Evan Musgraves (EM): So, we’ll just start off with your early life. Whenand where you were born.
Wayne Flynt (WF): Yeah. It’s hard to say because people always ask whereyou’re from which is a classically southern question sort of like, “What is your sign?” in California. In the, my parents were Alabama people. My mom was just from Pinson, north of Birmingham. My dad was from a little community called Shady Glen on the Coosa River. And after they married, Dad had not finished high school; Mom had eloped the night, the night after she finished high school. So she was working at a five and dime store. Dad was selling coffee and sold various things and had worked in a steel mill before that. And they were looking for a better place to live. And 1940 was, Dad was angry at his job and wanted to 1:00go someplace else and he made a really bad mistake and went to Pontotoc, Mississippi which is near Tupelo up in the north Mississippi hill country. And it was a terrible choice because they didn't even know the Depression was over there. They were still just basically tenant farming, white tenant farming. So I was born in Pontotoc, Mississippi on October 4, 1940, but they left six months after I was born so if I tell people I am from Pontotoc, Mississippi they say, "Oh, do you know so and so" and I say we, I was not really precocious in the way of knowing anybody at the age of six months. So we moved back to Birmingham and dad went to work here with an insurance company and went to Sheffield and from Sheffield to Anniston and from Anniston to Birmingham and Birmingham back to Anniston and Anniston to Gadsden, and between the ages of six and fourteen I went to twelve different schools in two different states. We were really like 2:00wisps in the wind, just being blown here and blown there. My dad lived in thirty-six houses before they died in four different states. And so I had what could kindly be called a transitory life. But I was born on fourth of October, 1940 right at the, in the crease of the Great Depression and the Great War.
EM: What were your parents like?
WF: Mother, Mae Ellis Moore Flynt, was born in Pinson, Alabama in 1919. OnNovember 22--easy to remember, the day President Kennedy was assassinated. She grew up, her father was an alcoholic, but the only college grad on either side 3:00of my family. He had finished Howard College, curiously enough, in 1924 and had become a school teacher and principal but his alcoholism basically kept him from keeping a job for very long. So he changed from job to job but almost always lived in Pinson in a rock house where my mother grew up--fieldstones picked up out of Turkey Creek basically. Vernacular architecture of that region. She was quite bright; went to Jefferson County High School in Tarrant City at that time. Then my dad, who was two years older, had been born in Shady Glen, which is in Calhoun County near the Coosa River, in the western part of Calhoun County. His 4:00father was a sharecropper. My granddad, until late in his life, could not read or write, so they were a white sharecropper family. His mother was one of eighteen children; he was one of eight children. So, a very large, typical poor white family, farm families. He farmed with his brothers and sister, his younger--the youngest; dad was the youngest of eight so his two youngest siblings, a sister and a brother, farmed until the 1930s. Dad left the farm when he was basically kicked out of school for his temper and sassing a teacher and decided that he didn't want to go back so he dropped out of school in 1937 and went to work at Virginia Bridge Company here in Birmingham as a steel worker, rivet catcher as they were called. Catch red hot rivets and put them in the gauge that they were building for the Tennessee Valley Dam. And then he went 5:00from there to a whole series of sales jobs selling coffee, insurance, biscuit crackers, and ultimately, for most of his life, works for Swifting Company Meat Packers as a salesman and manager in various places.
EM: Did your grandfather ever tell stories from his time…
WF: He was a great, he was a great storyteller.
EM: …From his time at Howard/Samford? Your maternal grandfather?
WF: Not, not Samford. No, he did not. He almost never talked about HowardCollege which was really interesting. For him, as for so many people in the western part of Birmingham, Howard College was just a convenience. He was one of seven brothers himself on a poor white farm in Clay, what is now Clay. He was young, young, the youngest of the seven and FeMoore was his name. Felix Moore, but they called him FeMoore. Very, very smart. Extremely smart. But his father 6:00died when he was just a very, very young boy so he never knew his father very much. And he worked on the farm. And the other six siblings never had any ambition to go to college. And he caught a streetcar and rode it in from the Pinson area and a bus and a streetcar to the East Lake Campus. And never talked about Howard at all. And he would tell you he was the greatest storyteller so that was unusual.
EM: What kind of activities did you like to do growing up as a kid?
