Griot Archives - StoryCorps

“It Feels Like a Gift”: How Taking a Name Kept One Man’s Legacy Alive

In 1981, the death of 21-year-old Cameroonian man Acha Mbiwan devastated his family. Losing Acha — known for his mischievous sense of humor and prodigious intelligence — sent shockwaves through the family’s tight-knit community.  

For more than 40 years, they found it difficult to even speak about Acha. But little did they know that Acha had befriended an American man in college named Atiba, who was so moved by Acha’s death that he took his friend’s last name, Mbiwan, as a tribute.

In 2012, Acha’s sisters Didi Ndando and Egbe Monjimbo learned of Atiba’s existence after stumbling across him on the internet. All three sat down for StoryCorps to talk about what happened next.

This story was adapted from the StoryCorps Podcast. To hear the full story, listen to the episode: “One Who Is Understanding

Top Photo: Didi Ndando, Atiba Mbiwan, and Egbe Monjimbo at a reunion for Atiba’s family in Atlanta in 2014. Courtesy of Egbe Monjimbo.
Middle Photo: Acha Mbiwan posing in a photo booth in 1980 in Paris, France. Courtesy of Egbe Monjimbo.

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 2, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition

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“Charlottesville Shouldn’t Be Discussed”: But This Local Refused to Forget

On August 12, 2017, hundreds of white nationalists converged on Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the removal of a Confederate monument. The “Unite the Right” rally became deadly when a car rammed into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring more than a dozen others.

Charlottesville resident, 52-year-old Lisa Woolfork was in that crowd, and she was at the intersection where the car attack took place. The shock from that violent day remains with her. But as she told Kendall King-Sellars, who was also in the crowd that day, not everyone wants to talk about it.

Counter-protest to the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017. Courtesy of Lisa Woolfork.

Today, Lisa is an associate professor at the University of Virginia, and she now runs her own sewing group, “Black Women Stitch,” and podcast, “Stitch Please.”

Lisa and Kendall’s conversation is brought to you by One Small Step at the University of Virginia’s Karsh Institute of Democracy, with support from the Memory Project at UVA and WTJU.

Top Photo: Lisa Woolfork (Left) and Kendall King-Sellars (Right). Courtesy of Lisa Woolfork and Kendall King-Sellars.

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 12, 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.

“Our Father Taught Us To Love Ourself”: Remembering The Man Who Brought Juneteenth To San Diego

Long before Juneteenth was recognized as a federal holiday in the U.S., Sidney Cooper had been celebrating the hallowed day for decades.

Sidney grew up in a predominantly Black town just outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Juneteenth celebrations were a common part of his upbringing.

In the early 1950s, Sidney settled down in Southern California, and he became an early Black business owner in a predominantly white area.


Sidney Cooper (center) with his daughter, Lana (left), and his wife, Thelma (right), in front of the Cooper family barbershop and produce stand on Imperial Avenue. Courtesy of Lana Cooper-Jones.

Sidney taught his children many lessons on family and community, but he also taught them the importance of celebrating Juneteenth — even when no one else in his community was acknowledging the holiday.


Marla Cooper celebrating at the family’s annual Juneteenth celebration in San Diego. Courtesy of Lana Cooper-Jones.

A banner honoring the memory of Sidney Cooper at the family’s annual Juneteenth celebration.
Courtesy of Lana Cooper-Jones.

His daughters, Marla and Lana, came to StoryCorps to remember their dad and the legacy he left in his community.

Top Photo: Lana Cooper-Jones and Marla Cooper at their StoryCorps interview in San Diego, CA on May 11, 2022 for StoryCorps.

Originally aired Friday, June 17, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

“She Had Dreams In Life”: A Remembrance Of Latasha Harlins

We should note that the audio version of this story contains a graphic description of violence.

