April 27, 2009
By Elisabeth Grant
Memories and tales of past events have been shared in conversations between friends and family members probably since language began. Some stories continue to be passed down, while others are eventually lost. StoryCorps, a nonprofit organization, recognizes the value of preserving these oral histories, and since 2003 has been recording them and archiving them through the Library of Congress for future generations.
StoryCorps taps into the connections between family and friends, and the stories StoryCorps collects are conversations or interviews done between people who know each other. The StoryCorps mission is to recognize “the importance of listening to and learning from those around us. It celebrates our shared humanity. It tells people that their lives matter and they won’t be forgotten.”
The project began in 2003 with a StoryBooth in New York’s Grand Central Station. From there they added traveling MobileBooths (mobile home style recording booths) and other StoryBooths across the country. To find the closest location to record your story, see the locations page on the StoryCorps web site.
Over the years StoryCorps has collaborated with other groups for a number of initiatives. They’ve paired up with the National Museum of African American History and Culture to “gather and preserve the life stories of African American families,” contributed memories of the September 11th attacks to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, and are collecting stories specific to communities in New York, San Francisco, and Alaska.
You can listen to these collected oral histories on the aforementioned partner sites, on NPR online and every Friday on NPR’s Morning Edition, or on the StoryCorps site itself. Listen to equally fascinating memories of historians, witnesses of major events, and average Americans alike.
Here is a selection of stories to check out:
- John Hope Franklin – Hear historian John Hope Franklin, who recently passed away, tell his son a story of being a Boy Scout and an African American in the 1920s.
- Studs Turkel – The late oral historian Studs Turkel asks “What has happened to the human voice?” in a StoryCorps recording from 2005.
- Bath School Disaster – Two survivors, Willis Cressman and Donald Huffman, remember the Bath School Disaster.
- 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike – A number of interviewees share memories of the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike and Martin Luther King Jr.
- The Great Depression – Memories from the Great Depression.