King, Martin T. Tape 1 of 2 10/25/99By Joseph Biogoli
This is an interview for the Mississippi Oral History Program. The interview is being recorded with Mayor Martin T. King of Cleveland, MS at Cleveland City Hall on October 25, 1999. The interviewer is Joseph Biogoli
JB: How are you doing Mayor?
MK: Fine, Joe.
JB: Can we start this little thing off. Tell us a little bit about your family background? Where you came from? Who your folks were?
MK: Joe, I am a fourth generation out of Vicksburg. I was born and raised in Vicksburg, MS. I went to a public school in first grade. I went to a parochial school all the way to Saint Allerwisha High School for the next eleven grades. I graduated in 1942. At that time in 1942 graduate following December 7, 1941 the bombing of Pearl Harbor, you didn’t have to wonder what your occupation the following year. You knew where you were going. I served in the Navy from December 10, ’42 to May of ’46. I served part of that time in the Pacific in operations. During that time, I was in the naval aviation. I attended schools for the most part. I attended the University of South Carolina, the University of Georgia, and the University of North Carolina. Following the war, I came to Delta State, and I pursued a degree in Business Education. Following that I taught. I was offered a job while practice teaching. I taught in Cleveland. I took the Masters degree from the University of Mississippi in Administration. I left teaching in 1957 ,and I went into the Insurance and Real Estate Business for a couple of years. Then my father-in-law died, and my wife.
JB: Who was your father-in-law?
MK: C. C. Thweat with the Thweat-King Funeral Home. My wife and I started managing the business for her mother, Ms. Thweat.
JB: When did you get married?
MK: We got married in 1955. It was in June of ’55.
JB: Did you meet at Delta State?
MK: Yeah. I am trying to keep this in sequence here. We remained in the funeral business until 1988. We have since retired from that. As far as holding office in Cleveland, I was elected to the mayor’s office in May of 1969. I took office in July 1, 1969. I have been mayor since that time. I don’t even know how many terms that is. It is thirty years right now. I guess that I am in my eighth term there. If I complete this term, it will complete eight four-year terms. Now what do you need? I am up to present, and it didn’t take long.
JB: Well now I am going to ask you a couple of question. Let’s go back to your fourth generation Vicksburgian, I guess that is how we would call it. What year were you born in?
MK: I was born in 1924.
JB: So that made you three years old during that big old flood that they had?
MK: That is right. I sat on the riverbank. I have pictures, black and white Kodak pictures. At that time Kodak pictures, they were called Kodaks that was the only camera we knew. We have pictures of me sitting. It looks like that I was sitting on the edge of the river. Actually I was, but I was sitting in a driveway or yard that the river had come to at the time. We were well experienced in the flood.
JB: I imagine.
MK: We had refugees in the park. A little interesting thing there, the refugees from the flooded areas up here came to Vicksburg to the hills to get out of the water. So they set up camps, tent camps, out in the Vicksburg Military Park. The families in Vicksburg would prepare food, and they would take out to them. It would sandwiches and soup and that sort of thing to the refugees. Being only three, I have never seen a refugee or heard of a refugee. In fact in the car, I left little space on the back seat there. They would pack around. They kept this little space for me. When we got ready to go, they told me that I could stay home. That they were taking these to the refugees. Well I wasn’t about to go, I had my seat, and I knew it. So I went to see the refugees. I thought they were little men with little antennas sticking up, but they weren’t. They were people just like me. I had to see a refugee.
JB: You said earlier that you were a fourth generation Vicksburgian. Was your family a prominent family in Vicksburg, or were you?
MK: We were normal people. We didn’t come from prominence. My grandfather, on my mother’s side had been sheriff twice of Warren County in two different terms. He was in the furniture business. We still have some of the furniture that came from his business, the old walnut high boys and that sort of thing. We had what you would call a wardrobes or chifferobes. The family still owns part of that. There is only my brother and I that is surviving now. Then my great grandfather was from Oak Ridge. It was about eight or ten miles out of Vicksburg. His home the Yankees burned. Then they rebuilt it. They burned everything but the crib. It was what they called the corncrib, where they stored the corn to feed the cattle and the hogs. That was not burned. It was made out of hued lumber. We have visited there quite often. So they came in from there. Then my grandmother and grandfather on my father’s side came from Virginia to Natchez up to Woodville and back up to Vicksburg. All there folks were from Vicksburgers.
