Hugh Ellis Walker Interview · Back to DSU Oral Histories

Walker, Hugh E. Tape 1 of 1 10/11/99
By Don Hendon

 

This is an interview for the Mississippi Oral History Program. The interview is being recorded with Mr. Hugh Walker in the Capps Archives Building on October 11,1999. The interviewer is Don Hendon.

 

HW: My name is Hugh Ellis Walker Sr.

 

DH: What is the date and place of your birth?

 

HW: I was born July 6, 1928 in Drew, MS.

 

DH: These questions pertain to your family background. What is your parents’ name?

 

HW: My parents were Mr. and Mrs. William Bryant Walker.

 

DH: What was your mother’s maiden name, and her date and places of birth?

 

HW: My mother was Bonnie Manning, and she was born in Drew in 1911.

 

DH: Do you know anything about your grandparents?

 

HW: I do. At one time they lived in Crystal Springs, MS, which is in the hill area. They were truck farmers. They raised vegetables at that time. Crystal Springs was big as far as sharing fruits and vegetables. The delta area was just getting established in growing cotton. So several relatives moved to Drew. My grandfather came along with them. He established a cotton plantation in the Drew area. This would be back probably in the early twenties, 1920’s.

 

DH: Well that covered my next question. My next question was how did your family end up in this area, and you just answered that. Do you know their ethnic background?

 

HW: Scotch-Irish

 

DH: Where did your parents’ go to school, and what was their level of education?

 

HW: I am not sure about my grandparents. I am sure they went to public schools in Crystal Springs, but what level they completed, I don’t know. I don’t know that my mother or dad graduated from high school. I never did hear them say. My mother went to school in Drew, and my father went to school Bell Fount, which is a small town in the hill area over near Eupora

 

DH: When were your parents married?

 

HW: I don’t know. I was born in 1928 so I am assuming 1926 or ’27.

 

DH: Do you have any brothers or sisters? Can you determine who is oldest and youngest?

 

HW: I don’t have any brothers and sisters.

 

DH: Where did you grow up, and what was it like then?

 

HW: I was born in Drew. I went to school there during junior high. Then we moved to Clarksdale, and I finished high school there. When I was born and lived in the Drew area, there were not too many modern conveniences remember seeing A model and T model cars as the first cars that came to that area. We didn’t have indoor plumbing, electricity, running water, or any of the conveniences have today. We certainly did not have a television. I didn’t know it was bad at that time, but it was pretty bad.

 

DH: What was your house like? You just described that with no electricity and running water.

 

HW: Right

 

DH: Was it a pretty small house?

 

HW: My house was what we would call now a shack really. It was a tenant house. It was a wooden frame house. It was four rooms and that was it.

 

DH: What kinds of things do you remember growing up? For example, did you live on a family farm?

 

HW: My grandfather who was Joey Manning was a pretty good authority to the area. There were eight children in that family, and everybody farmed together. Back then the more people you had to help farm the better off you were. So everybody worked together. So we consequently really lived on my grandfather’s farm. We farmed together. We farmed cotton.

 

DH: What did you do for fun and for social activities?

 

HW: I did have any social activities especially when I was young living on the farm. About the only people that I had to play with was my cousins. Kind of interesting most of them turned out real well. I just had an aunt to run for Mayor or the City of Memphis. She was one of those that lived next door to me. We used to play a lot together. Most of them turned out well. So living in the country and having limited means does not necessarily keep you from succeeded. We got together a lot as families. Doing holiday in particular we celebrated together. We would all meet at our grandparent’s house. We would cook a lot of good food, and everybody would get together. As far as school was concerned during those early days we would have birthday parties. We would have something they don’t have very often now. We would have cakewalks. Everybody would fix a cake, and they would walk to see which cake you would win. I think it would cost us a nickel each time we would walk. Athletics were important. They always have been important in the delta. You would go to a football game and a basketball. A lot of things we enjoyed back then, we enjoy today.

 

DH: The next questions are which era appropriate to you. What do you remember about growing up during W.W.I?

 

HW: I don’t remember anything about W.W.I.

 

DH: You don’t remember anything about that.

 

HW: No

 

DH: You were born in 1928. So the 20’s would be too long for you to remember.

