Jacobs, Charles Tape 1 of 3 9/23/99
By Charles Bolton
This is an interview for the Mississippi Oral History Program. The interview is being recorded with Mr. Charles Jacobs in his residence on September 23,1999. The interviewer is Charles Bolton.
CB: Mr. Jacobs, I first would like to thank you for taking time out to talk to me today. I really appreciate it.
CJ: My pleasure.
CB: Could you tell me first for the record when and where were you born?
CJ: I was born in Greenville, MS on January 13, 1921. My parents lived in Cleveland at the time, but my mother wanted to go to a hospital for my birth for some reason. I was born in the King’s Daughter Hospital in Greenville, MS.
CB: So there was no hospital in Cleveland then at the time?
CB: As I told you I read your memoir and found out a lot of interesting things. You talked a lot about your family history, and what I found really interesting is that your were a descendent of Charles Clark who is the Governor and a Civil War General.
CJ: He was a great grandfather.
CB: Right. What kind of stories did you hear about him growing up? How important was that, that knowing about legacy knowing you were a descendant of this person?
CJ: It was important. People that take pride in their family sort of gives them a pride in their own self. It sort of inspires them to try to emulate. I think that had an affect on my life, a good affect. The fact that I had four bearers that had some prominence and did some good.
CB: Tell me a little bit about your parents. What did your father do?
CJ: My father was public officer in Bolivar County for many years. He was the first tax assessor beginning around 1916. Then he was elected Circuit Clerk. He held office as Circuit Clerk until 1931. Doing the depression years they wiped that whole office holders. After that he farmed for a while. Then he worked for the State Tax Commission right after it was formed under Governor Conner until his death in 1938. Now my mother came originally from Minnesota. A little town called Minnaeska, Minnesota on the Mississippi River. She met my grandfather, Jose, who was from Saint Louis. He was in the steamboat building business up there at Minnaeska after they were married they had some children including my mother. Though when my mother was ten years old, my grandfather decided that the winters were too cold up there. He wanted to move south. He put his family on a steamboat, and they came south. They said as they passed Saint Louis, the flag was at half mask indicating that the president had died, McKinley.
CB: He was assassinated right?
CJ: He was assassinated, and he lived for some time after he was shot. They came to Rosedale and settled there.
CB: Your father, he also was born out side the state right? Wasn’t he born in Missouri?
CJ: My grandfather was from Columbia, MO. He was the son of a Dr. Jacobs up there. After my grandfather and grandmother were married, they lived up there in that area for a while. Then I think General Clark kind of pulled the house. So they moved back to Mississippi and stayed here after that.
CB: You were born in Greenville. You grew up in?
CJ: I lived in Cleveland until I was thirteen. Then I moved to Rosedale. I lived there until I came back to Cleveland. I came back to Cleveland following my graduation of Law School in 1947.
CB: What was it like in Cleveland when you were growing up? How would you describe what Cleveland was like then?
CJ: Well when I think about Cleveland in the old days, it was a sleepy southern town. It was entirely agricultural as far as the economy was concerned. I have a memory of a hammer striking an anvil in a blacksmith’s shop that was not to far from where I lived. Even then Cleveland was a fairly progressive town. They had just acquired Delta State in 1926. They were beginning to get professors that moved into here. That contributed a whole lot to the community and to the culture of the community. Many of the professors had sons who were contemporaries. Sabosky was a coach, and his son, Herman, was a friend. Dr. Wert Williams was head of the History department. His son, Wert, was a friend of mine. Later an author of some renown, and he wound up in California teaching journalism for a school out there. There was Level House, my cousin and Howard Ziegal, who was head of the education department. Of course Dr. Kethley was the president of Delta State. Which I am a very laid back sort of individual. By the way back in those early days it was a struggle to keep Delta State alive particularly after the depression. I remember the papers would come out every day that they close this new college. That they didn’t have enough money. If it hadn’t been for Walter Sillers they would have closed it, but Walter was very influential in the legislature at the time.
CB: How many buildings did they have out there initially like in the twenties?
CJ: Well they started out with the three buildings that had been the agricultural high school. There wasn’t anymore than three. I think they built a dormitory or two. It was very small at the time. Back in the thirties they made two to three hundred students. Of course now they have about four thousand now. Of course this was a county. We had a sheriff office and the county clerks and supervisors met here along with meetings in Rosedale. We had some pretty good doctors here, Dr. McClain. There were a number of Jewish people in the community at that time. Now most of the Jewish people have left the area.
CB: Why did they leave?
CJ: Oh I think they wanted to move to cities where there was more commerce and business. A lot of their trade was with blacks. When blacks begin to bring cotton pickers and mechanizing the farms, they weren’t too far advanced economically. So many of them left. Civil Rights act where the blacks got jobs, and now they are an economic force. For a while they were not much of one. So I think the Jewish decided to leave, and go where there was more money.
CB: Most of them were merchants?
CJ: Most of them were merchants. There was one Mr. Burger had a service station. It was called the Red Front Service Station. We had a few doctors in the town. We had some large farmers. Cleveland was noted for a large number of small farms that surrounded the town. They gave the business an emphasis on our growth that they couldn’t get anywhere else. There was no town in the delta that had as many small farms, 50 to 80 acres. Many of these farms were farms purchased and started by Italians. You know in the early part of the century, Will Percy, and another planter imported a lot of Italian laborers to take the place of blacks on the farms. Of course the Italians worked hard, but they saved their money and began to buy land. Now they are some of the richest folks in the area.
CB: Are there still a fairly good number of Italians in Cleveland?
CJ: Oh yeah, a lot of them and they are all influential. In fact the son in law of one is on the board of supervisor. Another Italian is running for his job. They are here now, and they are influential. They are financially well off.
CB: That is unusual, because if you think about the delta. You think of big plantations, not small farms. So that is definitely.
CJ: Cleveland was an exception.
CB: What about where you personally grew up? What kind of things would you do growing up? How was life sort of different from what it is today as a kid growing up?
CJ: Well I remember one thing about growing up. I didn’t like school very much. I thought that was a waste of time. I liked to out on the ditches and catch turtles. My father was a sportsman. I loved to go into the woods and hunt and shoot. I had two friends that I played with. I guess that I had a vivid imagination. I had a lot of friends. There wasn’t much to do for children. There were no places to go. You just sort of had to make up your play rules as you went along. I guess Cleveland when I was growing up was about two thousand population. You know that highway 8 that runs from the street light on 61 out to the college. I lived on the corner of Leflour Street. That Highway 8 was gravel.
CJ: At that time. There was a tremendous oak tree in the middle of that street. It must have been eight feet in diameter. Traffic went around the tree on both sides. Sometimes later they cut the tree down and later than that they paved the street. I remember that from my early days.
CB: In the twenties, of course that was when people were first getting cars. Was there still a lot people getting around other than cars? Or were there a lot of cars?
CJ: Oh yeah, there was a lot of wagons and mules. There were pulled wagons. There were a few cars beginning to appear at that time. Of course all the roads were gravel. When they were improved with gravel, a lot of them were mud and dirt.
CB: You mentioned that you didn’t like school. You went to the local elementary school? What kind of school was that? Was that?
CJ: I went to the public school, but in the forth grade I had a teacher that was really down on me. It was for a good reason, because I wasn’t a good student. I wasn’t interested. My mother put me in the Dem. School out at Delta State the Demonstration School. Ms. Doolittle was the superintendent of the Demonstration school. She was a Yankee lady who came down here. I guess brought by Dr. Ziegal for the new teacher’s college. I didn’t like Ms. Doolittle much, but there were some other teachers there that were really nice. After the fourth grade, I went back to the public school. When I was in the seventh grade, I had a teacher named Ms. Alderidge. She came from Winona. She graduated from the “W.” Somehow or another when I started I was in the seventh grade. She was teaching history among other things, and I liked history. For some reason that year, I started studying, and all of the sudden I was making good grades. School wasn’t so bad after that. She lives in Greenwood now, and she is married to Dr. Driven. He was once on the Education Finance Commission for the state. I had to go see him occasionally. Dr. Driven taught me in the fifth grade. He was a little man that helped me a whole lot. He tried to help me, I would say. Those two people had an influence on my life, and I will never forget it.
CB: Did you play sports at school?
CJ: Yeah, I played on the Rosedale High School football team. Of course it was almost a civic duty to play. They didn’t have many to pick as the group.
CB: I thought that was probably was.
CJ: I think I weighed about a hundred and five pounds when I played the first game. I think we had about thirteen men on the squad at that time.
CB: You played the whole game?
CJ: Oh yeah. Some of those boys weighed two hundred pounds that we played against. We didn’t make a big imprint. I played on the tennis team. We had successful tennis team. At Rosedale I was also on the debate team. That was the first year they really went in for a debate at Rosedale. Our team won; well we were tied for first in the state with Meridian. Then they flipped the coin, and we had a radio debate between the two teams. It was negative from Rosedale and affirmative for Meridian. They won, so we were second in the state. It was pretty good for a small town like Rosedale.
