Griot Initiative Archives - StoryCorps

A Couple Reflects On The Crossroads of Their Relationship

In 1999 Tom Peters met JoAn Joseph at a party for his job. Tom felt obligated to attend, and  JoAn tagged along with a friend who didn’t want to go alone. And yet, they locked eyes from across the room, and danced and talked the night away. 

 

Tom Peters and JoAn Peters in 2000. Courtesy of Tom Peters.

They fell in love and their relationship moved quickly, even though Tom was much older than JoAn and had already been married twice with three children. But a couple of years into their relationship, they came to a crossroads, and had to make a difficult decision.

Tom Peters and JoAn Peters at their StoryCorps interview in Santa Monica, California on January 6, 2020. By Courtney Gilbert for StoryCorps.

Tom and JoAn came to StoryCorps to reflect on that moment, and their journey since.


Top Photo:  JoAn Peters and Tom Peters in 2001. Courtesy of Tom Peters.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired January 20, 2023, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

“Fear” Wasn’t A Word His Father Knew: The Origins Of A Civil Rights Leader

Rev. Harry Blake grew up working on a cotton plantation in Louisiana. At an early age, he learned the delicate balance between standing up for yourself and survival.

Entering adulthood he was drawn to the ministry, eventually becoming the Pastor of Mount Canaan Baptist Church, where he served for many decades.

Rev. Harry Blake in the mid 1960s as a young Pastor of Mount Canaan Baptist Church courtesy of Monica Mickle.

Blake became active in the Civil Rights movement and was invited by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to work for him at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He survived beatings, arrests and even an assassination attempt. 

Rev. Harry Blake (c) talks with Shreveport police outside a memorial service at the Little Union Baptist Church on Sept. 22, 1963. Local authorities refused a permit to hold a memorial for four girls killed in a bomb blast in Birmingham, Ala., several days earlier. When it appeared a march would be held anyway, a tense confrontation ensued. © Langston McEachern, Port Huron Times Herald via Imagn Content Services, LLC

In 2017 Rev. Blake came to StoryCorps with his daughter Monica Mickle.  At the age of 85, Rev. Harry Blake Died from COVID-19 in the early months of the pandemic.

Top Photo: Monica Mickle and Rev. Harry Blake at their StoryCorps interview in Shreveport, Louisiana on October 30, 2017. By Madison Mullen for StoryCorps.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired on January 13, 2023 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

 

Two Bartenders Remember the Highs and Lows of Working at Brooklyn’s Historic Starlite Lounge

Sometimes a bar is more than just a business, it’s a part of history. These bars are places where cultures flourish, and often become a second home to devoted customers and a treasured landmark that neighbors proudly claim. For many years that was the Starlite Lounge in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, which was one of the first Black-owned gay bars in the city.

“It was the most welcoming place in the world,” Albert Johnson remembers.

Closing night at the Starlite Lounge in Crown Heights, Brooklyn in summer 2010. Courtesy of Donna Cuthbert.

Albert tended bar at the Starlite for nine years, and in 2010 he came to StoryCorps with fellow bartender Donna Cuthbert to talk about their time working there; the nights of dancing, the beloved jukebox and the eccentric regulars—some of whom refused to go home.

That same year the property owner sold the building, and despite efforts by the local community it was last call for the Starlite. But its legacy as a gathering space for the gay Black community lives on in the memories of its former employees and patrons.

Originally aired December 30, 2022 on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts. 

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The Women Behind The Men – James Brown’s Backing Singers Look Back on Life’s Choices

As a kid growing up in the late 1950s, Sandra Bears used to sit at the top of her basement steps, and watch her older brother’s singing group practice. She and her girlfriends decided they wanted to do the same thing, so they started their own group.

By the time they got to Roosevelt High School, in Washington, D.C., they were recording songs together. One day, they held an audition for a new member, and that’s when they met 16-year-old Martha Harvin. She hit her first note in harmony with the girls… and the rest is history.

