Middle Tennessee State University commemorated its centennial by hosting StoryCorps in Murfreesboro, TN, during homecoming. John Harris and Laurie Witherow, friends and coworkers at MTSU, recorded an interview during our visit.
John was born blind and still has limited sensitivity to light. Growing up in Munford, TN, near Memphis, his family did not know of a school for children who were blind. So, John spent most of his early childhood and pre-adolescent days playing in the front yard with his grandfather. They listened to Brooklyn Dodgers games over the radio together, and John followed the sportscaster’s descriptions while he pitched rocks to himself, swinging at them with a broomstick. When it connected with the rock, John finished out the play and took bases along with the Dodger hitters on the broadcast.
Not quite underwater, fellow facilitator Katrina Singh and I were actually at the Tennessee Aquarium. We hit the road in early August, headed two hours north of Atlanta to Chattanooga. The three-day recording experience was a gift to the Tennessee Aquarium from IMLS (Institute of Museum and Library Services). Each year, IMLS awards five museums and five libraries with the nation’s highest honor, the National Medal. In 2009, the Tennessee Aquarium was among the ten institutions to receive it.
Tennessee Aquarium Communications Manager Thom Benson immediately made us feel at home. While Katrina facilitated the first conversation, I checked out the seahorses just around the corner – what a diverse and colorful group of fish. At the end of the day, Thom took us on a tour of the museum’s Ocean Journey building. There we were mesmerized by jellyfish, impressed by the variety and numbers of marine animals and amused by penguins. It was a blast!
The Nashville Facilitators would like to thank interviewer and StoryCorps ambassador extraordinaire James Staub for his thoughtful and enthusiastic support of the Nashville StoryBooth this year.
James has either participated in or recruited participants for nine interviews since September 2007, including Hector Black’s interview, which aired on NPR’s Morning Edition this winter. Like Hector, many of James’s storytellers spoke of their experiences with grief and reconciliation (James is active in Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing and Murder Victim’s Families for Human Rights). Such interviews have enriched the StoryCorps archive beyond description.
James’s enthusiasm for StoryCorps is evident in these photos. Facilitators came to appreciate and anticipate his quick smile, eager spirit, and contagious laughter. Thank you, James!
At age five, Sam Compton learned that his father had been killed in a plane crash over South Dakota. Ever since, Sam’s only recollection of Staff Sergeant Samuel Logan Compton, Sr. was of the faceless man who put him to bed one moment and left for World War II the next: “I had not been able, in my mind, to know that I had looked my father in the face, and that had always bothered me.”
Sam and his wife Carolyn visited the Nashville StoryBooth on Wednesday, July 16. During their conversation, Sam explained how his 1996 investigations into his father’s death eventually led to a better understanding of the crash and an air show at Ellsworth Air Force Base in honor of Sam’s father and crew.
In his interview, Sam described the “wave of peace” that came over him when he visited his father’s crash site at Ellsworth: “I shut my eyes and all of the sudden, in my mind’s eye, I could see a pilot standing atop that hill with a five year old boy… While I could not look at the face of my father, I feel the blessings [that] came to me to give me a connection and give me a release. I truly believed that I was blessed.”
In the course of their investigation, Sam and Carolyn were contacted by a woman whose father had attended gunnery school with Sam’s father. An artist, Samuel Logan Compton, Sr. sketched the following caricature into his fellow airman’s graduation book using the pen name “Leroy.” Sam now keeps a copy of this sketch in memory of his father.
On Saturday, June 28, James Havron, Nashville Public Library historian and StoryCorps liaison, hosted a Door-to-Door at City Road Chapel United Methodist Church, in Madison, Tennessee. Michelle Swinehart and Martha O’Brien facilitated. When the door to the recording space closed, participants told stories of meeting in high school band, living on farms, serving in the military, and their exotic travels. Memories of former days came alive.
Our thanks to James Havron for organizing the interviews and especially his support of the Nashville StoryBooth.
On Tuesday, May 6, 2008, the Nashville Public Library and StoryCorps facilitators Kate Wingate, Martha O’Brien, Esi Arthur, and Cindy Murphy hosted a StoryCorps Community Listening Party at the Green Hills Branch Library. Over 75 people attended this event, including past participants, curious newcomers, library employees, WPLN 90.3 FM staff, and various other members of the Nashville community.
Attendees met facilitators and past participants, learned about StoryCorps and the Nashville StoryBooth, and listened to several StoryCorps clips, including two local Nashville clips that aired recently on NPR’s Morning Edition: Joe Buford and Michelle Miller, and Hector Black. Later, past StoryCorps participants James Staub, Rosemary Weldon, Brenda Wynn, and Emily Brittain shared highlights of their own experience in the Nashville StoryBooth. They also served as panelists, answering attendees’ questions regarding StoryCorps interviews in general.
This event was an immense success, and we look forward to similar events in the future. In the meantime, the facilitators wish to recognize Deanna Larson, Elyse Adler, and James Havron for their support in planning the Community Listening Party, as well as Claudia Schauman and the Green Hills Branch staff. We’d also like to thank the Woodbine Community Organization‘s Seniors Group for transporting their members to the Green Hills Branch Library for this event. And a very special thank you to the Nashville Public Library Foundation for catering and supporting Nashville’s very first StoryCorps Community Listening Party.
Nashville cultural historian Cynthia Bond Hopson visited the Nashville Story Booth yesterday to record her story. Facilitator Martha O’Brien interviewed her and asked Cynthia about her family and her strong bond with her parents. When speaking of her parents, Cynthia’s sparkling eyes, bright smile, and joyful laugh left no doubt about her love and appreciation for them and the lessons they taught her. She described her father as a big man with a big heart who “made everyone want to do better,” including Cynthia and her seven siblings. Among the important life lessons they imparted to their children were to “treat others as you want to be treated” and the belief that “If you do right, right will follow you.” She credits her family’s closeness in part to the fact that they ate dinners together as a family every night, a practice she regretfully acknowledged is on the decline in today’s fast-paced society. She believes that the act of sharing stories with and actively listening to one another at the dinner table helped to endow her with a strong sense of self and an appreciation of her cultural heritage. She feels that because she has been so blessed, it is her responsibility to give back to her family and community in any way she can. It was truly an inspiration to be in the booth with her.
Last week Sara McFadden brought her father, Jack McFadden, to the Nashville StoryBooth for a StoryCorps interview. Though visiting family in the states right now, Sara normally lives in Venezuela, where she teaches English as a second language. Sara told us that she and her adult ESL students listen to StoryCorps clips regulary via the StoryCorps website. Afterward, they discuss the interviews aloud to practice comprehension and spoken skills.
Sara is excited to share her StoryCorps experience with her students when she returns to Venezuela. She even took several StoryCorps buttons as souvenirs for her class.
Wanda Armstrong and her daughter, Ronda, recently visited the Nashville StoryBooth. Wanda’s dad and husband were both musicians and her daughter inherited their talent. During the interview, they harmonized on one of Wanda’s dad’s favorite songs, “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” Wanda fondly remembered how, after a gig, her dad would invite band members to their house. She loved hearing them play bluegrass tunes by Bill Monroe and Hank Williams, and remembered her father singing the song, “I Wish I was Single Again.”
Virginia McCarthy’s earliest memory is overhearing her parents discuss bank closures at the brink of the Great Depression. Fortunately, the majority of her childhood memories growing up in 1930′s Chicago are rather pleasant. “I didn’t find the Depression so depressing,” Virginia told her daughter, Mary McCarthy, in a recent interview at the Nashville StoryBooth.
Virginia can still recall outdoor concerts at Garfield Park, playing in alleyways while collecting bottles for their two cent deposit, and sleeping outside with her father and siblings during hot summer nights. She even remembers attending the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.
“I had a wonderful life, ” she told her daughter at the end of the interview.
“Did you have fun talking about a little bit of it today?” Mary asked.
“Yes I did, because it reminds me of all the fun things we did… I enjoyed it tremendously.”
Three friends, Carolyn Butcher Perry, Karen Kledzik, and Phyllis Amerikaner, took a “girlfriend trip” to Nashville from Santa Barbara, California, to record a StoryCorps interview and also visit the Grand Ole Opry. Avid StoryCorps listeners, they wanted to record their antics to honor and celebrate their friendship. Their stories sparkled with memories of former adventures – from dressing like bag ladies for Menopause the Musical to marching in majorette boots in the Sweet Potato Queen parade. Phyllis’s “good morning song” to her daughter rocked the StoryBooth with laughter.
Sandra Hill Spruill (L) and her daugher, Molly Spruill (R), drove 250 miles last weekend – from Atlanta, Georgia to Nashville, Tennessee – to participate in a StoryCorps interview at the Nashville StoryBooth.
In their interview, Molly asked her mother to recall Molly’s maternal grandmother and great-grandmother, and to list the qualities of each that Sandra perceives in her own children today. This question sparked a thoughtful, intimate conversation between mother and daughter regarding family and the inevitable inheritance of our loved ones’ struggles as well as their strengths.
“This was such a great idea that you wanted to do this,” Sandra told Molly near the end of the interview. “We should do it again. . . . Next time I’ll interview you.”
Irene Popa never dreamed she would end up in Nashville, Tennessee. Born to a poor family in Bucharest, Romania, she learned to be a survivor at a young age. Her family was so destitute, they had to send her away to “weekly care” during the work week, bringing her home only on the weekends. Recently, Popa, a local Nashville aesthetician, came to the Nashville StoryBooth to share her story with her “soul sister,” Julianna Ericson. She told Ericson that she finally found a home with her grandmother, an herbalist, who served as her village’s healer and midwife. Popa’s grandmother, she recalled, taught her how to make herbal remedies and body care products, many of which she uses today at her face and body studio. She also imparted her wisdom, which guides Popa even today.
Mrs. Carrie Gentry (L) still remembers the evening she first learned that the new athletic facility on Tennessee State University’s campus would be named for her husband, the late Howard C. Gentry, Sr. Last Saturday, Mrs. Gentry was interviewed at the Nashville StoryBooth by Tennessee State University student, Chessley Jones (R). In her interview, she recalled many fond memories of her husband’s long career as both coach and athletic director at Tennessee State University. Mrs. Gentry was particularly proud of the Howard C. Gentry Athletic Endowment Scholarship Fund and its endeavors to provide financial aid to TSU athletes.
As a TSU student herself, Ms. Jones’s admiration of her interviewee was evident throughout. I was moved to witness an intergenerational friendship forming as the women conversed. Special thanks to the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society’s Nashville chapter for arranging this interview.
The Lorraine Motel, where the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, which is now the home of the National Civil Rights Museum.
Stax recoding studio. Now a museum of Soul music.
This week StoryCorps Griot concluded a six week stay in Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis is a city defined by proud and storied neighborhoods like Orange Mound and South Memphis (a.k.a. Funky Town), legendary musicians from WC Handy to Issac Hayes to Three 6 Mafia, triumphant moments – Dr. King’s Mountaintop Speech, and deep sorrow – Dr. King’s assassination.
Between the lines of news-makers and note-worthies stand the people whose pulse has given endless life and vibrancy to the city, its triumphs and sorrows. The news-makers and note-worthies are worthless without the shoulders they stand on. They stand on the shoulders of the people you pass on the street, stand behind in line, and celebrate with on holidays. It is the people who were driven from their rural homes by racist brutality, refugees in a strange city called Memphis. They stand on the shoulders of the first family member to attend a newly segregated school, swim in a pool or use the front door of a restaurant. History is made and the future is paved by everyone striving to eat and raise their children with love, compassion and the tools to triumph in a wicked world, and all those others who don’t quite make it but we can’t help but love anyway. So often people insist they don’t have anything to share. But anyone who has lived long enough to hold a memory has something to share. What seems mundane to you will become monumental to a relative who hears your voice years from now.
Robyn R. Stone (L) hugs her mother Christine Cowan (R)
On Thursday, November 29 Robyn Stone and her mother Christine came to the StoryCorps Griot booth in Memphis, Tennessee. In the quiet of the booth Mrs. Cowan revealed to her daughter deep reflections on her life. Like all StoryCorps participants, they left with a CD recording of their conversation.
On Monday, December 3 Christine Cowan had a stroke. Luckily, the stroke was minor, not affecting her speech or memory. But it could have been much worse.
Later that week Mrs. Stone came to the booth to share what had happened: “I learned so much about her and her past. We spoke about family, history and aspirations for the future generations. I can’t tell you the number of times I have replayed the CD and smiled. . . I can’t tell you how overwhelmed I feel having her voice professionally recorded.”
We are happy we could provide a place for Mrs Cowan and her daughter to enjoy a recorded conversation. We wish you and your family all the best and years of good health.
Dr. David Acey
” . . . I moved from being Black to Colored to Negro from Colored to Black to African to African American. . . “
We do not always have the opportunity to sit and speak to those who have blazed the trail that we now walk. Thanks in part to the StoryCorps Griot initiative one young man was blessed with the opportunity to listen closely – with undivided attention – to one of the countless individuals who is responsible for helping to lift the torch that the younger generation must continue to carry. Only by listening to those who have carved our path can we expect to pick up where they left off.
What’s in a name?
Lane College student Travon Whitemore listening closely to his partner.
StoryCorps Griot ended last week with a two day trip to Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee. Lane College is a small, private institution that is proudly one of many Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in the South. HBCUs are defined as colleges or universities established before 1964 with the intention of serving African-Americans. These institutions are a source of great pride. Over the years they have made extraordinary untold contributions to American culture and society.
Theresa Franklin (L) and Maggie Conway (R)
When Maggie Conway read in a local Memphis newspaper that StoryCorps Griot was in town, she was ecstatic. Immediately she began to make arrangements to bring StoryCorps Griot to her church so that her friends and fellow parishioners could share their stories. Mrs. Conway is a member of Saint Therese-Little Flower Catholic Church. The church is located roughly between downtown and north Memphis, in a neighborhood referred to as the Vollintine Evergreen community.