The Southern Oral History Program proudly celebrates its 40th anniversary this academic year. Mark your calendars and stay tuned for event details!
For more information, email Rachel Seidman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
These interviews are now online in the Long Women’s Movement series in our database. They were conducted during summer 2013 as part of an undergraduate course combining internships throughout the community with oral history and other coursework, under the direction of Dr. Rachell Seidman and Joey Fink. For quick access, you can also search the database for interview numbers U-1002 through U-1010. For more about the Moxie Project, click here.
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.
Charlotte Fryar served as an SOHP undergraduate intern in Spring 2013 and authored the following post. Charlotte is unsure of where she is native of, but has decided that North Carolina is a good enough answer. She will graduate in May 2013 with a degree in American Studies, and plans to pursue her love of state and oral history in graduate school.
For the month of March, I was deep in the oral histories I conducted with two men, John Greenbacker of South Boston, Virginia, and the other with Bland Simpson of Chapel Hill. Both attended the University in the late sixties, witnessing pivotal moments for the University that changed them.
Both men, however similar in college, are decidedly quite different now, evident in their retrospective look at their time at Carolina and their opinions on the University’s tie to the state. Both men did agree that the history and legacy that is the life of the University is dictated by her students, past and present. These were moments in both interviews when they seemed to be speaking as if they were playing instruments, their words struck such a chord with me.
Falling into an oral history interview is more than the conducting and transcribing, but listening to the audio again and again, their silences and pauses, the nuances of speech becoming clearer in repetition. For a month, I have been trying to understand, together and separately, what the University means for these two men, and consequently, as I near graduation, what the University means to me. It is one of those things that, I believe, is different for everyone, but only slightly. Carolina is a research institution, giving infinite resources in health care and the sciences back to the state. It is a liberal arts school, providing a space for long and thorough thought within the academy. It is the resources, the libraries, the varied and sophisticated faculty, and the place within the Triangle. It is the best public education in North Carolina.
But increasingly, as I find myself with more overdue library notices from the North Carolina Collection Library than ever before, the University is, to me, the old brick of the buildings and walkways, the Corinthian columns of Wilson (rolled down planks through Polk Place to their new home at the base of the quad), the stone wall on Franklin Street that separates the University from the rest of the state, the monuments to this and that, our brave Confederate soldiers and our brave Speaker Ban radicals, the Chapel Hill gravel winding through the hidden parts of campus, the afternoon drizzle on the tall and once small trees of the arboretum, and those students and faculty who are North Carolinians, who come back to this flagship university for a myriad of reasons. But one reason, sometimes lurking and subtle, sometimes loud and declarative, is that the wide and deep history of the University affects what the University means to everyone on the campus and everyone who has left her greenery and brick, whether they admire her facilities, her resources, or her teachers.
Working at the Southern Oral History Program, the doors have been opened wide to the incredible history of the University and the state, but the real excitement has come for me in where those two spheres intersect. I think it does everyone a wealth of good to read the University’s mission statement, and for many, I imagine it will be the first time:
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the nation’s first public university, serves North Carolina, the United States and the world through teaching, research and public service. We embrace an unwavering commitment to excellence as one of the world’s great research universities.
Our mission is to serve as a center for research, scholarship and creativity and to teach a diverse community of undergraduate, graduate and professional students to become the next generation of leaders. Through the efforts of our exceptional faculty and staff, and with generous support from North Carolina’s citizens, we invest our knowledge and resources to enhance access to learning and to foster the success and prosperity of each rising generation. We also extend knowledge-based services and other resources of the University to the citizens of North Carolina and their institutions to enhance the quality of life for all people in the State.
With lux, libertas — light and liberty — as its founding principles, the University has charted a bold course of leading change to improve society and to help solve the world’s greatest problems.
Lux et libertas to the people of the state. Former UNC President Frank Porter Graham put it well: “…the cause of North Carolina is the cause of the University and the cause of the University is the cause of North Carolina.” And my cause is both the cause of the University and the cause of North Carolina. Working at the SOHP, talking with people who know intimately and individually what the University and what the state means to them, has taught me this. Certainly it was a combination of things that brought these questions to the front of my mind–impending graduation foremost among them–but the SOHP has tapped into a dedication I was unsure I even had. Oral history has the power to accomplish many things, but the power it holds in explaining a love and sense of place is what I take away from my time at the SOHP.
Drawn from interviews conducted during the Civil Rights History Project (a joint undertaking of the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress) with Gwendolyn Duncan, Robert Hayling, Guy and Candie Carawan, William Anderson, Purcell Conway, Dorie and Joyce Ladner, Ann Avery, Kathleen Cleaver, Barbara Vickers, Marilyn Hildreth, and Alfred Moldovan, this twenty-five minute video essay tells the story of the civil rights movement in the voices of those who experienced it.