JB: Did you have any ancestors that fought in the war?
MK: Yeah, my great grandfather.
JB: What was his name?
MK: We called him Grandpa Santa Clause. He had a long beard. That is all we knew him as. I just knew him briefly. My grandfather’s name who was sheriff was J. W. Tucker. It was James William Tucker. His portrait now hangs in the lobby of the Courthouse annex in Vicksburg. He was also a former president of the Vicksburg Public School Board. Other than that, that is our only claim to fame.
JB: When you graduated following Pearl Harbor so you went in the Navy. Were there any of the major battles that you were in?
MK: Yeah, I went over seas. We just made it in the invasion of the Philippines Liberation Invasion. We landed at Lien Gang Gulf, which is north around the horn. It is on the west side of the Philippines, and the Gulf there was what the powers that chose to be invaded rather than get at the bottom out of Sargaro Straight and come up north. We went around to Lien Gang Gulf, and we went in. Following that we went back to Ulethie, which is a group of islands, that had good lagoons where ships could assemble and take on ammunition and food supplies and go again. Then we went to Iwo Jima. We made that invasion. Then back again. I forget whether it is Quadrulien or Ulethie again. We had to take on ammunition and food supplies again. One time a half day repair in a dry dock before the invasion of Okinawa. Then following Okinawa Invasion, that is about the end of all the war time activity except for the dropping of the bomb.
JB: How did you feel about that?
MK: I was glad to see it. We knew that President Roosevelt. A lot of people didn’t like President Roosevelt. We were aboard ship, and Frank Roosevelt Jr. was a skipper of our sister ship the Moore. We were on the Goss. The Moore was our sister ship. Frank Roosevelt Jr. was the commander of that ship. We tie up together and swap movies and that sort of thing. When we were in port at Ulethie, we knew who the president was. We knew it was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. When Frank Roosevelt died, he had just begun a new term. President Harry S. Truman was the man who would take over then. We didn’t know Mr. Truman. We depended on Franklin Roosevelt to get us back home. We didn’t know if Mr. Truman would get us back home or not.
JB: You all thought Mr. Roosevelt was a fighter?
MK: Yeah, so we thought we had lost a good friend, and we had. It was comforting to know that Mr. Truman got us back home. That is a long way to be a way from home. When you don’t have somebody holding your hand.
JB: I imagine so. A lot people criticize about the bomb being dropped down and all of that. So I guess they didn’t leave it, so they really can not judge about that.
MK: There is a lot of lives were lost. A lot of children died from the fall out from it. We didn’t ask for the war. The first thing that President Roosevelt ever said, “This day shall live in infamy. We will win the war.” I said, “How?”
JB: Did you embrace going into the military? Or was it a struggle for you?
MK: No, it wasn’t a struggle.
JB: It was your duty.
MK: Then everyone wanted to go. You couldn’t hold them back.
JB: Well after you made it back from the war. You came on up to Delta State. You moved on up here to Delta State.
MK: Yeah, I moved to Delta State. That is right.
JB: Can you tell us about some of your experiences at Delta State.
MK: It wasn’t anything remarkable about my experiences at Delta State except that I enjoyed being here. When I came here, we had less than five hundred students. It seemed like everyone knew everybody. I didn’t finish in three years like a lot of people do now. My roommate and I, young man I had graduated with at Saint Aloysius. We would go home during the summer. We would work and play. Then we would come back in September. There was no rush to get out right then. We took four years to get where a lot them continually go through the summer and get out in three. We weren’t in that big of a hurry.
JB: Who was president then?
MK: President Kethley, he was the second president. President Broom, you know was the first president, but he died probably after a year in office. Dr. Kethley was appointed. He was president all during my tenure there.
JB: One of the questions they asked us to ask folks was. Were there any kinds of curfews or any kind of strict rules that were applied when you attended Delta State? What did you think of them?
MK: Well we abided by them to keep from getting on the black list. The girls had to be in at ten-thirty. Each Wednesday about ten a.m. there was an assembly period in the old Broom auditorium. It held all of us. You were encouraged to attend the assembly. There was a whole lot of cutting going on there. Everybody wouldn’t go. That is when Dr. Kethley laid his sap rising speeches. You look like you haven’t heard this before. In the spring when the leaves begin to bud out on the trees, he was a jewel. He would stand up there, and he would say, “Now children, your mamas and papas sent you up here for me to take care of.” I know the birds are singing, and I know the leaves are coming out on the trees. You boys and girls are looking at each other like you haven’t ever seen each other before. He said, “The saps is rising.” He would warn you about all these little pit falls that you might run into. We called it the annual Sap Rising Speech. He was good.
