Yesterday, StoryCorps Griot traveled south on old Route 61 into Mississippi to record interviews in Mound Bayou. The city, proudly described by local residents as “Jewel of the Delta,” is the oldest all black municipality in the United States. It was founded in 1887 by Isaiah T. Montgomery and his cousin, Benjamin T. Green. Montgomery and Green were both former slaves of Joseph Davis, brother of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Isaiah T. Montgomery was elected as the first mayor. He started a tradition of black government that persists to the present day. Mound Bayou was founded to serve as a sanctuary for African- American families and culture. The Founders helped to make the dream of creating a successful, self-sufficient and cooperative community of freedmen a reality. By the turn of the century Mound Bayou was exporting $30,000 in cotton a year. Its residents owned 5,000 acres of rich, prime farm and timber land, with an estimated worth of $20,000.
Mound Bayou was an oasis in turbulent times.
Two different sets of participants came into the Griot Booth yesterday with beautiful, powerful stories about being with Dr. Martin Luther King during the last hours of his
life. Mr. Fred Davis and Rev. James Netters were both in the first class of black City Council members in Memphis. They are both good friends of Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks (whom the library the Griot booth is parked at is named after), and were working along with Dr. King to resolve the Sanitation Workers’ Strike which had brought Dr. King to Memphis when he was assassinated.
Mr. Davis was interviewed by his friend, Timothy L. Russell. He was on the stage at Mason Temple when King gave the “I Have Been to the Mountaintop”
speech. He recalled how Ralph Abernathy wanted to preach, but the crowd
was too impatient for him. Mr. Davis also recalled a little known detail about that fateful evening, that Stokely Carmichael also spoke very briefly before Dr. King, raising his right fist in the air in the symbol of Black Power.
StoryCorps records, in sound, the stories of everyday people. Community partners are integral to our ability to connect to communities across the country. Marvin Stockwell (r) and Jeff Hulett (l) organized a few days of interviews at Church Health Center.
Former pastor of historic Clayborn Temple Irene W. Booker (l) talks with Charita Johnson-Burgess (r), as Rev. Booker’s grandson Shawn gets a taste for what it’s like to be a StoryCorps Griot Facilitator.
Everyone has a story to share! Come share yours with a loved one at the GriotBooth, so generations to come can hear our stories in our own words.
Click on the picture below for a Virtual Tour of the StoryCorps GriotBooth, parked at the Central Public Library in Memphis until December 8th.
Pictures courtesy Melvin Reeves
Our first interview in Memphis was with Frances Hooks, civil rights and school reform leader and wife of Dr. Benjamin Hooks. Next week, the Hooks will be in Washington D.C., where Dr. Hooks will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom–the nation’s highest civil award–for his "efforts to extend the full promise of America to all its citizens." Above, Mrs. Hooks speaks about her life with "Benny" at our opening press conference.
StoryCorps facilitators for the Memphis leg of the tour are (l to r): Michael Premo, Sarah Geis, Steven Thrasher, and Brianna Hyneman. Come visit us outside the Central Library and say hi!
For our Tuesday field recording, facilitators Yuki and Quentin drove two hours southeast of Louisville to Berea College, a unique place to study and live. Berea is a tuition-free university, primarily for students who come from Appalachian communities throughout the US. The college was founded in 1855 as the first interracial and coeducational school in the South. Students can choose to work regular on-campus jobs or study with a master craftsman to learn traditional Appalachian woodwork, pottery, and weaving, which is sold at their campus store. It was hard to leave Berea; it is an institution that doesn’t seem institutional, it just seems like a great place to live and learn. Best of luck to our contact, Tim Jordan, and everyone else in Berea!
A student (above) at work at one of the looms in Berea’s weaving studio (below)
The library’s sound archivist, Harry Rice, gave us a tour of Berea’s amazing online catalog, which is the most extensive sound archive in Kentucky and houses old field recordings of traditional Appalachian musicians, storytellers, Baptist preachings, and historical Kentucky radio broadcasts. In the photo above, Harry shows us musical notation done by one of Berea’s Appalachian Music Fellows of a traditional fiddle tune that had never been written down before. Many of the recordings were transfered from the original acetate disks to digital, and have a beautiful quality to them.
Listen to the archives here.
This Saturday Kent Wavekill and Gigi LaSwerve stopped by the StoryCorpse booth to record a special interview. The pair came in to celebrate the forty-year anniversary of their first meeting at a Malibu Beach resort. Gigi had just finished back-up dancing that night at a Jefferson Airplane concert when she found Kent stumbling around in the surf, covered in seaweed, chewing on fish skeletons. (He had washed up there the night before). Gi-Gi did most of the talking during their conversation, (and was dancing the entire time) but Kent added some choice words as well. Mostly: "Brains, dude! Braaaaains!" It warms the heart to see a Zombie Surfer and a 60s go-go dancer staying together for as long as they have. Thanks guys!
Facilitator John White (far left) has got the blues, knowing he and fellow facilitator Michelle Swinehart (second from right) will transition off the tour in just a few days. The Mississippi leg of our journey was almost over. Before that however, we spent a little time jukin’ at Clubland 2000, Ground Zero Blues Club and generally taking in all of the sights, sounds and stories of Clarksdale, Mississippi.
This classic Chevy acts as a sentry at the gates of Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville’s beautiful burial ground that borders the Highlands neighborhood. Many eminent Louisvillians are buried here, including James Speed, Lincoln’s attorney general, and Harlan Sanders, who had this quote when he was alive: "There’s no reason to be the richest man in the cemetery, you can’t do any business from there." Wise words, Colonel, but we reckon you’re still making deals! Here are some shots Yuki & Quentin took walking around the grounds:
Austin lies about three hours south of Fort Worth, smack in the center of the state of Texas. The city is known for it’s booming music scene and off-beat shops and restaurants. It’s also the Texas State Capitol, despite it’s oddly un-Texas feel. We took a little road trip to Austin to do some exploring.