 

HW: Yeah

 

DH: Do you remember anything about the depression?

 

HW: The year they give for the beginning of the depression was 1929. I was born in 1928. It was carried on for several years. Everyone was extremely poor when I was very young child. Yes, I remember that.

 

DH: Do you remember anything about Vietnam?

 

HW: I do remember something about Vietnam. I was not in the war. I was not in service at that time. I don’t know what kind of background you want on that question. I was too young to go to W.W.II. I missed it by one year. I went into the Marine Core, and I stayed there for two years. I got out and came to Delta State. Did you say the Vietnam War?

 

DH: Yes

 

HW: Okay, excuse me the Korean War is what I am off on.

 

DH: Do you remember anything about the Civil Rights Movement?

 

HW: I remember quite a bit about it. I remember the publicity, the things on television. I really was not actively involved.

 

DH: Did you have any family members involved with any of the wars, like the Cold War, Vietnam?

 

HW: I am sure there was, but I don’t remember any specifically. I don’t remember anybody who was over seas actively involved in it. I know someone in the service.

 

DH: Do you remember anything about the River flooding?

 

HW: No that was in 1927, and I was born in 1928.

 

DH: Which of your family has influenced you or inspired you the most, and why including the extended family?

 

HW: I think my stepfather probably influenced me the most. I told you that my parents were Mr. and Mrs. William Bryant Walker. Well Bryant Walker was really my stepfather. My real father was Noel Brock. He was from Drew. Of course he is deceased now too. My mother and my stepfather were married when I was about two years old. I couldn’t have asked for a better father. He was tremendous. He protected me in every way. He stood by through the years. Exactly the way you would want a father to do. I would probably my step father had the most influence on me.

 

DH: The next section of questions deal with education. Where did you go to elementary school, and can you describe it?

 

HW: I went to Drew elementary. We had an excellent education, even though at that time. We mentioned the depression. At that time there was not that much money was around. We had plenty of supplies. The teachers were dedicated. The proof of the pudding is I have been able to cope and have some degree of success in my life. A lot of it has to do with the foundation that you get from education.

 

DH: Did you attend Hill Demonstration School?

 

HW: No

 

DH: Were any of teachers especially influential and why?

 

HW: Yes, any time you have a teacher that is dedicated and really does push you to be the best you can be. I think you have respect for them. I had several here on campus that did both. Dr. White’s father, Jeffy White was a man that I looked up to. He was real leader. Of course my tennis coach when I was here. Dr. Eleanor Walters, who was head of the math department, I respected her a great deal. Ms. Ethel Cane who headed up the Physical Education Department was a real good on campus. So I respected her.

 

DH: Can you tell me who were you best friends, and why?

 

HW: Well I was involved with athletics. So most of my friends were on the teams that I participated on. Some of the people I respected and was good friends. Wilson Earl who grew up with in Clarksdale, and this in Andy, he has a grandson who plays on our Delta State team this year, Reed Stringer #64. Let’s see, Wig Riley, he was later Dean. Of course he passed away about two weeks ago. Bobby Barber whom lives here in town. Most of these people were members of the football team.

 

DH: What were your favorite subjects, and what were your extra curricular activities? You mentioned you were in athletics and that was extra curricular activities. Did you play football and basketball?

 

HW: I played football. I played high school basketball. I was not very good. I played on the tennis team. The thing that I wanted to do when I came to Delta State was to teach and coach. All the education course was very important to me. Those were the ones that I enjoyed the most. Intramurals were important as they are now. I enjoyed that. Movies were big then. We had three movie theaters in Cleveland at the town. We had to walk to them because nobody had a car. We used to go to movies all of the time. It was about the only thing you had to do.

 

DH: About the only thing you have to do now. Okay where did you attend high school, and describe it?

 

HW: Clarksdale High. It was known as Bubba High. It was the High school in Clarksdale. It was an excellent high school. I just got wonderful training there. It prepared me to come to college and do a good job. I never had any trouble at all at Delta State because of the training that I got there. I was involved with athletics there. Even though W.W.II was going on, we just had wonderful facilities and wonderful equipment. I just can not say enough about my high school experience.

 

DH: In high school what kind of social activities did you have?

