Record the generation that lived Jim Crow -View photos of former enslaved African Americans

Time to record history from the generation that lived Jim Crow

Photos from the generations that were born into enslavement

Dilemma X

70 years after being freed from enslavement in the United States, the Federal Writers’ Project of the Work Progress Administration (WPA), collected more than 2,300 first-person accounts of former enslaved African Americans and 500 photographs for the “Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938”

With this WPA project in mind do not let oral history become vanishing history.

Only if I had recorded that….

Have you ever talked to your grandparents and other older relatives and thought to yourself “I hope I will remember this” or “I wish I were recording this conversation”? Well, stop having those great thoughts and start recording these historical conversations. Sometimes there is more history that can be collected verbally than can be found already written in books. Each of us, while living on this earth, sees and experiences the world from our own personal perspective. These memories create what is called living history. Our minds collect data every day better than a computer. But, just like a computer, sometimes there can be a memory problem. So, the best thing to do is to make a backup copy of the hard drive before all gets lost. In living life these memory problems could be caused by health issues. So, the time to collect living memory is while the people are well and able.

For African Americans it is especially important to document your families’ and even friends’ oral histories. This documentation is important, because in the United States there has not always been such a good job of finding well documented histories of Africans, who were enslaved in America. Not all too often do the books show what these African Americans actually experienced and accomplished to make the United States what it is today. Books have so often made the African American history only a few chapters out of an entire nation’s history. Everyone should know that African Americans have been part of the American experience from the creation of the nation. Just imagine if all the real history of the native people of the Americas were also included in the history books.

Preservation of oral histories gives the current younger population and later the future generations a personal perspective providing a better understanding of ones life today or contemporary times. This oral history shows us how today’s lifestyles and social environments were created from, many times, events in the recent past. 

Oral history is a historical collection of record of everyday life, life’s events and families’ lives. These are the events that make the United States what it is today and in all countries for that matter. This type of history collection was done in pre-colonial Africa (including Egypt and north Africa of course), Greece, Rome, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Russia, China, Japan, India, the pre-colonial Americas and pre-colonial Australia, etc.. This type of history collection is still common today across the globe.  

Bringing us back to today, in 2012 the loss of oral history reality may be greater than any other important time in the history of collecting the African American experiences in the United States. This loss of oral history reality is not just within the United States but, within the entire African diaspora. The reason for this reality is simple; it is the ages of those able to link the current younger population to the past.

Already in the last decade much oral history was lost as those born in the late 1800s and early 19-teens have transitioned. These people actually had direct personal contact with living former enslaved African Americans who were their relatives or family friends. The population we lost after year 2000 took with them great memories that we can not retrieve today.

Not just in the United States

This collection of critical oral history gathering is not just important for African Americans. In the nations of the Atlantic Caribbean and Africa, this means their connection to the real life experiences of their regions colonial past from the early 1900 until the start of nationalism and independence. In Brazil this means those who have ties to conversations shared with former enslaved Africans, as slavery in Brazil only ended in 1888 or just 12 years before 1900. In Europe this means the experiences of those who came to Europe in hopes to be accepted.

Explaining this age and time connection and importance limited time left

Slavery in the United States was officially abolished in 1865. We know many people who lived during the Civil War era lived into the early 1900s.

For example a person born in 1913 would have been age 25 in 1938. They may have had many relatives living that were say, 80 years of age that they shared conversations or heard conversations. This would mean that 80 year old person was born in 1858 during slavery. The person born in 1913 today might be one of your older living relatives. Record their information before they are gone.

Or say a person born in 1913 was age 18, a good age to remember conversations, and had conversations with older relatives that were age 80 in the year 1931. This 80 year old person would have been born in 1851 or just 68 years after The American Revolutionary War (1775–1783).

Let us put that 68 years time frame into perspective relative to today.

Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, that is 79 years ago and think about the fact that movies are still being made, film documentaries are still being created and cable television stations continue to air information on the former leader of Germany.

The Holocaust lasted from approximately 1933–1945 and World War II lasted between 1939 -1945, that is only 67 years ago when the war ended and think about how relevant World War II is in the culture today of America and the world. Hitler still has an impact on how the world operates.

On October 1, 1960 Nigeria gained independence from Great Britain, that is just 52 years ago. Think about the ages of a person who remembers living during the colonial period. Time is now to document their historical stories.

Ghana gained its independence from Great Britain in 1957. The British proclaimed the existence of the Gold Coast Colony (now Ghana) on July 24, 1874. So, this means many older living people in Ghana remember the stories of what the region was like before the British made them a colony and their grand children are still alive today and are full of living history to document.

Jamaica who gained independence from Great Britain in 1958, that is just 54 years ago. There is living history to be documented here.

Now, back to the United States. The signing of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Civil Rights Act of 1968 was between 48 and 44 years ago.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, that is just 44 years ago.

2012, the hour glass is running- the generation that lived Jim Crow

As of 2012 a person that is 90 years of age was born in 1922 and entering around the last time one will have to gather that oral history from them connecting us to the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

But, even more important today is the collection of oral history from those that lived under the American apartheid system known as Jim Crow and racial segregation.

Many of these people who were in their teenage years or 20s during the height of the Civil Rights Movement are now entering their late 60s to early 80s. Much of them are the baby boomers, now retired or retiring.

Remember Martin Luther King died at age 39; today he would have been age 83.

Andrew Young (former UN Ambassador, former Congressman former Mayor of Atlanta), is now age 80 as he was born in 1932.

Jesse Jackson, Sr. was born in 1941 and will turn age 71 this year.

Now is the time to record history from the generation that lived Jim Crow. Let us not do what was done when we lost the generation of the early 1900s. Record the history now before it is too late.

This documentation should include written, audio, digital video and photographic.

Keep in mind that history is not all the stories of inequalities. History also includes the great enjoyable times and life’s achievements. Personal life history is rich and full of a diversity of experiences and exposures.


Oral history

Oral historians document the past by preserving insights not found in printed sources. The skilled practitioner must remain impartial, listen, and stay in the background. And yet he or she must also serve as a catalyst and direct the line of inquiry by asking questions that probe areas of interest, clarify ambiguous statements, and produce transitions for the reader. The final objective is not to interpret, but to record factual evidence and, thereby, to create primary documents from which historians can reconstruct the past. Because of their focus on the subjective, oral histories can provide insights not normally found in more traditional reviews or summaries.

“Tips for Interviewers”
1. Establish eye contact. LISTEN! LISTEN! LISTEN!
2. Be non-judgmental. Don’t let your research show.
3. Create a non-threatening, relaxed environment.

4. Ask questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” answer.
5. Ask one question at a time.
6. Ask brief questions.
7. Start with non-controversial questions, and save the delicate ones, if there are any, until later in the interview.

8. Do not let brief periods of silence fluster you?
9. Do not worry if your questions are not as beautifully phrased, as you would like them to be for posterity.
10. Do not interrupt a good story because you have thought of a question, or because your narrator is straying from the planned outline.
11. Try to establish important points in the interview where the narrator was or what his or her role was in the event. This will enable you to determine how much is eyewitness information and how much is based on reports of others.
12. Do not challenge accounts you think may be inaccurate.
13. Try to conduct the interview with only one narrator present.

Source: Oral History Methodology, The Art of Interviewing. David E: Russell, Donald C. Davidson Library UC Santa Barbara


Photos of the African American past

70 years after being freed from enslavement in the United States, the Federal Writers’ Project of the Work Progress Administration, collect more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 photographs for the “Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938”. Here are some of those photos plus others not part of the WPA collection.


Photos during slavery

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