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Posted 08/24/2012

The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded the Southern Oral History Program a multiyear Collaborative Research Grant to undertake the oral history digitization project “Eyewitnesses to the Movement: Black, White, and Multiracial Media in Civil Rights Era North Carolina.”

The civil rights movement of the 1960s swept through the American South like a storm, leaving behind a profoundly changed environment. The boundaries drawn by racial segregation were washed away, and although those boundaries were often redrawn in less overt ways, African Americans in the South were by the late 1960s able to take unprecedented control over their public lives. As they began to seize control of their communities and reckon with their new freedoms, the national media, so crucial in publicizing the civil rights movement and encouraging widespread support for the demands of the protestors, retreated to their respective cities to begin their chronicle of the malaise of the 1970s. The withdrawal of these media left space for a group of southerners transformed by the civil rights movement but hungry for more change and for the opportunity to tell their own stories.

These southerners left behind a remarkable and largely forgotten record of what came after the more famous Montgomery-to-Memphis phase of the civil rights movement that ended in 1968. The Southern Oral History Program’s “Eyewitnesses to the Movement,” will interview roughly fifty local journalists who covered, debated, and even shaped how civil rights struggles transformed the South by the 1970s. This study will be the first research project that examines a civil rights-era local southern media ecosystem in its entirety. In addition to publishing recordings (video and audio) and transcripts of interviews online, project collaborators will produce referenced, interpretive commentaries. Thus, this project will provide both scholars and students with accessible provocative, and illuminating historical analysis on an overlooked dimension of the civil rights movement and its long-term impact on southern life.

The project, slated to begin in January 2013, will be lead by Co-Directors Joshua Clark Davis and Seth Kotch, with substantial contributions from Charmaine McKissick-Melton and Jerry Gershenhorn of North Carolina Central University; Della Pollock, Jacquelyn Hall, and Rachel Seidman of the SOHP; and of course the many movement journalists and activists whose lives and accomplishments made this project possible.