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Voices from the Archive: The 1969 UNC Foodworkers’ Strike

Join us for programming commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1969 UNC Foodworkers Strike at the Wilson Library on Tuesday, March 20, 2019 from 4:30-6:30pm.

On February 23, 1969, after repeated attempts to bring their grievances to the attention of the University administration, food service workers at UNC-Chapel Hill walked out at the beginning of the dinner shift. With the support of the Black Student Movement and other allies, the striking workers highlighted labor and racial inequities on campus. After a month of direct action and negotiation—during which Governor Robert Scott sent the state patrol to campus and mobilized the National Guard in nearby Durham—the strike ended with a wage increase and improved conditions for the food workers. It was one step in the ongoing fight for workers’ rights at UNC.

To commemorate the anniversary of the strike, the North Carolina Collection and University Archives at Wilson Library have commissioned a performance directed by Kathy Williams, a faculty member in the department of dramatic art at Carolina and a member of PlayMakers Repertory Company. Actors from PlayMakers Repertory Company will tell the story of this key moment in the history of labor and activism at the University.

The program draws from the SOHP’s oral history project on the strike, along with contemporary news accounts and archival documents at the Wilson Special Collections Library. It focuses especially on the perspectives of the workers and student activists who led and participated in the strike.

The evening begins at 4:30pm with a reception and viewing of the exhibit, “Service Not Servitude” in Wilson Library’s North Carolina Collection Gallery. The performance begins at 5:30pm at the Pleasants Family Room at Wilson Library. For more information about the program email, or call (919) 962-4207.

Explore the SOHP’s digital exhibit on the Foodworkers’ Strike, and listen to The Ladies in the Pine Room, an audio documentary produced by former SOHP interns.

Speak Out! Intergernational Oral Histories in Orange County

I have had the pleasure of working with Orange County’s Department on Aging to help bring filmed oral histories about the history of Orange County to its citizens. The idea was first suggested by members of the Project EngAGE Intergenerational Senior Resource Team (SRT). Project EngAGE is a 13-week senior leadership program aimed at training local older adults to become community leaders who help their communities become ideal places to age. After course completion, Project EngAGE graduates join a variety of different SRTs which all focus on community engagement around aging topics. The goal of the Intergenerational SRT’s Speak Out! project is to get high schoolers in conversation with lifelong members of their communities. With the help of community partners, the SRT has recruited four older adults from different areas of the county to tell their stories and share the history of Orange. With ages ranging from 80 to 106, these narrators can give us profound insight into all of the failures, tribulations, triumphs, and joys of our past.

To engage the next generation in learning about the past, Orange County has partnered with Andrea DeGette’s videography students at Cedar Ridge High School. Using the skills they’re currently developing as documentarians, DeGette’s students will work as interviewers, videographers, editors, and directors to create a documentary of these life history interviews to share at two screening events in Orange County’s senior centers in May.

On Friday, February 8th, I had the honor of giving an introductory training on oral history’s methods and best practices, as well as practical interview tips, to these future historians.  As we discussed the ins and outs of the interview process, I was ecstatic to witness the curiosity and engagement of the students. To practice the methods we discussed, the students paired up and took on the role of either narrator or interviewer. Their challenge as interviewers was to use one of three provided prompts and to go deep with their narrator on one line of questioning for six full minutes. Using their burgeoning chops of engaged listening and strategic open-ended questions, students got a taste of an afternoon in front of an oral historian’s microphone.

Stay tuned for updates about the Speak Out! Documentary. Special thanks to Bobby Cobb, Betty Myers, Shenae McPherson, Officer Andre Richmond, Andrea DeGette, Cedar Ridge High School Videography Club, and the Orange County Department on Aging for their enthusiasm and dedication to this project and documenting the voices of Orange County.

Meet Our 2019 Spring Interns

Anne Bennett, Michael Leydendecker, and Elly Thompson (not pictured: Jona Bocari).

The spring semester is underway and flying by, and we’re thrilled to introduce our 2019 spring SOHP interns. They’ll be focusing their research and fieldwork on interviews with North Carolina members of the 2020 Vote Centennial Initiative, leading up to the centennial of the passage of the 19th amendment.