3 out of 4 of the members of the girl group “The Jewels” (Sandra Bears, Grace Ruffin, and Martha Harvin pose for a Dimension Records publicity portrait in 1964 in New York, New York. Photo by James Kriegsmann/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Image.

The girls started performing out across the country, and they eventually were invited to a one week show for up and coming artists at the Apollo Theater. Every night they got a standing ovation, but one special night changed the course of their lives.

Martha High performing with James Brown.

Sandra and Martha came to StoryCorps in 2022, to look back on that time, their life choices, and their lasting friendship.

Top Photo: Martha High in Amsterdam, and Sandra Bears in Washington D.C., at their virtual StoryCorps interview on May 14, 2022, for StoryCorps.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired December 16th, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

After Four Decades In The Classroom, A Texas Teacher Is Keeping History Alive

Nelva Williamson grew up in a small town near Cape Cod, MA. Her mother was a teacher for 52 years and her father was a career military man.

Nelva Williamson (center) poses with her mother, Vird Ella Williams (left), and her father, Harold Williams (right), at Nelva’s college graduation. 

Nelva grew up with a love and respect for learning that she carried with her throughout her life. As a young woman she found herself drawn to the classroom, and 42 years later that’s still where you will find her. When faced with the option of retiring, Nelva instead decided to help found a public high school in Houston, Texas. The school is an all-girls institution serving predominantly Black and Hispanic students.

Nelva came to StoryCorps with her son Timothy J. Harris to reflect on her 42-year career and the importance of teaching ‘the whole history.’

Top Photo: Nelva Williamson and Timothy J. Harris at their StoryCorps interview in Houston, Texas on May 26, 2022. By Jey Born for StoryCorps.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired August 26, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

“He Took Me Under His Wing”: The Father Figure Who Mentored Aspiring Black Surgeons

As a kid, Vivien Thomas had dreams of being a doctor. He enrolled in college at Tennessee A&I State College, but in 1929, the stock market crashed, and he couldn’t afford to continue. But Thomas was determined to make his dreams a reality, and he got a job working under prominent surgeon, Alfred Blalock. Eventually, Thomas became the Director of Surgical Research Laboratories at Johns Hopkins University.

Dr. Thomas was at the forefront of medical breakthroughs. He invented several surgical tools and methods, many of which are still used today. He is most notably credited with identifying a solution for a deadly condition known as “Blue Baby Syndrome” — a congenital heart affliction in babies.

During his over four-decade career at Hopkins, Dr. Thomas passed down the knowledge by training dozens of other aspiring surgeons, particularly Black men, like Fred Gilliam and Jerry Harris. 

Fred Gilliam and Jerry Harris at their StoryCorps interview in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo by Alletta Cooper for StoryCorps.

Many of the men who Dr. Thomas trained had little-to-no formal medical training before they worked for him, including Fred and Jerry.

They came to StoryCorps to remember the time they spent learning and training under Dr. Thomas, and how his mentorship changed their lives.

Dr. Vivien Thomas in his lab. Public Domain. 

Dr. Vivien Thomas never received a formal medical degree, but In 1976, he received an honorary degree from Johns Hopkins Hospital. Dr. Thomas died in 1985.

Fred Gilliam started his work with Dr. Thomas shortly after finishing high school. Dr. Thomas encouraged and enabled Fred to continue his higher education. Fred received his Associates degree in Emergency Medical Technology, and he went on to work at the American Red Cross.

Jerry Harris had previously been in nursing school before his time with Dr. Thomas. He honed his skills in pediatric surgery during his time with Dr. Thomas, and later stayed at Johns Hopkins as a coordinator in the School of Medicine. Harris died in 2019.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired July 1st, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

“This Isn’t Normal At All”: A Mother And Son Reflect On A Culture Of Mass Shootings

In 2018 Dezmond Floyd, then 10  years old, came to StoryCorps with his mother Tanai Benard-Turner to talk about what goes through his mind during what was becoming increasingly familiar, active shooter drills at school. 

(L) Tanai Benard-Turner and her son Dezmond Floyd at their StoryCorps interview in 2018, (R) Dezmond Floyd and his mother Tanai Benard-Turner at their StoryCorps interview in 2022. By Jud Esty-Kendall and Danny Reeves for StoryCorps.