 

HW: In high school? Well so much of that was centered around sports. Clarksdale was pretty involved in social activities. They had a lot of sorority types for girls. They sponsored dances and things like that. We had a lot of dances. We had the movies. Lack of anything else to do you always can go to the movies. Like we do today.

 

DH: What extra curricular activities were you involved in, and what did you get from those activities?

 

HW: Was that in high school?

 

DH: Yes

 

HW: I went out. I guess you would call sports extra curricular activities. Beyond that I didn’t have much time to do anything else. I participated in all sports. That being all sports being football, basketball, track, and tennis. That took up the time during the year. I worked in the summer time. So other than the things that boys and girls normally do. We didn’t have much time then.

 

DH: You next questions pertain to you college education. So can you tell me when you attended college?

 

HW: I attended college in 1948 through ’52.

 

DH: At Delta State?

 

HW: I started in 1948 at Northwest Junior College, and I transferred to Delta State at mid term in 1949. So I was only at Northwest for one semester. The rest of the time I was here.

 

DH: Why did you decide to go to college?

 

HW: Well, I thought that was the way to prepare myself to be successful. I guess everybody is trying to prepare themselves for a better life. Even though my parents didn’t go to college. They never created any doubt in my mind in where I was going. So I guess their influence plus the fact that I wanted made me decide to go.

 

DH: How and why did you decide to come to Delta State? Have you ever been there before being a student there at Delta State?

 

HW: W.W.II had come along while at was at high school. Delta State was just an extremely small school. I don’t know how many students they had here. It was probably less than two hundred. Even though I was in Clarksdale about forty miles away. It was practically unheard of. Nobody knew about Delta State. Practically all the men had gone off to war, and about the only students left were just a few women. The Delta State as we know it today did not exist at that time. They didn’t have any athletic programs or anything. It was not much to attract you here. So when I graduated from high school I went directly into the service. When I got out of the service, I had tried out for football at Ole Miss. They had sent me to Northwest Junior College. I went over there for one semester. I was not happy one bit over there. In the mean time some of my friends that I mentioned before had came to Delta State. So I hate to say this today, because I love Delta State dearly. Probably the main reason why I came to Delta State is because my friends came here back in that time. I had a wonderful experience.

 

DH: What did your parents think about you going to Delta State or going to college?

 

HW: Oh they were for it a hundred percent. They wouldn’t have had it any other way.

 

DH: Did many of your friends or relatives go to college? Was this unusual?

 

HW: The war and the G. I. Bill made it possible for practically everybody that wanted to go to college go to college. I remember how they gave you credits. For every year you stayed in service you got so many points in the G. I. Bill. My two years in the military would completely pay for my college. Most of everybody was in the same catorgorie. So there was no financial reason for people not to go. I would say immediately after the war, we had a high percentage to go to college as we do now. Simply because we had the money to do it with, so most of everybody went.

 

DH: What did you hope going to college would do for you?

 

HW: Well, I wanted to coach and teach. I couldn’t coach and teach with out going to college. So it offered me the opportunity to do what I wanted to do.

 

DH: The next questions refer to financing. The first one is. Was sending you to college a financial hardship for your parents, and if so why did they do it?

 

HW: If I had not gone to the service it would have been an extreme hardship. If I had not gotten a football scholarship, I could have gone to college. I think I would have gotten a football scholarship. By going into the military I paid for my college. I probably had more free money when I was in school that I have had since then.

 

DH: Did you work while you were a student?

 

HW: Yes

 

DH: How did you find work?

 

HW: You mean as far as seeking it out? I just went to see people and ask them for a job. Do you want to know where I worked?

 

DH: Yes

 

HW: Okay, people used to. There was not much wash-n-wear clothing back in that time. So cleaning was a big thing. We had a lot of cleaners here in Cleveland. They would get somebody in each dorm to pick up cleaning. You would get your cleaning free, and you would get paid something else. I picked up cleaning, and I made some money that way. I used to work at Cameon’s, which is still a department store down town. I would there on the weekends. I had two or three different kinds of scholarships. So that pretty much took care of it all.

 

DH: Did you learn anything valuable from doing all of this work?

 

HW: I think you always learn something when you work. You learn how to meet people. You learn how to solve problems. You learn to persevere. You learn to discipline yourself.

