Oral History Resources

Oral History Resources ­­

Oral histories are an essential part of most Community-Drive Archives work. Through oral histories, we are able to hear directly from people who have important stories or memories to share. Oral histories enable different ways of thinking about and learning from the past, and often present perspectives that are not well represented in traditional museums and archives.

One of our key partners at UNC-Chapel Hill is the Southern Oral History Program (SOHP). Since its founding in 1973, the SOHP has done groundbreaking work, creating a vital record of Southern history. The SOHP is often recognized as one of the leading oral history programs in the country. They are also a terrific resource for learning more about doing oral history, whether you are a seasoned professional or if you’re getting ready for your very first interview.

Here are several resources that we have found helpful when planning or preparing for oral histories:

  1. Bernetiae Reed, one of the Community-Driven Archives project staff members, is an experienced oral historian and offers an essential bit of advice for anyone considering oral histories: just get started.

“Don’t wait! Ask your questions now. If you procrastinate that opportunity can pass by and that story, that connection, or that moment could be gone forever! Pull out your recorder during special moments. Seek that person with things you want to know or that person with memories you want to capture. Your actions allow these words to be heard by future audiences! Start with those family stories that you have grown up hearing, connect with community members who have recollections that need to be preserved, and then go on from there. The most important factor in successful oral history capture are a communicative interviewee and an engaged interviewer.”

Ronney Stevens from SAAACAM in San Antonio TX shares a memory of going to the Carver Library as a child.

As you continue on your work with oral histories, no matter where you are in the process, get in touch with us if you have any questions or just have stories to share.

The Community-Drive Archives Project at UNC-Chapel Hill is supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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Charrette and Street Team Stories

In the last post, we talked about the format of the charrette and some examples of how questions were answered. This post dives more deeply into the personal and community stories that were gathered at the charrette and the “Street Team” table we had earlier that morning. The Street Team mapped stories that visitors wrote down and many of them were continued in the charrette.

Our Street Team table at BlackCom2018 at the Carolina Theatre, Durham NC.

The questions were broad but flexible in that people could answer in generalizations or with very specific examples. Some people took the prompts literally and named places like Eastside Oklahoma City, Rentiesville, Portland, and Detroit as their examples of communities. Others understood the concept of community in a more abstract way, citing “Hip Hop” and “Black artists.” Both interpretations speak to the CDAT’s use of community, both tangible and non concrete.

Some of the stories were just snippets, like the one from St. Helena’s Island. The participant wrote that they were invested in the history of “grandmother midwives, healing traditions of the Sea Island for post-natal care.” This participant added in the “What does this Community need to better tell its story?” section that space was needed for preservation but also components like opportunities for researchers as well as public health advocacy and its history were needed.

One participant focused on how the historic practices of systematic racism continue to harm residents of Battery Drive (now Heights) Raleigh, NC. This participant wrote that the community needs “sustainable and accessible resources to keep long-time residents (older), and generational homes in the family and protect against predatory practices to sell (tax relief and assistance for elderly, assistance for home improvement and maintenance) – you can’t have an oral history if the people are kicked out.” They also remarked on the need for equitable landmark preservation designations. This first point, about the housing practices and maintaining generational homes related to a BlackCom panel “Financial Resources for the Underserved & Underbanked.” Panelists spoke about the problems that arise from communities lacking financial and property legacies, answering questions like “Q: what other barriers exist in the black community for the transfer of wealth? A: redlining, lack of financial legacy, institutional barriers to homeownership, equitable protection for families.”

One of my personal favorites from the Street Team table was a response about the Greentown community in Georgetown, South Carolina. When asked what this community needs, the response was:

My mother, Dorothy Alston was the first African American Nurse in my hometown. She worked at Georgetown Memorial Hospital in Georgetown, South Carolina. Oftentimes, in our community, people would come knock on our door in the middle of the night for medical care. The reason being that my mother would serve as the medical provider/ nurse/ doctor. Back then many people didn’t go to the doctor because they just couldn’t afford it.

