Walker, Dr. Pete Tape 1 of 1 10/11/99 OH# 268
By Kari Willis
This is an interview for the Mississippi Oral History Project. The interview is being recorded with Dr. Pete Walker at his residence on October 11, 1999. The interviewer is Kari Willis.
KW: Did you go to Delta State?
PW: No, I went to school in Mississippi State.
KW: You graduated when?
PW: I graduated in 1951. That was my first degree. Then in 1964 was my masters. Then in 1966 was a doctorate.
KW: What sort of ethnic background did you grow up in? How did your family end up in this area in Mississippi?
PW: We were primarily in south Mississippi. My father was French from Generate, LA. She married my mother from Pearl River County down here in Poplarville. We migrated through Columbia, MS, Tylertown, MS. So I grew up right in that area.
KW: Where did your parents go to school? What level of education did they finish?
PW: I am not sure. My mother probably graduated from high school in Pearl River. My father I think went to the second grade. He was a member of a French family, and they farmed. They needed him at home. Rather him going to school, they pulled him out and he cooked and helped around the house for the family. Later on he got into the Café business, and that is where he learned to cook. He had about a second grade education.
KW: How long did he own the Café?
PW: Oh different Cafes, One was the Dew Drop Inn in Columbia, MS and Chatterbox in Tylertown. There was about three or four years each time. He would buy them and build up the business, and then he would sell them at a profit. That is where he made his money.
KW: Okay, and your mother did she help with the Café business?
PW: No, my mother passed away when I was about four years old. No I was six years old. She was in the hotel business herself with the Café. I really never had a chance to know my mother after I was six years old.
KW: When were they married? Do you know?
PW: I don’t know. I would say about 1915, something like that.
KW: Do you have any brothers or sisters?
PW: Yes, I have a brother who is a medical doctor in Columbia, and I have one brother who is deceased. He was a Light Colonel retired in the Army in Florida. I have one sister who lives in Atlanta, and one sister who lives Sara Soda, Florida. They are all older than me. I am the baby.
KW: So you have a big family. You are the youngest child. Where did you say that you grew up, and what was it like?
PW: I grew up in Tylertown, MS. It is a town about 2500, and all the people are very friendly. They knew everybody, and knew everybody’s business. We had a group of boys that were real close together. It was about fifteen of us that went to school and played football together. We had a real good football team. Out of that fifteen, I think eleven went to college on a full football scholarship. The people were very nice to us. It was just a good hometown.
KW: What would you say the population is there?
PW: About 2500.
KW: About 2500, even now has it grown?
PW: No, it is a dairy community. A lot of people there milk cows and ship the milk to New Orleans. That is part of the work we did that and truck farming. We used to help load potatoes and cabbage into boxcars. We would make a little extra money that way.
KW: What was your home life like growing up?
PW: I had a stepmother. We had a Café at the time. I worked in the Café, sometimes in the kitchen and sometimes up front. We didn’t live in a home. It was a little place in the back of the Café. It was two or three rooms in the back of the Café. I grew up part of the time there. Then other times I lived with my sisters and different people. About the eleventh grade I went out on my own. I went to Elliser Junior College. I went there on a football scholarship. I finished high school. Then I got a football scholarship to Mississippi State. I was kind of independent after I was an eleventh grader, and I liked it.
KW: I should say so. So you transferred to Mississippi State from Ellisfer Junior College?
PW: Yes, but I finished high school at Ellisfer Junior College. I entered State as a freshman.
KW: Okay, on a football scholarship. What did you graduate in at Mississippi State?
PW: In physical education. That was my first degree. My masters was in Counseling and Testing. My doctorate was in School Administrator with a minor in Psychology. That is what I taught at Delta State, Psychology and School Administration.
KW: How long did you teach here at Delta State?
PW: Let’s see I taught at Delta State, it must be twenty years.
KW: When did you retire from Delta State?
PW: I believe it was nine years ago. I forget the exact year.
KW: Now what exactly do you do at the golf course?
PW: I manage the golf course.
KW: You are the manager.
