Since 1973, the Southern Oral History Program has worked to preserve the voices of the southern past. We have collected 6,000 interviews with people from all walks of life—from mill workers to civil rights leaders to future presidents of the United States. Made available through UNC’s renowned Southern Historical Collection online, these interviews capture the vivid personalities, poignant personal stories, and behind-the-scenes decision-making that bring history to life.
Seth Kotch Announced as New Director of SOHP
Seth Kotch, associate professor of digital humanities in American Studies, has assumed the role of director of the Southern Oral History Program. Kotch has developed several major digital projects in recent years, including A Red Record, which documents lynchings in the South, and The Media and the Movement, a digital archive of broadcasts from black activist radio stations from the 1960s and ’70s. A Red Record includes an interactive map of the lynchings and grew out of a class; many undergraduate student historians have contributed to the project. It has also been adapted into a popular Carolina K-12 learning module for middle- and high school teachers and as an installation in the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh.
One of the first projects he would like SOHP to embark on is to interview people who remember growing up before the polio vaccine was widely available — a project likely to have resonance as the human race seeks to adapt to living with COVID-19. A more ambitious long-term project is to document the stories of incarcerated people, work that stems from his more recent research on the death penalty and his 2019 book, Lethal State: A History of the Death Penalty in North Carolina.
Seth Kotch served as a digital projects manager for the SOHP from 2008 to 2013. Read more about our new director here.
Jacquelyn Dowd Hall on Sisters and Rebels
Watch the recording of Jacquelyn Dowd Hall’s discussion of her book, Sisters and Rebels: A Struggle for the Soul of America. The presentation is part of the Center for the Study of the American South’s summer virtual book club series on race and injustice. In this UNC Professor Emerita’s novel, descendants of a prominent slaveholding family, Elizabeth, Grace, and Katharine Lumpkin grew up in a culture of white supremacy. But while Elizabeth remained a lifelong believer, her younger sisters chose vastly different lives. Seeking their fortunes in the North, Grace and Katharine reinvented themselves as radical thinkers whose literary works and organizing efforts brought the nation’s attention to issues of region, race, and labor. “Sisters and Rebels” follows the divergent paths of the Lumpkin sisters, who were “estranged and yet forever entangled” by their mutual obsession with the South. Tracing the wounds and unsung victories of the past through to the contemporary moment, Hall revives a buried tradition of Southern expatriation and progressivism; explores the lost, revolutionary zeal of the early twentieth century; and muses on the fraught ties of sisterhood.
In His Words: John Lewis and the Good Fight
“I feel that what we did was necessary. It helped to start something. And if I had to do it all over again, I would. To me, it gave the feeling of being part of a crusade, sort of a movement. It was just not another angle. It was part of a process and after that particular demonstration, there was a series of other demonstrations in Nashville. There were other arrests, other acts of violence, particularly during the month of March and April. We had a bombing. One of the attorneys that had been defending us, I think it was April 19, 1960, about six o’clock in the morning, the home of Z. Alexander Looby, he was one of the attorneys for the Legal Defense Fund, who taught part-time at Fisk, his home was bombed. He lived across the street from Meharry Medical College and the bomb impact broke the windows of the school.”
Listen to the SOHP’s 1973 interview with Congressman John Lewis, in which he shares the lessons his parents taught him and how that impacted his fight for freedom. This interview was conducted by Jack Bass and Walter Devries for the SOHP. The recording was digitized by Aaron Smithers with the Southern Folklife Collection at UNC Library.
SOHP Announces Summer Research Award Recipients
Each summer, the SOHP supports three UNC students in their pursuit of oral history projects. The Jacquelyn Dowd Hall Research Fellowship awards $4,000 to one graduate student; the Plambeck and Vogel Undergraduate Awards each offer $2,500 to undergraduate students to conduct oral history research & fieldwork. We are thrilled to introduce the three competitive recipients of the summer 2020 awards along with short summaries of their research proposals. All three recipients are not only extraordinary in the scope and vision of their research proposals—they all also thoughtfully and creatively suggest methods to conduct fieldwork in the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Smita’s research aims to build bridges between clinical and cultural models of trauma. She is interested in medicolegal practices, medical organizations, and discourses of trauma and resilience in migration. With a longstanding interest in Refugee Status Determination, Smita is currently investigating the increasing demand to involve medical expert witnesses in the asylum-seeking process. Over the summer she will be interviewing physicians and lawyers to understand how they are responding to rapidly changing immigration policies. Smita is a Ph.D. candidate and teaching fellow in the Department of Communications. She is a Humanities Futures Initiative Mellon Fellow with Humanities for the Public Good.
Susanna Pradhan | Plambeck Award
Susanna is a first-generation college senior majoring in Anthropology and Global Studies with a Hindi-Urdu minor. Born in Nepal, she is a former refugee and a dedicated member of the Bhutanese community who spends her free time giving back to her community through translating and youth mentorship.Her research proposal centers on the narratives of Bhutanese refugees who have faced various struggles of migration, citizenship, and identity over their lifetime. However, their lived experience and intricate life stories lie repressed and highly underrepresented in the narratives of the U.S. South. Susanna will interview Bhutanese refugee elders in Charlotte, North Carolina about their life history. By doing so, she hopes to capture how they make sense of their past and how it has shaped their lives today.
Hannaneh is a rising junior studying Medical Anthropology with a minor in Chemistry and Creative Writing. She enjoys volunteering as doula at UNC Hospitals and working as an assistant gardener at Coker Arboretum and a barista at Open Eye Café. She cites in her proposal that over the past five years, six labor and delivery units in Western North Carolina have closed. The risks associated with labor and birth has not decreased and is much higher for women of color and women who live in rural areas. Hannaneh plans to speak to healthcare workers on the closure of hospitals and the effect they see in their patients. She is especially interested in gathering oral histories of women, fathers, and those affected by the lack of prenatal care and labor and delivery units where they live.
Jacquelyn Dowd Hall Receives 2020 PEN America Literary Award
Congratulations to Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, the founder of the SOHP, who has been awarded a 2020 PEN America Literary Award! Her book Sisters and Rebels: A Struggle for the Soul of America received the Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award For Biography.
Sisters and Rebels follows the divergent paths of the Lumpkin sisters, who were “estranged and yet forever entangled” by their mutual obsession with the South. Tracing the wounds and unsung victories of the past through to the contemporary moment, Hall revives a buried tradition of Southern expatriation and progressivism; explores the lost, revolutionary zeal of the early twentieth century; and muses on the fraught ties of sisterhood.
Grounded in decades of research, the family’s private papers, and interviews, Sisters and Rebels unfolds an epic narrative of American history through the lives and works of three Southern women.
Research Associate Edits Voices: A Community Oral History at Galloway Ridge
Voices: A Community Oral History at Galloway Ridge presents the life history interviews of eleven residents from Fearrington, North Carolina. These interviews, collected by SOHP student researchers for the Stories to Save Lives project, provide a compelling and intimate glimpse into the pivotal stories that shaped these narrators’ lives. Nicholas Allen, our very own research associate, edited Voices in collaboration with Galloway Ridge. Wonderful work, Nick!