Durham – StoryCorps

Melva Washington Toomer and John Washington

John Washington was born blind and with a severe loss of hearing that has become more extreme over time. Just before he turned 30, he met his future wife, Fannie Ruth, who was also blind and deaf. In 1950 they got married, and remained together for 55 years having three children together—Melva, Warren, and Canady—before Fannie Ruth passed away in 2005.

John & Ruth WashingtonJohn, who did not finish high school, began reading books in braille “to learn the ways of life,” and went on to teach others to read braille as well. He spent years working as a massage therapist, and in 1952, in what he considers one of his proudest achievements, he helped found the first braille magazine in the United States focused solely on issues important to the African American community—The Negro Braille Magazine.

Now 95 years old, John recently recorded a StoryCorps interview with his eldest child, Melva Washington Toomer (pictured in the player above), using a TeleBraille machine, a device that requires Melva to type her questions on a keyboard which are then translated to a braille touchpad for her father to read.

At StoryCorps, he shared some of his favorite stories about raising his children, and asked his daughter an important question about what she plans to do with him as he continues to move closer to being 100 years old.

Besides using a TeleBraille machine, John also speaks with others through fingerspelling–a method of communication where words are spelled out directly into his hand by another person using the American Sign Language alphabet. (Watch the above video to see John and Melva fingerspell.)

Originally aired August 19, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Above: John and Fannie Ruth Washington at the Durham, North Carolina, YMCA in the mid-1970s where were he worked as a massage therapist. Photo courtesy of Melva Washington Toomer.

Mussarut Jabeen and Yusor Abu-Salha

In May 2014, Yusor Abu-Salha (right)–one of the victims of the February 10, 2015 shooting in Chapel Hill, North Carolina–recorded a StoryCorps interview with Mussarut Jabeen (left), who was her third-grade teacher.

In fact, all three of the victims–Yusor, her husband, Deah Barakat, and her sister, Razan Abu-Salha–attended Jabeen’s school.

Mussarut Jabeen returned recently to talk about Yusor’s death.

Originally aired February 13, 2015, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

David Wright and Eddie Lanier Jr.

Eddie Lanier Jr. (above right) met David Wright (above left) while panhandling on a highway exit ramp. Eddie was homeless and fighting to stay sober. The two men became friends, and in 2006 David interviewed Eddie at a StoryCorps booth in Durham, North Carolina.

Click here to listen to their first interview.

In 2014, StoryCorps returned to Durham. Eddie and David, who then lived together, came back for a second interview. At the time, Eddie was suffering from a very advanced stage of emphysema and didn’t have long to live. At StoryCorps, he spoke about the end of his life.

Eddie passed away five months after his second StoryCorps interview.

Click here to watch “The Road Home,” the StoryCorps animation of Eddie and David’s story.

Originally aired May 9, 2014, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Cynthia Rahn

Cynthia Rahn remembers a kindergarten class project—a diorama of life on a farm—that she failed to finish on time, and what her mother did for her while Cynthia slept that showed her how much she cared.

Originally aired January 4, 2008, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Edwin Lanier, Jr. and David Wright

Edwin Lanier Jr. (left), who is homeless, speaks with his friend, David Wright (right).

Originally aired October 20, 2006, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Gregg Goins and Steve Nelms

Former tobacco auctioneers Gregg Goins (left) and Steve Nelms talk about their work.

Originally aired April 21, 2006, on NPR’s Morning Edition.