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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.

Meet Our 2018 Fall Interns

Now with the new academic year in full swing, we are excited to introduce the interns working with us for the fall semester. They are pictured here with SOHP Project Manager, Sara Wood, who leads the weekly intern seminar.

Mitra Norowzi, Sara Wood, Caroline Taheri, Ellie Little

Mitra Norowzi is a junior from Raleigh, North Carolina who is studying journalism and Southern studies. Aside from working with us at the SOHP, she is also in her third year of working as an editorial assistant for our friends down the hall, the award-winning quarterly publication Southern Cultures. Mitra brings her desire to combine traditional news reporting and oral history to tell honest, diverse stories of the American South to her work here at the SOHP.

Caroline Taheri is a senior from Fairfax, Virginia who is studying psychology and minoring in medical anthropology. This past summer Caroline interned on Capitol Hill where she attended hearings and briefings and learned more about the legislative process. She brings her interest in health disparities, community outreach, and ethnographic research to her work at the SOHP. Caroline hopes to go on and earn a Masters of Public Health after graduation.

Ellie Little is a junior from Greensboro, North Carolina who is studying advertising and American Studies with a minor in Hispanic studies. She is interested in studying the role of media in how public school students receive and interpret stories. Outside of academics, she is the Vice President of the UNC Women’s Rugby Football Club.

Tell About the South: Stories to Save Lives

Anna Freeman, Ina Dixon, and Nicholas Allen conducted interviews over the summer as summer researchers for the Stories to Saves Lives Project. This project is focused on collecting oral history interviews in rural counties in North Carolina to understand perceptions and experiences of health, illness, and medical care. They will present their work through the Center for the Study of the American South‘s lunchtime conversation series, Tell About the South, on November 7 at 12:30 pm at the Love House and Hutchins Forum (410 E. Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC).

The event is free and open to the public and light refreshments will be served. RSVPs to csas@unc.edu will be appreciated but are not required. The SOHP and the Center are located along free Chapel Hill Transit bus routes A, CL, D, F, NU, and U.

Tell About the South: Southern Mix

Tell About the South is a lunchtime series put on by the Center for the Study of the American South that features presentations from faculty, senior graduate students, and community members that focus on southern scholarship and specialized knowledge of regional topics. On October 17 at 12:30 pm this conversation will be provided by Southern Mix founder Anna-Rhesa Versola and undergraduate researcher Emmanuel Lee as they discuss their research and interviews collected over the summer with members of the Hmong and Filipino communities in Hickory, NC.

Southern Mix was inspired by Asian American UNC alumni, and focuses on collecting oral histories from Asian and Asian American residents of the Triangle, of North Carolina, and of the larger region of the South. For this project, the SOHP is collaborating with the Carolina Asia Center and the Alumni Committee for Racial and Ethnic Diversity to gather these personal biographies. This project will include a wide range of stories of escape, immigration, and cultural assimilation.

This event will take place at the Love House and Hutchins Forum where SOHP and CSAS are housed (410 E. Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC) and is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served. RSVPs to csas@unc.edu will be appreciated but are not required. Our Center is located along free Chapel Hill Transit bus routes A, CL, D, F, NU, and U.

The finalists of our Sonic South audio competition

Innovative and archival are not two words you regularly hear together, but with the sound experiments and powerful audio stories presented in our inaugural Sonic South audio experience, that was exactly the genre of the evening. While the sky had darkened to produce a drizzly and blustery evening, this made the Studio at CURRENT where we gathered for the Sonic South only more intimate and created a perfect atmosphere to sit down, settle in, and listen.

Held on May 10th, the live-listening event was a chance to listen to the five works selected from our Sonic South audio competition. For this contest, we invited audio producers of all levels to engage with our interview archive in a new way by asking them to create short stories (three to five minutes) focusing in the theme of persistence—as the artist interprets for themselves—and using the voices of Southern women.

The five finalists were selected by judges Malinda Maynor Lowery, director for the Center for the Study of the American South and former SOHP director; John Biewen, audio program director at the Center for Documentary Studies and host of the Center’s audio documentary podcast, Scene on the Radio; and Leoneda Inge,  WUNC’s Race and Southern Culture reporter, who also served as our host for the evening.

Below you can listen to the five pieces selected and their respective producers.


1964–Do Something! by Rebekah Smith

How do you get around a law intended to end segregation? You declare that your establishment is a private club and hope that those pesky protesters give up and go home. 1964 – Do Something! blends two interviews that were done as part of the 50th Anniversary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) that took place in 2010 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  It tells the story of how businesses and even state entities tried to get around the Public Accommodations Act by declaring themselves to be “private clubs.” As such, they would be exempt from the new law that said that service could not be denied based on race, color, religion, or national origin. SNCC members protested at the Arkansas State Capitol cafeteria where blacks were refused service.

