January 2014
Field Notes
Stories from the Southern Oral History Program

Director's Note

 

Welcome to our newsletter! In the short months since I have inherited Directorship of the SOHP from Interim Director Della Pollock and Founding Director Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, SOHP's staff, students, and interviewees have reminded me of three essential practices of oral history: laugh, debate, and listen.  

 

Every day there is laughter at SOHP. Sometimes the interns or field scholars joke with each other as they collaborate on a project, or the staff amuses ourselves as we tackle roadblocks and I ask the same question for the one-hundredth time. Laughter is also more than entertainment. We analyze and learn from our own lives, and the lives of people who generously share their stories with us, by asking playful questions and offering absurd analogies that prompt deeper and more serious contemplation. Together we laugh in delight at the blessings offered by this amazing institution with the fantastic resources of knowledge bestowed upon us by those 5,000 (and counting!) interviews that, alongside the Southern Historical Collection, constitutes the nation's premiere repository of Southern memory.

 

Second, spirited debate keeps education and research relevant. We love learning, not just knowing. Asking questions is the key to learning more, even though our educational system encourages us to answer, instead of ask, questions. Whether we are debating the consequences of a historical event, the merits of a research project, or the way out of a bureaucratic dilemma, I am most impressed by the questions my colleagues and our students ask. They are always thoughtful, interesting, respectful, and they carry the debate forward, not backwards. If the most important questions of our society should be decided with a debate among equals, I am happy to report that our students at SOHP will lead the way in the best direction.

 

Finally, I go to work every morning reminding myself to listen first, talk later. I am grateful for my colleagues, both at UNC and beyond, who are excellent role models. Of course, the gifts that emerge from simply listening are what oral history offers to academic knowledge and to the world. When I first started graduate school at UNC in 2000, the SOHP was immersed in a project called "Listening for a Change," which interviewed people about topics including tobacco farming, race and education, labor organizing, gay communities, suburban development, environmental disaster, and more. I came to the study of history with a background in documentary film, so I knew how to listen, but I didn't always know why listening was important. I learned that listening itself embodies change, because oral historians actively listen to people who lived history, and those people make history when they tell their stories. And because someone listened, they create and change our society. The people of SOHP have devoted their lives to the simple act of listening and in the process, facilitated change. That devotion stands in sharp contrast to the popular notion that those who change lives must speak, perhaps even dominate, a debate or a conversation. I am humbled to be part of an institution that takes such service as its highest calling.

 

--Malinda Maynor Lowery 

 

Research Report: Phase 2 of Smithsonian Project Complete
Bill Russell, left, told interviewer Taylor Branch that he declined an offer from Martin Luther King to sit on the stage at the March on Washington, saying, "I hadn't done anything. So I sat in the first row, and enjoyed it, but I didn�t want to be one of those guys, 'Hey, look at me.'"

The Southern Oral History Program completed its work on the second phase of the Civil Rights History Project, a nationwide oral history research initiative administered by the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) and the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress.

SOHP interviewers spoke with Civil Rights Movement veterans from California to New York, discovering unfamiliar stories and new dimensions to more familiar ones. Recent interviewees included John Carlos, who raised his fist in a Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympic Games; author Mildred Pitts Walter and the family of Martin Luther King's friend and mentor, Ralph David Abernathy.

The interviews, which were filmed, will be stored and made public at the Library of Congress and will join the collection at the NMAAHC, due to finish construction in 2015.

The SOHP is proud to have contributed 102 oral history interviews that will stand as testimony to the remarkable courage of our Civil Rights Movement veterans.

Seth Kotch served as Principal Investigator on the project. The interview team was comprised of former SOHP Associate Director David Cline, now at Virginia Tech, Emilye Crosby of SUNY-Geneseo, Hasan Kwame Jeffries of the Ohio State University, and Will Griffin of UNC. Ethnographer and filmmaker John Bishop filmed the interviews. A number of graduate student historians made major contributions to the project, most significantly Jessie Wilkerson and Liz Lundeen.

Introducing Our Spring 2014 Interns
The SOHP started a new undergraduate internship program in 2012, and it has grown into one of our most vibrant initiatives.  Each semester we host a group of energetic, creative UNC students who study the art and method of oral history, undertake oral history research, and provide organizational support to the SOHP.  The interns help us with communications and social media, event planning, workshops, and reaching out to the university community to share their enthusiasm for oral history.  They have become some of our most reliable missionaries!  This past semester, the interns focused their research on The Sexual Revolution of the 1970s at UNC Chapel Hill, and presented their findings in the form of a performance in December.  We are delighted to welcome our new interns for Spring 2014, Coco Wilder, Katie Crook, Aaron Hayworth and Turner Henderson.  You will be hearing more from and about them over the next few months! In the meantime, you can read more about them here.  

Meet Jaycie Vos, our New Coordinator of Collections 
We are delighted to welcome Jaycie Vos to the SOHP staff!  Jaycie joined us in October and has been busily exceeding our already high expectations. She will be instrumental in supporting the SOHP's work leading innovation on oral history research, preservation best practices, and digital humanities analysis. Jaycie is an archivist specializing in digital projects and oral history collections. While completing her M.S.L.S. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she worked for the SOHP as an archival processor and assisted with outreach efforts and various digital initiatives. Her research focuses on archival description and metadata standards in oral history collections as well as usability and accessibility in digital collections.  Please join us in welcoming Jaycie!
Join Us on April 4th for our 40th!
 
We're celebrating our 40th Anniversary! If you are in town, join us at Wilson Library on April 4th, 2014. There will be student performances, an exhibit opening about SOHP's history, an audio tour of student activism on campus, and more! Events will start at 1:00 pm. Stay tuned for further details.

News from Our Friends 
The Oral History Association is accepting submissions for the 2014 conference until February 1. See the Call for Papers here.

If you are an alum or friend of the SOHP, or have published work based on SOHP interviews, we'd love to hear about your projects and will share relevant announcements here in future newsletters!  

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Southern Oral History Program, Center for the Study of the American South, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, CB 9127,  410 E. Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-9127