CB: Growing up did you know what you wanted to do when you go older? Or were you just waiting to see what was going to happen?
CJ: In the seventh grade, Ms. Alderidge now Ms. Driven, started a program. She would assign individuals that were important in history to different students. We were supposed to find out something about something them. We were to get up and talk about them. So she assigned a subject to me, and I studied it out and memorized a little speech and gave a speech. When I got through, she said, “That was good Charlie. You ought to be a lawyer.” Some how or another that stuck in my mind, I kept toying with that. Finally that is how it turned out. Tall oaks grow from little acorns.
CB: One other thing about growing up. Of course you mentioned earlier about the Civil Rights movement, race relations must have been a lot different back then when you were growing up. How would you describe what that was like? Of course this is an area with a large black population?
CJ: We had a black woman who worked for our family named Alice. Alice Jones was her name. She worked for us for many years. Of course I regarded Alice as a member of our family. I think she regarded us that way. We really loved Alice. Of course for race was strictly segregated. I didn’t see much of that, that I could recall or put my finger on. The blacks were over there, and we were over here. Except for Alice who came to our house everyday and cooked and clean for us. We all loved her. I mean love. Of course, I remember one time we were eating dinner, and I eat the last biscuit. Somebody said, “Well one that eats the last biscuit has to kiss the cook.” Alice ran out of the kitchen and came over to me and grabbed me and kissed me in front of the family. Nobody said a word. I think my father had sort of a grimace on his face. He didn’t say anything. We wouldn’t do anything to embarrass Alice. Alice was her name, but the kids all called her Atchie. Of course as time went on and we got older, I remember one time there was a crime committed by a man in Cleveland. He was mulatto. A family was murdered over here on the Bayou. A man and his wife and the woman was pregnant. It was crucial kind of thing. They finally solved the case, and found out who it was. They had a trial here in Cleveland. The governor sent the National Guard in here to guard the man from lynch mobs from getting him. They were trying to get him. They had machine guns stationed on top of the courthouse and National Guard troops all around. They tried him and they convicted him. They hung him right quick after that.
CB: Were those things public? Like hangings was that still done in public?
CJ: No, they had a place in the courthouse where they did it. It was done right there where they did it. You know back in those days, and as I read history later on. I read about the Caribbean Islands. You know in many of those islands, the settlers came and they saw that it was fit for sugar cane. They imported large numbers of slaves. They cleared the forest, and planted the sugar cane. They became rich. Then after a while the slaves revolted and killed them all and took over the island. I think that was on the minds of the people here. They saw the similarity between the south and those islands. They felt that they had to maintain control.
CB: Especially the delta where there is a large black population.
CJ: That is right.
CB: You mentioned also during the depression a lot of public offices got eliminated. What was the impact of the great depression on this area? Of course you were just about ten or twelve when that hit. What was the impact of that for your family?
CJ: That was a terrible thing. So many people that were hungry, and I have a vivid memory. They used to deliver milk early in the morning around the houses. That is the way that they did it in those days. I would go to the door to get the milk, and they would be two or three men sitting there. After the weather got cold, the people from the north were out of work. They didn’t have a home. They hopped freight trains and they came south. They would get off the trains at places, and go ask for something to eat. Good men, just waiting patiently for somebody to wake up. They would ask for something to eat. We would take them in the kitchen, and give what we had. That was something that was vivid. I remember my father had always, when I wanted a nickel for some candy I could get it until the depression came. He would say times are hard. Money was scarce. There was five cent a pound for cotton. Another thing there was no money. The banks didn’t have any money. The Cleveland State Bank made an arrangement with a wholesale grocery company called the Gollier Company. Where about the Gollier Company would charge supplies to the different plantation owners or the farm owners. They would get commissary. There were beans, coffee, rice, and side meat. They would put it in the commissary, and once a week they would issue supplies to the tenants of their place. No money changed hands. Somehow or another, Cleveland State Bank sort of endorsed the note of these farmers with the Gollier company. They had that arrangement. No money ever changed hands. I have often admired the ingenuity of the people who worked that. The cooperation that it took was outstanding. I imagine in economy working in that fashion. The farmers survived it. The prices went up a little bit. That was back when Roosevelt became president. They were able to lend money again.
CB: I guess it was really hard on people that were out in the country that had farms. I guess it was pretty difficult because of the price of cotton dropping out.
CJ: Of course they had raised turnips and turnip greens. They would kill rabbits. It was tough. It was tough on everybody. People didn’t have jobs or work.
CB: Well even though you didn’t like school, you did go ahead and finish, and you went on to a junior college before you went to Ole Miss. What was it called?
CJ: Sunflower Junior College
CB: That is not still a junior college?
CJ: It is Mississippi Delta now.
CB: Oh it is Mississippi Delta now. Was that a new school, or what was that?
CJ: Well I guess, Mississippi Delta must have been formed somewhere around the time that Delta State was formed. When I went over there of course, it was 1938 when I finished high school. I went over there. My roommate was a boy named Sammie Ray. There was an article in the paper about Sammie Ray. I believe two or three days ago. He was the man who collected birds. Did you read about that?
CB: I didn’t see that article. Was it in the Clarion Ledger?
CJ: It was in the Clarion Ledger. Sammie, his father was a peddler who came here. He was Lebanese extraction. He had darker skin. He was my roommate. We went over there together. We had excellent teachers over there. They had a lot of students from up from northeast Mississippi that had no background. The students took the time after classes to tutor those students. I admired them for what they did to help those kids an education. Many of the high schools up there were taught by people who were high school graduates.
CB: In Northeast Mississippi?
CJ: Yeah, it was absolutely terrible up there.
CB: Would you say probably the school where you went, Rosedale High, would be a lot better than those they came from?
CJ: Rosedale High was an excellent school. I got an excellent background. College was easy for me.
CB: Now you went to Ole Miss in 1940?
CJ: Yeah that is right.
CB: What was Ole Miss like in the early 40’s?
CJ: It had fifteen hundred students. I think there was two cars on the campus. There were two students that had cars. One of them had an old Model T Ford, and the other one was a rich student. He had a Packard I believe. It was big fancy car. You went up there in the fall, and you stayed there till Thanksgiving. Then you went home, and you came back and stayed till Christmas. Went home, and then came back home for Spring Holidays. You stayed there mostly every weekend. Every weekend they had a dance or two dances. They had the college band. Everybody had a good time. It was a great place. It was a party school then. Of course you had to study now. If you didn’t they sent you right home. There were a lot of playboys that had to go home after the first semester. It was a great place.
CB: Were there a lot of women that went to college then?
CJ: Oh yeah at Ole Miss. There were a lot of pretty girls.
CB: What did you end up studying?
CJ: I was a history major. I had some of the greatest professors that ever drew breath. Bell Irving Wiley, Matthews they both left and went to Emory.
CB: I know Bell Irving Wiley, he wrote the book about Johnny Reb.
CJ: That is right. He was writing that book when I was in his class. I really liked him. He was a friend through the years.
CB: Was Charles Signer still there? He may have already gone to Duke by then. He was later a professor at Duke University. No
CJ: I don’t believe.
CB: You did you still think you wanted to be an attorney? Were you still?
CJ: I had that in the back of the mind. I had been on the debate team at Sunflower Junior College. So I had it in the back of my mind. I didn’t have much in the way of worldly goods. My family was not wealthy. In fact we were middle class with out any money. I didn’t know if I would be able to swing it. When I was at Sunflower Junior College, I was elected Mr. S. J. C. and Most Personable Boy. My cousin, Florence Sillers read that in the paper. When I came home that weekend, she said, “Charlie, I am proud of the record you have made, and I am going to help you if you want to go beyond Junior college. I will help you.” I said, “I sure would like it.” She said, “I will give you the money.” I said, “Lend it to me.” So she did, she loaned me the money to go to Ole Miss when I finished there. That was Walt Sillers mother.
CB: Now how are you related to the Sillers?
CJ: My great grandfather came from Lebanon, Ohio. He had a bunch of sisters that he left up there. He came down here in the 1840’s or something like that. He must have liked the country. He began to bring his sister’s down and marry them off. He brought one of his sisters down, Matilda. He married her to a guy named Joe Sillers, who was the grandfather to Walter Sillers. Joe went off to the Civil War and was missing. Matilda’s son Watt was Walter’s daddy. General Clark took him in to his law firm, and he taught him law. You know you didn’t go to law school. He taught him law, and sort of started him off. That is how I am kin to Walt Sillers. It is sort of distant but at the same time, Walt had realized that my great grandfather had helped his grandfather. So he was very friendly to me when I came along and when I was in the legislature with him.
CB: Did you know him growing up? Did you see him a lot?
CJ: I would just see him, but he didn’t have time to fool around with kids much. He never had a family. That is children.
CB: Right, I knew he was married. Now I guess before you went to law school, W. W. II came along. That kind of interrupted your studies a bit. Did you finish your degree? You did finish your degree at Ole Miss before you went in the war.