The Street Team and charrette data made it very clear that there are no quick fixes for communities. There are concrete needs: space, funding, outreach. But there are intangibles also: visibility, trust building, reconciliation, and acknowledging the legacies of oppression and a history of being taken advantage of by those in positions of power. There are needs beyond historic preservation and the interwoven nature of policy, public health, and financial education need to be better studied. Positionality matters and the historic record has not accurately represented those in marginalized spaces. One or two charrettes or community mapping projects can’t fix that. But informed action can shift the paradigm.

We post every week on different topics but if there is something you’d like to see, let us know either in the comments or email Claire our Community Outreach Coordinator: clairela@live.unc.edu.

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What is a Charrette?

A charrette is a focus group that brings together a wide variety of stakeholders in order to map solutions. Originally used in the Public Health field, our CDA Team and others have borrowed the term for community and cultural heritage work. Our charrettes bring individuals together to collaborate and workshop ideas for a common community vision. We focus on topics such as promoting and protecting cultural heritage, telling underrepresented histories, and discovering archival assets in communities. For our CDA team, we collaborate with a diverse group of stakeholders and individuals such as funders, librarians, community members, professors and academics, town officials, activists, artists, and archivists. These diverse participants ensure that the charrette isn’t an echo-chamber. Rather, members share a desire to invest in and protect a community but from different angles and perspectives.

A good charrette invites community expertise and specific knowledge of the historical and cultural dynamic; members within the community know the needs far better than we ever could. A common and often deadly shortcoming of any institutional project is to assume the institution knows what’s best for the community. Equally devastating is when an institution has a real desire to participate but struggles to have meaningful, sustained engagement. Both examples lead to institutions flailing in a sea of uncertainty and ineffectiveness. Charrettes are one way to counter these outcomes. It can be eye opening and humbling to have community members speak to historic problems and instances of broken trust face to face. For the charrette hosted by CDA in April at Black Communities: A Conference for Collaboration we asked individuals to share their knowledge of an African American community, its needs, and some hidden history highlights.

Our charrette was an informal lunchtime meeting. We provided a worksheet (with consent form to use the data collected included!) with a few questions, each probing a little more deeply into the needs and histories of communities. These questions asked participants to identify a place and describe how history is either being preserved or ignored. Our focus was (and remains) geared towards archival and cultural heritage so our questions related to storytelling and preservation of histories and materials. Our first question asked participants to identify a place and a little-known history from that area. Some of the towns and communities identified were Starkville, MS, Riceville, TX, Shreveport, LA, Halifax County, NC, Chicago, IL, and Winston-Salem, NC. Some participants told their family’s history while others focused on broader groups such as the Indigenous peoples and industries.

The second question was “What does this community need to better tell its story?” One participant from Halifax County, NC wrote: “support with National Park Service applications, (land owner contacts and research) oral history interview compilation and other related supports.” Another participant interested in Riceville, TX noted that their community need “oral history work” and a project to address that was underway.

The third question asked specifically “How is African American history preserved and shared in this community?” A participant from Shreveport, LA wrote “Southern U archives, (opening soon) North Louisiana Civil Rights Museum and NORLA Preservation Project (restoring shotgun houses).” Another participant from Chicago IL stated “History is preserved through oral conversations, research and personal narratives. We celebrate the lives of our ancestors through continual community building and grass roots organizing.” The emphasis on in-person communication is something that a charrette works hard to emulate and build upon.

Our final question asked to identify next steps. Preservation is important, but it must lead to something. We wanted to know how the ideas from this charrette could inform not only our work but work within the community. Charrettes can be all day affairs or an hour, like ours at Black Communities. Charrettes are connective, collaborative, exploratory and possibly explosive. All these attributes indicate that these types of in-person focus groups are necessary to identify need and ultimately movement.  As one participant perfectly summed up, “information has to drive advocacy.”   

 We post every week on different topics but if there is something you’d like to see, let us know either in the comments or email Claire our Community Outreach Coordinator: clairela@live.unc.edu. 

