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What, or rather, who is a griot?

Posted on Friday, February 16th, 2007.

95 year old Myrtis Walker is an American griot. Echoing traditions from the continent where her grandfather was captured and enslaved, Walker came to StoryCorps to tell her daughter the stories of their ancestors. In West Africa, griots serve as the repository of a community’s history and often recount the stories through poetry and song. Here in Atlanta, GA, Mrs Walker recounted the story of her grandfather who called himself Romulus, choosing a “White man’s” name to counter the “White man’s” nicknames “nigger”, “boy” and “coon”. Mrs Walker also sang a gospel she sometimes sang at her husband’s church and a childhood favorite: Bessie Smith’s “All you women better leave my man alone”.

Mrs Walker sometimes combines apparent seriousness with sharp wit. For example, she recalled time wasted looking for babies in cabbage patches and how a marriage counselor’s intervention finally ended her search. Her daughter, thinking she was concluding the interview says: “Well now you know where babies come from.” To which Mrs Walker replies: “I know where mine come from but I don’t know about other women”.

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