WF: It was a fairly solitary life. And solitary in the sense that most of theplaces we lived, my maternal cousins were not anywhere near. They were all centered at, in fact, I had seven cousins that lived within 100 yards of each other, in Pinson. And we infrequently came home to visit them because Mother was alienated from her grandfather and her dad was sort of an embarrassment to her 7:00all of her life. So we did not come home a whole lot. And Dad very seldom took me to my paternal cousins. We lived in Georgia, we lived in Atlanta. Two or three times we lived in Augusta, Georgia. So it was not easy to negotiate the roads in that time in Alabama, so we didn't come home a whole lot. And being an only child and having moved constantly so that almost every year you were at a different school, and in the first grade I was in three schools for instance, in different states. I was in three schools in two states. You did not know anybody. And kids being kids, they were cliquish and so you sort of ate by yourself which I think probably turned me into, I think that affect psychologically, either turns you into sort of a recluse or it turns you into a garrulous and, you know, you intrude on other people’s table if they do not 8:00come sit with you. And I tended to go the other way rather than be a recluse; I became extremely social in a pushier way in conversations. I always had friends at churches which is where I derived most of my friendships. So, I would say that I was very solitary and in fact, I have often, when I was doing my doctoral work on American politics in the 20th century, I was fascinated that FDR's childhood was so much like mine. Certainly he was considered a very affluent family and I was in a lower middle class family. But on the other hand, he was an only child and he did not have lots of jobs. And though he was stable and I was mobile and transitory, he was really into stamp collecting. So was I. And stamp collecting is sort of, the absolute ultimate in solitary kind of 9:00childhood. So I collected stamps and early on, my mother and dad had a really strong work ethic. I do not think I have ever known two people who worked as hard as they did. And, so early on, there was an understanding that if you are ever going to amount to anything in life you’re going to have to start working really early. So when I was, I guess, about eleven, I was, I got newspaper route, delivering the Augusta Chronicle in Augusta, Georgia. So I had a lot of responsibility. You had to be there every morning, and you, had--or every afternoon, it was an afternoon paper. Every afternoon after school I would deliver the paper. I do not remember any friends at all in Augusta. It was a solitary, pay attention to your stamps and deliver your newspaper route. When we moved back to Atlanta in about 1953 I guess, yeah 1952 or 1953, I had a lawn 10:00mower business. And I still shudder to think of that brand new subdivision with lush lawns, basically fertilized with chicken manure and how thick the lawns were and I had a push mower and I charged a quarter a yard. A quarter for a small yard and seventy-five cents for a large yard. I had all the business I could handle. That was partly because I was way too cheap. I needed to take a course in marketing and economy philosophy because I would have died a poor man if I had gone into the lawn mower business. Then we moved to Dothan, Alabama and I had a, again, I had a paper route, The Dothan Eagle and delivered that. And that was when I was about fourteen. But interestingly, I, they gave me a route 11:00that people did not want to have because it was a working class white neighborhood and people would move off without paying you. It was not a responsible group of people. So I had to pay attention, for instance, I collected weekly rather than monthly because I knew they were so transitory that they would be gone within a week. So I managed that route so well that the circulation director for the Dothan Eagle asked if I like to be the route supervisor for the entire newspaper. And that meant I was responsible for making sure all the papers were delivered. I was responsible for the supervision for all of the paper boys. I was responsible for going around on a Cushman motor scooter, of which I was quite proud, and taking all paper racks where they had coin machines and you had, you had a key that opened the coin machine, you 12:00collected the money and hoped that nobody had broke open the machine and stole all the papers. But I had to do all of that. So, basically, there was not much time for any, you know. I went to church pretty much every time the door opened. And I still have my stamp collection. And I was route supervisor for the newspaper. And I was pretty much, once again, a pretty solitary life except for the kids at church, Calvary Baptist Church. But other than that, and I did not have much social relation with them. We did not live there about two years, less than two years. High school was a different matter. We went back to Anniston where we had lived three or four times before. And in Anniston, I had what, I guess what I would describe as more normal teenage years. You know, playing ping pong with people at church and really being able to form friendships for the 13:00first time in my life because the people at Parker Memorial were wonderfully engaging and open. They accepted my mother and father even though they were not as well educated as other members of the church. So I would say that there I had a more socialized adolescence than I had had up until that time. My years before Anniston, before I was, I guess I was there, I graduated when I was seventeen so I must have been late fourteen just before my birthday because actually I would not have been allowed to start in Alabama but Georgia allowed you to start school if you were born in October so long as a doctor approved your maturity you could start first grade so luckily I was not held back a year as I would have been if we had been in Georgia when I started first grade.
EM: Did you grow up in Baptist churches?