Anne Bennett is a junior majoring in Southern studies and Jazz studies. She plays jazz saxophone professionally, and does comedy both on and off-campus. This past summer, she worked as a production intern at The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. She plans on pursuing a career in comedy production once she graduates and looks forward to finding ways to present archival research and tell women’s stories in new and creative ways.

Jona Bocari is an international Morehead-Cain scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, majoring in economics and history. Born and raised in Albania, she studied at the United World College of the Adriatic, an international high school in Italy before joining Carolina. A native speaker of Albanian and fluent in English, Italian, Spanish and French, she is deeply passionate about global perspectives concerning issues of justice and the power of stories to drive change. 

Michael Leydendecker is a senior majoring in history and political science. A native of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Michael enjoys running and volunteers teaching civics in Durham at a local elementary school. He is looking forward to learning more about oral history, the American South, and giving a voice to a part of its rich history.

Elly Thompson is a junior from Charlotte, North Carolina who is majoring in public policy and minoring in history. She is interested in studying the intersection between historical representation and memory in American policy making. Outside of academics, Elly is a member of the Alpha Chi Omega Fraternity whose main service focus is Domestic Violence Awareness. Through this organization, Elly has helped execute events to support local women’s shelters, including the Chapel Hill Compass Center. 

“Not an Easy Thought to Hold:” Death, Dying, and Oral History


Since May of 2018, I’ve been interviewing a variety of narrators—from nurses and doctors to clergy and academics—about their experiences with medicine. With my own research centering around aging and end of life, death and dying is a natural point of discussion between myself and the narrators I’m interviewing. Through this process and these conversations, I have come to hold a strong conviction that the connotations evoked by using words like “death” and “dying” in our culture are sorely in need of a semantic overhaul. As a result,  I set out to further understand how people who have brushed against death (in any sense) talk about it, and I’d like to share a few of those stories with you through a  series of blog posts.

In this series, I’ll be posting clips from those interviews and reflecting on them through the lens of death and dying studies, or the study of thanatology. As we reflect upon these interviews, there are a few crucial questions to anchor our discussion:

  • What is the state of death in our culture?
  • What effect is created when we experience death in oral history?
  • How does experiencing death in narrative translate to our own understanding of mortality?
  • How do moral judgments of good and bad play into these stories?

As with any kind of story, it is important to consider how we exchange stories of death.  We walk a thin line between experiencing a narrative and creating a spectacle of it. An important piece of maintaining respect for the story is holding reverence for the narrator and their narrative. After all, the stories of death that I have helped archive touch on some of the most vulnerable and momentous episodes of each narrator’s life. [i] Sharing in those moments is a privilege and I hope you will join me maintaining an air of respect as you listen to these stories—something like whispering while in an old cathedral.

In this opening clip, Brian Cornell, clergy for the Methodist church and volunteer chaplain for many years, mentions “being there at the bridge,” highlighting how death is a trip between two places.  Whatever your spiritual leanings, thinking of the dying process as a journey has very practical implications for our time on this side of life. When we consider death as a journey, we give it a definitive beginning, middle, and end. Drawing these delineations helps us put death in a familiar framework. All successful narratives have beginnings, middles, and ends, after all. But most important to an American death ethic is the beginning. It is our habit to never truly accept that our time is arriving and to fight furiously “that good night,” but time and again we have seen the trauma caused by denial, both in the eventual mode of death (e.g. CPR or loved ones having to unplug life support) and in its effects on the ones left behind. We love to fight death, but we never win. Choosing our battles is an important part of a healthy end of life plan. When the journey of death has a beginning then we have accepted it as a natural sequence, something necessary and free of shame or guilt. There’s a reason Monica Williams-Murphy called her 2011 guide to the other side “It’s OK to Die.”

Death is a ubiquitous experience that is a deeply entrenched part of the American medical experience, yet, despite it being something that everyone will experience, there remains great discrepancies between how we envision our final chapter and how it elapses:

In California, for example, 70 percent of individuals surveyed said they wish to die at home, yet 68 percent do not. Instead, many of us die in hospitals, subject to overmedication and infection, often after receiving treatment that we do not want. Doctors know this, which may explain why 72 percent of them die at home.[ii]

It’s difficult to explain why so many deaths aren’t satisfactory, but Ivan Illich put it this way: “The ritual nature of modern health procedures hides from doctors and patients the contradiction between the ideal of a natural death of which they want to die and the reality of a clinical death in which most contemporary [people] actually end.” [iii] The rise of hospice and palliative care has advanced the experience of dying with bounding strides in recent decades, but there’s still a great deal of work to do in order to rectify our wish to die at home with the reality of that experience.

