Interview with Halley L. “Red” Cooper
September 3, 1990
Let’s talk about Huey Long. In September, 1934, the headlines read, “Huey Long, Dictator of Louisiana.” Then, a year later he was assassinated. How did Huey Long affect you?
He didn’t affect us except as a mode of conversation, maybe. We knew what he was doing over there. We were laughing about it. It was a known fact that if a county didn’t kick in, he’d build a road right up to the county, and then build a fence across it.
And I have several Huey P. Long books.
Was he looked upon as a gangster? He was obviously elected as a populist.
He was very, very popular. The Texans kind of looked down on the Louisiana people about being so dishonest, which Texas was just as bad, if not worse. Lyndon Johnson was just like Huey P. Long.
Except he wasn’t governor.
Yes, but when he was senator.
In March of ’36, and you might have been in Austin during this, the Nazis invaded the Rhineland, Were you aware of that?
Lucky Luciano, in July of ’36 was convicted on 62 counts. Was he similar to Al Capone in your memory? Was he romanticized or were these looked at as real nasty guys?
Yes, I remember that. They were looked upon by honest people as nasty guys, The movies romanticized them.
What about the Spanish Civil War? A lot of Americans went over there to participate, and it was thought by many to be a test for WWII, with the Nazis and the Communists opposing each other. Who did the American people support?
The opinion of most of the people that I was acquainted with was to just let the bastards kill each other off. We didn’t like either one of ‘em.
Also in 1936 the Olympics were held in Berlin. Jesse Owens won some medals, and Hitler was so anti Jew and anti Black. How did most Americans view that?
I was in Austin at the time, and Austin has never had the n….. hatred like Houston or Dallas. Fortunately, you didn’t grow up wanting to chunk rocks at n….. like lots of kids did when I was a kid.
In December of 1936 the King of England abdicated his throne in order to marry a divorcee. Was this anything that most people in Texas really gave a damn about?
Well, divorce wasn’t very popular back then, and I think most people thought he was kind of stupid.
Do you recall in 1937 when a school fire in New London, Texas ,killed over 500 people?
Yes, I went up there to help out. As a volunteer. And when I was in the Navy I was with another guy who was there and worked as a rescue worker. He told of trying to take a woman’s body out with a sheet or something, and her body was so burned that it just fell apart. He was still having nightmares about it. Somebody had a truck and carried a load of us up there. We didn’t stay too many days because they had all the help they needed.
Joe Louis became the world champ….
Yes, that was a big thing. Heavyweight fights.
Was Joe Louis looked upon as a big American hero, even as a black man?
Yeah, he sure was. The old hardened red neck back then would say, “We’ll get a white man to whip that n….. some day.” I mean, that was their attitude and I always thought , you know we’d see these news reels of him, and they was telling how fast he could hit, you know, like a striking snake, and it had to be a secret thing, because you didn’t dare admire a n….. then.
Amelia Earhardt was lost over the South Pacific.
Yes, and Will Rogers crashing was really big news. That was the first nationally known hero that we lost that really upset me.
Germany in 1938 took back Austria and had the night of the Krystal, where they ransacked the homes and shops of Jews. Did you know any Jews at that time?
Yes. I was in Austin at that time while that was going on and at Bell Ice Cream we had a number of Jews and they were running scared even here in Austin.
Well, in February, 1939 there was a rally in New York, where 22,000 Nazis held a rally and talked about Jews being the same as communists before the Nazis did so many things that you couldn’t get 22,000 people to admit they were Nazis not long after that. Were you aware of this big rally?
Did you know anyone that took on the pose of being a Nazi, and was pro Adolph Hitler.
What about when Joe Louis beat Max Schmeling? Did you listen to it on the radio?
Yes. That was a big sort of crowning glory that he beat Max Schmeling from Germany because we didn’t like Germany then.
June of ’38, going back a little bit, the minimum wage was set at 40 cents an hour. I don’t know when it went into effect. Did this minimum wage affect you?
Yeah, it did. I forgot earlier when we were talking about jobs about working on a dairy, and it was an hourly paid job.