CJ: On December 7th, I had gone to Vardeman, MS with my roommate, Armis Hawkins. He just retired from as the justice of the MS. Supreme Court. We had gone out on the town, and we went to a bunch of Honk-e-Tonks around Vardeman. We came in, and I was sleeping the next day. I got up and went to get some gas. They were announcing the bombing raid on Pearl Harbor. That was on December 7th. We came back to law school. We were in law school at that time as freshman. I came back; I remember that Sunday evening when we were getting campus. Different ones would come in saying, “On to Tokyo.” They were carrying on. A lot of them had been drinking a little in the mean time. I knew a lot of those boys didn’t make it to Tokyo, and didn’t make it in the war.
CB: Everybody was ready to go fight.
CJ: Oh they were ready. There weren’t any slackers in the group. The ones that couldn’t get in because of physical defects just felt ashamed.
CB: So when did you go into the service?
CJ: Of course, Pearl Harbor was in December, about January or February of the following year a marine recruiter came to the campus at Ole Miss. He was dressed in Blue. He was a big tall fellow. A group of students signed up to go to O. C. S. You had to get a degree before you could go to it. You see I was letting my law count as an elective toward a degree, which you could do at that time at Ole Miss. I was going to get my degree in the spring. The recruiter by the way was a guy by the name of Louis Wilson. He came from Brandon, MS. He was later rewarded the Congressional Medal of Honor during the war. He later became Fleet Marine Force Commander in the Pacific. He was then later the Commandant of the whole damn Marine Core. He was an outstanding guy.
CB: You knew when he was a recruiter.
CJ: After the war we had a little get together one time, and we got Louie to come down right after he retired as Commandant. He came down and sat with us Marines at a get to together. It was a reunion in Jackson. I left school in ’42, and I went to Quantico to the Marine school. I got my commission there. Then I went to artillery school after that. Then I went to New River, North Carolina, and I joined the beginnings of the Fourth Marine Division. The outfit that I joined up with was a separate battalion. It was a second infantry or a battery of artillery. I was later part of the Twenty-fourth Marines, which was one of the great ones in the fourth Marines division. We trained some at New River, and then we went to Camp Penilton on the West Coast. Then we finished our training there. We got on to ships and shipped out to the Pacific. We were combat loaded, and then we went to the Marshal Islands to that campaign.
CB: So tell me a little bit about some of your operations there as a soldier in the Pacific.
CB: You were a Marine.
CJ: Oh yeah we took a lot of pride in the fact that we were Marines. Marshall Island was a quick campaign. That was two atolls in the Pacific. They were occupied with Japanese. These campaigns took place right after the Tera Wat. The Tera Wat had been a costly, bloody campaign. The Second Division was involved in that. We had learned a lot after the Tera Wat. We went ashore in tractors with out amphibious tanks without turrets. They just had a place where the troops could go in. They would go right on up to the beach. The troops would get out from there, which was a lot better than getting out of these little boats out there and having to wade through water up to your neck. That was a good campaign. It was a smooth and quick campaign. After that we came back to Maui in the Hawaiian Islands. We began to train for the next operation, which was Si Pan. Of course, when we got to Sigh Pen I found out what this campaign really was. Unfortunately I was in field artillery. That is probably why I survived that war. I think that my field artillery was probably the first battery ashore at Si Pan. We went in too early. We were subjected to all kinds of rifle firing, and every thing else from the minute we got set up. There was a sugar mill right by us with a long high chimney. There was a Jap observer, artillery observer, in that chimney. Of course he watched us set up our artillery pieces in a line along the beach. Then he begins to direct fire on us. He gave us hell. Fortunately I had a deep foxhole. I got in that foxhole, and I survived that thing. The battery next to me was wiped out. One of the officers in that battery was a guy named Miller Holmes from Yazoo City. Who I had gone to school with at Ole Miss. I saw Miller wandering around out there. I said, “Miller come on.” I put him in my foxhole. We survived that thing. Later some Navy planes came over with rockets. The first time I have ever heard of rockets. They fired at that artillery that was giving us fits, and they knocked them out. That was a close call at Si Pan. After that operation, sort of the uneventful as far as artillery was concerned. Later I went to Iwo Jima. About the time we went to Iwo Jima, I had been advanced to Core Artillery 154 House. We didn’t get ashore until two or three days after the initial landing.
CB: Wasn’t that the bloodiest battle in Marine history?
CJ: It was.
CB: You guys came in late, but that still must have been quite a?
CJ: It was. It was terrible. Of course the wreckage along that shore. They had tents out there. They were operating on men. They were operating these boys that were pulled right out of the front line after they got shot. These doctors were operating on the sand beach under a tent. I went in before the guns. I had to reconnoiter and find a battered position. I went in and we found a battered position at the base of Mount Sarabokie, which is on that island. I looked up on that surveillance. There were little old flags. Oh hell we have taken Sarabokie. I didn’t see Rosenthal make his picture. I saw the first flag they put up there that survived. After Sarabokie the fifth division took it. They went north with fourth. It was a long bloody fight. After that we went back to Hawaii, I mean to Guam. We had a camp at Guam. We were preparing for the invasion of Japan when they dropped the atomic bomb. That wound it up.
CB: What did you think about the coming invasion of Japan? You all must known that was going to be bigger than any other Island that you have captured.
CJ: We knew that. When they dropped that bomb, of course, that saved us. We were some happy souls. I can’t describe it. We gathered at the officers’ club, and it was a drunken party for a long time.
CB: You all were happy to be alive.
CJ: Yeah, you know I thought about staying in the Marine Corps. When we got back to the states in the fall of ’45. I was assigned to the Marine Corps Headquarters in Washington. I stayed up there and worked in the Marine Corps Headquarters for a couple of months into ’46. Then I thought I should get out. Then I went back to law school.
CB: Then you finished up in ’47?
CJ: I finished up in ’47. I went back and started classes in the summer of ’46. You know after being a captain in the Marine Corps and go back to Ole Miss out of law school and sit down in the evenings instead of going to the Officer’s Club. You sit down and open a book. You know it was hard to concentrate. I had to just read it and read it. For the first two or three weeks it was really tough. I had to learn to concentrate again and absorb. Then all of the sudden, it came to me. It was much better than it had ever been before. After that it was a snap.
CB: Let me ask you one other question about your war experience. Now you got to travel all over the world when you were in the Marines. Have you been out of Mississippi much before that? Had you traveled out side of Mississippi?
CJ: I had been to Memphis.
CB: How was that? You know what kind of impression did that make on you seeing the other parts of the world?
CJ: All I can say it was a great experience. Going to Quantico, and then going to Washington D. C. and later going to California and Camp Penilton. We went to Hawaii. Then we went to Heelo. It was just a great experience.
CB: When you came back to Ole Miss after the war, were there a lot of other veterans there too?
CJ: Yeah, it was full of them. They were there for a purpose. They were there to get an education. There were no thrills or nothing. They just wanted to get that education and get on out and start making a living. Some of my friends who had been just mediocre students before the war or less than mediocre, they came back and they were excellent students. They had a purpose.
CB: They probably did some growing up.
CJ: They did a whole lot of growing up.
CB: You said you came back to Cleveland after you finished Law School.
CS: I had always wanted to go in with the Sillers Firm. I sort of courted Mr. Sillers when I went back to Law School. I did a little legal research for him for time to time on the Law School library. I finally sat down and talk to Mr. Sillers. He said, really we don’t have much law business here. I am involved in the legislature all the time. There really is not any room for another attorney here. So, I said, “Okay” So I decided to come to Cleveland. I came here and opened up a law office on my own. I opened it up in the back of an old attorney’s office. He was kind to me, Mr. Abe Sumerville. I will never forget him. That lawyer is real good. He helped me. He spent time with me, and sort of helped train me.
CJ: I noticed that you did teach for while at Delta State.
CJ: I guess the law business didn’t take off right away, or was that something you wanted to do?
CB: Well, Mr. Wert Williams was the head of the History department. He had been a friend. His son, as I told you before had been a friend of mine. Another friend of mine from Cleveland, named Lee Chechens had been to Law School. He had come back home, and he got a job teaching at Delta State. They needed teachers. They were getting a big influx of veterans, and they just didn’t have teachers. So I went out there and applied for a job. I talked to Mr. Williams. He said, “Yeah, Charlie I could use you.” So I taught History and Economics. I taught fifteen hours.
CB: That is a lot.
CJ: for my first year. I am telling you. I really had. I thought I studied in Law School. I really did have to study when I started teaching. I had to learn it before I went to class. I enjoyed it. You know I started to just forget about the law, and go and get some more training and be a teacher. I enjoyed teaching at Delta State. I liked working with the people out there. Dr. Kethley was the president. He was conirious. He had to be. They had survived through the depression years when they had almost nothing and had to pay teachers almost nothing. The compensation was very low. It was enough to get me by. After a year I begin to get a little business in. I said, “Hell I will just take the leap.” I did. My business just grew on up. I finally got pretty good.