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PROJECT SPOTLIGHT: PRINCEVILLE

On September 21st a group of CDA team members and students from the Public History graduate program led by Dr. Charles Johnson at North Carolina Central University drove to Princeville NC to conduct oral histories. We partnered with lifelong citizens, town officials, and longtime residents of the Princeville community to collect stories and workshop the oral history backpacks. This collaboration between the CDA, NCCU, and Dr. Glenda Knight, our contact in Princeville and mayor pro tem, came about from a charrette, a type of focus group, held in Durham over the summer. Dr. Glenda Knight helped organize the event and found space for us in the temporary Princeville town hall, located in nearby Tarboro. Though it was spared the brunt of Hurricane Florence, Princeville is still recovering from Hurricane Matthew 2016 and Hurricane Floyd from 1999, hence our Tarboro location.

Princeville is the oldest African American incorporated town and is one of our grant partners from the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance (HBTSA). Princeville was founded by a group of formerly enslaved people and incorporated in 1885. Originally called Freedom Hill the name was changed to reflect the work of Turner Prince within the town. Princeville remains a predominantly African American town, containing significant historical narratives. However, like many other African American towns, it suffers from racial, economic, and governmental prejudice and neglect.

Adreonna Simmons, a student interviewer, reflects on her conversations with Dr. Porter a lifelong resident.

During our time in Princeville, I had the pleasure of interviewing a woman who had been a lifelong resident of the town. She shared stories about growing up in a close-knit community and how it shaped her into the woman she is today. She reminisced on her time in college and proudly told why she returned to her hometown when most college graduates would have moved on to bigger cities. Despite these pleasantries, it was how Hurricane Floyd and Hurricane Matthew impacted her and the community of Princeville that stuck out to me. Dr. Porter’s home was destroyed twice due to these hurricanes and Princeville’s proneness to flooding. At our roundtable discussion about the project, with tears in her eyes, she explained how having to build from the ground up once only to be in the same situation 15 years later was difficult and enough to make anyone lose hope. Some of the residents interviewed hoped that their stories would serve as a narrative for Princeville and the devastation that they have been dealing with for decades due to a lacking dam and drainage system would be addressed by the State legislature. These oral histories show the side of history that is often forgotten and gives voices to those that for too long have been silenced.

Interviewees were honest about the struggles in Princeville. But equally evident is the pride and love community members have for their town.  For Dr. Porter,

“Princeville has a lot of hidden things. And I guess one other thing. I often tell my husband, because he wasn’t born and raised here in Princeville and so he’s not too excited at going back after being flooded two times. But I tell him that’s because you weren’t born and raised here. It makes a lot of difference to me.  When you’re born and raised in a place it makes a lot of difference. To me it makes the whole world of a difference.”

Our work in Princeville was part oral history collection and part training. We left three backpacks in Princeville for the community to use and we will return in a few months to gather the histories saved on recorders. Those recordings will be sent to the town and eventually there will be a plan about what to do with the new and growing collection. We discussed having a history harvest and look forward to getting community feedback and returning to Princeville.

Here is just one clip of the many poignant moments from our time at Princeville. Dr. Porter discusses the importance of documents for safeguarding memories and the devastating grief that follows when you lose everything.

We post every week on different topics but if there is something you’d like to see, let us know either in the comments or email Claire our Community Outreach Coordinator: clairela@live.unc.edu. 

Follow us on Twitter    #AiaB #yourstory #ourhistory #communityarchives #EKAAMP #HBTSA #SHC #SAAACAM #memory #Princeville #CDAT #oralhistory

PROJECT SPOTLIGHT: EKAAMP

Bernetiae Reed, CDAT Project Documentarian and Oral Historian, reflects on her participation in the Eastern Kentucky Social Club (EKSC) Reunion and exhibit by Dr. Karida Brown of EKAAMP in St. Louis, Missouri.

