T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History
The Mossville History Project began in 2015 as a collaboration between the Imperial Calcasieu Museum and the T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History with LSU Libraries. The goal of the project was to record and preserve the history of Mossville, as it was undergoing sudden changes due to industrial expansion and subsequent buy-outs of properties in the area. Mossville is a historic African American community in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana and many residents today are descendants of families who settled in what was known until 1916 as "Shoat’s Prairie" when it was renamed Mossville after James Moss, a descendant of the original settlers. Many Mossville residents today are descendants of original families, yet they have been largely absent from any written or oral records. Adjacent to Lake Charles, Sulphur, and numerous industries, this community has been the focus of much media attention in relation to environmental justice issues, especially since the ‘90s.

In 2015, Sasol, a chemical company out of South Africa, provided a grant to the Imperial Calcasieu Museum, who partnered with the Center, with the aim to capture, record, preserve, and make available the written and oral history of the people and community of Mossville. By 2017, the majority of Mossville residents relocated due to property buy-outs, and the landscape of the area continues to evolve as the Mossville community members face an uncertain future. The purpose of the collection of narratives is to capture and preserve history of a town that is rapidly disappearing from view.

In addition to sharing family histories, narrators discuss their upbringing, home remedies, the importance of religion, education, and athletics, local leaders and politics, gardening, raising livestock, integration, and what Mossville means to them personally. Other topics discussed include the impact of industrialization, segregation, property buyouts, water contamination, and environmental justice. Most interviewees were raised in Mossville, but several grew up elsewhere and they offer a unique perspective of Mossville’s place in history.

In total, there are 59 collections; 67 people were interviewed; there are over 90 hours of recordings and corresponding transcription and photographs. Patrons can access the interviews here at the Listening Station, online via the LSU Digital Library site, through the Reading Room at the LSU Libraries Special Collections, and by visiting the Imperial Calcasieu Museum and McNeese University Archives, where copies are also available.

Navigation of the Listening Station is designed for an intuitive patron experience. Drag two fingers to scroll.

History, Culture, and Economy are comprised of over 70 brief, diverse clips taken from oral history interviews. Topics include origins of the town, historic places, politics and integration, by-gone traditions, education, religion, family and community, work, environment and health, and moving away from Mossville.

The Digital Library section takes you to the full interviews, including summaries, audio, transcriptions, and instructions for duplication requests. There are 59 collections; 67 people were interviewed; there are over 90 hours of recordings and corresponding transcription. About provides information on the background and scope of the project.

Support for this digital exhibit was made possible through a collaboration between the Imperial Calcasieu Museum under the direction of Susan Reed and the Williams Center; grant funding provided by Sasol.

Acknowledgments: The curators wish to thank each and every narrator for their valuable contribution of time, energy, and stories to help preserve and present a history of Mossville. Special gratitude goes to Mossville Community Steering Committee Members Vera Payne, Butch Lemelle, Della Dotson, and Kim McKee for their tireless devotion to seeing the project through to completion and for their love of Mossville.

The exhibition was curated by Jennifer A. Cramer, Director, T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History; and Erin Hess, Manuscript Processor, Williams Center. The listening station interface was designed and installed by Kyle Tanglao, LSU Libraries User Interface Designer. Chandler Taylor and Juan Rodriguez-Cepero, Center Graduate Assistants who engineered the audio. The curators wish to thank Chelsea Arseneault, the Mossville Oral History Project Manager, Anne Wheeler, Center Student Assistant, and Chandler Taylor for their assistance in material selection. Special thanks, in particular to Chelsea, whose passion for Mossville history, and dedication to interviewing and collections processing made this entire endeavor possible. We appreciate the help of many other staff members for their assistance throughout various stages of planning and installation.
LSU Libraries
Baton Rouge, LA 70803
Tel (225) 578-5652
Fax (225) 578-9432
This project is a collaboration between the Imperial Calcasieu Museum and LSU Libraries to document the history of Mossville, a historic African American community in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana.
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