While most people don’t associate surfing with the American South, the region boasts some of the most beautiful coastlines in the country. Although the swells that break along the Gulf of Mexico and the southern Atlantic shores are not as fabled as those in California or Hawaii, the warm southern waves beckon surfers all year long. The story of wave riding in the South reflects many of the major movements and trends in modern American history: Cold War militarization, civil rights, counterculture, women’s movement, environmentalism, tourism, and coastal development. Surfing came to the South in the 1960s, in part through military personnel stationed at the numerous bases along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
In the summers of 2017 and 2018 Dr. Steve Estes, chair of the History department at Sonoma State University, traveled nearly 2500 miles along the coast from Houston, Texas through Ocean City, Maryland in search of the stories of Southern surfers. Dr. Estes grew up surfing at Folly Beach, South Carolina in the 1980s and has since then surfed all over the country. Before working at Sonoma State, Dr. Estes was an outreach coordinator and field scholar at the Southern Oral History Program from 1996 through 1998.
In 1959, a four-lane expressway was making its way through the heart of Durham, North Carolina. Set directly in its path were several working-class black communities; communities that would pay the ultimate price in the name of economic growth and prosperity. Crest Street is one community that took note of the displacement and mobilized against the expressway to keep communities intact. In these interviews, Crest Street leaders, advocates, and attorneys reflect on the movement to save Crest Street from the expansion of the East-West Expressway; a movement that maintained Crest Street as a unified community and a thriving example of residential empowerment in the face of seemingly unstoppable urban forces.
Back Ways is a project of the Southern Oral History Program that works to understand the social experience of racial segregation in the rural South through oral history and archival research. Former SOHP field scholar and lifelong local resident Rachel Cotterman collaborated with members of the Harvey’s Chapel AME Church and other neighbors to trace the histories of rural back roads southwest of Hillsborough. This digital exhibit is a work-in-progress collection of what they learned together.
This exhibit features oral history recordings with, and films by, the late filmmaker George C. Stoney. Stoney attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), wrote and produced films about the South, and advocated for the creation of public access cable television stations which still thrive in cities throughout the southern U.S. He worked for years to put the tool in the hands of the narrator: “People should do their own filming, or at least feel they control the content. I’ve spent much of my life making films about teachers or preachers that these people ought to have made themselves.”
West Southern Pines was one of the first incorporated African American towns in North Carolina. From 1923 to 1931, the town operated with its own mayor, city council, and municipal services. The Southern Oral History Program (SOHP) completed processing a group of twenty-six interviews conducted by Nancy Mason, an oral historian for the Town of Southern Pines. The SOHP’s digital exhibit on West Southern Pines features audio clips and photos and explores residents’ memories of West Southern Pines.
It is poignant to look to the past and see the different issues student activism has focused on, and especially how it relates to issues today. In 1969, UNC food workers participated in work strikes that showed the intersection of labor rights, women’s rights, and African American rights. Check out the map to learn the history of the strike, and also listen to the audio documentary
These interviews were conducted in rural areas of North Carolina for the 50th anniversary in 1985 of the Rural Electrification Administration. Collected by the North Carolina Association of Electric Cooperatives, this project explores the impact electricity made in the daily lives of rural people. Respondents described ways they completed household and farm chores, heated their homes, read and studied at night, and performed other everyday tasks before and after electricity. Respondents also discussed the origins and development of their local electric cooperatives.
In the spring of 2012, the Southern Oral History Program celebrated the remarkable life and achievements of William C. Friday, President Emeritus of UNC, and the conclusion of our oral history project dedicated to documenting that life and legacy. Service to the State of North Carolina: The Legacy of William C. Friday constitutes a remarkable resource for information and insight into the lasting importance of Mr. Friday, who, although he passed away in the fall of 2012, left behind a remarkable vision for UNC and for North Carolina.
This project worked to recover and preserve the history of early credit unions in North Carolina, in particular those established by and primarily for African-Americans as alternative means of saving and borrowing money during the Jim Crow era, when their fair access to credit was limited.
This project, a sub category of the larger Women’s Movement in the South, focuses on conservative women activists. These interviews cover a range of topics, including anti-abortion protests, evangelical theology, Republican Party organizing, lobbying work, politics, and the roles that women have played in shaping modern conservatism in the American South.
From its founding in 1973, the Southern Oral History Program has explored the history and culture of the American South by talking to its people: activists, politicians, educators, laborers, innovators, business leaders, and more. The South in our oral histories is a diverse place where communities push for or confront change; where unlikely coalitions form; where histories need telling. Over the past four decades, the SOHP has expanded in exciting, unpredictable ways, but our core mission has not changed: research, teaching, and community engagement.