Thousands of African American oral histories can be found in repositories across
America. Some are organized and categorized in such a way to make them easily
identifiable, others reside alongside various nationalities in a collection arranged
chronologically, by subject, or some other format that does not allow one to determine
racial makeup. Many of the interviews are being digitized, but most will be found as
microfilm/microfiche, cassette tape, reel to reel tape, or transcriptions on paper.
Interviews, while like other records cannot be totally reliable, are a great source of
information, and one that is extremely valuable to researchers. African Americans from
former slaves to those achieving national acclaim can be found in these collections.
In the coming months, I hope to bring many of them out of the dark and into the light.
Black Oral History Interviews
SOUTHERN FARMERS AND THEIR STORIES - This is the title of a book by
Melissa Walker which is based on over 500 oral interviews; more than a hundred of them
are African American. In appendix two of the book she lists them all, and in one of the
columns they are identified by race. I have extracted and compiled those shown as
African American into a table that contains the following: last name, first name, state,
year of interview, sex, race, year of birth, landowning status, and level of education.
You can view it by clicking here. The interviews are from a number of different
repositories. If you find a name of interest in the list, you can contact me and I’ll get
you the repository information--it is found in appendix three of the book.
UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS AT SPRINGFIELD - The "Black Community Project"
was undertaken in the 1970s and those interviews are transcribed and are now available
in PDFs on the website. The project description as found on the site:
Members of the African-American community of Springfield, Illinois describe their
childhood and family backgrounds, employment, schooling, church and community
activities, racial segregation and discrimination, the 1908 race riot, the Depression, and
social life in Springfield. This project was funded in part by a grant from the Illinois
AFRICAN AMERICAN ORAL HISTORY COLLECTION AT THE UNIVERSITY
OF LOUISVILLE - The project description as found on the site:
The Oral History Center at the University of Louisville has long sought to aid in the
documentation of the history of Louisville's African American community. This effort was
bolstered in the 1970s by funding from the Kentucky Oral History Commission, which
supported a number of the interviews included in this first online offering. The African
American Oral History Collection includes interviews conducted as part of projects
designed to document particular aspects of Louisville's history and/or important local
institutions, such as the Red Cross (Community) Hospital and the Louisville Municipal
College, as well as projects that sought to document African American life more
generally. Most of the interviews were conducted in the late 1970s.
Taken as a group, these interviews were conducted in order to document the many
aspects of life in Louisville, particularly as experienced by African Americans.
Businessmen, educators, politicians, doctors, historians, musicians, and other civic
leaders of various kinds, as well as regular folks, were interviewed. There are interviews
with a small number of white people who connected with the black community in
important ways. Some interviews are brief, lasting 30 minutes or less; others are more
extensive, covering several interview sessions and lasting four or more hours. The
interviewees talk about their parents, their upbringing (often outside Louisville), their
experiences in school, their careers, and their achievements. They discuss everyday life
as well as the big events in the history they lived. The interviewees offer their own
perspective on events, and while there are many areas of agreement, there are events that
they each remember in their own ways.
View the Louisville collection by clicking here.