CB: So you were kind of taking any kind of cases that came up? Were you a lawyer of any kind?
CJ: I was a general practice lawyer. Anything that walked through the door.
CB: I read a lot of those stories that you told about different cases. I know we don’t have time to talk about all of them. I was wondering if you might be able to tell maybe a couple of those stories. Some of the ones think were the most interesting. The ones that kind of stick in your mind after all of these years.
CJ: Well one of the early cases was a farmer down in Choctaw, MS who had a black on his place. Labor was an important factor with the farmers at that time. This boy had got in trouble with stealing a cow. So this farmer came to see me, and he said, “How much would you charge to defend this boy? He is guilty?” I got to hire a lawyer to keep that family. I said fifty dollars. That was rich sum. I got to talk to the boy. They were Mose Bill Bo Turner. It seems to be that he and his friend, Andrew Burton had stolen a cow. They had backed a truck up to a ditch bank near south of Boyle. They loaded it up, and they took it to Memphis. The farmer reported the cow stolen. They figured somebody might have taken it to the Stockyard in Memphis. So they alerted them. When they got up there, they said all right we will buy the cow. It just takes a while to cut the check. Andrew Burton was smarter than Mose. So he took off, and he left Mo there to get the check. The police picked Mose up. I said, “Mose how come you tell the police that you stole the cow?” He said, “Well, Mr. Jacobs, that policeman pulled his knife out, and he said, ‘boy if you don’t tell me what happened, I am going to cut your black heart out.’” I told him then. So I begin to look through some research. That was a coerced confession was inadmissible. Then when the police officers brought him down to Mississippi, or rather a police officer went up and got him. He immediately made the same confession to the police officer from Mississippi. They were using that as evidence. I looked the law. It turned out that if a confession is once obtained by force, that the presumptions of undo influence continues until clear proof shows that it has been removed. It was presumption that the same force that caused the first confession influenced this second confession. Any way, we got to the trial. They started to put on the law office in Bolivar County about the confession. I objected. I put Mose on the stand. The judge was not on my side. He testified about what happened. He followed the law. I read these cases to him. Judge Green said, “I am going to have sustain these motions. You got to have proof.” So they let Mose go. One of my friends from Law School had walked in the courtroom during the time this drama was taking place about the objection. When the judge dismissed the case, my friend walked up and said, “Clarence Darer.” I have got a kick out of that since.
CB: Any others, tell me about maybe some others?
CJ: Well, the McClain case is probably the concerning of the.
CB: I read about that. Tell us about that.
CJ: When I was teaching at Delta State, I had a young man in my class named, Jim Cross. He came from Tchula. He had gone after that to the University of Florida to Law School, and he wound up at Memphis, TN. One day he called me, he said, “Charlie, I got a fellow in my office that says his uncle has stole a plantation from him. I wonder if you would be interested in working with me on this case.” I said, “What is the boy’s name?” He said, “Bobby McClain” I know Bobby McClain. His family did own a plantation over around Doddsville. I said, “I will look into it, and I will be glad to work on it with you.” I went over there; I found the location of the land. I begin to look at the land records. I saw a lot of powers of attorney on record, which is, as a lawyer would say a badge of fraud. It turned out this boy was adopted. His mother loved him, but his daddy really didn’t care too much about him being an adopted father. His adopted father was sort of a half scoundrel. His father, Bob McClain, was a supervisor at one time of that county. He had that farm. He started doing some levy contracting on the Mississippi Levy. He got in trouble on that, and he lost a lot of money. He was in danger of being sued by a lot of creditors. So he put all of his property in his wife’s name, Irene McClain. Then later, Irene got real sick, and they thought she would die. Well, he thought I better do something better with this. So he called his brother, who was a lawyer named Camel McClain from Florida, which came up and advised him. The brother said, “Let’s from a corporation called Sunflower Farms.” Then he said that we will put the title in a client of mine named, Dave Gordon. They issued check. They will put some stock in my name and I will hold it for you. Sort of a complicated scheme, but they did it that way. The thing was Irene didn’t die. She recovered, and he died suddenly. There was all this brother that had these entire scheme in his mind and his hand. So he got the corporation for him, and let Dave Gordon convey the farm the Sunflower Farms. Then he had all the stock issued in his name. He had accomplished a coup. This boy got us to work with him. I started investigating it. I figured that there is one thing that the. Well we filed some interaguratory. We got a copy of check in which Dave Gordon had paid to Bob McClain. They had carefully preserved that check. On the back of it, it showed an endorsement of a bank in Greenwood. So I got to thinking about that. I said, hell I would like to know how that twenty thousand dollars was handled. I had a friend who was a lawyer in Greenwood. It was Hardy Lott. I asked him to find out whether there is anything I could use in this case the way that transaction was handled. He later called me just before the trial. He said, “Charlie you better issue a subpoena and take them to the bank, and have them produce the records on how that was handled.” I did. I issued a subpoena. The president came over. At the trial, he testified that Bob McClain had come in with the check. He said, “I want you to order treasury bonds with this check from New York and send the bonds to Camel McClain in Florida.” You see the money had just made a circle. It was Bob McClain’s money all the long. They had what you would call a ferdushiary relationship. The person who is a dominant factor in a ferdushiary relationship takes advantage of the other party. Then there is a presumption of fraud. Fraud vitiates everything the law says. We tried that case. At that time you didn’t have too much discoveries. So they really didn’t know what we had, and we didn’t know what the bank was going to say until they got in the courtroom. Anyway we won that case. Through the years, Bobby sold his interest. I bought it. I finally acquired all the interest of the other parties. I am the owner of McClain Farms.
CB: It sounds like a very complex case. You had to do a lot of digging to get to the bottom of it.
CJ: A lot of digging.
CB: You were a lawyer for many years here. How over time did being a lawyer change, or did it? Was it pretty much the same all the way?
CJ: It changed a thousand percent. When I started practicing law. If you file a suit, you would have a declaration, which set out his cause of action. Then the defendant he didn’t even have to answer the declaration. He would just plead not guilty. He throws himself on the county. That meant that the plaintiff had to prove every item in his declaration. If he failed on one item the case was thrown out. When I started practicing law that was the way they plead. Then they changed it to where the defendant had to answer each allegation. Of course when he admitted it, there was no need to prove something that was admitted. That helped tremendously. Then this McClain, I made use of interaguagatory to the defendants. They were not used much at that time. From the time of McClain they were used more extensively. They take deposition of various witnesses. They get the deposition on file. About the time they get to trial they pretty well know where that case is going. They got the key witness on deposition.
CB: So there is a lot more pre trial work.
CJ: Pre trial that is it.
CB: You went to the legislature before to long in the early fifties. Have you thought about going into politics? You dad was involved with in public service? Have you thought about that?
CJ: Yeah, I guess politics was sort of in my blood. I got that from my daddy. I was interested in it all through the years. You know one thing that tempted my mind when you talk about politics. Before I got out of the Marine Corps, I was in Washington D. C. I went around Senator Bill Bo’s office to see Evelyn Gandy who was one of my schoolmates. She was administrative assistance to Bilbo at the time.
CB: I remember you said you met him at Washington right at the end of the war?
CJ: That is right. So I went in there to speak to Evelyn. Evelyn said, “Would you like to meet the Senator?” I said, “All right.” So she took me in there. Old Bilbo looked like a little gnome that sits behind his desk with a cigar in his mouth. He said, “Hey Jacobs, where are you from?” I said, “I am from Rosedale, MS.” He said, “Oh that is not much of a place to be from.” Sillers blocked a lot of programs about making the brick roads throughout the state.
CB: When Bilbo was governor.
CJ: When Bilbo was governor. Sillers and Bilbo didn’t gee haw too good. Anyway, he made that remark about Rosedale.
CB: Of course he was towards the end of his life and political career. What was with your brief encounter what was you impression of Bilbo?
CJ: I don’t know if I had too much of impression of that encounter. I am a political historian in a way. I have read some books about Bilbo. He was like everybody else. We got our faults and we have our good points. Bilbo had his good points. They don’t give him any credit for anything now. Everybody is ashamed of him now. He was a populist. He was for the poor man. He helped the poor man. He was not really a racist. I think Bilbo was better toward blacks than most people particular of his time.
CB: You probably got that reputation. Have you read Bo Morgan’s book about that.
CJ: I haven’t read it, but I would like to.
CB: It was called Redneck Liberal.
CJ: That is what he was. Huey Long got his ideas from Bilbo about being populists and helping the poor folks and building roads also about homestead exemption.
CB: He was a big. He was always seen in opposition of to the Delta politicians.
CJ: He was in opposition to big money. Sillers represented a really stable group, a power company and banking class of folks. He believed in strictly honesty. Sillers was an absolutely honest. He didn’t want to go for Bilbo’s schemes like the brick roads.
CB: Sillers wasn’t a populist.
