Bays, Lewis 10/4/99 By Jody Correro
This is an interview for the Mississippi Oral History Program. The interview is being recorded with Mr. Lewis Bays at his residence on October 4, 1999. The interviewer is Jody Correro.
JC: I would like to ask a few questions about your family and anything you can recall about your father and mother’s name? Your mother’s maiden name? Where she was born? Anything you may recall about either one of your parents? Is there anything you would like to tell me now about them?
LB: My mother was Moll Turner. She was born in northeast Mississippi. I can not even remember the town. When she was a young girl she moved Skene, Mississippi where her father was a preacher. Her father bought eighty acres of land in Skene, MS. He also founded the Skene Baptist Church in Skene, MS. My father was in the Navy, and he had come through Bolivar County for some particular reason. They met, and later they got married.
JC: Where did your dad come to Bolivar county from?
JC: So your grandparents your grandfather Turner was a Baptist preacher in northeast Mississippi?
LB: Well he preached before he came to Skene, MS, and I imagine he preached there also.
JC: How did your dad get to Mississippi?
LB: Far as I know he came in a Model T Ford more in likely. He came here and started to farm. The eighty acres of land my grandfather had bought. He farmed there. When I was five years old about 1927 or 8 my father came back coughing up blood. He came to doctors in Cleveland. They told him since he was out in the weather all the time and farming all the time you had just broken a vessel in your chest. He ended up dying with Tuberculosis.
JC: This is your father?
LB: Yes, I was only five years old when he died.
JC: What about your parents how much schooling did they have?
LB: My daddy I really don’t know how much he had. I imagine he finished high school. My mother finished school and got her college degree at Blue Mountain, MS. She loved Blue Mountain College.
JC: Did she teach?
LB: She taught school at Litton for a year or two. I think she rode a mule to Litton. I not sure about Litton because it was before my time. She taught school in Skene for thirty-eight years.
JC: When were your mom and dad married?
LB: Probably about 1925 somewhere along there.
JC: Were they still living in Northeast Mississippi then?
LB: No they lived here.
JC: Do you have any brothers and sisters?
LB: I have two sisters. I have a sister that lives in Cleveland, and one whose husband farms west of Skene.
JC: Who is the oldest of the three of children?
LB: My oldest sister is Mary Gene Martin. She finished at Delta State, and she taught school also.
JC: Is she still living?
LB: She is still living, but she is in a wheel chair and has been there for a number of years. Her back gave completely out.
JC: Are you the youngest of the three?
LB: No, I am in the middle.
JC: When you grew up in Skene what kind of house did you live in?
LB: We had a real nice house. When my dad died we had to lose the house that was on the main part of the land. We had to move to a house about a mile east of Skene. That house is still there.
JC: Was the Peavine running then?
LB: The Peavine was running then.
JC: Pretty close right in front of your house wasn’t it?
LB: Right on the south side of our house about a quarter of mile away from my house.
JC: Was that road that is black top now was it gravel then?
LB: Back then it was gravel.
JC: I guess you worked on the farm when you got old enough?
LB: Well we didn’t farm after mother began teaching. Only farming I did was I was in the FFA there in Skene. I had the project of cotton cropping. I grew an acre and half of cotton each year for a couple of years.
JC: So you actually did not farm after your dad died?
JC: What do you remember about growing up during the depression?
LB: Well I mainly remember going to school in Skene. I remember that my mother drove us to Cleveland on Fridays so she could do her shopping.
JC: Did you drive into Cleveland?
LB: We drove into Cleveland
JC: What did you do for fun or social activities when you were young?
LB: Well I liked to play ball. That was the main thing. I loved my church life in Skene. We had parties back then, and I attended those parties.
JC: You graduated from Skene High School?
LB: Skene High School in 1940.
JC: You were born when?
LB: I was born October 14, 1922
JC: What about World War II?
LB: World War II well I was about of age for drafting. I decided I would not be drafted so I went to Pasagoula and got a job in a shipyard. The draft board would pass over me, and each time I would get a letter from my mother. She would write me and tell me about one of my friends that had been drafted into the army. I got to feeling like a hill so I quit my job in Pasagoula at the shipyard and went to Jackson, Ms. I volunteered for the army.
JC: When was that?
LB: That was in 1942.
JC: Did you serve over seas?
LB: No I did not. I taught people who served over seas. They sent me to radar school, and after I went through radar school the outfit I was in went to Guam. I was supposed to go to Guam with them, they gave us a three-day travel time. I got an extra day because they did not know where Skene was close to. They called and asked me where Skene was, and I told them Litton. Then I told them Longshot. Finally I told Malvina. That gave me a day or two extra. I finished in radar and after that three-day furlough and I got back in Tampa, FL my instructor ask me if I would like to be an instructor. I told him yes sir. So I taught radar about a year and half in Tampa, FL. Only thing about radar I had to go on maneuvers with them. I had to sleep in a pup tent and this that and other. I had to eat that sorry food they tried to fix on the ground. I ask the colonel to get me transferred into the Airforce. In which he did. I was in the Signal Corps there in the army. I went into the Airforce, and I went to Victor field, CA. It was ninety miles from Hollywood. I went to Hollywood. I went to Hollywood every weekend. I repaired radar sets in airplanes. I never draw flying time, but I did fly when we had radar sets that caused problems in high altitudes but work perfectly on the ground.