One of the city’s natural gemsÃ³Barton Springs Pool in Zilker ParkÃ³gave us a chance to cool off after a long drive before checking out Austin’s urban offerings.
At the heart of the city’s downtown, Facilitator Hilary Marshall took in some decidedly UN-natural sights at "The Museum of the Weird" on 6th Street (too creepy for co-facilitator Rachel Falcone). One of the last remaining Dime/Sideshow Museums, it’s home to many unexplained (aka. fake) phenomena and curiosities, of which this two headed chicken (below) is a classic example.
We also made our monetary contributions to the Austin economy. Unique vintage and antique shops abound in Austin, making it feel more like home for us (Chicago/Brooklyn) than anywhere we’d been in a long while. But Texas staples are never far–Austinites can still saddle you up with a good pair of cowboy boots.
As the self-proclaimed Live Music Capitol of the World, Austin’s many venues offer live music every night of the week. We ended our day at the top-floor Gallery of the Continental Club in Austin’s SoCo neighborhood, where we caught the sweet sound of Ephraim Owens blowing his horn.
In Louisville the booth is parked on West Main St., two blocks from ’21C’, a new art museum/hotel hybrid that exclusively features art made in the twenty-first century. Facilitators Yuki and Quentin spent a lunch break taking in the sights, including the interactive video exhibit shown above. Here are a couple more of our favorites:
Even the kids learn to play the blues at the Delta Blues Musuem.
We couldn’t have imagined the large role that livestock would play in our daily lives during our time in Ft. Worth, TX. We can’t step outside without running into some sort of creature!
This is one of the few urban places where folks can still ride a horse through the streets, so in addition to the cowboys in period costumes employed by the Stockyards (pictured above), there are ordinary citizens who bring their horses to the neighborhood for a stroll. There’s even a man who’ll let you sit on his longhorn steer and snap a photo (for a few bucks…).
Black and white Guinea Hens peck the grass near the Stockyards Livery, where the rooster hides in the shade. The Livery is just steps away from the MobileBooth and is home to many of the horses and steer that perform each day during the cattle drive.
The twice-a-day cattle drive is the Ft. Worth Stockyards’ main attraction. Longhorn cattle live up to their name, with expansive horns measuring up to 120 inches from tip to tip.
They sometimes pass within inches of the booth, but they’re very polite and never interrupt the recording process. When we’re looking for something a little rowdier, we visit the rodeo across the street at the Cowtown Coliseum, which celebrated it’s 100th year this month. Weekend events include bull and bronco ridin’, calf ropin’, and barrel racin’, none of which are for the faint of heart.
The Dickie’s Giant welcomes visitors to the Texas State Fair, the largest in the country! Everything at the fair is done up big, especially the two most important: food and rides.
Almost any food is better fried (by Texas standards), and we saw signs for everything from fried mac and cheese to deep-fried Oreos. This year’s top contenders included fried cookie dough, zesty fried guacamole bites, deep fried latte, country fried peach cobbler on a stick, fried banana pudding, and fried frito chili burrito.
Facilitator Hilary Marshall threw dietary caution to the wind and tried this years hands-down favorite: Mama’s Fried Sweet Potato Pie.
After eating our way through the fair, we hopped on North America’s largest ferris wheel to get a better view of the fairgrounds. We were reminded, once again, that everything’s bigger in Texas. Yee-haw!
A Vicksburg native and co-director of the city’s only African American history and culture museum, The Jacqueline House, community partner liaison Yolande Robbins single-handedly planned five full days of interviews for the Griot D2D team’s visit.
THANK YOU MS. YOLANDE!!!
The East Booth finds a happy new home in downtown Louisville, KY. Above, buildings along West Main Street are reflected on the many different glass surfaces of the The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, one of our excellent local partners. The Center houses Kentucky’s premiere performing arts spaces, and since we have been parked outside has seen everyone from Mikhail Gorbachev, David Crosby and D.L. Hughley perform inside its shiny walls.
Anita brought her friend Cyd to the Booth to tell her how some words Cyd said in passing changed Anita’s life. After graduating law school, Anita was working unhappily at a firm while pursuing her hobby as a seamstress on the side. She made weekly trips to Baer’s Fabrics where she would chat with Cyd at the register. One day Anita asked Cyd why she worked at Baer’s when she could be pursuing her talent for sewing further, and Cyd replied, "I get to see something beautiful everyday." Anita realized she couldn’t say that of her life, and quit the firm to follow her passion for sewing. The two hadn’t seen each other since then until coming to do a StoryCorps interview. Both of them are now professional dressmakers, and get to see beautiful things every day.?
Opening day in Fort Worth, TX, came complete with cowboys in period dress, a staple of the Historic Stockyards District where MobileBooth West has parked for the month. Here in "Cowtown," StoryCorps will share the cobblestone street with a twice daily longhorn cattle drive and throngs of tourists curious about the Old West.
A particularly knowledgeable cowboy named Rocky (above) stopped to give an impromptu lecture on the history of the cattle trade, which kept our first Fort Worth participants, Shirlynn McGee and her granddaughter Janeisha, entertained while they completed their paperwork.
Ms. McGee came to MobileBooth West to talk about her struggles with diabetes and how a local program through the United Way has helped to educate her about health and nutrition. Janeisha chimed in about the importance of eating your vegetables, which are now her favorite foods. They both enjoy exercise and love to help family and neighbors make healthy lifestyle choices.
Many thanks to KERA, Dalls/Ft. Worth’s local NPR affiliate, for hosting a successful opening day. Thanks also to the United Way and The Stockyards Station.