Four years passed and Dezmond and Tenai, from Houston, Texas, were still having conversations about the effects of gun violence on American children.

After the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, mother and son returned to StoryCorps to reflect on the emotional impact these drills and shootings are having on children across the country.

Top Photo: Dezmond Floyd and his mother Tanai Benard-Turner at their StoryCorps interview in Houston, Texas on June 4th, 2022. By Danny Reeves for StoryCorps.

Originally aired June 10th, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Breaking Baseball’s Color Barrier: How Jackie Robinson Inspired One Man “To Be Somebody”

On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball when he took Ebbets Field for the Brooklyn Dodgers. That day is a historic marker for racial progress, but his journey to becoming the first African American player in the majors began in Daytona Beach, Florida — a year earlier.

During the spring of 1946, Robinson was a member of the Montreal Royals, the minor league club for the Dodgers, and he was in Daytona Beach to train. In the segregated South, he couldn’t play on whites-only ballfields with the rest of his team, so he practiced at Kelly Field, a local playground in the Black section of town.

It was at Kelly Field where Harold Lucas, Jr. met Jackie Robinson.

Photo of 6-year-old Harold Lucas, Jr., from 1949. Courtesy of Harold Lucas, Jr.

The Royals were preparing to play a minor league game in Sanford, Florida, but segregation laws — and a mob of threatening townsfolk — prevented Robinson from taking the field. So Black leaders in Daytona Beach stepped in, and gave Robinson a place to play — and an opportunity for Black residents to cheer for him.

Harold Lucas attended Robinson’s first game, and remembered that day at StoryCorps.

Top Photo: D’Lorah Butts-Lucas, Harold Lucas, Jr. and Darryll Lucas after their StoryCorps interview in Daytona Beach, Florida on March 21, 2022.

Hear more about Jackie Robinson’s journey to the big leagues in Daytona Beach.

Originally aired April 15, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

In A House Full Of Rules, Cousins Remember A Rare Glimpse Of Freedom

In the early 1980s, Monica Jordan and her family moved in with her great aunt in Atlanta. That’s where she and her cousin, LaTonya Walker, developed a bond that made them more like sisters.

With two moms raising them under one roof, there were plenty of rules. Church was required every Sunday and no one got to play unless all of their chores were done.

At seven and nine years old, Monica and LaTonya dreamed of the day where they could spend a day doing whatever they wanted. And one particular afternoon, that’s exactly what they did.

Monica and LaTonya came to StoryCorps to remember their rare glimpse of freedom.

Top Photo: Monica Jordan and LaTonya Walker at their StoryCorps interview in Atlanta, Georgia on May 30th, 2021 for StoryCorps.

Originally aired Friday, April 1, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

From Civil War To Civil Rights: Remembering A “Fearless” Midwife And Matriarch

Mary Stepp Burnette Hayden was born into enslavement in Black Mountain, North Carolina. She was 7 years old when she was freed.

Mary Stepp Burnette Hayden, about 1942, with her granddaughter, Mary Othella Burnette, and two of Hayden’s great-grandchildren. Courtesy of Mary O. Burnette.

Mary would go on to become a midwife in the Appalachian town, a practice she learned from her mother, who was sold to a plantation in Black Mountain at the age of 13 to treat sick or injured enslaved people. 

Mary died at the age of 98, at the dawn of the civil rights era. 

In her lifetime, she delivered several hundred babies… including her own grandchildren.

One of them, Mary Othella Burnette, came to StoryCorps with her daughter, Debora Hamilton Palmer, to honor the family matriarch.

Mary Othella Burnette and Debora Hamilton Palmer in 2015, Michigan. Courtesy of Mary O. Burnette.

 

Top Photo: Mary Othella Burnette and Debora Hamilton Palmer at their StoryCorps interview in Saint Clair Shores, MI, and Sparks, NV, on Feb. 6, 2022. By StoryCorps.

Originally aired February 18, 2022 on NPR’s Morning Edition.