JB: You said you met your wife here at Delta State. How did you meet?
MK: Well she worked in the registrar’s office. I am not sure if I had ever met her. Her office was down the hall there. There was a lady that was registrar, Ms. Mauldin. Ms. Mauldin liked to wait on everybody herself that came to that counter. She had two more folks, Sue and Allelia Brown working in there. It had a screen door on it. It had a strong spring on it. As I would go through the building out the end of Broom Hall going to Library, which is Fielding Wright Art Center now. I knew Ms. Mauldin liked to wait on you because I had been in there several times. So I would just pull that screen door and let it slam. You could hear her chair move. Her little heels going trying to get to that counter before anybody else did see. About the time all that happened, I was out the door, and almost in the Library by the time she got to the counter. Sue and the other charged me one time. She said, “You are about to drive Ms. Mauldin crazy.” I said, “Why?” She said, “Slamming that door every time that you come by.” That is where I came knowledgeable of Sue by being in there. I don’t know if we ever me or not, I am not sure.
JB: You said, you were a Business major. What made you choose that?
MK: I don’t know. You know after you spend more than three years in service. You could settle down a little bit. Something would have told you what to do. Well I kept waiting for the inspiration. I don’t know whether it ever came or not. Fate just does certain things to you. I had taken Accounting in high school along with shorthand and typing. I just followed that. That is what it was. I had a good instructor, Tom Martin, who is still living. He is teaching now in Florida on occasion. There he has retired. He retired at Bloomington, Indiana. The last I heard, he was still in Florida. He was an excellent Accounting instructor. He came up here with the idea of transferring the next year, but I found him and just stayed.
JB: So I take it that math and stuff like that were your favorite subjects in school?
MK: Math not particularly, however, I took enough maths. I took the math to get a Bachelor of Science degree. Those were my core requirements. The Accounting end of it and the education end of it was of interest to me to the degree that I went on and taught afterwards at high school here.
JB: I know a lot of the lawyers and politicians here in town and in Memphis where I am from. Most of them found themselves interested in History and Political Science and stuff like that. I just wandered about that. Now after you finished at Delta State, you said you stayed here and begin to teach in Cleveland. What was most striking about Cleveland when you first got out in the world?
MK: The people I guess. It is still the people. It is small. Cleveland used to be of such size. Now this is before industry. The first real industry we located here, I guess was Baxter Laboratory. That opened the year that I finished school. I remember a friend; A. C. Dawkin was hired as office manager out there. A. C. was in my year class at Delta State. That is one of the dates that remains vivid with me. We had a slow steady growth. After we located industry, we kind of took off a little bit. You used to know people. They don’t trade cars every year like they do now. You could see a car coming a block away, and you knew who was driving it. You could wave at the car, and be sure to whom you were waving. You could go in the barbershop. That is when men wore hats. You could go in barbershops and by the pinch or the crush of hat. You didn’t have to look in the chair and see who was there. You could look at the hat rack and tell who was there by seeing their hat on that hat rack. A hat takes certain curvature you know. The people were lovely. Everybody spoke. Every once in a while we would get a guy or two that wasn’t used to anything like this. They would come from the cities up north or something. You would speak to them, and they would look at you as scants. They are not sure why they are being spoken too until they lived here for a while. Then they learn or leave.
JB: They just don’t appreciate being southerner. You said, you had attended a parochial high school. We all know that you are Catholic. We attend the same church. When you moved to Cleveland was it odd for you being Catholic, or did you fit right in? Did other denominations accept you? I have always have heard that the delta is real easy about religion. I have read that over and over. You have the prominent Percys in Greenville, and they were Catholic also. They were accepted. What was your experiences being a Roman Catholic in the delta if any?
MK: I don’t recall any really. It didn’t bother me. I went to mass. I tended to my own business. I always felt like that religion is personal. I did my thing, and I let the others do their thing. It was fine with me. We were in the minority there. I had an experience one time. I talked with a man up here at high school. We were in the teacher’s lounge after class one day. I was drinking a cup of coffee. He said, “King, are you Italian?”