JC: Going back to you childhood years, do you remember the Flood of 1927?
LB: Yes, I do. We were offered a place in Cleveland because it did cover Skene. We did not leave Skene though. I remember it was knee deep. We stayed there till it went down. It didn’t cover Cleveland or Boyle. The water came halfway between Skene and Boyle. Mr. and Mrs. Nowell invited us to stay here in Cleveland with them. We didn’t we stayed in Skene.
JC: He was Big Jack’s dad was that right?
JC: Who were your family members including your extended family that may have had an influence on you or inspired you as a young man?
LB: I had some first cousins that I thought a lot of. I don’t know whether they had influenced me too much because they lived in Jackson and away from here. I wasn’t around them a whole lot.
JC: What was the most important thing that you learned at home?
LB: Well my mother was very religious. I think the most important thing I learned was to believe in God and go to church.
JC: You went to Skene Elementary School?
JC: And finished High School there?
LB: Finished High School in a building that belonged to Mr. Daiken. The summer before the year I was going to be a senior the school had burned in Skene. Mr. Daiken let us have that building in Longshot. The gymnasium did not burn. We had the first gymnasium that was built in Bolivar County in Skene. That is where I graduated in that gymnasium.
JC: What was the old school like in Skene?
LB: It was real good. The people were fine. I loved every minute of it. We had a six-man football team. Pace and Skene had a six-man football team. We played Pace, and a boy broke his leg in that ballgame and that ended everything. We did not play anymore football, but we had a good basketball team though.
JC: Were all your schoolteachers women?
LB: No, I had Mr. Lewis Myers who was the school supertendant taught me mathematics. Mr. Barry also taught social sciences there at Skene. He would coach and taught social sciences.
JC: Were any of your teachers influential on you?
LB: Oh yes, I just loved my teacher. My favorite teacher of all of them was Ms. Thelma Morgan when I was in the third grade. I don’t know why, but I just loved her. I liked all my teachers.
JC: Who were your best friends?
LB: My best friends were probably Edward Handly, Buford Felts, and George Evans. Boys that were about my age in school. I had many colored friends. I had more black people around us seemed like close to us. I got along mighty well with them and played with them.
JC: What were your most favorite subjects in school?
LB: My favorite subjects in school were the science biology and chemistry.
JC: What about extra curricular activities? I know you said you played football, did you play any other sports?
LB: No, I did not play basketball. Skene had a real good team. I did not play any sports
JC: You said went to dances, were there any other social activities did you take place in as students?
LB: Well, yeah we had two or three dances when I was in high school. The Mann’s put on the dances. Albert Mann owned a store in Skene.
JC: That would be Burt’s daddy or granddaddy?
LB: Granddaddy, Sonny was Burt’s daddy.
JC: Did you have any high school teacher that stood out the most as an influence on your life?
LB: Probably, Mr.Myers stood out the most.
JC: He taught you math?
LB: He taught math, right.
JC: You went to Delta State from when to when?
LB: I went to Delta State in 1940-42. I went into the army, and I came back to Delta State in 1946 and 1947. I graduated in the summer of 1948. After teaching a year in Charleston. I taught a year in Charleston lacking one quarter finishing college.
JC: Then you said the next three years to Ole Miss in the summer time getting your masters?
LB: Right my masters.
JC: What made you decide to go to college?
LB: Well my mother just wished one of us my two sisters and I to finish college. We lived close enough and it cost very little to go. I worked at Delta State, and they gave me a job. I worked in the bookstore. I kept up with the tennis courts, and I worked in the laundry. It cost me very little to go to Delta State. Well on Saturdays I worked at Kroger.
JC: It was way down on Sharpe St. back then?
LB: Right, Mr. Ashford was the manager of Kroger.
JC: Not C. R.? Mr. C.R. Ashford?
JC: He had the Ben Franklin Store later then the vacuum cleaners. Did your mother remarry?
LB: No, I never even knew her to go with a man.
JC: Did any of your friends or other relatives go to college?
LB: Oh yeah, many of my friends went to college. Edward Handly lived down there; he went through college and got his degree in medicine. He was the pharmacist and sold drugs all over the delta.
JC: You said your mother influenced you because she was a teacher to go to school. Did you start out going to college to be a teacher because of that?
LB: Yes, and at that time Delta State was known as the Delta State Teachers College.
JC: Sending you to college was it a financial hardship for your mother?
LB: I don’t think so because it cost so little for me to go with working. I did not stay in the dormitory.
JC: Do you recall your first days on the campus at Delta State?