CJ: He was not. He was a sound government man.
CB: You ran in a special election in 1952 for the legislature. So the regular election had been in ’51.
CJ: Mr. Thigpen had been our representative here along with Mr. Sillers. Thigpen was appointed by Governor Hugh White as head of the welfare department when the ’52 spring session ended. So they called a special election, and I ran for office against Oscar Wolf. Have you ever heard of Oscar? He had been president pro temp of the Senate. He had been in the legislature for a long time.
CB: He was a big planter too.
CJ: He had a big farm. I was a war veteran. I campaigned pretty actively. People they were sort of tired of the old political group anyhow. So I beat Oscar real handily. I went down to the legislature where I assumed a seat in total ignorance of what was going on.
CB: They were still meeting every other year. They would have met till ’54, but they had a special session.
CJ: No, they had a special session on the school reorganization. Maybe it was ’52 the same year I got elected. That was my first session. I went to that school session.
CB: Well I guess obviously they were trying to reorganize school, a lot of it was in response to court decision that was expected about school desegregation. The Brown decision.
CJ: That was pretty much on everybody’s mind at that time. Closing the public schools, and having a constitutional admendment that would prevent that to use as a threat against the integration. Trying to get them to head off integrating the public schools in Mississippi. They thought would destroy the public schools.
CB: When they had that special session to try to put more money in the schools was that seen as a way to maybe make the schools better. So that would influence the Supreme Court somehow?
CJ: That was something that was long over due. You see you had little isolated school districts that couldn’t pay schoolteachers. They could offer courses. This was a consolidation of school districts. This did a way with smaller ones, and made larger ones that made larger ones that could afford better facilities and better teachers and better education system. It was just something that was long overdue. That was the thing that we took up first. We passed the program in ’53. Then we delayed the financing until ’54, before the Brown decision. Uncle Hugh White, who was governor at that time, decided that we would just finance this program with service tax on gas, which was an unfair way to do it. I don’t think it was enough way to do it anyway. That meant rigid opposition from a lot of people that had their oil and gas interests. A lot of people didn’t think it was fair. I was one that didn’t think it was fair. I didn’t have my own gas field, but why put all the burden on them. So they finally, they got deadlocked on the financing in ’54. Mr. Sillers came up with others with plans to increase the sales tax and do it that way. It was passed.
CB: Of course that was the time the Brown decision was a pivotal event. You said that was on the minds of everybody. How much impact did that have on the legislature and what they were trying to do? I know there was one thing you said in your memoir. You said, “That the Brown decision is in someway harden resistance to integration.”
CJ: I think it did. I really think people were going more and more toward the acceptance of the idea of integration. I think if that Brown decision hadn’t come down, I think in another five or six years we would have gone a long way toward achieving that objective. When that Brown decision came down, it was like a cleaver cutting through a piece of meat. It divided everybody. The resistances to integration harden then just like a brick.
CB: Was that because of seen as an outside influence telling people what to do?
CJ: Well it was partly that. I think most of the people figured well that it has been the law here all these years, separate but equal. Now how can the Supreme Court come along and says a law that has been in effect for fifty years is not the law anymore. We got another law coming on now. They realized that if went to an integrated school system. You put the blacks in with the whites with the background differentiation. It would have to teach two levels. It just wouldn’t work. Somebody was going to get the worst end. If you are teaching to the whites then the blacks weren’t going to learn. If you teach from the blacks, then the whites are not going to learn. The affect was that they destroyed the public school system in many, many areas. In the delta they had to go about private schools. They still have them today. They are predominant.
CB: Another thing I guess that came up at that time was in reaction to the Brown Decision was the Citizen’s Council, which formed here in the delta. What kind of impact did that organization have on people in the legislature?
CJ: I think it had an affect. Of course they were all in belief of what the Citizen’s Council was doing anyway. The object of the Citizen’s Council was to try to preserve segregation by legal means. I think the Citizen’s Council was formed probably to off set the formation of the Klan. The Klan didn’t care about legal means. They were after anybody that opposed them. They would kill them. I think the Citizen’s Council was organized by people who were more responsible. They didn’t want blood shed. They realized bloodshed would never work. They wanted to try to maintain it by legal means. They wouldn’t do any extra judicial such as: killing people, maiming them, or hurting them. When they finally accomplished the segregation there was no further need for a Citizen’s Council. It sort of faded in the mist.
CB: Your cousin was speaker of the House when you went there, Mr. Sillers. I guess in the second term you were there, he ran into a little battle for challenge to his speakership. I guess that happens ever so often.
CJ: William Winter
CB: William Winter, right, what do you remember about that?
CJ: I remember that well. You see. William Winter had been a supporter of J. P. Coleman. J. P. had just been elected governor, and the man who had just been elected is a very poignant figure among the legislators. So I think he had promised Winter, he would support him for speaker. I don’t know whether, well I am not smart or anything like that, but I recognize the danger to Mr. Sillers position early on. I went over and talked to Mr. Sillers. I said we have got to organize and get ready before the second primary vote was taken. We are going to have to organize to maintain your speakership. He didn’t think it was necessary. I finally talked him into it. We got George Paine Cossner to come over and eat lunch with us. He agreed to be chairman. Then we begin to talk Mr. Sillers’s friends in to getting a solid front. Then we begin to work on the ones who had been elected and the ones who were running to be elected. We had a real campaign going to elect Mr. Sillers before the election was over. By the time the elections were over, we had enough votes pledged to elect Mr. Sillers. Of course our governor could still get in there and shake and rattle around and maybe cause some of them to defect. So after Coleman was elected. He had a meeting in Greenwood with the legislators. We went over there and met with him. He met with Mr. Sillers. He said, “Mr. Sillers, I will not oppose you for speaker, if you give me the list of people you plan to put on the Ways and Means Committee and Proportions Committee.” Well of course if Sillers had done that, the governor could give them to William Winter. William Winter could go to everybody who was not on one of those big committees, and he could get their votes for him for speaker. Walt came back and met with me, Buddy Newman and Will McNicholson and some of his other advisors. Walt went back to Coleman and said, “No I can’t do that.” Coleman decided well hell if he wanted to get his programs through that he better get Mr. Sillers on his side. So he said, “I am going to stay out of the speakers race.” We beat the hell out of William Winter.
CB: He kind of left William Winter out. He hung him out to dry. There had been a thing between Winter and Coleman.
CJ: No, he hung himself out to dry. When his daddy went to the legislator many years previously, he served with Walter Sillers. His daddy, Mr. Winter, and Walt were really good friends. When William got elected as a student at Ole Miss, his daddy wrote Walt a letter. It said, “Please give William good committee assignments.” He did. He put him on the Ways and Means Committee. He gave him good committee assignments. He helped him all the way along. Then he got that kind of backstabbing from Winter as a result. Of course after Winter was defeated he sort of faded in the background as far as legislator was concerned. Then Coleman appointed him as Black Market Tax Collection where he made a fortune.
CB: That is right. That is a pretty good position.
CJ: Yeah, he took Bailey’s place.
CB: Okay when you went to the legislator, since you knew Mr. Sillers or was related to him, did that help you in terms of getting good committee assignments and being in the inner circle of the leadership of the legislature?
CJ: You know it did help me of course. Mr. Sillers put me on the Ways and Means Committee, which was a good assignment for a new legislator. He never ask me to vote for this or vote for that. He let me run my course. I ran with the hounds for a while. I saw the radicals. I sized them all up, and I finally said, “Hell, Mr. Sillers group is the one that I like.” So I just sort of fit in with them, and I worked with them. They were physically conservative. They believed in a sound government.
CB: I know there were a lot of issues during the time you were in the legislature. I am just going to mention some. Maybe you can talk a little bit about. One big one that came up in your second term was J. P. Coleman wanting this constitution convention to rewrite the constitution. I know you were opposed to that as a lot of people were. That never happened. Why do you think he wanted that to begin with? Why were many people opposed in the legislature in that?
CJ: What did Huey Long do when he got to be governor? What was one of the first things he did? He held a constitutional convention. He concentrated the power in the governor. He damn near appointed the board of supervisors. He appointed everybody. You see.
CB: He did, yes.
CJ: He started out with a constitutional convention. J. P. Coleman was a student of history and smart. He saw what Huey Long. He thought he was going to do the same thing for Mississippi.
CB: He wanted more power for the governor.
CJ: Oh yeah, there was a concentration of power deal. He ridiculed the board of supervisors, JP’s, and constables. He wanted to combine the circuit of chancery courts, which may have been a good move anyway. He didn’t have much respect for local government. He thought it all should be concentrated. That was his ultimate goal. You know when you get to appointing local officials as well as state officials; a lot of power goes through your hand. He wanted to make the Secretary of Insurance and these other positions like Attorney General, he wanted them to be appointed through governor rather than elected. It just placed more concentration in the hands in the governor. It gets to the point where the governor can just dictate. That is what happened in Louisiana, but it didn’t happen in Mississippi. In my judgement, that was the heart of the whole thing.