PW: I see that all the greens, fairways, and tees are taken care off. I hire work-study students. I hire other retired adults. I see that tournaments are run correctly and golf classes and golf clinics. I work with Sam Dunning a Pro at Cleveland Country Club. We put on golf clinics. We have the course ready for students, faculty, and staff to play on.
KW: How long have you been working at the golf course on campus?
PW: I would say seven years. I get my years confused now. I can get my wife in here, and she would get me straight on those.
KW: What did you do for fun and social activities growing up?
PW: I liked to fish. I like woodwork. I flew at one time. That was after I was an adult. I like to play golf. I play a good bit now in the afternoons. They didn’t believe in dancing when I grew up. That was a no, no. A little bit on when I was at Mississippi State, I danced some. I listened to the big bands, Benny Goodman. Glen Miller was dead, but Tex Benicky, one of the men in his band, took his band over. Spike Jones, his was a comedian band. All the big bands would come to State, and we would have a big party. That was a big time for everybody. The girls from MCSW would come over. They would bring them over in busses. They would have to have permission from parents to stay with somebody in town. They would stay the weekend, and then they would go back to M. S. C. W. We would go back to school. We danced in the cafeteria. There was long cafeteria that had a gothic top to it.
KW: Perry Cafeteria is that the same cafeteria?
PW: Yes that is the same one.
KW: It is remodeled now.
PW: Yes that is where we had our dances. We had our basketball games in an old. We called it the “Barn.” It was in a tin building. The basketball floor was set up on two by fours or stilts. It was four or five feet above the ground. They had heaters in there that burned wood to heat it. It was just an old timey building. They moved from that into the Coliseum, which would seat about four thousand. Now they are in the Coliseum that seats about twelve thousand. We would go to the basketball games and the baseball games, and we just had a good time.
KW: Did you meet your wife in college?
PW: Yes, she was at M. S. C. W. I met her on a blind date. It was myself and Jim Chairman, a friend of mine; this girl got us a blind date. We flipped to see who would get Sue. He won and got Sue, and I lost and got Margaret. Margaret is my wife.
KW: How long were you dating before you got married?
PW: Oh about three years.
KW: Three years. Did you get married here in Cleveland?
PW: Right at the First Baptist Church here.
KW: You all have lived here in Cleveland for about forty years?
PW: No, we lived in Starksville first. We married when I was in college, my last year. Margaret was through. My senior year, she worked at the Library at Mississippi State. I was playing my last year of football. Then I coached a half of a year at Hamilton, MS. Then I went to Louisville, and I was an assistant coach there. I taught five classes. Margaret was a Librarian there. Then I went to the Army. That was in the Korean conflict. I spent two years there. Then I came back, and I coached at Belzona, MS for two years. Then I spent one year at Meridian, then came back to Shaw. I coached there for a couple of years. Then to Cleveland, and then I went back to Mississippi State to get my doctorate. I had about fifteen years of coaching and teaching at high schools.
KW: How long did you say you taught here on campus at Delta State?
PW: It was about twenty years. It was from 1966 to 1986. It was about twenty years. I came here to be a professor, and before I taught a class, the counselor, Dr. Lucy, transferred to Southern. So that opened that position up. So I was the Director of Counseling and Testing for four years. Then I was Administrating Assistance for two years. Then I went back to teaching. That is where I really enjoyed my teaching. I taught the rest of the time.
KW: Who was president at the time you were working here?
PW: Dr. James Ewing
PW: Then when he left, Dr. Aubrey Lucas was president. Dr. White and I worked across from each other. He was in the Alumni office, and I was in the Director of Counselor and Testing. We have been real close friends all the time. In fact we taught high school together at Cleveland. He taught me how to play golf on the playground at Cleveland High School.
KW: What do you remember the most about W. W. I and the depression?
PW: W. W. I, I wasn’t born at that time. I was born in ’28. The war was over in 1919. I remember a little bit about the depression but not much. We didn’t have a lot of toys. We made most of the things that we wanted to play with. It was a lot of fun. I remember my mother was always very careful when she gave me food. She would tell me to be sure to eat it all because there is a lot of people hungry. I don’t remember, but they would tell a story about the tramps coming around to the back door. She would always feed them, but she would make them work a little bit for the food. She wouldn’t just give them food. I can remember some of the tramps coming around, but I wouldn’t get that close to them. I didn’t do a lot of talking to them.
