“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.
It All Starts With A Song
Everyone’s heard of James Brown and Stevie Wonder, but how about the women who helped make them who they are? For our last episode of this season, we’ll get to know the unsung icons behind some of the most iconic music.
Artwork by Lyne Lucien.
Released on June 21st, 2022.
“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.
“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.
Horses And Helicopters
In this episode, we head to the streets of South Central Los Angeles to meet a helper on horseback.
Artwork by Lyne Lucien.
Released on May 31st, 2022.
“We Are Needed”: A Counselor At Mississippi’s Only Abortion Clinic Shares Her Story
In the mid-1990s, Miss Betty Thompson retired from her job in state government, and started a second career working at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization as a counselor. By 2004, it was the only remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi.
Often faced with incredibly long distances to travel, and protesters on the ground upon their arrival, Betty helped all those who walked through the doors.
In 2022, the clinic would become the center of the pending U.S. Supreme Court case challenging Roe v. Wade.
Betty worked there at the clinic for almost 25 years, but it was her own experiences as a teenager that brought her to the work.
In 2016, she came to StoryCorps to share her story.
Betty Thompson on April 14th, 2016, in Jackson, Mississippi. Photo by Natalia Fidelholtz for StoryCorps.
Top Photo: Betty Thompson on April 14th, 2016, in front of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, in Jackson, Mississippi. Photo by Natalia Fidelholtz for StoryCorps.
Originally aired May 20th, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
The Beginning And The End
In this episode, we’ll hear about two people who help during the most important moments of our lives: when we’re brought into the world and when we leave it.
Artwork by Lyne Lucien.
Released on May 10th, 2022.
“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.
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.