WF: Altogether. My, my maternal grandmother had been a Presbyterian. But my14:00alcoholic father had been a Baptist and fairly well known in Pinson Baptist Church. And that was where my mother was baptized. Dad was not terribly institutionally religious. And to the degree he was anything, he had been Church of Christ. His family had been . But even then it was more like a community church. And it was only when his sister married a Church of Christ minister that his father and mother joined the Church of Christ. So Dad was not terribly institutionally religious. Mother was more religious and so we wound up going to Baptist churches everywhere.
EM: How did you end up at Howard College?
WF: That is a, that is a sort of involved story. By the time I was at ParkerMemorial Baptist Church in Anniston I felt very distinctly called to preach. And I had been active in Dothan Crusade for Christ and various revivals, tent meeting revivals. Helping put up tents and that kind of thing. So I was really, really involved in the church. At Calvary Baptist Church--first time I was really involved in a church was Calvary Baptist Church in Dothan. Then Parker Memorial Baptist Church in Anniston. And at Parker Memorial, we had a remarkable pastor named B. Locke Davis. In fact, I did an oral history with him which is in the archives here at Samford. And Locke really, he was, he became my mentor. He wanted me to go to, he had gone to Southwestern Seminary, but he didn't care whether I wanted Southwestern or Southern, he just wanted me to go to seminary. He wanted me to go to a Baptist college. But money was a real issue in our family. So, and I really was not real keen on going to college anyway. I was a terrible student. I hated school. I had been jerked around so much that I missed whole chunks of critical skills especially math and science and things like that. In addition to that, schools in Alabama were terrible. Schools in Georgia were not much better. But I was woefully unprepared for college. If there was a guidance counselor at Anniston High I don't remember a guidance counselor. Nobody in my family could actually advise me about college. My granddad never talked about college. My other grandfather had not even finished high school. And my dad ended up finished high school. So, it was just, sort of, it was like an amorphous kind of "Well, there is college" but what does that mean? It was an abstraction that no one could talk about it except B. Locke Davis, my pastor. But I knew I had to go because, if I was gonna be a preacher, I had to go. And I remember Dad putting me in the backyard-terracing the backyard with a pick and shovel and a terribly hot summer and breaking off one inch square sections of Alabama hard clay with that pick. And at that point I decided not only that I had to go because I wanted to be a minister but go because I was not going to spend the rest of my life terracing yards in the back of Appalachian houses. So then it just became, where do you go? I had three amazing teachers in high school. The school was not good and I was woefully unprepared for what was there anyway. Well, actually had four good teachers. I had Billy Bancroft who was a graduate of Howard College. Billy had been a little all-American football player before the era of Bobby Bowden. But he was a legendary player. He was also a great baseball player. In fact, had beaten Dizzy Dean, the legendary baseball player and later announcer on national television for syndicated baseball announcer. And Dizzy Dean had played in the Dixie World Series in Birmingham and Billy Bancroft was playing for the Birmingham Barons and he got a hit and 1-0 game and beat Dizzy Dean. He also had been a pre-min at Auburn, I mean at Howard. Which is kind of unusual for a football player. But he was really smart and taught biology, zoology, and geometry and algebra in high school. An unusual combination for the head football coach to teach those classes. But he was really good and, so, to the degree that I learned any science or math in school, I learned it from Billy Bancroft, a Howard grad. Then I had Janet LeFevre, who was a Pennsylvania native who had gone to Cornell and was the wife of an officer at Fort McClellan who had retired to Anniston after the Second World War and Janet was definitely not from these parts. She was very demanding. She was very frank and not soft-spoken at all. Very brittle, abrasive. A no-nonsense type of person. And when I transferred from Dothan to Anniston, in Dothan they had had Latin. I had taken the first year of Latin. When I transferred to Anniston, they barely had French and Spanish. And nobody would stay there for the salaries they paid anyway. So, I could not take Latin anymore and I had this blank spot in this schedule. And so they looked at my schedule and I think they probably were, saw it as a hopeless mishmash and not much of anything and deficient in every way. So what they did is put me in this speech class. Well, I had, did not want to take speech class. I had no interest in this speech class. But this woman, Janet LeFevre became another mentor of mine like B. Lock Davis. Billy Bancroft was too busy coaching baseball and football to be a mentor to me. But Janet LeFevre was a wonderful mentor. And she decided she was going to make an actor out of me. And I hated acting. And worse than that, she put me in a role in a play which involved me kissing this girl. I had never kissed a girl in my life and I was not about to start in front of my 700 classmates at Anniston High School which suggests that I was not very precocious in the way of dating either. Which was true. So, I refused to do that and we had a sparkling argument about