KW: Do you remember anything about Vietnam or the Civil Rights Movement? Were any your family members involved?
PW: Not in the Vietnam or Civil Right in any degree. Now right after that, well civil rights tied right into the racial question. When I was at Delta State, I was Dean of Students when they had the up rising here. The students complained the food. They wanted soul food. They were not getting soul food. That was one of the complaints. I can’t remember what the other’s were. They had a sit-in. They sit right in front of Dr. Ewing’s office. My office was right next door to his. We had an idea that something was coming. We pretty well knew that there was unrest everywhere in the colleges and the universities. We pretty well knew it was coming. He had called the judge up in Missouri, and he got all the information that he needed so he would be legally sound in what he did. He was at home, and I was in my office. We were on the telephone. He was telling exactly what steps to take and what to do. There were about fifty blacks out in the hall. They were sitting down. There were several complaints. I think that is on record in the Archives about the uprising at that time. He called the Highway Patrol to come and tell them that they were trespassing. They were not going to let him in his office after lunch. I was right in at the entrance of the door where my office was. His office was right next door to mine. The Highway Patrol came in. He had informed them exactly what the judge told him exactly what we could and could not do. This is all from memory. This is not documenting anything. The Highway Patrol said, “You’re trespassing. I am going to ask you to move.” They would not move. That was a sit-in. That was not just at Delta State but at a lot of places. I am going to ask you a second time to move you are trespassing. They didn’t move. The next time that I ask you to move, if you do not move there is bus outside. We are going to march you out to the bus, load you up, and take you to Parchman. So he said, “You trespassing, and I am going to ask you to move.” They did not. So he had some other Highway Patrol men come in, and they moved the students out into the bus. Men and women went to Parchman. They spent the night up there, and then they came back. Then we had some hearings, and they gave their complaints. We heard them, and we worked out what we could with the students. We were trying to justify what we were doing with them and the white students too. We always had pretty good relations here. I do remember one thing. They were going to take the flag down at the flagpole and put up another flag up. Several of us went out and stood at the flagpole and said that no you are not going to do that. So they back down. After that it took about two weeks. Things were pretty hectic. During the same time, we had a system that Dr. Ewing set up where he might call me the Dean of the University and one other person. We in turn may call four people. They in turn would call four more. They had the names. With in fifteen or twenty minutes we could have a whole group out at Delta State to control anything that went on. The entire faculty was involved with control and behavior. When Dr. Ewing was here it was like a big family. He was kind of the father and we were his children.
KW: Do you remember anything about the river flooding?
PW: No, well in 1983. In ’27 was the big flood. I wasn’t in this are then. In fact I wasn’t born then. So no I don’t remember. In 1983 it flooded down near Vicksburg. I remember driving to Vicksburg and seeing water on both sides of the road. In fact at one time that road was closed. People with homes down there built damns around their homes to keep it out. Nothing up in this area was flooded. It was down that way. I worked on the river when I was going to Mississippi State. I worked for the Core of Engineers. One of the things that I can remember well, the old river men on there. They were afraid of one thing. They were not afraid of snakes or anything else. They were afraid of the river. They respected it. If you fell in once, you got a warning. The second time you fell in the river you were fired. That is how cautious we were of the river. I remember we were sitting on a quarter boat. That is where we slept and we ate. We would go out there and stay for about three weeks. Several of my college friends and myself were out there. They called us schoolboys. We heard the Spraig. I don’t know if you are familiar with the Spraig or not? It was a big old paddle wheel boat. It was museum at Vicksburg, but it burned. You can hear it coming up the river. It had a sound like no other boat had. I remember the man who worked on the river and said to me, “You better get off this river.” I said why captain. He said that river will get in your blood and you will stay here for the rest of your life. A lot of them were educated men. They just loved the river that much. They stayed there and worked on it.