 

DH: Okay my next questions deal with campus living. Describe your first day on campus as a student? So this would be at Northwest.

 

HW: So this is not Delta State?

 

DH: Well describe your first day on campus as a student there and at Delta State.

 

HW: The first day on campus there was when we started pre season football practice in August. It was hot. It was before classes started. We worked out twice a day. It was very miserable. As it always is. Mississippi starting out with football. Other than football practice we would go and jump in the sack and rest in between practices. I don’t remember anything else about it.

 

DH: Was there hazing of freshman, and what did you have to do?

 

HW: Well there was no hazing of me, but there was hazing present. The reason there was no hazing for me because they did not haze veterans, and I have been in the military. It wasn’t because they couldn’t or wouldn’t, but they just didn’t because we have been in the military.

 

DH: Where did you live while you attended college?

 

HW: I lived in the dorm for three years. Then I was married my last year. We lived in married housing.

 

DH: What was it like living in the dorm? Who were you roommates, and did you know them before?

 

HW: Well Wilson Earl was my roommate most of the time. He and I were friends in Clarksdale. The dorm that I lived in you could see it right over there. It was what you would call a G. I. dorm. It is Naugherty Hall. It is still there. It is no different than today.

 

DH: Were there any rules or conduct, behavior, curfew, visitors, or dress that you remember? How did you feel about them?

 

HW: Well because there was so many you didn’t think too much about them. You just took them for granted and worked around them. Not to many restrictions on the boys, but there was a lot on the girls. I know the girls couldn’t go out. They couldn’t even leave the dorms at night, but maybe only twice a week. The place that we met up to see our girl friends was the library. They could go to the library, but that was it. They were restricted as to getting into cars. You couldn’t ride around in a car until you were a senior. Every where we went, we had to walk. We would walk to the movie, and all that kind of stuff.

 

DH: The next questions go with you academics while you were in college. What was your major, and why did you choose it?

 

HW: Well I was a Physical Education major and a minor in Biology. The reason I chose it was because I wanted to coach and teach.

 

DH: What were your favorite classes and why?

 

HW: I mentioned earlier the education classes. Physical Education and Health classes were enjoyable to me. I really got interested in Science as a result of trying to find a teaching field. I love biology.

 

DH: Did you teach at Hill Demonstration School?

 

HW: No

 

DH: What was your most memorable class and why?

 

HW: I think. Probably my most memorable class was Dr. Eleanor Walter teaching me a general math class. I was really excited about math or good in it. I probably didn’t get the basics that I should while I was in school. She really taught math in such a way that I could understand it. So I appreciated her, and I appreciated that class. That is the one that stood out in my mind.

 

DH: Out of teachers, administrators, or other students, who do you remember the most? What do you remember about them?

 

HW: The Delta State Union is named for H. L. Nowell. H. L. was a person who wore a lot of hats. He did a lot of things while we were here. He headed up the cheerleaders. He was Dean of Men. He was a friend to the students. He helped in unlimited ways. He is deceased now, but through the years he was a friend of the kids and students. I would say H. L. was the most influential person. He was one of the most to me.

 

DH: What organizations or extra curricular activities did you participate in?

 

HW: Well I was the president of the Student Government Association. I was involved in the BSU. I was involved with intramurals. We didn’t have a lot of activities available back then. I was involved in most of them.

 

DH: Next questions pertain with social life. What did you do for fun and social activities?

 

HW: We had a lot of things scheduled out here on campus. We had a lot of dances. One thing that the physical education club did was we had square dances. They really were a lot of fun. We went to the movies. I supported the athletics. We had plays. The Delta PlayHouse Player would have plays from time to time. I would say at least once every quarter. Various groups would come in and perform like in the Bologna Performing Center.

 

DH: Speaking about dances, how did you dress? Who were the bands? Was there drinking? Were their chaperones?

 

HW: At that time everybody wore coat and tie. Nobody would wear a suit. You would go casual. Maybe twice a year we would have a formal dance, and we would wear tuxes. The girls would wear long dresses. One of the bands that came quite frequently came out of Vicksburg was called the Red Tops. They are still renown in the Vicksburg even today. I don’t think drinking was quite a prevalent then as it is now. Yes we did have people there to look after us.

 

DH: Could you tell me where you all went on your dates?

