Category Archives: Southern Oral History Program

Breaking New Ground – now online with the Southern Oral History Program

This post was contributed by Adrienne Petty.

Three years ago, historians Mark Schultz and Adrienne Petty set out on an urgent mission to record the stories of African American farm owners. Time was of the essence. Land ownership among African Americans peaked during the early twentieth century and continues to decline. Fearful of losing their stories forever, Schultz, a professor at Lewis University, and Petty, a professor at the City College of New York, led a team of undergraduate and graduate students from universities throughout the South in collecting and preserving digitally recorded oral history interviews for their project, “Breaking New Ground: A History of African American Farm Owners Since the Civil War.” The fruits of their labor are now available on the Southern Oral History Program site. Funded by a $230,000 collaborative research grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the collection includes more than 300 interviews with black farm owners and their descendants from Maryland to Oklahoma. The collection covers a range of topics related to farming, landownership and post Civil War U.S. history, including Reconstruction, the Great Depression, the world wars, the Civil Rights Movement, and the contemporary black farmers’ activism.

The goal of “Breaking New Ground” is to explore how rural black families “made a way out of no way” and became farm owners against considerable odds, how land ownership affected their experience of the Jim Crow era, and how their privileged positions shaped the destinies of their descendants. We want to ask, How did some black farmers acquire land? Did land ownership empower African Americans in the racially segregated South? How did African American land ownership differ in different parts of the region? What was their legacy? Answers to these questions and others will deepen our understanding of an essential, but overlooked, element of southern history.

Adrienne Petty is a descendant of black farm owners and is currently working on a book entitled, Standing Their Ground: Small Farm Owners in the South. Mark Schultz, author of The Rural Face of White Supremacy: Beyond Jim Crow, has recorded hundreds of interviews with Georgians, many of which are already in the SOHP collection at the Southern Historical Collection in Carolina’s Wilson Library.

We hope that the oral histories we collect as part of this project will not only lay the foundation for a history monograph that fills a glaring gap in the scholarship, but also creates a rich resource for historians, students, teachers, and researchers of all kinds.

You can access the 300+ interviews from this project in the SOHP database here.

Four activists to be honored in Chapel Hill, SHC preserves documentation of their legacy

This Sunday, August 28, 2011, four names will be added to a plaque at Chapel Hill’s “Peace and Justice Plaza.” Yonni Chapman, Rebecca Clark, Rev. Charles M. Jones and Dan Pollitt will all be honored posthumously for their contributions to civil rights, social justice and equality in the Chapel Hill community. The ceremony will begin at 3pm in front of the Historic Chapel Hill Post Office on Franklin Street, just across the street from UNC’s McCorkle Place. For the full story, see the article, “Four Honored for Activism,” from the Chapel Hill News.

The Southern Historical Collection is proud to preserve a large body of material that documents the lives and legacies of these four activists, including:

Charles Miles Jones Papers – The collection includes correspondence, church documents and publications, clippings, and other items reflecting Jones’s ministry and concern for civil rights. Materials generally focus on his public rather than personal life with a special emphasis on the 1952-1953 investigation of his Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church ministry. General correspondence includes letters from supporters (among them Frank Porter Graham) and detractors, commenting on the investigation, Jones’s sermons, and several well-publicized actions in support of social justice causes.

Oral history interview with Rebecca Clark (1 interview available online via DocSouth’s Oral Histories of the American South project) – In this interview, Rebecca Clark recalls living and working in segregated North Carolina. She finished her schooling in all-black schools, so the bulk of her experience with white people in a segregated context took place in the work world. There she experienced economic discrimination in a variety of forms, and despite her claims that many black people kept quiet in the face of racial discrimination at the time, she often agitated for, and won, better pay. Along with offering some information about school desegregation, this interview provides a look into the constricted economic lives of black Americans living under Jim Crow.

John K. Chapman Papers (available Fall 2011) – This collection documents Yonni Chapman’s social activism and academic achievements, and offers an account of nearly four decades of progressive racial, social, and economic justice struggles in the central North Carolina region. Organizational materials, including correspondence, notes, newsletters and reports, document the activities of the Communist Workers’ Party, the Federation for Progress, the Orange County Rainbow Coalition of Conscience, the New Democratic Movement, the Freedom Legacy Project, and the Campaign for Historical Accuracy and Truth, among other organizations on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, in Chapel Hill, N.C., Durham, N.C., Raleigh, N.C., and Greensboro, N.C. Workers’ rights and racial justice campaigns and commemorations, including those of the Greensboro Massacre and the campaign to end the Cornelia Phillips Spencer Bell Award on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, are documented in paper, audio, visual, and photographic formats.

Daniel H. Pollitt Papers (available Fall 2012) – This collection documents Dan Pollitt’s distinguished career as an attorney, professor in the University of North Carolina Law School, and civil rights activist in the American South. The collection documents Pollitt’s activities with a number of organizations, including: the National Labor Relations Board, the National Sharecroppers Fund, the NAACP, the North Carolina Civil Liberties Union, the American Association of University Professors, the Rural Advancement Fund, and other organizations. Material also covers Pollitt’s involvement with the Speaker Ban controversy at the University of North Carolina, his opposition to the death penalty in North Carolina, issues of congressional misconduct, and many other legal and ethical matters.

Oral history interviews with Daniel H. Pollitt (13 interviews, many of which are available online via DocSouth’s Oral Histories of the American South project)

Andrew Young oral history interview

Image of Andrew Young from Library of Congress (this public domain photograph is not part of the SHC's collections)

UNC’s Southern Oral History Program (SOHP) collects interviews with Southerners who have made significant contributions to a variety of fields and interviews that will render historically visible those whose experience is not reflected in traditional written sources. The Southern Historical Collection is the repository for oral histories collected by the SOHP.

The SOHP has digitized 500 interviews from the collection, through a project called Oral Histories of the American South. Periodically, “Southern Sources” will share links to audio of selected SOHP interviews.

Today, we are pleased to feature an SOHP interview with Andrew Young.  Andrew Young was the first African American congressman from Georgia since Reconstruction. First elected in 1972, Young was later appointed as ambassador to the United Nations by Jimmy Carter.

In this SOHP interview, Young discusses the nature of racial discrimination in the South and describes his involvement in voter registration drives. Throughout the interview, he draws comparisons between race relations within southern states and those between the North and South. According to Young, it was access to political power that ultimately altered the tides of racial prejudice in the South. He cites the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as a decisive turning point in race relations. For Young, it was the election of African Americans to positions of power that allowed African Americans to bring to fruition other advances they had made in education, business, and social standing.

Interview Menu (Description, Transcript, and Audio): Andrew Young interview menu (from the SOHP)

Link Directly to Audio File: audio of Andrew Young interview (from the SOHP)

New SOHP Database

The Southern Historical Collection is pleased to present the new Southern Oral History Program (SOHP) interview database, at http://www.lib.unc.edu/dc/sohp/?CISOROOT=/sohp.

The new site provides users with even greater search capabilities and functionality. Most importantly, we now have the ability to deliver digital content on the Web. In addition to the 500+ interviews already delivered digitally by the IMLS funded Documenting the American South’s digital collection Oral Histories of the American South, users can now access another 330 digital transcripts as well as approximately 290 digital audio interviews from the new site. These numbers will only continue to grow.

The new site includes a number of browse pages (Interviewee, Interviewer, Project, Occupation, Subject, and Ethnicity), as well as the old site’s keyword searches. A powerful advanced search is available from the main Libraries digital collections search page as well.

We invite comments and feedback on the new database.