Oral History Project Preserves Stories Of Black History Makers

Oral History Project Preserves Stories Of Black History Makers
Videotaped interviews ultimately to be made available in digital archives
By Ronald Roach and Wire Reports

One hundred years from now when a scholar researches the Black community of the early 21st century, he or she should have access to the HistoryMakers digital archive, a collection of videotaped interviews of more than 5,000 prominent Black Americans that will have been recorded from 1999 to 2007.

If all goes as planned with the HistoryMakers project, access to the entire archive will be available as early as the end of the decade.

“When we’re finished, we will have interviewed 5,000 well-known and unsung African American history makers. Ultimately, the video oral histories will be available in digital archives,” Julieanna Richardson, HistoryMakers’ founder and executive director, recently told the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Richardson launched the archival project in 1999 to expand awareness about the contributions of people of African descent in the United States. According to officials, more than 400 interviews have been completed. The HistoryMakers Web site is updated to inform readers of the roster of individuals along with short biographical sketches whose interviews have been completed.

Currently, the Web site lists notables, such as novelist Terry McMillan, physicist and Morehouse College president Dr. Walter Massey, former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, and performers Ossie Davis and Harry Belafonte. Each subject is interviewed from two to four hours about their lives from professional accomplishments to family stories. Some celebrity interviews have been conducted on stage before a paying audience as fund-raisers for the project.

Those interested in viewing portions of the existing archives have to travel to the HistoryMakers office in Chicago. When the collection is complete in 2007, the public is expected to have free access to the archives at a minimum of 10 research library locations around the country. “We want to make sure this information is available to the widest audience possible,” Richardson says.

The HistoryMakers project is one of a few current oral history efforts targeting the Black community. Also under way are the Washington, D.C.-based National Visionary Leadership Project, which focuses on people age 70 or older, and a project coordinated by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which has garnered about 300 oral histories of civil rights activists. Richardson often has described HistoryMakers as being on the scale of the oral history project that was undertaken by the federal Works Progress Administration during the 1930s when a team of writers interviewed more than 2,300 former slaves.

Richardson has developed and funded
HistoryMakers with the financial support of corporations, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. She says she has raised about $2.5 million and estimates it will take $30 million to complete the project.

Recommendations of individuals for inclusion in the archive come from people all over the nation since HistoryMakers is open to public participation, according to Richardson. Recommendations can be submitted to the Web site .



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