Time was a blur as I traveled to St. Louis and back! Plans had been made. I would be taking selected archival items from the Eastern Kentucky African American Migration Project (EKAAMP) deposit collections on a road trip! I ask you, how best to see and experience America? How best to envision a different time? Nothing like it! So, off I went . . . I will spare you the intricacies of my journey, but highly recommend travelling behind trucks at night to safeguard against hitting a deer!

My goals on this journey, as Project Documentarian and Oral Historian for the Community-Driven Archives grant at the SHC, were to record events and assist with the installation of the exhibit. Two related events were taking place stemming from African American mining communities in Eastern Kentucky. The 49th Annual Eastern Kentucky Social Club gathering and the release/book signing for Dr. Karida Brown’s book, Gone Home: Race and Roots through Appalachia which included the launch of a travelling exhibit.

Figure 1: (l-r) Dr. Karida Brown, Hilton Hotel Staff, Richard Brown holding posters (Karida’s father) and Dwayne Baskin pulling program items from hotel storage

As soon as we settled into the downtown St. Louis hotel, Friday (August 31st), morning and into the Saturday afternoon, we were fanatically installing the exhibit. Tracy Murrell, an Atlanta-based artist and curator, was shepherding her vision of this exhibit to life. Tracy had been hired by Karida for the project. Use of wonderful shear wall hangings printed with photographic images transported us to the coal mining town of Lynch, Kentucky. Additionally, a throw-back-in-time couch took you to a typical home from the era.

Figure 2: Tracy Murrell and others work to install the exhibit

Many moments stand out for me. Karida opening the doors to the exhibit, Jacqueline Ratchford reacting to seeing her prom dress on display, Derek Akal talking about his current plans to become a miner, people interacting with artifacts in the collection, and so much more. People reminisced, touched, told stories, laughed, cried, and so much more . . . this was their family and a part of them! Needless to say, I videotaped only a small portion of everything that was happening. From hotel lobby . . . to each event venue . . . to brief walks in downtown St. Louis . . . to church service in the hotel . . . time flew by! Karida beamed as she signed her book. Everywhere people were greeting and hugging old friends. And a beautiful welling of emotions came in watching the young praise dancers who performed during the church service. I was captivated by their pantomime . . . brought to laughter and tears. And had a special sense of wonder for the youngest mime, not understanding how one so young could draw on life’s joys and pains so well. Finally, satisfied that the power to be moved again by this performance and the journey to St. Louis was possible with what had been recorded.

Figure 3: A high school letterman’s sweater and a pink prom dress from the EKAAMP archive set in front of images from Lynch Kentucky.

We included a clip of the praise dancers so you too could experience a piece of performance!

We post every week on different topics but if there is something you’d like to see, let us know either in the comments or email Claire our Community Outreach Coordinator: clairela@live.unc.edu. 

Follow us on Twitter    #AiaB #yourstory #ourhistory #communityarchives #EKAAMP #HBTSA #SHC #SAAACAM #memory #StLouis #CDAT #EKSC #GoneHome

Soul City Film Screening Tonight on UNC-TV

Page of the Groundbreaking Ceremony Brochure from Soul City, NC, with a drawing of a cabin with faces of four people above it. Below is a imaginative description of the town and what it's goals are.
Page of the Groundbreaking Ceremony Brochure from Soul City, NC.

Soul City (Warren Co., NC) was established as a planned community in 1970s under the direction of civil rights leader Floyd B. McKissick. Disenchanted with the systemic suppression, poverty, and racism typical after migration to northern urban centers, he envisioned a “black owned, black built town” that offered families affordable housing, jobs, and healthcare. The project broke ground in 1973 with the help in $14 million in federal funding under the Urban Growth and New Community Development Act. The city quickly developed to include homes on spacious properties, industrial centers, paved roads, and water and sewerage systems; at its height, it was home to 200 people.

However, then-Senator Jesse Helms implemented a series of newspaper smear campaigns against the project, questioned the appropriate use of federal funds, and launched related governmental investigations. The active opposition of the state government and inadequate residential and employment achievements resulted in a complete withdrawal of federal funding in 1979. Without powerful private investors, the project could not continue as planned. McKissick’s children and several of the original residents still live in Soul City.