the play. And I finally retreated to my religious values and said I was not going to do it because I didn't think it was appropriate since I didn't know this girl and had no interest in her whatsoever so she said, "Okay, that's fine. But you are going to build the scene, the scenery." And I said, "That's fine." So I built the scenery which was okay. But she got me interested in debate. And we had never had a debate team. But that was something she had learned at Cornell and her high school in Pennsylvania and brought to Anniston. And my debate partner was Don Stewart who would become not only president of the Student government association at the University of Alabama when I was president at Samford but went to the University of Alabama Law School, became well connected through his fraternity to the machine that ran the University of Alabama and from there, was appointed United States Senator when the US Senator died so Don was a United States Senator for a term. And we were really good. We were a really good debate team. We won every tournament we went to. We won the state tournament. And I had also won, I had been runner up, in the Birmingham News oratorical contest and that involved a scholarship to Birmingham Southern which has now, was offering scholarships to everybody in the world because their tuition was twice what it should have been. So they would discount tuition by giving some modest scholarship. Well I didn't want to go to Birmingham Southern first of all. And I thought it was a little bit too arrogant and high falutin. And I felt more comfortable at Howard. When I visited here, and I was a Baptist and I wanted to be a ministerial student so it all made sense. I had a scholarship to the University of Alabama but there was no scholarship to Howard. And though Howard was really inexpensive, tuition was $250 a semester ( I know that's incomprehensible to you), and so B. Locke Davis writes Harwell Davis (this was Harwell Davis' last year as president) and he said, "I have this young ministerial student who really wants to go to Howard and he is a debater. Is there anything you can do in terms of scholarship?" Well, they had just hired Al Yeoman on the faculty here. Al had been here a couple of years and started a debate team. And there were not many experienced debaters because very few high schools in Alabama had a debate program. So to find somebody who has some experience in debate and had actually done well just thrilled Al. And they didn't have formal scholarships but they had what were called work scholarships where you would do some sort of work: research for Al or you would sit in the office when the secretary was gone on lunch. It was sort of ‘make work’ kind of thing. Student welfare I guess you could call it. So, Harwell Davis wrote B. Locke Davis that he was going to send the request to Al Yeoman to see if Al could do anything to help. Well they gave me a partial work scholarship and with the ministerial scholarship (which was half tuition so that was $75) and the work scholarship covered pretty much the rest of it. So I could afford to come here. And, of course, in a way it was very appropriate because the, at least of my friends, the vast majority of them were first generation college students. So they were like me, so I felt very comfortable here. I didn't feel at all intimidated which I probably would have felt if I had gone to a fraternity dominated school like Alabama. I certainly wouldn't fit. I didn't have any use for fraternities anyway. I've never liked the social stratification that that represents. And Birmingham Southern would have been an exaggerated form of the same kind of socio-economic culture. So, I felt really good. The only thing I lacked was I had absolutely no self-confidence. I really, I had fairly strong feeling I would probably flunk out my first semester or so. I graduated on Friday night, started college on Monday morning in June 1958 and went straight through. Partly to save money and partly because, in the early days at least, I was not sure I was going to make it. And also, I figured that if I flunked out that summer nobody would really know because everybody else would be going off to college in September rather than June and I'd be coming back and going to work in one of the pipe shops after I flunked out. But I didn't. I did really well. My summer, that first summer, of course there was nobody here and nobody lived on campus during the summer those days. I think there was one other, Lewis Lesson from Scottsboro, were the only two people on our entire hall. He was a freshman, I was a freshman. He was doing the same thing I was, trying to go through in a hurry. And so, we both graduated in three years.
EM: So you got to Howard right as the new campus...
WF: Yes, correct.
EM: ...was being completed?
WF: That's correct. My wife was here, she had a year on the old campus and ayear on the new campus which was 1957-1958. During that year, that was Harwell Davis' last year so Leslie Wright and I were freshmen together. He was a freshman president and I was a freshman student. And in 1958 my wife, who had been two years ahead of me in school (and, of course, I made up one year by going straight through for three years), but she was the one who bore the brunt of it because that was when they didn't have any landscaping at all and every time it rained there would be this sea of mud covering the sidewalks and you would ruin shoes and ruin dresses. And for me, the next year, they had the grass had been established and it was still a mess when it rained but nothing like that first year. According to my wife, it was a nightmare.
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