The Conversation Project posits that increasing our conversations about end of life is a good place to start. [iv] With the rise of projects centered around the medical humanities, such as the Stories to Save Lives Project from SOHP, we can work within a new framework to consider death and dying differently.

In like fashion, I hope that through these blogs posts, you will gain a little more familiarity (and perhaps even comfort) with not just the topics of death and dying, but discussing them—an essential first step towards creating a satisfactory end of life story for yourself and your loved ones.

I’ll leave you with one last thought to ruminate on. In this clip, Brenda McCall, a retired nurse, considers the hard work of sitting with one’s own mortality. She attributes the continuum of declining independence we experience as we age to a fundamental fear of death. Perhaps accepting our own fragility is the first step towards accepting our own mortality. At almost any age we can observe the body’s failures and begin to do the difficult work of accepting our mortality and preparing for our (eventual) deaths.



i See Christine Valentine, Bereavement Narratives: Continuing Bonds in the Twentieth Century (London and New York, 2008).
ii See MacPherson and Parikh, “Most people want to die at home…”
iii See “The Political Uses of Natural Death”

Summer Grants & Fellowships

Each year the Southern Oral History Program offers grants and fellowships as a means for undergraduate and graduate students to have the opportunity to expand their skillset and conduct research using oral history.

Currently applications are open for both our Summer Undergraduate Research Assistantship Awards and the Jacquelyn Dowd Hall Research Fellowship for graduate students. Applications for both are due March 1, 2019 for consideration. We are also sharing a link to the Summer Visiting Research Fellowship through the Wilson Library.

Learn more about each award and how to apply below.

Special Collections Library Audiovisual Research Fellowship (Wilson Library)

The Special Collections Library Audiovisual Research Fellowship promotes the scholarly use of Wilson Library’s rich audiovisual collections (including the SOHP’s archive), thanks to The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, offering $2,500 to support the intensive, innovative, and impactful research use of its collections. Deadline for submissions is February 15, 2019. For more information and links to apply, visit UNC Libraries’ Summer Visiting Research Fellowship page.


  • Submit a research proposal and research plan that draws deeply and substantively on the collections of the Wilson Special Collections Library to support your research.
  • Commit to a full-time research residency of at least ten days at the Wilson Library that will occur between May 1 and September 1.
  • Agree to participate in the intellectual life of the Library and the fellowship program, which will include a public presentation of research findings and experiences and the submission of a brief research report. Fellows may be invited to submit papers to a capstone symposium in Southern Studies that will take place in 2022.
  • Have or be actively pursuing the terminal degree in their discipline.

Summer Undergraduate Research Awards

The Southern Oral History Program is offering three competitive summer 2019 undergraduate field research awards for students at UNC Chapel Hill.

Summer field researchers will receive a $2500 stipend for 10 weeks of summer oral history fieldwork that includes researching and collecting oral histories for one of SOHP’s research projects, Stories to Save Lives: Health, Illness and Medical Care in the South, or Southern Mix: Voices of Asians and Asian Americans in the American South. The SOHP will offer two field research awards for Stories to Save Lives, and one field researcher award (thanks to the Carolina Asia Center) for work on Southern Mix. Deadline for submissions is Friday, March 1, 2019 at 5PM EST.

Field researchers must commit to one week of intensive oral history training in late May 2019 at the SOHP, followed by nine weeks of field research, for an expected total of 200 hours inclusive of the bootcamp. See below for more detailed information on the research topics.

Learn more about each project and how to apply here.

Jacquelyn Dowd Hall Research Fellowship

The Jacquelyn Dowd Hall Research Fellowship is made possible by its namesake fund, in honor of the founding director of the SOHP. The award provides one graduate student with support to pursue research pertaining to oral history during the summer of 2019. One $4,000 summer fellowship will be awarded to a graduate student attending the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill who has taken Introduction to Oral History (History 670), or who can demonstrate competency and experience with oral history methods.