CB: Would you say most legislators kind of felt the same way? That Coleman was trying to put to much power in the governor’s hands. That is why they opposed it.
CJ: I think they were afraid of that.
CB: Did that affect his ability as a governor? The fact that he tried this constitutional convention thing, and it failed.
CJ: He couldn’t get a bill passed praising Jesus after that.
CB: He was pretty ineffective after that.
CJ: The legislature just turned against him after that fact. The second time we met during his term, he was trying to hold on to the bills that he had passed the first session after he was elected governor. I opposed J. P. at the end. I thought his motive was bad. Mr. Sillers had great respect for J. P. and his benefits. I did too. Later on, the cases for J. P. when he was on the Fifth Circuit of Appeal. Fortunately he was a big man. He didn’t hold any grudges against me because of our past political differences.
CB: Didn’t he serve in the legislature the next term with you all right?
CJ: He did.
CB: So he joined the other side, sort of speaking. After he couldn’t run for governor again. Of course another issue that is always seemed to be a perennial one then was the liquor issue. Of course reading your memoir, I got the sense there was not a shortage of liquor around even though it was a dry state. There seemed to be places where people could go and get a drink.
CJ: I remember being in the legislator in Jackson. When we needed liquor we would go across the bridge to Rankin County on what you would call the Gold Coast. They had liquor stores over there. You would drive up to the liquor store and get what you want. The Old Charter was three-dollar. You would hand him the money and here comes the bottle of Old Charter. Then you would drive off. Then the next car would drive up.
CB: That is interesting. So there was plenty of it around.
CJ: It was plenty of it around. Of course I was from a width. Hell they sold liquor openly in Bolivar County. Along the river counties. They are traditionally are liberal on liquor and on the coast. The inland counties like Tallahatichie and the hills, they were hard against liquor. They drinked it. They drink bootleg whiskey out of fruit jars. They pulled the shades when they drank it. They didn’t want other people to know about it.
CB: Was that mainly a religious objection? Was it mainly it was that the churches were against it so then that.
CJ: There were probably some churches and preachers were against it. My wife’s uncle lived in Richmond, MS. Do you know where Richmond is?
CB: Right outside of Hattiesburg.
CJ: He and his girlfriend used to drink a lot of whiskey. He would vote dry. I asked him, “Tim why is it that you vote dry when you drink wet?” He said, “Well, a lot of these folks can not handle liquor.” He didn’t think that was for the whole pollywog. He just thought it was for the smart folks.
CB: We might have something there.
CJ: You know Curtis Spinks was an old fellow that ran for governor. He went around making speeches. This was back in the fifties and the late forties. He had long white flowing hair. He had a little string band that went with him. They would go in a town like that. That had a city square like Oxford, and they would start playing the music and gather a bunch of folks around. He would make a speech. He would say, “Now on the liquor question, I want you to know how I stand on the liquor.” He said, “The drys have got the law. The wets have got the whiskey. The state has got the tax. Now, how can you improve on that?”
CB: Everybody is covered. That is interesting. Now in 1960, you were actually chair of the Ways and Means Committee right?
CJ: That is right.
CB: Tell me a little bit, that is an important committee. Why is that such an important committee in the legislature?
CJ: That is the one where all the tax bills go. All the revenue bills have to go through the Ways and Means Committee. All the bond issued bills have to go through the Ways and Means Committee. It is very important. Mr. Sillers appointed me to that job. That was a hard decision for him because we were from the same county and kin. I had been on the Ways and Means Committee for a long time, and the chairman had made me chairman of the Sales Tax sub committee which was the most important sub committee. I had a legal background, and I worked hard on that committee. I was able to from a legal standpoint I was able to handle the bills on the floor probably better than some of the other old timers like Shorty Hester and Buddy Newman. He delayed the decision for a long time. He finally got them, the ones that were the chief candidates for the job, pretty well come along and agreed with him on it. Then he appointed me. I took that job. That is what got me out of the legislature. That is a working job. I mean, I had to spend damn near all my time working on this committee. I would get to the capital in the morning at seven o’clock before anybody appeared. I would be up there working. You would go down the hall of the capital to go to lunch or something; there would be six people in line to talk to about this. It was a hard job. I liked it though.
CB: You decided in ’63 that you were not going to run again.
CJ: Well you know I make my living practicing law. That time you got about two thousand dollars a year out of legislature during the time that legislature was in session. You lose your law practice when you are not here to take care of it, and when you are down in Jackson. I was beginning to feel that. I realized I was either going to be a lawyer or a politician. I decided that being a lawyer would probably pay a little better.
CB: You are probably right. When you were showing me the pictures, you mentioned Ross Barnett that you served the last term in the legislature. What were your impressions of Ross Barnett?
CJ: I loved him. I will just put it that way. I had the greatest respect for him. I had worked hard with him trying to get him in the right mindset to be elected. I was trying to help him on his industrial program because the legislature passed an industrial program the last year of Coleman’s term. Coleman vetoed it. He vetoed every damn bill. That sort of set the stage. I went over to Ross. I was sort of his advisor. I am not trying to brag or anything, but we were just good friends. He really didn’t know what the state government was really about. I said, Ross you need to get on this industry in to bring jobs in for the people. That is what we need. He got on that and by God he stayed on that. He worked it up good while he was running, and when he got in office, hell he would sit at his desk. They would bring him lunch, and he was calling people from New York and from everywhere to come to Mississippi. Senator Dole was going to build a new refinery in Louisiana to handle the oil from Argentina that they had to refine. Ross Barnett got on that deal, and he finally convinced those people that the folks in Louisiana were a bunch of crooks. They ought to build it in Mississippi. Damn if he didn’t sell them on it, and they built it in Mississippi. We had a special session with the legislature when I was chairman of the Ways and Means. We passed about forty bills to get everything lined up and a constitutional amendment so that they could put it on the sixteenth section land so they could build that refinery. It was built. God knows how much money has come in the tax carpools from that and how many people made good livings working there. Now of course he was a product of his time. The people in Mississippi was all for integration. He ran on that platform among others.
CB: You mean segregation right?
CJ: I mean segregation. So when the Ole Miss deal came up. He did what he said he was going to do. He opposed it. That is they remember him for now is the fact that he was opposed to the Meredith getting into Ole Miss. They don’t remember a damn good thing he did including the Ross Barnett Reservoir, which had made Jackson. Jackson couldn’t have grown without that water source.
CB: You are right people tend to associate him with the Ole Miss thing.
CJ: That is all they associate with him now.
CB: Okay, so you didn’t run again in ’63, but I know a little bit later you were back in public service when you were appointed to the state college board. I want to talk a little bit about that. You were appointed by Cliff Finch. How did you come to know Governor Finch?
CJ: Well Cliff Finch was a new member in the legislature back in the days when I was chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. He was a bright, young, well dressed, quite lawyer. He attended every session. He voted conciencely for what he thought his people wanted. We became friends. I remember when I won the McClain case. I got the decision from the Supreme Court. I read it. Cliff heard about it, and he wanted to read that decision. So he read that. So we talked about it. We would talk about law cases. He was a damn good lawyer.
CB: He was from Batesville?
CJ: Batesville, after he served a term in the legislature, he ran for district attorney. He convicted every damn body he prosecuted. I mean just religiously. If he put them on the dockets, they were gone. He was hell of a prosecutor. Then he became a good lawyer as a damaged suit lawyer. He had the ability to assimilate in his mind all the kind of technical facts in order to build a case. I think he told me one time he had a case about a tractor accident. They said, they brought a tractor down and brought it up in to the courtroom. He took it apart, and he showed the jury where the defective part was that caused the accident. That won the case. It had a big verdict. He was just really an outstanding young man. When he ran for governor, I didn’t like William Winter anyhow. I didn’t think William, I thought William was overrated. I didn’t think he was as smart as Cliff Finch. William was more liberal than I am. He had came under the influence of Jim Servos from the University of Mississippi. Jim was a vowed liberal. So I just came out for Cliff, and I made some speeches for him. I worked for. When he got elected, he appointed me to the college board. I will tell you one story about Cliff though.
CB: Okay great go ahead.
CJ: While he was in the legislature one time, we had passed a Wine bill. The governor caused it. We were trying to find up some votes trying to get people to vote for that bill. Cliff being one of my good friends, they assigned Cliff to me. I went to Cliff and talked him into voting for that wine bill. He voted for the wine bill. We passed it, and it went to the Senate. It got amended, and it came back. We had to vote for it again. So I went to Cliff again. Cliff said, no, hell no I will never vote for another wine bill. He said, “You know after I voted for that, I went to church Sunday, and one of my constituents a nice lady in town walked up to me, and he said, “Mr. Finch you know you are a nice looking young fellow. You seemed bright, and I voted for you for representatives. Then you go down to Jackson and vote for that Wine bill. She said, “I’ll never vote for you again as long as I live.” That killed that. He didn’t want a Wine bill anyhow.
