For the second interview of my African American elder oral history tour, I headed west from the Jackson home of my gracious CouchSurfing hosts into rural Mississippi. Upon turning north off I-20 near Vicksburg, I found myself on a road that tracing the contours of the enormous earthen levees that shield the area’s expansive, seemingly endless cotton fields from the excesses of the Mississippi river. After about an hour in which the major road hazard consisted of flock of birds lazily congregating on the road, I arrived in Mayersville.
Consisting of a few hundred houses clustered literally in the shadow of the levee, the town is the modest seat of one of the poorest and least densely populated counties east of the Mississippi. The largest building in town is the County correctional facility, and as I turned into town, the signs quickly made it apparent that much of the newer housing stock had been been built with federal money. I pulled into the parking lot of the University of Mississippi Agricultural Extension building and gave a ring to Sherida, the credit union book-keeper who’d been my contact in setting up the interview. It turned out that she worked right across the street, and I followed her car a few blocks to the Issaquana County Federal Credit Union.
Housed in a small trailer about half the size of a shipping container that barely contains two desks, the credit union has been in operation since 1969, when its current 89 year old President, Clarence Hall, Jr. helped establish the institution. Sherida introduced me to Clarence then headed out. It being an unseasonably cold day for Mississippi (in the mid-20s), he had an ancient electric space heater running, and so we huddled our chairs around it, chatted for a few minutes about my project, and then began the interview: