When John and I arrived at Park View High School on the first real day of spring, we weren’t sure what to expect. We were there because the school’s library had won a National Medal from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the first time any high school library had received the honor.
We entered the sprawling building and met Candace Rush, one of the librarians and the person who had worked to painstakingly craft a perfect interview schedule for the next three days. Working around the school’s bell schedule, as well as the students’ and teachers’ classes, Candace had made a chart in their office, complete with moveable cards representing each interview pair! This was definitely a first for us, and a good indication of the diligence and care that the library runs on.
For the next three days, we spoke with a series of students and teachers about their experiences at Park View. It is one of the more ethnically and economically diverse schools in the area, a fact that members of the Park View community are proud to claim. Students talked about the warmth of the school environment, and the support of their teachers. The teachers talked about their respect for their students, many of whom are working to help support their families while working as hard as possible in their classes.
On the last day, Uyenmy Dao and Beth Walker came in. Beth has been a teacher at Park View since it first opened, and Uyenmy is a student in her sophomore year. Beth had grown up nearby in Virginia, while Uyenmy was born in Vietnam and moved to Sterling six years ago.
Uyenmy vividly recalled her memory of her first moment in the United States, and the adjustments she began to make soon after. She explained that in the United States her priority is her education. If she goes to college she will be the first in her family to do so. Beth shared her own experience with education, both as a teacher and a student. After decades of teaching Physical Education and Driver’s Education at Park View she returned to school and got a Master’s Degree, and now works to support teachers in their use of technology in the classroom.
Throughout their interview, they spoke of the Park View community. Beth, who coached the girls’ softball team for 27 years, talked about how being part of the ever-evolving community has changed her, for the better. Uyenmy remembered the struggles she found as she adjusted to life in the United States, went to school, and helped her family. She said that through those struggles, she learned to have confidence in herself, and the ability to accomplish what she set out to do.
At the end of the interview, Uynemy and Beth put the pieces together and realized that Uyenmy’s mother and Beth have met, and that Beth and Uyenmy had been looking for each other, at Uyenmy’s mother’s encouragement. It seemed a fitting end, a coming full circle, for two people who had been learning just how much they valued their community.
The phrase “last will and testament” evoke a lot of different feelings. Beyond the finality of death, there’s the desire to carry out those last wishes. When Mrs. Betsy Saunders and Mrs. Mary Mitchell learned about philanthropist Grace Arents’ will and that her intention to have gardens planted in memory of her uncle, entrepreneur Lewis Ginter, had yet to be carried out, the women were spurred to action. We met Betsy and Mary onsite of an Institute of Museum and Library Services National Medal awardee, the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia, when they participated in StoryCorps.
LGBG sits on an historic property of over 50 acres of beautiful gardens, but the organization brings more than beautiful nature to it’s community: LGBG is a place to volunteer, somewhere to listen to music with the family, and even a good afternoon picnic spot. Its public programming educates the community on gardening and horticulture, allowing youth to realize that, yes, they eat plants.
That’s LGBG today, but back in 1981, 13 years after the city of Richmond took possession of the property, the land looked quite different.
One hundred people came together at the Robert Russa Moton Museum in Farmville, VA, to participate in a school reunion. But this wasn’t just any reunion. This was an event to honor Prince Edward County students who were affected by the public school closings from 1959-1964. The Moton Museum invited StoryCorps Door-to-Door to come to Farmville for the weekend to record the stories of some of these students and teachers.
Following the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, which held that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” the public schools in Prince Edward County, VA, resisted integration. In 1959, the Board of Supervisors for Prince Edward County refused to appropriate any funds, effectively closing all public schools. The schools remained closed until September 1964 when the Supreme Court, in Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, held that closing public schools for the sole purpose of race violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
“I was raised up on a farm, sharecropping” Lee Everet Dial told Nancy Gatlin, of Virginia Beach’s Judeo-Christian Outreach Center, a homeless shelter and recovery center. At 78, Lee is a former resident of JCOC, and still comes by for the occasional meal.
“When I was 11 years old,” Lee continued, “I used to take two big mules and turn ground all day long, out in the country. It weren’t easy.”
The oldest of eleven children, Lee worked 72 acres of cotton, corn, and tobacco on his family’s land in North Carolina. The job was year-round and left him with little time for school. “I got to school about two days a week, and I was the biggest kid in school. I got disgusted with school. My dad said, ‘you’re worth more to me at home than you are in school. You got to work on this farm. We got to live.’ And so it was hard,” Lee remembered. “And I still have a problem with not being able to read and write. But God sees me through.”
Lee brought his guitar to the booth. While growing up, he used to play clubs in Virginia and North Carolina. Today, Lee fills the booth with his bluesy renditions of “
WHRV 89.5 FM welcomed StoryCorps to Norfolk, Virginia on October 22, the eve of our 6th year of listening.
Our friends at 89.5 FM not only set up a huge banner over Waterside Drive announcing our arrival, but they also provided music and food for guests at our opening day. Of course, the best part of any opening day is the stories we hear from our participants.
Brenda H. Andrews interviewed her friend Andrew I. Heidelberg about his experiences as one of the Norfolk 17, the first group of black students to attend previously white schools during desegregation in Virginia. One day, when 12 year-old Andrew was coming home for dinner, there were two women and a man from the NAACP at his family’s home. They wanted to recruit Andrew in their efforts to get African-American students into recently desegregated schools. Andrew agreed to participate but had no idea what to expect. Months later at age 13 was his first day at Norview High School. Despite the tremendous prejudice he faced on a daily basis from white students at Norview, he knew he would graduate. “I didn’t want to let them make me quit,” he said.
A tale of triumph over a different kind of adversity came from Ray Evans who spoke with his daughter Debra Matthews about what it was like to be a child evacuee in England during World War II. His separation from his family found him in foster home after foster home, some of them warm and loving and others awful and abusive. Ray also talked about the bittersweet moment when he had to leave his final foster home-a wonderful, caring place-to return to his family.
Mr. Heidelberg summed up the message of both stories when he said, “Quitters never win and winners never quit!”
Recently Ami Neiberger-Miller of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) invited StoryCorps Door-to-Door to come to Arlington National Cemetery to record stories with three families who lost loved ones during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sharon Capra came to remember her son, Tony Capra, who was killed by an improvised explosive device on April 9, 2008, in Iraq. Tony was the oldest of twelve siblings and always loved being the big brother. His father was in the military and traveled a lot, so Tony got to play the role of man of the house.
Sharon remembered when Tony was ten years old and her purse was stolen from a restaurant. “He immediately charged after the person who was running with my purse…so the owner of the restaurant ran out and chased him down and brought him back. You know, he just thought, ‘I just need to get back that purse,’ so off he ran. So many times, he surprised us by his actions.”
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.
Standing (l-r): Charlie Schmidt, Steve Clark, Dan Stackhouse
Seated (l-r): Nick Pumilia, Sarah Geis, Ren Schmidt, Rhonda Ellis