Ellie Dahmer and Bettie Dahmer
During the mid-1960s, Vernon Dahmer was a successful black farmer and businessman in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. He was also a civil rights leader and had served as the head of his local NAACP chapter. This work often made his family a target of threats by the Ku Klux Klan. Despite the danger, Vernon worked to help register black voters in the community.
Although the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act gave racial minorities equal access to the right to vote, the state of Mississippi still required residents to pay a poll tax when registering, impeding many potential black voters. And so on January 9, 1966, Vernon publicly offered to pay the poll tax for blacks who wanted to register but could not afford it.
That night, the KKK firebombed his home while he was inside with his wife, Ellie Dahmer, and three of their children—Bettie, Dennis, and Harold. Vernon exchanged gunfire with the attackers and held them off so he and his family could escape. He later died from injuries he sustained in the fire.
Ellie went on to serve as an election commissioner in Hattiesburg for more than a decade, continuing the work that she and her husband had started. It took more than 30 years for Samuel Bowers, the Klan leader who ordered the attack, to be convicted of Vernon’s murder.
At StoryCorps, Ellie and Bettie, who was 10 years old at the time, remembered the night Vernon was killed.
Originally aired January 13, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Top photo: The charred remains of the Dahmer home and car. Courtesy of Moncrief Photograph Collection, ID #513, Mississippi Department of Archives & History.
Middle Photo: Ellie Dahmer (L) and Bettie Dahmer outside Ellie’s home, which was built in the same location as the house that was destroyed. Credit: Roselyn Almonte, StoryCorps.
Bottom Photo: Ellie Dahmer holds a photo of her late husband. Credit: Roselyn Almonte, StoryCorps.
Leslye Huff and Mary Ostendorf
Leslye Huff (left) and her partner, Mary Ostendorf (right), met in 1983. Leslye was open about her feelings for Mary and wasn’t shy about publicly showing her affection—even on their first date. Mary felt less comfortable with public displays of affection and had not told many people in her life about her sexuality, including her family.
When Mary introduced Leslye to her mother, Agnes, they did not immediately reveal to her the nature of their relationship, but during that meeting Leslye felt a connection with Agnes. “I liked her. She was short like me, and pretty vivacious. She and I sat and talked and I thought the makings of a pretty good friendship was beginning.”
Later that year, days before they gathered for Thanksgiving, Leslye picked up the phone and told Agnes the truth about her relationship with Mary.
At StoryCorps, