Introduction to the Deep South

gulfport, ms

Harry Lantz setting rat bait along the Gulf coast of Mississippi.

Part of my Civilian Public Service as a conscientious objector was spent in CPS Camp No. 141 in Gulfport, Mississippi. Our unit worked for the Public Health Department of Harrison County. My first assignment was in typhus control. Typhus is spread by rat lice so I was first assigned to a small crew that set rat bait mixed laced with red squill, a poison tasty to rats. This took us into the homes and outer buildings of the richest and poorest along the gulf coast. It was here that I learned about the racist ways of the old South. Since Harrison County allowed an open range the road could be obstructed by cows  We were advised that if a driver had to choose between hitting a cow or a black woman, it was best to hit the woman. There would be less difficulty in the court than if you hit the cow.


Digging a pit for a sanitary privy. If the pit was deep enough hookworm larvae could not get to surface, contaminate the grass, and enter the skin of bare feet.

My second and final assignment was to work in the camp kitchen. I began as a dish washer and concluded my tenure as the camp “dietician.”  A recipe book “Food for Forty” was my Bible in those days.

The main task of the unit was to install sanitary privies to control hookworm.

Cajun fried catfish

Cajun fried catfish

Richard Kling was a fellow camper.  We had common interests so he invited me to go with him on some weekends to a small Mennonite church at Akers, Lousiana.  Akers was a Cajun community and the church was founded by pastor Henry Tregle. We boys taught Sunday School classes and preached sermons.  I think I preached my first sermon there.  I wish I could recall the simple outline.

The people of Southern Lauwesiana  came from many cultures, but are mostly French.  Cajun language is a mixture of French, Indian, African , and English. It is mostly French, but when a French word is not known, the English word is thrown in.


The Tregle Home was a small replica of this modern house, but it was this basic style.  It was surrounded by a porch and water. The only way to get to  it was by boat.

Like many other Cajuns, Tregle made his living off Lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain and the surrounding swamp land.  His wife Nettie prepared wonderful meals of deep fried catfish, soft shelled crabs, and shrimp. When we asked if we could fish Henry humored us by assuring us, “Oh any one can fish, but not everyone can catch fish.”

There I met a fourteen year old boy named George Reno who had chosen to be baptized against the wishes of his father.  He lived five miles by water from a store.  When Richard and I went to Pennsylvania to visit our girlfriends we took Henry and George with us. Neither man had been out of the swamp before, and going round the curves of a mountain highway was a new experience.  Henry nervously asked Richard, “when are you going to slow down?”

More stories to come.

About Martin Lehman

I was born 92 years ago, the son of a Mennonite pastor and organic gardener in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. At age 10 I was baptized as a member of the Marion Mennonite Church. I own the "Old Fool" moniker because I want to walk the Jesus Way even though the world and much of the church takes me as a fool for doing so. In my life I have moved from being a young conservative to an elderly radical. I tell that story in My Faith Journey posted on my website.
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2 Responses to Introduction to the Deep South

  1. Kenneth Eshleman says:

    I have recently published a biography about Harold Eshleman and his wife, Arlene (Heatwole). Harold (1911-1998) was a Mennonite pastor and public school teacher in Rockingham County. He helped George and Ruby Reno adopt a baby boy in the early 1960s. Would you happen to have a current address or phone number for the Renos?
    My friend Jim Mullenex who nows the Renos has asked me to send them a copy of my book as a gift from him. You mention George Reno in the article on your CPS service.

    • I’m sorry that I don’t have the information you asked for. However, I might be able to get it from someone at College Mennonite Church who did MDS in Louisiana. Give me a little time and ask again.

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