To apply, please visit this link to submit a CV and two-page project proposal that details your research plans, timeline, and connection to oral history.  Questions may be addressed to Sara Wood at

Deadline for applications is Friday, March 1, 2019 by 5PM EST

Jacquelyn Dowd Hall Research Fellowship Application Submission Form

Applications due by Monday March 15, 2021

  • Accepted file types: doc, docx, pdf.
    Upload a current version of your CV.
  • Accepted file types: doc, docx, pdf.
    Attach a two-page project proposal detailing your research plans, timeline, and connection to oral history.

2018 JDH Research Fellow: Joshua Sipe

R. Joshua Sipe is the recipient of the 2018 Jacquelyn Dowd Hall Research Fellowship 

The award was crucial to providing me the resources necessary to embark on several research trips to explore race relations and African American community formation in Virginia’s Hampton Roads area from the 1930s through the 1960s. My central research questions during my fellowship were: 1) How did defense communities for African Americans on the Peninsula get created? 2)  How did community life in evolve? 3) What was white citizens of Hampton Roads response to the large increase of African Americans due to World War II? 4) How did the creation of defense communities alter the social, economic, and political dynamics of the Peninsula?

In hopes of better understanding the answers to these questions, using fellowship fund I travelled to the National Archives II in College Park, Maryland, the Library of Virginia in Richmond, Virginia, and Newport News, Virginia for research. At the National Archives, I explored the records of the Public Housing Administration (RG 196), the Workers Project Administration (RG 69), and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (RG 207). The week researching these records revealed important logistical and operational functions and considerations at the federal level in installing defense housing projects in the South. While the National Archives lacked a large amount of records related to the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, memorandums, letters, and plans from other African American housing developments in southern urban areas revealed the tense relations between federal officials and state and local representatives who wanted to preserve the racial status quo. These findings were echoed in sources located at the Library of Virginia in Richmond, Virginia.

The bulk of my research centered in and around Newport News, Virginia where I explored city council records, the Newport News Housing Authority records, and conducted oral history interviews with community members. Through city records two important coinciding developments became apparent: an increasingly anxious and fearful white city leadership, and most importantly a growing vocal and politically active African American community. These developments have become the keystones to the evolution of my current project, in which I explore Newport News leader’s strategy of Peninsula consolidation to re-inscribe white rule to counteract the growing political activity of African American citizens. This episode in Hampton Roads history illustrates the constant remaking and reshaping of Jim Crow in the South, especially as the Civil Rights Movement grew. The fellowship’s support of my archival research led to the shift in my project and provided a strong foundation from which my master’s thesis has grown.

While my archival research in Newport News most dramatically affected the trajectory of my research, my favorite part of my fellowship was the oral history interviews I conducted. Using community connections from previous research, I was able to schedule a few interviews with individuals who resided in the African-American defense communities built in and around Newport News. Hearing the stories of these individuals, as with most oral history interviews, provided personal insights, anecdotes, and richness other sources do not provide. I am always shocked at and grateful for the openness and level of vulnerability my interviewees offer. Their reflections on events and the trials they share continually illuminate the importance of completing oral history interviews and the shared positive experience the interview provides for both the interviewer and the interviewee. I will always remember the passion and pride the individuals I interviewed shared about the communities they grew up and live in during a time of segregation and the beginnings of great change on the Peninsula.

I am very appreciative and grateful for the various research opportunities the Jacquelyn Dowd Hall Research Fellowship allowed me to pursue. Without the financial support of the fellowship, I would not have been able to make as much progress as I was able to on my master’s thesis. The volumes of material I engaged with not only have contributed to my current project, but should provide an important source base for my future work.

Doing Oral History: American Indian Activism at UNC

[Written by former SOHP field scholar Danielle Dulken]

How have American Indian students and faculty—as well as the non-native people who support them—created spaces at UNC-Chapel Hill to advocate for and nurture the distinct tribal communities represented on and around campus? What did these pushes for visibility look like? And what have they made possible?