CB: The people in Batesville are not as quite
CJ: They ain’t liberal minded on liquor. I could figure that. They were not then.
CB: Further down in the delta. Of course that is an interesting position to be in, a college board member. Of course a big part of the budget that comes out of the legislature goes to Universities and colleges around the state. I know there is a lot of things that you do. I just want to ask about some of those. One thing that you are in charge to do is to selecting the University’s presidents.
CJ: Right that is one of the more important functions.
CB: What were some of the selection that you were involved in when you were on the board?
CJ: Well the man who had been president at the “W” had been there for a long time, and he started out as a pretty good president. As he got older, he just got old on the job, and he sort of turned it over to his staff to run. He did practically nothing. That made the “W” had gone badly. The enrollment has gone way down. So we selected Strovel to take over that job. The “W” had been getting an extra slice of that pie, because of the fact Bill Bergen was the Senator from that county, and he had a big clout in the Senate as the Chairman of the finance committee. When Bergen went out, of course they didn’t have that anymore. They had to make it own there on. Strovel brought them through. He did a great job for them as president. Of course McComus had taken over at Mississippi State before I was on the board. So I didn’t have a chance to vote for him. Porta Fortune had been chancellor at Ole Miss. We selected a replacement for Porta Fortune. We got this fellow, Turner. I don’t believe I have that picture here, but I was president of the board when Turner took over. I hung the crucifer around his neck to make him president during his installation ceremonies. I don’t know. He did one good thing as chancellor that I could point out. He started this endowment fund. I think the university is really going to achieve greatness in Mississippi, they are going to have to have an endowment fund. They are going to have to attract academic personelle to make it a great university. He did that. It is up to $250,000,000 now, cash since Turner. We didn’t have to select a new president for Southern during my time. We selected several new presidents for Valley. We selected a new one for Alcorn. That is an important.
CB: What goes into the selection process when you are having to decide who would be a good person to head up an institution?
CJ: Well first you advertise in all the journals. Then you get your application. Then you review the credentials. You usually have a consultant to go along with you and sort of help you on appraising the candidates and their abilities. For instance on Turner, we had an advisor who was working with the board at the time who had been chancellor at the University of North Carolina and Chancellor at the University of Oklahoma. He knew Turner, and he liked his credentials. He favored Turner over the other founders, which was a man from South Carolina. We had to rely a good bit on consultants because we didn’t have the expertise to really analyze them. I guess. We could talk to them and get our impressions on them. We could get their ideas to see if they would fit in. That is an important job, the most important that the college board had. I thought.
CB: How much does politics get involved in not only the board, but the whole operations of the Higher Education system in the state?
CJ: You know when I got on the board, Dr. Cook was president. Do you know Dr. Cook?
CB: Down at USM.
CJ: He was on the board, and he was president of the board at the time.
CB: He doesn’t do that anymore? He was president of USM and also on the board.
CJ: No, this was after his term at USM. He made me chairman of the finance committee on the board because I had been in the legislature and I knew those legislators. So some little old smart reporter that came up there and attended meetings and ask questions. The first meeting that I went to after I had been appointed, we had the session with the press. He ask me, “What instructions did I get from Cliff Finch, and what kind of part did Finch play that had me appointed chairman of the finance committee?” I said, “Well you know, I didn’t know that I was going to be chairman of finance committee until it was announced. I certainly didn’t have any conversations with Finch about it. As far as my conversation with Finch about the college board, when he appointed me, he said, ‘Charlie, do a good job.’” That is all I ever heard from him during the whole time. He never told me to do this or do that. That really took the wind out of the reporter. He stuck his head between his legs and he slunked off.
CB: What about any kind of maybe rivalries or internal to the board? Of course each person probably has an affiliation with one institution than the other. Does that play out in any of the board’s decisions?
CJ: Yeah, that does. It was more of that went on before I got on the board, then it was after I got on the board. For instance, the architect school at Mississippi School, Ole Miss wanted it. There was a big fight about that, but it finally went to Mississippi State. It probably should have gone there. Then there was a lot of talk all the time with doing away with the engineering school at Ole Miss, and only concentrating on engineering at State. Well the engineering school at Ole Miss does a good job, and they sort of specialize in fields that Mississippi State does not specialize in. The most people, that is a large part of the university curriculum. That is a pretty important part that engineering school over there. After you get on the board, and you find these facts out. Then the question of doing away with the engineering school at Ole Miss becomes easy to vote on. You want to vote to do the right thing. That is to keep it. That is the way I saw it. One time the board decided they were going to make program assignments. That was after William Winter appointees came on, Tom Bore and Dale Jones from Jackson. They were hell bent on getting program assignments for each university. I didn’t much care about program assignments. I think the university would sort of work it out themselves. They will start working and build a program. It will begin to go there. The place that they don’t work on it, like Library Science at Ole Miss. It finally deaden out, and it went to Southern. Anyway they are bent on getting these program assignments through. They had to promise Chane that they would give Computer Science to Southern. Computer Science was new at that time. I said hell no, no computer science at Southern, that is too new. They got to all have computer science, and be strong in computer science. They made a deal with Bobby Chane, that he would go along with the program assignment as long as he gives that to Southern. So they did, and they passed it with my objection. Later on they took computer science away from Southern after Chane got off the Board. Do you remember that?
CB: I do, I remember talking to Dr. Lucas about that as well. He told me a story about that. That happened while he was out of town.
CJ: Well they did have a meeting. He was out of town.
CB: He did tell me about that. You mentioned Bobby Chane. The one reason I ask that question, I knew from reading your memoir, it sounded like he was somebody that was interested almost solely at USM, and not really the state as a whole. It seemed like everything he did was colored by wanting to help USM and not the whole state. Is that what you were trying to say?
CJ: Well I guess that was the primary aim. I can not say he was not trying to help the other universities too as long as helping them didn’t interfere with Southern wanted or needed. He would go along with it pretty good. Bobby Chain, he was a student under M. M. Roberts. M. M. Roberts was a board member appointed by Ross. He dominated that board. M. M. Roberts was brilliant individual. He was a political manipulator. He got the majority of the board going along with him, even the Labooze trustee, who is supposed to vote only on Ole Miss matters. Roberts had him under his control. He voted on everything back in those days. You know about those Labooze trustee.
CB: You know I read about that in your memoir, and I didn’t know about that till I read about. What is the ordinance of that? Do you know?
CJ: When they passed the constitutional amendment to make the college board a constitutional body, the man who really sponsored that amendment was from Greenwood. He was lawyer over there. It seems to be some time or another there used to be a fund for the University of Mississippi. It was called the Labooze fund or something like that. Somewhere along the line, that fund got dissipated. I think maybe as sort of a compensation for that fund being gone, they put an extra man on for Ole Miss as a Labooze trustee to vote on matters pertaining to Ole Miss only. That is the way he was supposed to vote. Of course a lot of times the Labooze trustee, there was a lot times when they didn’t draw a line. He voted just like the other trustees on damn near everything. During my day, the Labooze trustee pretty well voted on matter pertaining to Ole Miss. That is a pretty broad field, because damn near everything goes up there. Many things involve Ole Miss.
CB: Do they still have that?
CJ: No, they did away with that by constitutional amendment several years.
CB: I haven’t heard about that recently. That was something I did not know about.
CJ: Ole Miss was sort of dominant back in 1942 when this amendment was adopted. Menes Johnson was the lawyer from Greenwood who sponsored it. You know the history of that?
CB: No I don’t.
CJ: Well when Bilbo got elected governor, he had been in favor of moving all the Universities to Jackson into one university. There was a lot of University professors fought that at Ole Miss and State and all around. So when he got elected governor in 1928. They had different boards of trustees for different universities at that time. It was usually the governor who appointed them. So when his appointments came up for the board, he had word, after you fire so and so. They had wholesale firing of professor at Ole Miss, State, and elsewhere because they had fought his projects of making one university in Jackson. As a result of that the accrediting board took all the colleges in the Mississippi off their accredited list except one. That was Delta State. One of Bilbo’s appointees double-crossed him on the board of Delta State. He didn’t vote to fire Kethley. That was a touch and go deal for a long time. Kethley remained. All were discredited except for Delta State. When Conner came along, he wanted a board of trustees, but it was a legislative act. When he appointed. When White came along he wanted to control the board of trustees, so he passed a new act. He appointed another board of trustees. It was the same old political deal. Menes Johnson saw the fallacy of that. So he proposed a constitutional amendment which passed in 1942.
CB: Which you have the staggered terms?
CJ: That is right.
CB: That resolved that problem of any one governor gaining control.
