Oral History of Albert C. Duke

This interview was conducted by Becky Talley on November 15, 1997, for Professor Tom Forgey's class in Arkansas History at Southern Arkansas University. The interview took place at the Duke's home in Magnolia, Arkansas, and was part of "Golden Reflections," an intergenerational project organized by Nancy Bailey of the Area Agency on Aging of Southwest Arkansas, Inc. The transcript below is an excerpt of this taped-recorded interview. The original audio tape is archived at Magale Library at Southern Arkansas University.

"In this semester's Arkansas History class, students were asked to conduct oral interviews of retired business people from Columbia County and the surrounding areas. Students were given a list of different names to choose from. I chose Mr. Albert Duke, a retired business professional with Peace Flooring Mill in Magnolia. The interview was conducted on Saturday, November 15, 1997, at Mr. Duke's home in Magnolia. He was a very gracious host and was very interesting to interview. The best way to describe Mr. Duke and his life is best left up to him. The interview follows."

Becky Talley


Becky Talley (RLT): I think we will just start with basic questions. Where were you born?
Albert C. Duke (ACD): I was born in Laneburg, Arkansas. In Nevada County.
RLT: Who were your parents?
ACD: My father's name was George Washington Duke. And my mother's name was Florence Abigail McGough.
RLT: Did they have occupations?
ACD: My daddy owned a store there and had a farm. I don't remember how many acres, whether it was forty acres or eighty acres or what. But he farmed and ran a little blacksmith shop and also ran the store.
RLT: So they weren't born and raised here in Columbia County?
ACD: No, in Nevada County, around Prescott, Arkansas.
RLT: Can you tell me a little bit about your early life. Where were you raised and when did you move to Magnolia?
ACD: Well, we moved from Laneburg, Arkansas, and I have a twin brother, Arthur. We
were born January 5, 1919. In 1924, we moved to Waldo, Arkansas, and left Nevada County. In Waldo, I went through twelve years of school there. After that, I didn't go to college. I had a good instructor that gave me about the same thing. My brother, Howard, was ten years older than I. He went to Tyler Commercial College. They taught young men how to keep books and do it all to perfection. They had electric bookkeeping back then, before computers were even thought of, all those mechanical things. He learned it well, got good grades, and passed it. He came back home later and was hired and worked a place or two. I can't remember where. One was the sawmill near Haynesville, Louisiana. He worked at Waldo Fertilizer Works. He was the head bookkeeper there. He was sort of the local manager, actually. He told me if I would come down there after school and work, he would teach me how to keep books. It wouldn't cost anything.
We would buy cotton seed, the company would. We had gins all over the country. We would just buy the seeds,we just offered them a certain price per ton. And we would buy the seeds that were in their warehouses at the gin and we sent trucks to go and pick up the seeds and take them to the Union Oil Mill in West Monroe, Louisiana, which is still in operation. One of the largest in the country. It makes you hungry when you pass it. It smells so good when they are cooking that seed. That's what we did there. I started there, worked for a year making nothing. Didn't get a thing. Next year, they gave me twenty-five dollars a month. Then after that, in maybe another year, they gave me a hundred dollars a month and I felt like I was rich then. I was going with my first wife, Margaret Dempsey from Waldo, and we had been going together for two years and wanted to get married. When I got that hundred dollars, I finally convinced her that we could get by because you could buy your groceries for fifteen dollars a month and have anything you wanted.