 

Ms. Smith and Ms. Brooks of the Pine Room, Pt. I by Rebekah Smith

This audio montage combines images from four different interviews and gives an impression of some of the issues that surrounded the 1969 Food Workers’ Strike at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. We meet the leaders of the strike, Ms. Mary Smith and Ms. Elizabeth Brooks, as the women repeatedly try to get the attention of management that makes promises they never keep. The two persist until they are granted a very simple request.

Rebekah Smith is the creator of QuOTeD – The Question of the Day Podcast – where she makes audio montages using stories that are sparked by a single question.  For twenty-five years she has been interviewing regular people using this “one good question” method where conversations emerge naturally.  In addition to being a platform for sharing her work, the podcast has inspired events that put people in the same room to talk.


Lead with What We Have by Sydney Lopez

Lead with What We Have intends to illustrate the intersectional experience of Southern women’s persistence. Kim Pevia’s story in particular highlights how female strength has evolved and grown through generations of Lumbee women.

Sydney Lopez is a sophomore at UNC originally from Boca Raton, Florida. She is double majoring in exercise and sports science and sociology. She found a love for oral history’s bottom-up approach in Dr. Rachel Seidman’s class her first year at Carolina. Since then, she has developed her audio editing skills through a summer internship at the SOHP where she co-produced an audio documentary and digital exhibit exploring the UNC Foodworkers’ Strikes of 1969.

Listen to Sydney Lopez’s commentary on her piece here:


Beyond Me by Spivey Knapik
Is persistence a series of self-directed actions or is it a response of openness to something bigger passing through you? This piece explores the liminal space of creation asking what it means both for an individual and for the concept of “art” to persist through a spectrum of time and place.

Spivey Knapik is an artist, independent producer, and native Floridian currently living and working in Des Moines, Iowa. She is interested in stories, death, and identity.

Listen to her commentary on her piece here:


Untitled by Jen Nathan Orris (Winner of the 2018 Sonic South Competition)
Reverend Sophia East speaks about the realities of being a woman of color in the South during the 1970s. The Georgia Sea Island Singers sing “Let Me Fly” in a 1960 recording as Reverend East describes her daily struggles and hopes for a more equitable future.

Jen Nathan Orris is an audio producer and writer based in Asheville, North Carolina. She studied at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies and has worked as a reporter and audio producer for fifteen years. Her work has aired on the BBC and NPR, as well as WFAE and WUNC in North Carolina. She is also the editor of Edible Asheville magazine and produces a podcast for the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project called Growing Local.

Listen to her commentary on her piece here:

These works remind us not only of the many histories and stories that each person holds inside of them, but the importance of preserving those stories as they provide us information to understand where we are, where we came from, and even provide insight as to how to be the people, communities, and society we want to become. When gathered together to listen to these stories collectively, it is undeniable that history echoes.

We are currently developing the competition and live listening room for The Sonic South 2019. Stay tuned for more information!

UNC Humanities for the Public Good Initiative awards SOHP $10,000

UNC’s new Humanities for the Public Good Initiative has awarded SOHP $10,000 from the Critical Issues Project Fund for Stories to Save Lives: Using Oral History to Improve Health and Medical Care in North Carolina.

 

Learn more about this award and its impact on our blog and at the Humanities for the Public Good Initiative.

UNC Humanities for the Public Good Initiative awards SOHP $10,000

We are thrilled to announce that UNC’s new Humanities for the Public Good Initiative has awarded SOHP $10,000 from the Critical Issues Project Fund for Stories to Save Lives: Using Oral History to Improve Health and Medical Care in North Carolina.

This award will help fund our pilot summer of research, providing summer research grants for undergraduate and graduate students to travel to Warrenton and Dunn, North Carolina to gather forty interviews focused on residents’ attitudes and beliefs about the health care system, their analyses of why health care challenges exist in their own communities, and how that has changed over time.

In Warrenton we are partnering with Reverend William Kearney, Associate Minister & Health Ministry Coordinator at Coley Springs Missionary Baptist Church in Warrenton, NC and President of United Shiloh Missionary Baptist Association Church Union, Warrenton, NC.  He is an active volunteer in community activities and a community organizer, who has worked extensively with UNC’s Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and has consulted across the state and nationally.

In Dunn, we are partnering with Lisa McKeithan, MS, CRC, Director of the Positive Life Program & NC Reach at CommWell Health. CommWell Health, formerly Tri-County Community Health Center, started in 1977 as a health clinic for migrant farm workers, and focuses on holistic, innovative approaches to health care in rural North Carolina.