Oral Histories: not just for the Green Team

After a series of false starts, I finally had the chance to participate in two interviews this past Wednesday. At the generous invitation of the green team, I filmed interviews with two senior citizens at the Hollywood Community Center. While the second interview with a retired educator provided a fascinating glimpse into “separate but equal” facilities in Memphis City Schools prior to de facto integration, I was left with more questions following the first interview with a native from Brownsville, Tennessee. Because of memory issues coupled with old age, this interview did not yield much information of import to the Crossroads archive. Nevertheless, the way in which the interviewee crafted her life story according to just a few events offered valuable insight into the narratology of the civil rights movement and the African-American experience in the south. I regret that I am unable to scientifically describe this phenomenon, so I will offer a few, brief observations instead.

Like so many accounts I have come across in my engagement with the history of the civil rights movement, I elderly lady Paris interviewed did not recount her experiences according to a strict chronological or thematic focus. While old age has certainly altered how she has had to go about recounting memories (coupled with the barriers of age difference, socioeconomics, race and a host of other latent issues), one could argue that the interviewee’s cyclical account of the era (which leapt from descriptions of picking cotton in rural, segregated Tennessee to adopting foster children with her husband decades later) demonstrates the paradox of civil rights for many of its observers and participants: a ubiquitous yet often unnamed struggle in the history of the United States, the ramifications of which practically limitless and immediately pertinent to the present day.

In other news, the Purple Team has begun to solidify digital holdings for the upcoming Evergreen Collection on Crossroads, many of which have been scanned from archives in the Memphis Public Library. Although we will not be able to process the entire collection this summer due to volume and time constraints with just two weeks left to go as teams, I am more pleased with the amount we have learned and accomplished so far. Having already participated in additional interdisciplinary projects, including engagement with Evergreen and Hyde Park citizens’  written and oral histories  as well as the processing of Brownsville and Memphis World collections, I am looking forward to bringing everything together in the final weeks of the program.


Mack Zalin
Purple Team

Published in: on July 10, 2009 at 2:06 pm  Comments Off on Oral Histories: not just for the Green Team  
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