LB: Not clearly at all, No I do not.
JC: Did they haze the freshman back then?
LB: Well, I had a friend named Thomas Gamble (known as Pete Gamble) told me when I came to Delta State they were going to shave my head. He told me to go to the barbershop and get my head shaved, and if anybody ask who did it say he did it. So I got my easy deal on that one. That is the only hazing I had.
JC: You lived at home?
LB: At home.
JC: You majored in Biology, because you were interested in sciences in school?
LB: Right that is what I taught in school the biologies, chemistry, and general sciences.
JC: Was that your favorite classes at Delta State?
JC: Was Dr. White teaching there then? Jesse White?
LB: Jesse White
JC: Dr. Caylor?
LB: Dr. Caylor was the main one. Jesse White might have come after I finished. We got to be really good friends.
JC: What was your most memorable class, and why?
LB: I guess the most memorable class was Chemistry. I just loved Chemistry. I took inorganic chemistry and organic chemistry and I took the next course in chemistry and it had a lot of math in it. I was not really good at the highest forms of math. That is why when I went to Ole Miss I decided to get my degree in Biology instead of chemistry.
JC: What did Roy Wiley teach?
LB: Oh Mr. Wiley was my great friend that taught at Delta States who taught physics. He was my fishing buddy. I took him fishing. We got to be extra good friends because he was my favorite teacher there at Delta State.
JC: Mr. Wiley?
JC: Any college friends that you made?
LB: Yes sir, I had a lot of friends. I knew everyone’s name because there was only about three hundred people going to Delta State at that time. The last two summers at Delta State I lived at, well the last two summers my wife and I were married and the last summer we lived in a trailer there at Delta State.
JC: When did you get married?
LB: June 3, 1947. The trailer park where we stayed is where the Bologna Performing Arts Center is now. I think they got them trailers somehow through the army. To take a bath and so forth you had to go to the community bath because it did not have a bath in the trailer.
JC: Where was the community bath?
LB: It was in the center of the trailer park.
JC: What organizations or extra curricular activities did you participate in at Delta State?
LB: I think there was club or two, but I can not recall them.
JC: I know the Biology had a Beta Beta Beta club, does that ring a bell?
JC: I was going to ask you how did the war effect your college education?
LB: I was eligible for the benefits after the I two years at Delta State, and I joined the army and spent three years two months and seventeen days in there. I had the G I Bill to go to school on. If you were married back then you got ninety dollars a month is the amount we got for going to school.
JC: Ninety dollars was a pretty good amount?
LB: It was. We could live on it.
JC: What about social life at Delta State?
LB: I did not take part in a whole lot there. I was living about six miles away, and I did not have a vehicle. My mother had one. I didn’t take part in a lot of social life at Delta State.
JC: If you went to a dance on campus did they have a band?
LB: Oh Yeah
JC: I guess they did because there was not that many record spinners in those days.
LB: I only went to one or two dances.
JC: Chaperoned dances at that time?
LB: I really don’t remember. I was not real interested in the dances.
JC: Did you have a girlfriend or steady date at Delta State?
JC: How did you meet your wife?
LB: I met her at a Valentine Dance.
JC: Was this before you went to service or after?
JC: So that would have been about 1946 since you got married in 1947? Where did you all go on a date back then?
LB: Picture shows movie.
JC: When we talk about picture shows, they won’t know what we are talking about.
LB: We had the Ellis, a Westco, and the Drive-In, The Chief Drive-In
JC: Where are you from Ms. LB
Ms. LB: I graduated high school here. I went to Delta State after I married Lewis. Then we moved to Charleston, and taught five years. Then we came back here.
LB: Came back here and taught part of the year in Cleveland.
Ms. LB: Then he went to gaming fish. I didn’t graduate because I had our oldest child after two years. My parents lived here. Do you know Mary Nell Williams?
JC: She is your sister right?
Ms. LB: Right and I went to work for Bolivar County Food and I worked there for about thirty years. I have registered about three times to come on back and finish it, but I had just so much work during the daytime. It just never worked out for me to finish it.
JC: When you were at Delta State did they have any plays or concerts that would come or be put on a Delta State?
LB: I am sure they did, but I did not attend any of them.
JC: Did you go to the First Baptist Church then?
LB: I went to Skene Baptist Church.
JC: I was born in ’46. That it seemed to me like 5th Avenue was the last street in town then when I was a little boy. Most streets were tarred gravel
LB: The way I got to Delta State was riding with someone that came to Cleveland anyhow. The main person was Mr. Campton who worked at the compress. He came to Cleveland, and he would get here early. I would get to Delta State around six-thirty in the morning. That is when I did my studying was here when I got too early.
JC: Did you ever travel by the train ever? When did the Peavine quit running?
LB: I can not recall. I never rode the train, only once or twice. Busses are what I took instead of trains.
JC: What kind of restaurants were in Cleveland?
LB: We had the Splendid Restaurant, and there was another called Post Office Caf