I said, “No, I am not Italian. Why did you ask?” He said, “You are a Catholic aren’t you?” I said, “Yeah, I am Catholic.” He said, “Man, if you are a Catholic, you ought to be Italian.” Well he was from Shaw. Shaw was a Catholic mission. It started off as there. I said, “Well Allen where are you from?” He said, “Shaw.” I said, “You know that you have more right to be Italian than I have.” I don’t know any others than Italians in Shaw.
JB: I know my family was from Shaw. After you got through with Delta State you started teaching. Then you left teaching in ’57, and you went into Real Estate and Insurance. Who did you work for?
MK: Yeah, I worked for Frank Wood.
JB: He just recently passed away.
MK: That is right. I worked two years with Frank.
JB: Did you like that?
MK: I didn’t dislike it. Let me say that. I would have rather been doing something else, but I didn’t dislike it. I met a lot of folks by showing houses and listing houses.
JB: How long did you stay in Insurance business again?
MK: For about two years I worked with the Insurance business.
JB: That would put you in ’59. You first ran for mayor in sixty, and you ran the funeral business.
MK: That is right. My daddy-in-law died in August of ’59. So Sue and I started managing for him in ’59. Then I ran for office. Doing that you get involved with chamber work and that sort of thing. Mayor Bishop was planning to retire from the job. He did a wonderful job, and he was in here for a long time. Several folks ask me to run for mayor. I would have not run had Mayor Bishop wanted to run again to succeed himself. So I went to Mayor Bishop to see if he was going to run. He said, “No.” He said, “Not if you will run.” I just wanted to clear with him to let him know that I wasn’t trying to push him out. So we ran for mayor. The folks were mighty nice.
JB: You have been in office for thirty years. That is a long time.
MK: Yeah, it is a fast thirty years too. It goes by fast.
JB: In Cleveland, it has seen a good bit of change hasn’t it?
JB: Do you want to tell us a little bit about that?
MK: Let’s see. I told you a while ago when I first came to Cleveland. Joe, we had. Well I can’t remember whether Cleveland was about now I am talking in the corporate limits was about 4500. It was between 4500 and 5500 people there. It has grown since then. It has been a healthy growth. It is not as if you bring shipyard in here, and you hire a whole lot of folks and have strings of strings of dwelling houses in the fields. It has kind of taken care of itself. We were able to keep up with the streets, sewer, garbage pickup, police protection, and the fire protection. It didn’t tax too much. As it grew, Delta State grew. Delta State is responsible for our growth also along with the industry. (Tape cut off) We have contributed our growth to the growth and development of Delta State, which we consider our prime industry.
JB: Delta State has grown a whole lot since I have been attending there since 1996 when I graduated from Cleveland High. It has grown quite a bit since that time.
MK: It has had tremendous leadership there with Dr. Wyatt and his staff.
JB: You work close with Cleveland. I know the Chamber and city government has worked real close with Delta State. What are some of the things that you can boast about that they have done together cooperatively?
MK: Well one thing is the cultural events that have been brought to the delta area particularly in Cleveland. None of which could have gone with it alone. Delta State through its activity fees, I am sure it is where this comes. It is for the benefit of the students and the benefit of the faculty and the subjects of Cleveland that want to support it through patronage membership. We were able to get programs together, that wouldn’t be affordable to separate and pay for. We couldn’t have afforded to bring some events in nor through they through their activities fees. Joining together, such as Cross Tie Arts Council was formed. That was one of the first things that brought by Delta State. Of course the attendance and support of your athletic teams, the basketball teams, football teams. They are helpful to Delta State, and it gives up a drawing card also. It draws folks into Cleveland too. They will eat here, to rent hotel rooms and motel rooms. All is hinging on each other. In plus, Delta State supplies us with a world of talent for participation in the community even through programs at civic clubs. The Lion’s Exchange Rotary and those sorts of things help out.
JB: Now with you being mayor for sixty years.
MK: For thirty years.
JB: I am sorry. For being mayor for thirty years, you have seen a lot of political change with in the state and the ideology. Can you give us a little insight of what you have seen transpire over these past thirty years as far as city or state wide?