The documentary Soul City tells the story of the project through archival footage and interviews with residents, both past and present.

Watch the film tonight at 10 pm (EST) on UNC-TV. It can also be viewed here, through the UNC-TV site, for free until February 3rd.

In addition to the film, the story of Soul City has also been documented through oral history interviews, archival collections, and both popular and scholarly publications. Many of these resources are available online (see below).

Continue reading “Soul City Film Screening Tonight on UNC-TV”

October Has Come Again: Southern Literary Symposium

October 30 @ 2:00 pm4:30 pm
Hill Ballroom, Carolina Inn, Chapel Hill, NC

bookmark_october-592x1024

In his 1935 novel Of Time and the River, Thomas Wolfe wrote, “October had come again, and he would lie there in his mother’s house at night, and feel the darkness moving softly all about him, and hear the dry leaves scampering on the street outside, and the huge and burly rushes of the wind. And then the wind would rush away with huge caprice, and he could hear it far off roaring with remote demented cries in the embraces of great trees, and he would lie there thinking: October has come again—has come again.”

In honor of Wolfe’s birthday month, this literary symposium will feature a lecture by award-winning novelist and short story author Tony Earley followed by short readings from new works by Minrose Gwin, Randall Kenan, Mesha Maren, Julia Ridley Smith, and Monique Truong. These acclaimed authors will discuss the state of southern literature in the twenty-first century.

The symposium, co-sponsored by the Blythe Family Fund, the North Carolina Collection, the Southern Historical Collection, and Southern Cultures, will be held in the Hill Ballroom at the Carolina Inn from 2:00-4:30 pm. Admission is free and open to the public, but seating may be limited. Please RSVP here

A Visit Home for the Meck Dec

Library lore says that Carolyn Wallace, Director of the Southern Historical Collection from 1975-1987, once declared that the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence was the single most valuable item in our entire collection.

It is thus no surprise that we have blogged about the Mecklenburg County, NC native before, that digital copies are available online, and that DocSouth provides a full transcript of the document.

Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence - the Davie Copy

A quick “Meck Dec” crash course, for those unfamiliar with this corner of Southern history: On April 30th, 1819, the Raleigh Register published an article by Dr. Joseph McKnitt Alexander. In it, Alexander said that his own father was present for the signing of the very first Declaration of Independence ever written in the Colonies – dated May 20th, 1775, more than a year before the other Declaration of Independence. He went on to explain that, though the original version of the document was lost in a fire, he owned an exact copy of it. Thomas Jefferson scoffed, but Mecklenburg locals claimed they had witnessed the original declaration with their own eyes.

While scholars still disagree over the document today, each May 20th is celebrated with much enthusiasm in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. This past “Meck Dec Day” was particularly exciting, as the document was able to make the 140-mile journey from our secure storage in Chapel Hill to a public exhibit in Charlotte. Present for the one-day event was McKnitt’s own great-great-great-great-great granddaughter, along with descendants of many other Meck Dec signers.

Meck Dec on display in Charlotte

Meck Dec on display in Charlotte

Meck Dec on display in Charlotte

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nearly all of our collections are available to access within the library, but we are particularly pleased when we have a chance to let the items come out to the public. If you were in the Charlotte area, we hope you were able to swing by and see this treasure from the collection.

 

Special thanks to sponsors, hosts, and supporters at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, the May Twentieth Society, the Bank of America Heritage Center of Charlotte, and UNC School of Information and Library Science alumni Anne Harding.

Have You Heard of the Montford Point Marines?

On Saturday, August 1, 2015, I had the honor of attending a ceremony for the presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal to the family of Sgt. James Andrew Felton (1919-1994), a Montford Point Marine. The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award bestowed by the United States Congress. The medal ceremony was held at the C.S. Brown Regional Cultural Arts Center and Museum in Winton, N.C.