CJ: It has been a pretty good system since then. By the way we had a hell of a fight in law school involving the facilities down on the coast. They built a new president’s home down there, which was authorized by the board. It was built from grant money that they had received. Grant and earned money that they receive from research projects they done for the government for corporation done on Marine Science. Some little old paper got to raising hell about the board approving that residence for the director. They got they attorney general interested. Al Summers filed suit jarring us from doing that. I foolishly, I said I will defend this suit. Mr. Roberts came back and we worked together to defend that suit on two grounds. First that we had statutory authority, second we had constitutional authority to do it. The little old chancellor said, “The statute was clear” That we had authority. Al Summers couldn’t read or something I guess. When we read that to the judge, he immediately fell for us, but he said that we didn’t have constitutional authority. So Al Summers appealed on the originally ruling. We crossed appealed on the constitutional authority. We won on cross appeal. We were affirmed on appeal. We got David Sensing to write a history of that constitutional amendment and what all had happened behind it. We submitted that history to the court. Of course a three judge panel usually hears these cases, but they had a four-judge panel. So they ordered six more copies of that. On the basis of that history that was done, they decided that we were a constitutional body and we had the authority to do that. The legislature got mad at us, but by god they respected us. They quit demanded this and demanded that from the board. They began to understand that our true authority of the constitutional body.
CB: That is interesting. There was another issue that came up that is still on going while you were on the board; the Ayer’s Case was filed. The higher education, desegregation lawsuit.
CJ: That was filed before I got on the board.
CB: That is the early seventies, but you were all still dealing with it, I guess.
CJ: Twelve years
CB: They are still dealing with it. There was something in the paper today about it. They were trying to settle it, and I actually remember reading in your memoir about the thing would probably hard to ever settle it. What kind of energies did you have to put in to dealing with that lawsuit?
CJ: Well it was like a meteor, it comes every few years then it will disappear. Then it would disappear again. It was sort of an up and down thing. It would get hot, and they would take about going to trial. They would take some deposition. Then it would get cold. We tried every way we could to settle it. We tried to get the government attorneys and the NAACP’s attorneys to talk to us in good faith. They would never really tell us, exactly what they wanted. They just wanted to have a suit I guess. We gave extra money to the black colleges trying to build up more programs. Trying to make them attractive to whites. They didn’t want whites to go to those schools. I think the whites all ready, but they didn’t feel welcome. I don’t think they wanted whites. As far as the white universities they accepted the blacks who could make the grades of course and even those that couldn’t. They had remedial stuff for them. We tried every way we could to do something about. There was no way to get the whites in the blacks schools. That was a big problem.
CB: One thing I guess that has came out of that case. That is mentioned from time to time but is not totally related to that case is that some people argue over the years that one problem that Mississippi has is that there is too many Universities for a state these size. We have eight universities, and we have less than 3 million total population. A lot of states a little bigger do not have that many universities. That has come out partly in the Ayer’s case. People say that one solution might be to close down the universities. Was that ever subject of debate among the legislature?
CJ: I remember that business of closing from my days as a youth back in the thirties during the depression.
CB: They wanted to close Delta State.
CJ: They wanted to close Delta State. Yeah that came up when I was on the board. I was adamantly opposed to closure. Every educator that came I know that came in here and consulted with us felt the same way. You just don’t close them. Alcorn is not the best in the world. Mississippi Valley is not the best in the world, but they do offer education to a lot of people. They lift them up some. It may not be a Harvard. Ole Miss is not a Harvard either. All these universities they bring the students in. They are better citizens than when they started. So I felt that there was no need to do away with any of them. They get an Alumni Association and get embedded in our society and we get roots.
CB: It would be very hard.
CJ: Particularly the “W”. You know when they start talking about doing away with the “W”. That was a big factor during the latter part of my term. One time I missed a board meeting. I went to Florida on a golf vacation after I sort of retired from work. I came back the damn papers were full of the fact that the board had recommended that they close Valley and the “W”. People were calling me about it. I said, hell I missed the meeting, but I am not in favor of it. I said in the first place the board can not close the “W”. We don’t have authority. All we do is manage. That is the only constitutional authority that we have. When you make a recommendation like that you cripple the university because the people get scared to go there. The faculty wants to leave. You do irreparable harm to the university, and you can not do a damn thing about it. The Alumni from those schools are not going to let the legislation do anything about it. There was never even a bill introduced to do away with either one of them by the legislature. It turned out about like I figured it would. It finally died down. Then the Ayer’s Case the man kind of sort of said at the rest. He didn’t close any of them. I think he did wisely at that respect.
CB: What was the genesis of that vote by the board when you were gone to close those universities?
CJ: McComus over at Mississippi State, Mississippi State wanted to get their hands on the “W”. That is exactly it, I think.
CB: To balance it out, add Valley there. Have one white and one black.
CJ: You know there was a black president from down the coast that was on the board. He was talking about for a while; they had a reason for closing Valley. They didn’t think it was a very good college. Why close the “W”, he said, “to equalize the pain.” To share the pain. That man worked for Hancock Bank. He was president of the Hancock Bank. Do you know who he was? Leo Sills
CB: Leo Sills, yeah.
CJ: He voted like McComus wanted. I think suspected Leo Sills passes that message on to this man who would vote.
CB: I had one other thing about the College Board that I was going to ask you about. I remember there was another issue that came up associated with the “W”. That was this debate on whether they should be an all-female institution or should they allow male students. I guess that came up for decision while you were on the College Board. Who was pushing for that to get rid?
CJ: I don’t think anybody on the board was pushing for it. I think everybody agreed to keep it female. Of course you know the courts ruled it otherwise that the males had the right to attend.
CB: When you were on the latter part of your term on the College Board you were president of the board. Does the president of the College Board have any particular special duties rather than just a regular board member?
CJ: Yeah, I think the president is in a much more powerful position. He sort of handles decisions that inter between the board meetings. He works with the executive secretary of the board on a lot of problems that comes up between meetings. The president has a good bit of authority and power.
CB: We have been talking for over two hours. I have kind of exhausted a lot of questions. I do want to say on the tape that people want to get even more information they should read your memoir over at Delta State for a lot more details. Was there something that maybe I didn’t ask you about. I tried to ask you at least a few questions about all those many things you talked about. Is there something I maybe missed that you might would like to bring out at this time?
CJ: Well I don’t know. Of course in my years later on, I am retired from law practice. I do enjoy keeping up with matters. Writing letter to the editors is the only difference. Not long ago the question came up, and it is up again on a vote on November second about term limits. I am unlawfully opposed to term limits. That thing started out you know over in California. Somebody had a lot of money that was accumulated. I think they accumulated as a fund. The money that he raised while he was running for political office, he couldn’t spend it for anything else. So he spent it to get term limits. They hired people to go out to get people to sign this petition, and they got term limits in California. The result was the old heads went out, and the people were denied the rights to vote to re-elect the man. It is really a denial or restriction of rights when you limit terms. You know in the legislature, hell one term you finally found out where your seats are located. About the time you finish the second term, you are beginning to find your way around. That is complicated. They handle in Mississippi legislature over three billion dollars. They appropriate for a hundred and twenty-five agencies. They have got the courts to considered, the health departments, the highways, and this that and the other. It is complicated, but a lot of people think you can be elected to the legislature and you are automatically an expert on everything. You are not. You learn through experience. If you restrict experience the legislature will kick them out. You will have a mess. You will have a budget mess. That is what happened in California. They had a mess when they passed that thing. Other states have passed it too, but I think Mississippi people have more sense than that.
CB: I guess we will find out soon.
CJ: I think so. I believe they will vote it down. I have written a lot on that and other matters.
CB: Let me ask you one last question. Having lived your whole life here in the delta, what would you say is the biggest change you have seen over the years both positive and negative?
CJ: Well, when I was going to school at Rosedale everything was agricultural. When I was a kid, nearly everything was agricultural. They had no industry. When my class graduated from Rosedale, there were thirteen of us. I was the damn near the only male that stayed in Bolivar County. Most of them left the state. There were some real talented folks in my class, but there was nothing holding them here. So bringing industry in and creating jobs, and giving our people a place to go when they get out of high school, gives them a chance to stay here and work in the community. That has a been big thing. Agriculture is not the big factor in the delta now. There are a lot of jobs around. There are a lot of service jobs and professional jobs. That is the big changes. Of course the college has grown. That has been a big factor in life in Cleveland. It has made it one of the better towns in the state of Mississippi. Blacks were sort of a down trodden people until the Civil Rights Act came a lot. I wasn’t for the Civil Rights Acts. As I look back on it now, I think we owe them more than what we were giving them by a long shot. The fact that they are now in jobs, and they are able to do things. They are accepted in society. I think that is an improvement. Of course I don’t have any use for these blacks that is always clamoring “Give me something!”, because my grant grandparents were slaves. I don’t know. Maybe somewhere along the line my fore bearers were slaves. I think we got to earn it on our own. They ought to have the opportunity to go to schools. They should build themselves up, and be good citizens. I think that has helped. A lot of them are. We got a lot of that in this area. Of course we have some that I call radicals, that want to just take over everything and run it or run it down. Generally we have a pretty good society here. I think it is working out pretty good.
CB: I think I am going to end it there. If that is okay with you. I appreciate you talking to me.
CJ: I have enjoyed it Charles I really have.