Letters to My Grandchildren: Atlanta Senior Citizens Oral History Project
To wrap up Black History Month, Monica Foderingham, Outreach Services Librarian for Atlanta-Fulton Public Library, created the Letters To My Grandchildren Project. In partnership with Senior Citizen Services of Merto Atlanta and StoryCorps Atlanta, conversations of African Americans who grew up during segregation and the Civil Rights Movement were recorded for posterity.
On February 28, 100 seniors from Auburn Senior Center, Dogwood Senior Center, Northside Shepherd Senior Center, Southeast Center, and New Horizon Senior Center gathered at the central library to hear twelve storytellers share their experiences.
One storyteller was Louella Fluker, who was one of three African Americans hired to work at the Sears Roebuck at West End Mall after Reverend Hosea Williams led a boycott to protest that there were no blacks working there. Once hired, though, Louella still faced discrimination. For example, if a black employee made a sale, a white manager might void the sales slip and credit the sale to a white employee. But Louella developed her own strategy for dealing with people who gave her a hard time. “I would say I was Hosea’s niece to get more respect,” she laughed.
Sidney Johnson Smith, another storyteller, grew up in Birmingham, Alabama during the time of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. She was friends with Cynthia Wesley, one of the four girls killed in the bombing. “I’ll never forget. I saw her on Friday and told her she needed to do something with her hair, and the bombing was on Sunday.” Worried for her safety, Sidney’s father told her not to participate in the marches, but Sidney would sneak off to participate until she was knocked down by the police’s water hoses.
Irvin Cox had a different experience growing up in Harlem. “I didn’t understand what the South was going through,” he reflected. “I had everything you could want up in Harlem. I found it impossible to believe in the South people were denied these things.” Moved by the situation down south he participated in the March on Washington.
Other highlights included 96-year-old poet Lexie Carlisle, who wowed the audience by reciting a poem, and Reverend Gaither Varner, a retired Methodist minister who remembered taking his daughter to see Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
StoryCorps Facilitator Anthony Knight presented each storyteller with a copy of his or her recorded experiences. These recordings will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress and at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. as part of StoryCorps Griot. Their stories will continue to live on in these national archives and in the memories of all those who experienced them.
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