For the 2017–2018 academic year, the SOHP interns were invited to create a new oral history collection on American Indian activism at UNC. As the intern coordinator, I guided this project, introducing students to oral history methods and literature on American Indian and Indigenous Studies (AIIS). Each semester four undergraduate students participated in the SOHP internship program. As interns, they helped develop this new collection by interviewing two narrators each for a total of sixteen new interviews from UNC faculty, staff, undergrad students, graduate students, professional students, and alumni.

This new collection adds critical perspectives on American Indian activism on and around campus from the 1970s forward to the SOHP archive. From these voices, we learn how a term like “activism” has complicated meaning—some narrators embraced it while others questioned it. We hear about the complexity of Native identity in a black and white southern landscape. We hear how Native people have built alliances across black and white racial lines and how they have navigated racial tensions to preserve the self and their communities. We hear about tribal connections from campus across the United States and we hear, most importantly, we are still here. [1]

How did we interview? How did we begin?

SOHP intern Blake Hite interviews Malinda Maynor Lowery, history professor and director of the Center for the Study of the American South.

Together—the students and myself— imagined who the narrators for this project might be. Based on word-of-mouth recommendations and support from archivists, we begin building a list of people who had important perspectives on Native organizing on campus.

I asked Native faculty and faculty from AIIS who they believed had important perspectives on American Indian activism at UNC. Once our list of narrators was established and interviews were underway, students made a point to ask each narrator to recommend someone else. This approach precipitated many of the interviews found in this collection.

Historical context is important for the interview process too. The interns visited Wilson library several times and sifted through UNC’s archives, digging into collections that revealed how organizations like the Carolina Indian Circle formed. They also found correspondence that illustrated frustration from past students on the lack of Native faculty addressed at upper level administrators. This research helped students identify narrators, but it also helped them understand what was going on for Native people at UNC over the last fifty years.

Our Process

Each student developed interview guides tailored to the unique experiences of the individual narrator. These interview guides were informed by archival research but also cursory searches online that revealed the narrators’ career history, publications, and more. The interview guides invited narrators to consider how they influenced the campus through place-making, like the American Indian Center and the Carolina Indian Circle, and intellectual space-making, like the American Indian and Indigenous Studies program. Each semester, after the interns finalized their interviews and complementing archival materials, they prepared a performance intended to thoughtfully demonstrate the important histories they heard in the oral histories.

To begin this project, we first imagined a timeline cognizant that American Indian presence has a long history on the land where UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus stands. Archeologists in the university’s Research Labs of Archeology (RLA) have worked extensively to identify tribal histories which predate UNC-Chapel Hill. Together we read Time Before History: The Archeology of North Carolina, written by scholars from UNC’s RLA, to establish a timeline but also consider the challenges of place and boundary-making.

We also used the digital Native Narrative Tour created by the American Indian Center as well as the American Indians in Chapel Hill page from The Carolina Story: A Virtual Museum of University History as secondary sources to continue our conversations and research.

We found the RLA had an incredible database of three dimensional artifacts that provided us an opportunity to reflect on the tribes that built community here in Chapel Hill before Western contact. In fact, some of the artifacts in the database were discovered by archeologists at the exact site where we where we were conducting our research: Love House, the home of the Center of the Study for the American South (CSAS) and SOHP.

Recognizing the long arc of American Indian history on the landscape of UNC’s campus, the students decided to use their culminating performance to emphasize the past through a land acknowledgement. [2]

We would like to begin this performance by acknowledging that the land on which we gather today was originally Native land. A land acknowledgment is not something you “just do” before an event. Rather it is a reflection process in which you build mindfulness and intention walking into whatever gathering you are having. During the 17th century, the Occaneechi lived on this land. This university was founded in 1789.  We recognize that our performance does not encompass all American Indian activism that has taken place on this land, and by no means are we attempting to suggest that it does, or that it’s possible to cover such a large movement in such a short amount of time. Our performance covers the areas of research that we were able to conduct during this semester.

Equally important to the students—and related to landscape—was what they were learning about the ongoing struggle for visibility in the American Indian community at UNC. Students read Vine Deloria’s activating text, Custer Died for Your Sins. Deloria, students learned through the University Archives, was invited to speak at UNC’s American Indian Center in 1977 for cultural week.

