do that for me.
"One side thing about that election that's sort of amusing, [Morgan] Goodheart ran that magazine, thatPell Mell magazine. He did an issue and put a straw ballot in that magazine. They're going to put out an edition before the election. They're going to print on the front page [saying] the guy who won the straw vote would be the next student body president. So, we talked it over. The run-off headed down the pike, and the question was, did we want to take an interest in that straw vote? We concluded that we had to take an interest in it.
"I'd done our printing, circulars and all that and knowing something about how the businesses worked, I said, 'Look, we can buy a bunch of them off the stand. But that gets to be pretty obvious. By the time they hit the stand, we ought to have somebody ask how many they've got left out there at the printers.' See, we were going to have somebody go out there and buy all they had left. We had one guy go down and buy about three hundred magazines right down there at the printers. About thirty-five cents each , which was a lot of money for us. Anyway, I came up with the dough. We went down and bought them on the stands. We went down and bought them at the printer. I don't know what the other side was doing, but [Goodheart] ran the results of his straw [poll], which I won. The amazing thing about it was that when they had the election a few days later, that's exactly the percentage of votes I got at the polls.
"[Goodheart] said, 'That's the most accurate poll I've ever seen in my life.' He said, 'Well, how in the hell did that happen?' I just had to assume that the other side was doing some of the same type things we were doing. Because I know we didn't mark any of our ballots for that guy. I'd have to assume that while we're figuring our angles about how to win that straw vote, that they were doing something at the same time.
"The thing that really clinched [the election] for me was when Ted Lewis's band came through. I asked Seymour Weiss [a long-time Huey Long friend and supporter] if he would speak to Ted Lewis and ask if Ted would be willing to come out [to LSU] and make an appearance on my behalf. He was great stuff at that time. [He was playing at the] Heidelberg Hotel which was in the Capital House, now closed, but he was willing to come out there and play at my meeting. I think at that time he had in mind just bringing a few pieces and performing a bit and do two or three numbers.
"We started out printing circulars [that] said, 'Come out and see that great show with Ted Lewis and your next student body president Russell Long.' [The Dameron faction] proceeded to go down there and threaten that man. If he did that, they're going to throw stink bombs on him and cabbage and rotten eggs and everything else. They were going to do whatever they could because they didn't think that's fair. They had that man intimidated.
"So, that guy [Lewis] said look, 'I've never been stink bombed and rotten egged in my life. I'm not going to do it now.' He said, 'You've got to find a way to get me out of this. You've got to help get me out of this thing.' He said, 'I just can't do it. That's how it's going to be. I didn't realize what I was getting into.' He sat down, 'I'll tell you what I'm willing to do for you. If you invite those other people to be at that meeting, I'll handle it so that people know who got me down there, and people will appreciate the fact that you're responsible for me being there. And they'll all have a good time. Don't you worry, you'll be glad you did it.' I said, 'What good is it going to do me to have them in the meeting.' He said, 'Well you watch, it will all work out to your advantage. Now your option is not to have me there at all.' [I said,] 'Well, if that's how it's got to be, I guess that's how it's got to be. As far as I'm concerned, I'm going to say that it's a deal and shake on it. Just one condition, don't tell my opposition that you're going to do that for the next forty-five minutes. Give me forty-five minutes head start.' Then I said, 'Stop that press over there. Just tell them to take those circulars and write across the bottom, "Dameron faction also invited."' We put all those circulars out and got them out there on campus.
"So, when all our students came out, my God, we had a huge meeting. That was in the old gymnasium, which is back near the Field House. Even the state legislature recessed, [and] a whole bunch of those senators and representatives came out there [to the campus]. Lewis did a hell of a job. He brought the whole floor show out there. Ted Lewis said he was there because of a debt he owed a dear friend. I suspect he was talking about a debt he owed Seymour Weiss. It sounded to people like he was talking about Huey Long.
"He introduced Claiborne, and Claiborne made his speech. He tried to pretend in his speech that
he was primarily responsible for this man being here. So, when I made my speech, I said, 'To
hear this man talk about it, you'd think they had as much to do with [Ted Lewis] coming out here
as I did. I'll tell you how much they had to do with it. They made all kinds of threats that they
were going to subject this man to all kinds of indignities if he came out here on this campus to
my meeting.' I said, 'But that's fine, I'm glad they're here. In case you have any doubt about it,
here's a pamphlet where I invited them to be here.' I said, 'If you think Claiborne Dameron
brought this man out here to this campus, you're a lot simpler than I think you are.' I went on and
they appreciated what I was hoping to do. The following day, I won it by a good vote.
Long not only won the election by a large majority, he also kept his campaign promises, which included providing students living in the stadium with ice water and setting up a student run laundry. On 3 November 1995, the Russell Long Collection, housed in the Louisiana Lower Mississippi Valley Collection (LLMVC) at Hill Memorial Library, was officially opened to researchers. The LMVC also houses the interviews conducted by Robert Mann for his biography Legacy to Power: Senator Russell Long of Louisiana.