MK: I have always confine activities to the city of Cleveland. I knew if I ever got into this thing, I was going to work toward one thing. That was the betterment of Cleveland. I have concentrated on that. I don’t participate in state elections except to vote. I don’t endorse candidates, or try to tell the folks of Cleveland who to vote for or that sort of thing. I would get thrown out of town quick. That is under the clause of none of my business. This that we are talking about, we have never really wanted to do. Let’s talk about city government for a minute. Our alderman makes two hundred dollars a month. It is not enough to live on, and we don’t want it to be enough to live on. We want to attract people who will do it because of a duty that they like to perform. They can give that two hundred dollars a month to church or what ever they want to do with it. They can’t go very far with it. We have tried to attract the type folks in year’s pasts. I am talking about back there when it didn’t take that much to live. I am sure we had an alderman, and I will not name any, that were on here to supplement their income to actually make a living at. We have never felt like that we wanted to increase the salary. We can afford a bigger alderman list, but we don’t want to. We don’t want to attract the type individual that has to have that to live on.
JB: We don’t want professional politicians. We want people want to put the city first.
MK: That is right. That we have attracted. We have a high education average on our board. I am trying to think down the line. We have one doctor of education. I don’t know whether Ross Story has a Ph. D. or an E. D. D. Ross Story serves with us. Norman is the band director. Norman probably has a master’s degree. He is the band director at Eastside High School. Ted Campbell has bachelors. Now whether he has masters or not I don’t know. They are two more that have bachelor’s degree, and one more that has master degree and myself with a master’s degree. So we are attracting a type person who has at least been exposed to some education or even graduate studies. Then of a case of Ross Story, the third degree.
JB: Yeah that is a fine man. I have known him for a while. Now let me lead you down another path into Cleveland’s history. Was it about a year ago, or maybe not even that long the school board tried to push a bill of bond issue to fix the schools up and all of that? What about our colored school systems? You know going to Cleveland High there was always a big competitive nature between the two schools here in town across the tracks. How do you feel about that? I don’t mean to take you down into a sticky subject, but what are your thoughts on that. Would it serve Cleveland the best interest to stay two schools or to consolidate or what?
MK: Well that was handled by the federal court. I am trying to recall. I think it was Judge Katie out of Greenville that determined that the railroad track be the dividing line. The minority can go to school wherever they wish. They could go over there or come over here as freedom of choice. Why it is not true of the white children living on the east track, they are confined to attendance at Eastside High or go to private school. So many have not chosen not to do that. The minority students, the black students, some of them have chosen to come over here. As you well know when you went to school with them. In as much as I was on the school board when that decision was made, I would have to say that I abide by the ruling of the judge on that and think that it is correct.
JB: I have often found myself between the issue. Needless to say, our school does needs some work on it because of it.
MK: Oh yeah, I am sorry the bond issue failed. Good Lord we worked hard on that thing, but we didn’t make it. It had some strong opposition.
JB: It did. I can remember the paper was back and forth. Kind of going back to your childhood and stuff. You said, you only have one other brother. Have many siblings did you have?
JB: So it was only you and your brother.
MK: I always had a dog. I still have a dog.
JB: What was it like going to parochial schools? Did nuns teach you?
MK: No, brothers of Sacred Heart taught us. We had another school. We were Saint Allerwisha that was taught by Brothers of Sacred Heart. Then the girls went to Saint Francis Avea Academy. After the first grade, the reason I went to first grade in the public schools was because my aunt taught in the first grade. My mother’s side of the family had a lot of grandchildren. They had nineteen grandchildren in that side of family. I don’t care where you went to school later, but first grade you went to Aunt Marie. She ended up teaching fifty-three years in the public school system there. She never taught above the third grade. She taught the first and the second, and then she went back to first and stayed there the rest of her life. As you were growing up. I don’t know where you went to school. As you were growing up, we had strict discipline there. Grades were very important. We got ten points a week for six weeks. It reached sixty points. Examinations were forty points. The adding of those two gave you the grade there. If you fell below seven points in any of the week and you got report cards every Friday, when you got to school Monday, you didn’t go directly to class. You went up to the third floor in the Brother’s quarters. They had a big community room with a pool table in it. You went up there and jumped on the pool table. That is where the term “caning” was originated. They had these canes left over from the little carnivals each year. They used the cane on you. A couple of whacks on the back side would remind you that you better get your seven points above by the next week. They would stretch your pants. They were strict disciplinarians, but good and dedicated folks. We always thought the cane was the Board of Education. We had heard of the Board of Education. To us that is what that meant, that was the board of education. I have never gone to school with girls except for the first grade until I came out here at Delta State in the classroom.