On April 29th, 1992, the city of Los Angeles erupted into 6 days of uprisings. Over 60 people died, over 2,000 were injured, there was widespread theft and property damage to the area, and thousands of residents took to the streets in protest — the cause widely known to be the acquittal of the four police officers who brutally assaulted Rodney King.

But there was another case that also grabbed the attention of Los Angeles at that time; the killing of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins. On March 16, 1991, Harlins was shot and killed by a store clerk who accused her of stealing. 

Even though Latasha’s killer was convicted by a jury of voluntary manslaughter, a judge allowed her to avoid jail time. It was among the catalysts for the Los Angeles Riots.

Latasha’s sister, Dr. Christina Rogers, and her brother, Vester Acoff, were 8 and 10 years old, respectively, when she was killed. The three children were being raised by their grandmother, Ruth Harlins. 

Latasha’s cousin, Shinese Harlins-Kilgore (left), with Latasha Harlins (right) in 1983. Courtesy of Christina Rogers.

Vester, Ruth, and Christina sat down for StoryCorps, more than 30 years later, to remember Latasha. 

In 1992, the family started the Latasha Harlins Foundation in her name. They aim to make lasting change for low-income and Black families and children in the Los Angeles area.

Latasha Harlins as an early teen. Courtesy of Christina Rogers. 

“We’re Just Big Guys Dancing”: How One Man Found His Calling As A Mavs ManiAAC

When Rob Maiden was a kid, he was a little bigger than some of his classmates. And during one summer, he shot up from 5’6” to 6’3”, becoming the tallest one in his family. His father — a huge football enthusiast — couldn’t wait to watch Rob play football.

But Rob found his calling in another sport: a hip hop dance group of self-proclaimed “beefy” men who perform during Dallas Mavericks basketball games.

Mavs ManiAACs at a Dallas Mavericks game performance. Courtesy of Daniel Jacob.

Rob came to StoryCorps with his friend Daniel Jacob, to talk about how they both ended up as part of the Mavs ManiAACs, and how Rob’s father eventually saw him do what he was “born to do.”

Top Photo: Daniel Jacob and Rob Maiden at their StoryCorps interview in Dallas, TX in 2014. Photo by Liyna Anwar for StoryCorps.

Originally aired April 22, 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.

“The Black Vote Matters:” How An Army Veteran Inspired A Teenage Martin Luther King, Jr.

Warning, the following story includes a description of racial violence.

In 1945, World War II US Army veteran Maceo Snipes, returned home to Taylor County, Georgia. He voted in the county’s primary in July of 1946, and the next day, he was murdered by a white mob.

The news of Snipes’ lynching — and the killing of four other African Americans — reached a teenage Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., then studying at Morehouse College. These murders inspired King to write a letter to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

A teenage Dr. King’s letter to the editor of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. MLK was a Morehouse College student inspired to speak out following Maceo Snipes’ lynching. Courtesy of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Raynita Snipes Johnson, Maceo Snipes’ great niece, only recently learned of her uncle’s story when she campaigned for Black voting rights in the 2016 presidential election.

Raynita Snipes Johnson at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The church was a destination for Martin Luther King, Jr. following a KKK bombing that killed four Black children in 1963. Photo courtesy of Raynita Snipes Johnson.

She sat down with her friend, Gene Robinson, to talk about her uncle’s contribution to the Civil Rights Movement.

Gene Robinson and Raynita Snipes Johnson at their StoryCorps Virtual recording on August 29, 2020.

 

Find out more about the effort to honor Maceo Snipes’ life at The Maceo Snipes 1946 Project.


Top Photo: United States Army veteran Maceo Snipes. He served in World War II, and was murdered shortly after returning home from service. Photo courtesy of Raynita Snipes Johnson.

This story was recorded in collaboration with the PBS series FRONTLINE as part of Un(re)solved— a major initiative documenting the federal effort to investigate more than 150 cold case murders dating back to the civil rights era. More such stories can be explored in an interactive documentary at Un(re)solved.

Originally aired January 14th, 2022 on NPR’s Morning Edition.