 

HW: To the movies.

 

DH: Were there concerts, plays, or other cultural activities sponsored by Delta State University or available in the town of Cleveland?

 

HW: Yeah, but very limited there. It is nothing like today.

 

DH: Can you tell me what Cleveland was like then? What did you do in town, church, restaurants, shopping?

 

HW: Well it was then a lot like it is today. The biggest difference that was there was no cars. I think right after the war when we all came back. Delta State jumped from a hundred to about eight hundred when I graduated. A lot of difference in population, even during that time I don’t think we had over five cars on campus.

 

DH: What it was like then?

 

HW: I think the big difference was there was no cars. We only had about five cars on campus. Therefor everybody walked everywhere they went. The city was a lot like it is today. We on Court St., which is the one that runs into the library from downtown, we would walk to the movie. The building is still there. Rhodes Printing is in the building where the movie was. On the way down town there were three restaurants. There was on the corner where the double quick is, and there were two more between there and the railroad track. We would stop and eat and have fun and eat hamburgers. Then we would go to the movie. Then we would walk back. The biggest difference between then and now would be transportation. Most of the boys headed back home. There were buses that ran, but most of time especially if we didn’t live too far away. The boys not the girls.

 

DH: Did you belong to a fraternity?

 

HW: They didn’t have fraternities.

 

DH: Who were the most popular or influential students, and why do you think they were? What offices did they hold?

 

HW: In general I would say the athletes were the most popular students. Specifically there was a guy that came a year before me. His name was Bill Rodgers. He was president of the Student Government Association. He was really an influential in my dealing with my involvement in that activity. He was a guy that really influenced a lot of people for the good. I would say Bill Rodgers was one.

 

DH: What was the greatest contribution of your experience at Delta State to your later life?

 

HW: I think getting involved with the Student Government Association was probably the most important thing that I did while I was here. I think that plus activities tied in with that resulted later of my being chosen to the Alumni Secretary. It brought me back to school for that particular position. If I had not been involved with that particular position, I think I would have ever been Alumni Secretary.

 

DH: What do you wish Delta State University had given you that it didn’t?

 

HW: I really don’t have any suggestions. I thought I got a well-rounded education. It offered me the opportunity to excel. I think, for me the size was very important. I did okay, but I was not the top student in high school. I think maturity had a lot to do with that. I was two years younger than anybody was in my class. I think Delta State gives people like me an opportunity because of the size to mature, to develop, and to excel in things you probably wouldn’t have in these larger schools. So I would say the size was important to me.

 

DH: These next questions pertain to your life after Delta State. What did you do after graduation? What was your career, and where did you live? Did you get married?

 

HW: I got married my senior year at Delta State. I married to Louis Stratton, who was a student here at Delta State. After we both graduated we both taught school, and I coached. We taught at Durant, Louisville, and Indianola high schools. Then later I went into the Insurance Business in Jackson. We were down there for about ten years.

 

DH: How do you see that the delta has changed over the years?

 

HW: I think that it is a lot more diversified now. At one time cotton was the major source of income. From an agricultural standpoint, we now have catfish, soybeans, and rice. Industry has moved into the delta to take advantage of the people who are not now involved with agriculture. The laborers now can work in the industry. Social integration has made a difference. The delta like all areas of the country has changed like it has needed to change through out the years.

 

DH: You retired from Delta State, right?

 

HW: Yes

 

DH: Okay, how did you come to work at Delta State?

 

HW: Well, I was as an Alumnist, I had stayed active and involved with the Alumni Association throughout the time I was working off campus. I lived in Jackson when they got the Jackson Alumni Chapter started down there, and I was involved with helping get that started. Dr. Kent White was Alumni Secretary at that time. We were friends, and we worked together along with some other Alumni. I knew him, and I continued to be involved. I guess that was the reason I was chosen. Specifically, Dr. White was moving was moving into a different position at the University, and the Alumni Secretary’s job was vacated. A committee was formed among Alumni to choose a person for that position. I fortunately was chosen.

 

DH: Where was your office?

 

HW: When I first came in 1969 as the Alumni Secretary, we were in Kethley Hall. Then when the Union was completed, we were on the third floor of the Union. Then in 1990, we completed the Alumni House, and it is located over on Hwy 8.

