When Earl Reynolds, Jr. visited the StoryCorps MobileBooth, he told his daughter Ashley about the day the James Brown Revue came to Roanoke, VA. A caravan of 15 buses and close to 200 people stopped in front the family barbershop where Reynolds was a bootblack, or shoeshine boy. After stopping at the neighboring record store to check up on his newest single, The King of Funk himself walked into the Reynolds’ barbershop.
After shaking hands all around, James Brown took a seat on the stand and asked Reynolds to give him a shine. Although he was immaculate from head to toe, Reynolds dutifully re-shined his shoes. When Mr. Brown stepped down from the stand, he told Reynolds that he himself had started out shining shoes. He assured Reynolds that it was an honorable profession, and good work, but encouraged him to think about what he might want to do next. On his way out of the barbershop, Mr. Brown handed Reynolds a five spot. “I thought I had died and gone to heaven,” Reynolds recalled.
Although he was too young at the time to go see James Brown do his thing, their brief interchange stuck with him. His father had hoped he would take over the barbershop, but Reynolds instead decided to attended Fairfield State Teacher’s College where he graduated at the top of his class. He still lives in Roanoke today, where he is a community activist.
“I’ve got those blue ridge mountain blues/and I’ll stand right here to say/my grip is packed to travel and I’m scratching gravel/for the blue ridge far away.”
-Earl Scruggs, “Blue Ridge Mountain Blues”
Icons of the world: the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, the Taj Mahal, the Sphynx, Machu Picchu, the good, old leaning Tower of Pisa, the H&C Coffee Cup…
“Not one in a million Americans ever again will ride a scheduled mainline passenger train behind a live and breathing steam locomotive. That time is gone. “
- liner notes from The Fading Giant
It’s impossible to ignore the train in Roanoke, the nightly screech of freight trains edging through town, the whistles that pierce the city’s hum throughout the day. Each morning, Whitney and I run across a bridge and peer down on the train tracks below, hundreds of boxcars full of coal form a line clear to the horizon. There hasn’t been a single morning when one of us hasn’t commented on the sight.
Bill Arnold was born 50 feet from the tracks.
Peace is a journey of a thousand miles and it must be taken one step at a time.
- Lyndon B. Johnson
The people known as the Somali Bantu have endured centuries of discrimination and violence, and during the recent war in Somalia, the Bantu were again the victims of violence in that country. Of the roughly 20,000 Somali Bantu refugees in Africa and Yemen, some 5,000 found refuge in Tanzania. In 1999, the United States Government offered the remaining 12,000 Somali Bantu refugees in Kenya the protection they had been seeking for over 10 years. The refugees are being settled in over 50 cities in 38 states. Many of those refugees have made their way to Roanoke, Virginia. MobileEast had the pleasure of recording conversations between Rahmo Isse and her mother Rukia Hussein, who are both Somali Bantu, and Saadiya Guhad and her sister Faduma who are Somali.
One of my favorite parts of working as a facilitator is learning about what other people do for a living. Janitors and teachers, lawyers and railway workers, preachers, salesmen, farmers, I have listened to the tales of just about every profession it seems, but I have never encountered quite the enthusiasm and passion that Leah Gardner, Volunteer & Education Coordinator for the O.Winston Link Museum expressed for her job. Leah and her co-worker and friend, Allison Hasson dropped by the booth recently to talk about their work within the community.
I believe the true function of age is memory. I’m recording as fast as I can.
- Rita Mae Brown
On October 8, MobileBooth East completed our first Door-to-Door recording in Salem, Virginia at the Richfield Retirement Community. We learned very quickly about the hard work the Door-to-Door team does on a regular basis and realized the challenges and rewards of taking the StoryCorps experience to people’s doorsteps. We met wonderful folks and recorded stories that were funny, poignant, and heartwarming. We heard the story of Eileen Dunnavent, who worked in a factory to support her two children. We listened to Erna Isler recall her days as an artist in Mexico, and we relived a moment with Dora Leigh and Dwaine Russell when they had their first conversation on a friend’s front porch. The European travels of Nancy Mutter, a.k.a. “The Countess of Sower, Virginia” made for quite a few amusing tales, and Elinor Bradford’s account of how Mole Hill got turned into a mountain had Nina howling with laughter!
We’d like to thank the staff of Richfield Retirement Community for making us feel so welcome and for caring enough to preserve the memories of their residents.
Roanoke is divided by the railroad. Tracks cut through the city separating the neighborhood of Gainsboro from the downtown area. During segregation, the railroad tracks served as more than just a means to transport goods but as an unofficial border between black and white citizens of Roanoke.
Gainsboro, the historically African American neighborhood lies just across the tracks from the Virginia Museum of Transportation where the MobileBooth is parked. The Henry Street Bridge, located one block away from the MobileBooth, used to be the only way for anyone to cross the tracks from Gainsboro into downtown Roanoke. “We had to be back over the bridge at about six o’clock in the evening,” said participant Dr. Perneller Chubb-Wilson.
It was an honor for me to facilitate an interview between two beautiful women who aren’t related to me by blood, but I certainly call family. Maggie Benedette-Smith and Jann Foley came in to celebrate National Midwife Week (October 7 – October 13). I learned that midwifery has always existed in the United States, but was legitimized in the 1920s by Mary Breckenridge, founder of the Frontier Nursing Service. Breckenridge and her staff traveled on horseback or foot to women’s homes over a 700 mile radius in rural Kentucky and dramatically lowered both infant and maternal mortality rates. (more…)
“I was my father’s partner from age 5.”
Earl remembered shining the shoes of the Godfather of Soul, who advised Earl, “It’s an honorable profession. You just need to think about what else you want to do with your life.”
“You know, I love spirituals and rock, Sarah Vaughn, Johann Sebastian Bach, Shakespeare, Maya Angelou, and Nikki Giovanni, just to name a few! ”
— Teena Marie, “Square Biz“
Music has always been a vital part of Nikki Giovanni’s life. Nikki is a poet, mother, professor, activist, Grammy nominee, National Book Award finalist, and a muse/collaborator for many musicians, including Kanye West, Capathia Jenkins, Queen Latifah, and Blackalicious. Nikki stopped by the MobileBooth recently in Roanoke, Virginia (an hour from where she is a professor at Virginia Tech) and remembered a few musically inspired moments in her life.
After spending the summer working in StoryCorps’ Brooklyn office, I gave up my little apartment, sold all my belongings, and hit the road.
Before I left New York many people asked me, “How does the Airstream trailer get from one location to the next?” In the old days (like 3 years ago) the MobileBooth was towed by brave Facilitators and StoryCorps staff in a truck. Today, we hire drivers, who usually come with pets. Mike, our fearless driver and his beefy sidekick Brandy, a 120 pound rottweiler, picked up our roving recording booth Sunday morning from the Basketball Hall of Fame parking lot in Springfield, Massachusetts, and delivered her safely to our new spot in front of the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke, Virginia on Monday afternoon.