Leading the proceedings was Mr. Curt A. Clarke, president of Chapter 14 of the Montford Point Marine Association. During his remarks, Mr. Clarke did an informal survey of the audience’s knowledge of the Montford Point Marines and their place in American history. He asked the attendees to raise their hands if, prior to that week, they had ever heard of the Montford Point Marines.  Surprisingly, only about 20% of the audience raised their hands. Next, Clarke asked, “Who has ever heard of the Tuskegee Airmen?” About 90% of the audience raised their hands. This represents the Montford Point Marines’ unsung legacy and it underscored the need for recognition ceremonies such as the one honoring Sgt. Felton.

felton_ceremony
The family of Sgt. James A. Felton receiving the Congressional Gold Medal from a delegation of the United States Marines and the Montford Point Marines Association, August 1, 2015.

The Montford Point Marine Association has been working since 1966 to educate the public on the history of the “Montford Pointers.” In 2011, Barack Obama signed into law the legislation that would award the Congressional Gold Medal to individual Montford Point Marines. Since then the Association has been working locally with surviving members of the Corps or with the families of deceased Montford Pointers to present medals and honor their distinguished service.

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The program for the Congressional Medal Ceremony for Sgt. James A. Felton.

The Southern Historical Collection is proud to preserve the James and Annie V. Felton Papers, which includes some photographs and other documentation of Mr. Felton’s military service. Please check out the finding aid for more information about the Felton collection.

J. Eugene Grigsby, Jr.: Artist and Teacher

Guest Poster: SHC Student Worker, James A. Moore (UNC Class of 2015)

We here at the Southern Historical Collection are ecstatic to announce the opening of a new art exhibition in the library at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center. The exhibit, which is entitled, Selected Works of J. Eugene Grigsby, Jr: Returning Where the Artistic Seed was Planted, commences April 1 and will be open to the public through June 30. There will also be a reception on April 1st in the Stone Center Library from 5:00-6:30 at which anyone is welcome, and no RSVP is required.

Born in Greensboro, N.C., J. Eugene Grigsby, Jr. earned his Bachelor’s Degree in art from Morehouse College in 1938. From there he went on to attain art degrees from Ohio State, New York University, Arizona State University, the American Artists School in New York City, and the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Marseilles, France. Throughout this time, J. Eugene Grigsby, Jr. became the object of artistic praise and admiration, running in the same circles as the most talented African-American artists in the United States.

Aside from J. Eugene Grigsby, Jr.’s obvious passion for producing art, Grigsby also possessed a passion for teaching art. Starting in 1946, Grigsby took on the daunting task of creating an art department for the African-American students at the segregated Carver High School in Phoenix, Arizona. Once Carver closed in 1954 (due to the Brown v. Board of Education case which outlawed segregated schools) Grigsby chaired the Art Department at Phoenix Union High School until 1966, when he would move on to become a professor in the School of Art at Arizona State University and retire as a Professor Emeritus of Art Education.

To commemorate J. Eugene Grigsby, Jr.’s invaluable work as an educator, and highlight the immeasurable influence he had on all of his students, we here at the SHC have selected various materials from Grigsby’s teaching career. If you would like to learn more about the life and work of J. Eugene Grigsby, Jr., feel free to look up his collection in the SHC, check out his upcoming exhibit at the Sonja Haynes Stone center, or join us at the exhibit’s opening reception on April 1st from 5:00-6:30 in the Stone Center Library.

A final exam from an"Art Appreciation" class taught by J. Eugene Grigsby Jr., undated. J. Eugene Grigsby collection (#05295)
A final exam from an”Art Appreciation” class taught by J. Eugene Grigsby Jr., undated. J. Eugene Grigsby, Jr. collection (#05295)
Photo of Juanita Eddings, student of J. Eugene Grigsby Jr from Carver High School., showcasing a ceramic which she won an award for.
Photo of Juanita Eddings, student of J. Eugene Grigsby Jr from Carver High School., showcasing her award-winning ceramic plaque. March 1, 1953.  J. Eugene Grigsby, Jr. Collection (#05295)