JB: How old were you when you got to Delta State?
MK: I was twenty-one. It was in ’46. I guess I was twenty-two.
JB: I am kind of a civil war buff. I have studied a little bit about Vicksburg in my Civil War classes. I did a big old project on it. I was reading, and Vicksburg fell on the fourth of July.
MK: That is right. They didn’t celebrate it now until after W. W. II. It was a day of mourning until W. W. II. They had a parade, and General Eisenhower was going to be there. Someone had arranged for General Eisenhower to come to the parade. So that was the first celebration. He rode in the parade. Since then they have celebrated the fourth of July, but prior to that they never did.
JB: So when you were growing up as a child, you all never.
JB: It wasn’t even thought of.
MK: They didn’t even sell firecrackers around there on the fourth of July.
JB: I imagine you had people from up north move down there ever once in while. How did people react to that? Did you ever run across anybody that was baffled why?
MK: No, of course I was young then. I was a student one-day, and the next I was in the service. I wasn’t there during the war years. I was in the service. Then afterwards, you don’t know what transpired during those times. There was a general pulling together of everybody in a concentrated effort for a turnover. We had an ammunition plant there. They made shell casing for Howardson’s Field Guns and that sort of thing. They were involved in the war through there manufacture of that. The first thing that I knew was right after the war when General Eisenhower was there. They celebrated that weekend.
JB: The war to you, you can see it bringing America back to a complete whole again.
MK: You can imagine the cohesiveness that the bombing of Pearl Harbor brought on the country. Had the Japanese done a fax, if there were fax machines then, and faxed us the fact that they were going to declare war. We faxed back okay come on let’s go get it. Well, that has no effect. That was a note of serve. The fact that we had the bombs and it was such a surprise to everybody. We at the time didn’t realize that there was enough warnings given. That better preparation could have been made at Pearl Harbor. We are now learning that through the History Channels and that sort of thing. It was the tragedy that brought everybody together. Everybody was hopping mad. They were determined that there wasn’t anybody going to get in here with us.
JB: That cohesiveness pretty much died down in the later part of the twenty century. I see it that way.
MK: Nobody wants to go now unless they want to retire. The next war will not be fought, as that one will. They have too many long range missiles and delivery systems for them. They can shoot them out of the top of subs thousands of miles away, and they can pin point the targets. There is not much except for mopping up exercises. There is not much need for infantry and those means.
JB: Can you tell us a little bit about your experiences on U. S. S. Goss back when you served? Are there any interesting stories from the Pacific?
MK: Yes, I remember that I went aboard ship as a communication yeoman. I was directly responsible to Inson Mckilish, who was head of communication. One of my duties was to keep the COMSOPAC, Commanders of South Pacific, call out book up to date. As Alnez would come in, I would have to change those things. I know in our ship that we had code names. Our ship was little raindrop. Another ship might have been Donald Duck and another one Blue Cloud. As those things were used, and the transmission between ships on the TBS. They were smart enough, and we would have been too had we not known them. They were smart enough to know that the repetition of those names meant that certain ships were known. So they would change the designations. We could have been changes to Little Moonbeam. With transmissions between ships, when you break radio silence, you don’t speak in plain terms. You speak in code terms. Anyway that is a sideline. I got aboard ship, and this was my first time aboard ship. I got on there at Treasure Island, CA, which was halfway between San Francisco and Oakland. There were only two islands out there; one of them is Alcertralz. That was the one that I wasn’t on. I was on Treasure Island. We boarded the ship that night. We got under way in an hour’s time. I think it was that night or maybe the following night, I was taking a shower. Well water is precious aboard ship. You don’t want to bath in salt water. It itches. It was a sign up there that said, Wet Down, Wash Down, Rinse Down and Get Out. It was just a sign to me. I was showing and enjoying the warm water. I was using all the water I could get unknowingly. I thought this is pretty good. A man that was superior to me, he was a chief, came by there. He said, “What is your name?” I told him. He said, “When you get out report to me.” I said, “Where will you be?” He said, “I will be down the Gang Way.” So I went down there. He said, “Did you see that sign in the shower.” I said, “Yes sir, I did see the sign, but I don’t know what it said.” I could not tell him what the sign said. He said, “Wet down, Wash down, Rinse down, and Get Out. I came by there and you were having a good time in that shower using up all of our water. We have to make our own water you know after sea water.” We draw in seawater. We evaporate it, and we pull it back through as fresh water. He said, “That is all the water we got.” So he put me down in the engine room for two hours. Ensign Mckilish was looking for me in the mean time. Thank god he showed up. He came down there and found me. He said, “Come King go with me.” So I went on up. We went to his stateroom to get some things done, and for him to show me what he needed. I had to stand to watch less than twelve hours. I am talking about an unwanted watch less than twelve hours after I got aboard ship. I got in trouble the first day for bathing. Then we got in the area of combat. You would probably remember this that seventeen and eighteen years olds are not afraid of anything. That is what the nucleus of what we were. That was what we were. We had a few older officers and that sort of thing for running the ship and guiding us, but the rest of us were there. We would have tackled a bull. The only time, you will get afraid is after all the operations is over. You get nervous on what could have happened.