Yackety Yack, 1977, Student Organizations, The Carolina Indian Circle

Students also leafed through UNC’s yearbook, the Yackety Yack, for images that may have correspond with events they learned about in the interviews. The Yackety Yack, which is digitized at Wilson Library from years 1890 – 1991, is an excellent resource to create a composite of a historical moment. During our research phase, librarian Sarah Carrier prepared archival materials, including yearbooks, to review for traces of American Indian movement building on campus. Carrier noted the yearbooks have many original images, published nowhere else, which yield insights about the happenings around campus.

If you’ve ever worked on an oral history collection you know the power (and sometimes agony) of images. Often, oral historians carry photographs with them to an interview in hopes of spurring memories. Can you tell me about whose in this photo? What’s going on here? What did the person in this picture mean to you? Other times, interviewers snap an image of the narrator after an interview to enhance an oral history collection because we know how exciting it is when you stumble across portraits of narrators in the archive. These seemingly banal images—of often mediocre quality—can quite literally help us picture the past.

The project had its share of challenges. As an instructor with little experience in American Indian and Indigenous studies, I spent the greater half of late summer 2017 reading and preparing for the course. I am indebted to the talented faculty in the AIIS program—like Keith Richote and Jenny Tone-Pah-Hote—who made reading recommendations and posed important questions like: How will you ethically perform American Indian Activism at UNC? Who will you invite to tell Native stories? The students, many of which were not Native, encountered challenges of their own. They wrestled with how to ask about identity and experiences without tokenizing the narrators. They also encountered the complexity of charged terms like “activism.” What could activism look like? And what did it mean if a narrator was doing work that seemed activist but eschewed the term? But they also found inspiration, like how the place-making work of Native people created a path for them to build their own Asian-American and Mexican-American community organizing.

In the end, students reviewed the interviews searching for moments that felt particularly powerful. They listed terms that evoked what they heard: Community, home, joy, isolation, dislocation. Students worked through these profound moments through ethno-poetry, a genre that invites the interviewer to break from standard writing conventions and transcribe an interview emotively, and finally the performance. [3]

Director Rachel Seidman began the 2017–2018 academic year stating how the interns (and field scholars) make everything happen. Without us, she noted, SOHP wouldn’t be the dynamic research center it is. Reflecting back on the academic year from the vantage of the intern instructor, I am incredible proud of the eight interns whose ideas and dedication made the American Indian Activism at UNC oral history collection what it is: a priceless resource for Native people and the broader UNC community.

Thank you Emma, Paola, Stella, Shannon, Blake, Lily, Kimberly, and Mina.

To listen to the full oral histories, visit our digital database.

[1] “We Are Still Here” is a phrase used by Native Americans to emphasize their reality in contemporary settings. This is significant because the American Indian is all too often imaged by non-Natives as a person of the past.

[2] This land acknowledgement was written by interns from Fall 2017 and stated before their culminating performance.

[3] The ethno-poems displayed below were written by interns and shared as part of the final performance.





Sonic South 2019: In Sickness & In Health

The Southern Oral History Program (SOHP), housed at the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, invites producers to use our interviews to create new and thought-provoking, short-form audio documentaries, sound art, sonic experiments, and aural landscapes. Producers are encouraged to think creatively about format, structure, and style. Since 1973, the SOHP has recorded interviews with southerners from mill workers to civil rights leaders to future presidents, which are available digitally through the Southern Historical Collection at Wilson Library.

For our 2019 Sonic South audio competition, In Sickness & In Health, we’re highlighting SOHP’s major research project, Stories to Save Lives. Producers will choose from interviews with Southerners about health, illness, and medical care in their own lives, in their families and in their communities. Your creativity can help us illuminate the power of these stories.

The top five finalists will have their work shared at a live listening room in April 2019 at the CURRENT Theater in Chapel Hill, NC. Two prizes will be awarded: the Sonic South prize, and Audience Choice award.

There are three rules for this competition. Final work must:

  • Be no longer than three minutes in length
  • Incorporate themes of health, illness, or medical care in the American South
  • Use at least two different voices from this curated collection of 15 SOHP interviews.

Entries are due on Friday, February 8, 2019 by midnight EST.

Learn more about the Sonic South and how to submit here.

Stories to Save Lives Project featured on WRAL

SOHP’s most recent research project was featured in a story on WRAL which you can read here.