KW: Did you say that you have flown before? Do you have a pilot’s license?
PW: I have a pilot’s license. I flew out at Delta State. In fact, Dr. Rico taught me to fly. Dr. Rico was the one who started the Aviation Program here at Delta State. Him and I wrote part of the program, and Dr. Jack Gunn the Dean of Students wrote part of it. We combined that. It wrote it to get the Aviation program started here. The Aviation program has been real successful. I flew with him. I passed all my commercial work, and I was going to take my commercial flight’s test. Then I found that you had to have a excellent instrument rating to really do anything with commercial other you could fly twenty-five miles from home base. I wasn’t really good at instruments, so I just dropped it. I had about three hundred hours flying. A friend of mine and I built a home built. That is an airplane that you just build from scratch. The FFA inspects it all along as you are going. We had a Volkswagen engine in it. It was made out of fiberglass and wood. It is called a KR2. It was flown all around the country. We got it all ready, and we took it out to the airport. We cranked it up. I was flying it. I got it about ten feet off the ground. When I was coming down, I deaned the prop up. It was real sensitive. It is more sensitive than a regular airplane. Some of my friends said that the thing to do is just get in it and take off and fly. I wasn’t ready to do that. My partner didn’t want to fly it. So we sold it to a man in Colorado. As far as I know he is still flying it. It took us about five years to build it. We built it in a barn out here in the country.
KW: What kind of airplane was that?
PW: It was called a home built.
KW: And RT?
PW: KR2, it was real good little airplane. It would cruise at about hundred miles an hour. You could fly with five gallons for about two or three hours on it. It was very economically. You could fly up to about ten thousand feet. It was a nice little airplane.
KW: You and your best friend?
PW: Ted Cummings, is a friend of mine. He worked with Mississippi Power and Light. He knew all about the airplanes. I didn’t. I was kind of the laborer. Level Hendrix, who is the maintenance manager for the city worked on it with us some too.
KW: Okay you flew it around Cleveland or the delta?
PW: That is where we were going to fly it. I just got it off the ground out at the airport. They didn’t fly it. I wasn’t a good enough a pilot to handle it.
KW: Who has most influenced you life from you family members?
PW: From my family, my sister I thing. Hazel Riley who lives in Atlantic now, and she was a schoolteacher. She taught elementary, and she was an elementary school principal. She was in the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra, but she was very influential.
KW: In your growing up, was she another mother figure to you?
PW: Yeah, I wasn’t with you but for about a year. Though she stayed in touch.
KW: She is the only sister, or there is another?
PW: No, I have another sister, May Slatton Gratin. She married a Sweed from Minnesota. He was a tax expert. They traveled. They went to India and Pakistan and several places with the government to work out tax problems for their government. She is very well traveled. She was a good sister.
KW: Hazel, the one that most influenced your life, why would you say she influenced your life?
PW: I think her personality. She was strong, but sweet. She would always take care of you. She could hold her own in any kind of argument and in any kind of discussion.
KW: What was the most important thing that you learn from home?
PW: I reckon honesty and the concern for other people.
KW: The next set of questions have to do with your early education. Where did you go to elementary school?
PW: My first school that I can remember was in Pearl River County. I lived with the superintendent of the schools. That is after my mother died, I was going to one place to another. The teacher that I had was his wife. She had a quite an influence on life. I remember we would take our lunch. We would put our lunch in the lunchroom. The school smelled of lunches. It was usually biscuit and egg sandwiches, baked potatoes, or sweet milk. I also lived with my Aunt Sara and went to that school. She lived about four or five miles from there. We would take our lunch. All the floors were mopped with an oily substance. They were wood floors. That kept the dust down and kept them clean. That smell and the floors would kind of mixed. If you smelled that, you were in school. We had a basketball court. I didn’t play basketball at the time, but the high school did. We had the high school and the elementary all together then. It was probably two hundred students all together. We had a basketball court. It was dirt. They had a goal at each end. There were no stands. You just stood around the corner. At recess we would eat most of our lunch at recess. Then at lunch we wouldn’t have anything left. (Tape cut off)
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