StoryCorps 495: Griot

In early 2007, StoryCorps launched an effort to collect interviews about African American life. Called StoryCorps Griot, it was our first major recording initiative, and it set the blueprint for much of what would follow, including Historias, Military Voices, and Outloud. Now, a decade later, the Griot collection includes nearly 10,000 interviews from all across the country, covering everything from major historical events to small, intimate portraits of beloved family members. 

To mark the first 10 years of the initiative, we sat down for a conversation with Melvin Reeves, who designed and launched StoryCorps Griot (and today, runs our education program, StoryCorpsU). We also highlight several stories from the collection, including the memories of an African American World War II veteran and the legacy of the first black inductee into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

As a web bonus, we also spoke with a member of the StoryCorps Archive team, Tamara Thompson, about how Griot interviews have been used by other organizations and institutions, including our partner for the project, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Released March 1, 2017.

Like the music in this episode? Support the artists:
The Roots – “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round”
Gramatik – “A Bright Day ”
Charles Mingus – “She’s Just Miss Popular Hybrid ” and “Myself When I Am Real”
Nicholas Payton  – “Nick@Night ”
Abdullah Ibrahim – “Mannenberg Revisited”

StoryCorps 493: Being Human, There or Here

Although it’s hard for him to imagine now, when Philip, an Iraqi interpreter who worked with the U.S. Army, first took the post, he didn’t consider how dangerous it would be.

Seriously, I don’t understand the risk. I was like, it’s just a job,” he told us during a recent phone conversation. 

We called Philip in the midst of the controversy surrounding the new administration’s travel ban affecting nationals of seven countries, including Iraq. He had previously recorded two StoryCorps interviews, and we wanted to check back in with him to fill in some of the blanks about his life — both in Iraq and in Minnesota, to which he immigrated in 2013.

In this episode, we hear that phone call as well as Philip’s StoryCorps interviews. We learn about his time with the military, through a conversation between Philip and the U.S. Army sergeant who sponsored his immigration. And, in a conversation with his nephew, who was also an interpreter, Philip recalls his years-long struggle to reunite with his family, whom he had to leave behind in Iraq.

Like the music in this episode? Support the artists:
Blue Dot Sessions – “Laquer Groove,” “In the Backroom,” and “The Spills”
A Ninja Slob Drew Me – “Surface Tension”
Alan Singley – “Force Lights” and “Stop the Clocks”
Alialujah Choir – “Little Picture Instrumental”

StoryCorps 475: Keeping the Faith

In this week’s episode of the StoryCorps podcast, we hear stories from and about two men who never gave up. While politics eventually made them both household names, when they were younger they both faced obstacles and confronted dark times.

Many Americans remember Vice Admiral James Stockdale as H. Ross Perot’s running mate during the 1992 presidential campaign. Standing on stage between Dan Quayle and Al Gore during the vice-presidential debate, Admiral Stockdale opened by rhetorically asking: “Who am I? Why am I here?”

Stockdale3Those questions immediately became a sound bite and a punchline for late night comedians, and for millions of Americans, they defined a man they knew little about.

Adm. Stockdale’s legacy goes far beyond a few sentences spoken at a debate. Over the course of his Naval career, he earned 26 combat awards including two Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Distinguished Service Medals, two Purple Hearts, four Silver Stars, and in 1976 President Gerald Ford presented him with our nation’s highest military honor, the Medal of Honor.

In 1965, then-Captain Stockdale’s plane was shot down over North Vietnam. He was then captured and brought to the Hoa Lo Prison, infamously referred to as the Hanoi Hilton. During his seven and a half years as a POW, Adm. Stockdale was able to send letters to his wife, Sybil, in California. Quickly, she figured out his correspondences contained coded messages and she coordinated with the CIA to continue their communications while her husband was held captive.

Sybil herself was a force to be reckoned with. She was a vocal advocate for the families of POWs and soldiers missing in action at a time when the United States government followed a “keep quiet” policy, asking relatives of POWs not to call attention to their family members (this policy was primarily for public relations purposes). And as a response, she helped found the National League of Families of American Prisoners Missing in Southeast Asia, a nonprofit organization that is still active today as The National League of POW/MIA Families.

In July 2005, Adm. Stockdale died at the age of 81, and in October 2015, Sybil died at the age of 90. They are buried alongside each other at the United States Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland.

Clyburn_lgJim Stockdale (pictured in the player above), their son, was a teenager when his father went missing. He came to StoryCorps to talk about how his family spent the years waiting for his father’s return and his mother’s strength.

After the interview, producers Michael Garofalo and Alletta Cooper talk in greater detail about Adm. Stockdale’s time in captivity, and share additional audio that did not make it into the original broadcast.

South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn tells our second story.

In 2007, Rep. Clyburn recorded a StoryCorps interview with his granddaughter, Sydney Reed (pictured at left), in which they discussed his journey to Washington, D.C., his many electoral losses along the way, and what he learned from a note left in the bathroom by his mother the morning after his first primary win in 1970.

Today he serves as the Assistant Democratic Leader (the third ranking Democrat in the House) and won his last election in 2014 with 73% of the vote.

Like the music in this episode? Support the artists:
Alialujah Choir – “Part of Me” (Instrumental)
Charles Atlas – “Demus”
Robin Allender – “M Laurelle”
Jon Luc Hefferman – “Mangata”
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers – “Lift Every Voice and Sing”
Scott Holmes – “When I’m with You”
Top: Jim Stockdale and his brothers, Taylor (right) and Stanford (left), greet their father, Navy Captian James Stockdale, at Miramar Naval Air Station on February 15, 1973, as he returns home after after spending seven and a half years as a POW. (Photo courtesy of Jim Stockdale.)

StoryCorps 435: Major Bambi

Retired Marine Corps Major Donnie Dunagan served 25 years, including two tours in Vietnam. But during his entire military career there was one thing he didn’t want his comrades to discover — as a child he had been the voice of Bambi in the 1942 Disney film.

In this podcast we learn more about Dunagan’s experience making Bambi and how StoryCorps producer Jasmyn Belcher Morris found his story.

Photos and news clippings courtesy of the Dunagan family.


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Each week, the StoryCorps podcast shares these unscripted conversations, revealing the wisdom, courage, and poetry in the words of people you might not notice walking down the street.