JB: Was your ship ever attacked?
MK: Oh yeah, Kamikazes.
JB: Oh really.
MK: Every time we invaded.
JB: I bet you that was scary.
MK: That is what I say. It is not while you were doing it. It is the after tolls.
JB: You lost a lot of good friends (Tape cut off.) During high school at Delta State, what kind of social experiences did you have, did you play sports?
MK: I played baseball the first year at Delta State. I played first base. That was Coach Roy Wiley. Do you know him? He lives right across the street from the library there.
JB: I know where you are talking about.
MK: He was the coach of baseball. I played the first spring that I was there. It was in the spring of ’47. I didn’t participate in anything else. I had hurt a knee here. I was having trouble with it. So I couldn’t move around that much. I participated in Student Government. I held offices there until we ran for President of the Student Body. I didn’t have a nice looking girl. In fact I didn’t even have a girlfriend at the time. Paul Anderson, I think he was from Indionola and later from Anguilla. He was going with a young lady who was real pretty and real personable. She and I ran against each other for President of Student Government. Well she won that. She beat me out. Paul and I were real good friends. I told Paul, “Paul, Joe beat me.” She sure got some votes.
JB: You just knew your wife. Well what was courting like back then? What did you do when you went out?
MK: Well Sue and I didn’t start going out until I had finished college. I finished in ’50. Sue and I married in ’55. So we really didn’t date until 1954 or the later part of ’53. There was no courting of Sue while I was a student there. Let’s get back to dating when I was a student. Joe, I think there was about four cars on the campus. Charlie Lee from Merigold had a truck that he was allowed to bring to school when they were not farming. When the farming time came the truck went back to Merigold, and Charlie stayed in school. Carl Salyor and Pee Wee Robinson, both who are not living now called about ball games up and down the delta. They had a Nash. We called it the Kelvinator. Have you ever heard of the Nash Kelvinator? That was the refrigerator that Nash Motor Company made. That was the only reason they had a car. Otis Brigman had a car. We are not sure about Otis. We think maybe his family had some money or something. Or he saved all of his money while he was in the service. He came here with a Plymouth. I don’t recall. We lived in Hardy Hall. I don’t recall anybody else in Hardy Hall having a car. There might have been a few sprinkled around G. I. 1 and G. I. 2, which were Woolfolk and Daugherty Halls but there were very few. I played lots of tennis. We had three movies in town. Down there where the printing shop that has that marquee out. That was the Ellis Theater. That was the nicest of the three. Then we had the Reagent down that way. Then we had something else. I don’t know. The cowboy movies were big then. It was still black and white, but it was big deals. Dating, you walked the town or caught a ride out there on the corner of the snack shop which was Ms. Wiggins little place there. That is where you would buy coffee. She would change the grounds over the Christmas Holidays. Then she would wash those coffee grains again until spring. She didn’t change them but twice a year.
JB: You lived down there on 5th street.
MK: Yeah, I live on 5th Avenue.
JB: When you first moved to that neighborhood were it well developed? Or did you move in there as it was developing?
MK: We moved the house right behind that on Avery. (Tape cut off.)
JB: We were talking about movie theaters. You were telling us about the Regis.