 

DH: What were the students like during your tenure?

 

HW: My tenure as an Alumni Secretary? Well the students have always been very kind to me. They are very cooperative in trying to do things for the campus. I was fortunate that I had a fun job in that I could do anything with in reason in working with the students that was positive and constructive. We had an organization called Student Alumni Association. It is still active on campus. Through this organization we had the top students working with the Alumni Association to try to do some good in whatever means possible. They had a great attitude and great spirit. My experience is that most students love Delta State when they get here and get settled.

 

DH: Did you have any instances rated to the Vietnam War or the Civil Rights Movement?

 

HW: No, as far as Delta State is concerned. When I got here in ’69, that was about over with. Integration took place in about ’67 or ’68. I missed that by a couple of years.

 

DH: Who were the administrators when you were here? What were they like?

 

HW: Dr. Dean Ewing was the president. I was here the last two years of his tenure. He was a very well disciplined person who was a macro manager, he believed in hands on approach on everything. He was kind of a test master, but underneath it all he was a very kind and gentle person. We stood behind his faculty and staff. He paid them very adequate salaries, and looked after them in many subject ways. He was a fine gentleman. Then following him, was Dr. Aubrey Lucas who stayed here four years, then moved to the University of Southern Mississippi as president down there. Then Dr. White came.

 

DH: Who were the other people in your department? What was the culture of that department?

 

HW: I was the only person in our department. I was the only person working with the Alumni. We had secretaries. The Coach Boo Ferris, who was the baseball coach at that time, also worked with the foundation. He was in the money-raising phase of the University. We officed together. It was too separate operations. He was the foundation director, and I was the Alumni Secretary. I didn’t have any help, until later. We had some staff members later. In the early days we did not.

 

DH: What changes were made in your department?

 

HW: When Coach Ferris retired from the foundation in 1987, I was named Alumni and foundation head director. At that time we hired Vickie Faranellie and Jo Anne Bassie. That gave us three staff members in our area. I think we hired another secretary at that time. We had five people working. This enabled us to do a better job because we had staff help.

 

DH: What kind of relationship do you think Delta State had with Cleveland or with to the delta?

 

HW: Have or has?

 

DH: Had

 

HW: I think Delta State has always had a good relationship with the delta and with Cleveland. It was the one of those things where we say we do, and they say we do. I am assuming everyone is being honest and truthful, but we seem to have a great relationship. I know of no incidences where we did not.

 

DH: Can you tell me what Cleveland was like in population, stores, social, and cultural activities?

 

HW: During the early days or now?

 

DH: While you were employed at Delta State.

 

HW: Well, it hasn’t changed that much. So many towns have lost there down town area because of the Wal-marts and shopping centers and things like that have been developed out on the fringe areas. Cleveland has still very vital down town. In fact some of the best shops are down town. People travel from all around in the delta area to shop. Thank goodness. I really don’t know of any change in the last years in Cleveland, other than for the better. We are constantly having new restaurants to open. In fact a new one is going open in about two weeks. I wish there were more things for the students to do. I don’t know what that would be. I think we need some help there. Otherwise I don’t know.

 

DH: What changes in the University did you see like in growth and new majors, philosophy?

 

HW: I don’t know. We have a lot more programs now. We seem to have gained. When you are in a small school, and you are in competition with the larger schools like State, Ole Miss, or Southern for the money for the support. Regardless what anybody says politics are involved somewhat in going out getting the funds. When they have more Alumni, and they have more Alumni with more prestigious jobs, money, it does make a difference, because we don’t get exactly what we need. I think I have seen us mature, grow, and made it to a position where we are not taken for granted by the College Board. We have a lot of respect from those people. I think we are growing into a mature University now.

 

DH: Of course there is new majors too.

 

HW: New majors that are right. Like the building of the Alumni House, it takes. My first year, 1969, we had somebody suggest that we build an Alumni House. We had twenty-three hundred people on our Alumni mailing list at that time. Most of them were teachers. So there would be no way in the world for us to build a house then. From about 1985, we realized that we have grown and matured. We have enough people out there with good enough jobs that we can do this. We did raise the money to do this by calling on our Alumni. I think the Alumni House has helped put us on the map somewhere too.

 

DH: Well that is it.

o.