MK: Well that was about what you did on a date. You went to movies. You either ate before or later. We used to have a few restaurants up and down Court Street. Particularly when you came out of the Ellis Theater, there was a hamburger thing, Brock’s Hamburger Inn right across the street. Brock was a good merchandiser. You would come out. He would cook the hamburgers in the window there. The onion on top of the hamburger with an exhaust fan above it. He would blow it right at the Movie Theater. You automatically left the theater went across the street and had to get a hamburger. You couldn’t stand those hamburgers and onions cooking with out going in there. Dating, were we on that. If you were by yourself, you thumbed a ride all of the time. We didn’t even have this street over here. Highway 8 was a two-lane road going out to the college. There wasn’t much activity out here because the buildings weren’t there. All the buildings were concentrated in the Court Street area. You stand over there and you can thumb a ride. People were real nice about picking you up and taking you to town. It was either that or you just walked to town or something. Later on we all had cars, but that was after we finished. There weren’t any wheels around. Cars were hard to get to begin with. They were just getting back into the manufacture of automobiles. I bought one when I was a senior from Ms. Miller. I worked out at Delta State for a short while.
JB: Oh did you.
MK: For two years as auditor. Hugh Smith was Financial Secretary, and Mr. Miller died. He was the Internal auditor, and I got his job when he died. I left teaching to go out to Delta State to work.
JB: There is one more real significant question that I want to ask you. With in the last two years we have seen a chamber and city government really working to maintain and bring in businesses to our downtown area. What role does the city government play in that? How are you all attempting to attract businesses to relocate or locate themselves here in Cleveland to revamp this area? Well we are pretty vamp and live.
MK: We have a few vacancies we have got to fill yet. We are concentrating on this. As going back to the original downtown rather than the to, well the shopping centers are going to develop themselves. One or two people own the shopping centers, and they are going to see that those things are done. So the city along with the chamber and the heritage commission is trying to maintain what we had. We are young yet. Cleveland was founded in 1886. So that is compared to be young. We are trying in addition to the little heritage that we have we are trying to make heritage. We are trying to attract these folks to the downtown. We are looking for somebody. There were getting ready to sell the hotel and tear it down. We bought it to hand on to it. It is our only skyscraper. The Railroad, we are losing our railroad. We are going to make a walking trail up and down the railroad. We have a grant for part of it, and we are sharing in with the grant. The activities such as October Fest and Cross Tie bring these folks in. We feel like as much as we can expose ourselves to others than that is one more person that we have attracted to Cleveland and get them used to coming to Cleveland. We can show off what we have down here in our shopping areas. We have some good stores down here. We are trying to get back to the downtown area. Our heritage commission only deals with redoing the fronts of buildings and that sort of thing. If somebody wants to redecorate a front they have guidelines through which they go. They go to the commission and submit theirs. Then the commission makes recommendations to stay in keeping on what’s there. Most of it has been bricked.
JB: I was reading in the paper not to long ago about (Tape not able to understand.) hotel.
MK: I think we have a six thousand-dollar grant that we had to match it with a thousand dollars. We will get a person to study the hotel on a marketability study and see what they can come up with. It is someone we know who has done work with this heritage commissions. Are you familiar with our site over here at the Civic Center?
MK: We have two beautiful parking lots right now. The Civic Center is supposed to go in the center of them there. One of the big reasons for that being there rather than out somewhere else is to attract folk’s downtown again. We were able to buy it. That used to be two neighborhoods over there. We bought all those houses and tore them down.
JB: You have lead Cleveland for thirty years. You have done a pretty good job.
MK: Well you say lead. I don’t know if lead is the correct word or not. We have had a tremendous board. The mayor’s job in Cleveland they have what you call a strong mayor and a weak mayor. It is a form of government. In a situation, like Vicksburg they have the mayor and two aldermen. The mayor does the job of direction here. That is called a strong mayor form of government. The weak mayor form acts at the direction of the board. There is no one that says that he can not guide the board in the direction that he would like to see it and see if they buy it. If they do buy it then he has gained to shots see. This mayor does not want the board to know that I was leading them in any thing. It sounds kind of suspicious.
JB: What had to be the most defining moment of your life?
MK: The moment has to span something for me. That is my wife and children.
JB: That is important to be a good family man. How many children do you have?
MK: Two, I have a son and a daughter.
JB: You have grandchildren too?
MK: I have three. We just got us a new one, twenty months ago. My son and his wife adopted a little boy. They didn’t have any children. They had been married for about four or five years and didn’t have any so that they adopted one. So he is the crackerjack right now.
JB: Mayor King I appreciate you talking to me. Delta State appreciates this.
MK: I am glad you came by. I have enjoyed talking. I hope none of this was taking as boasting.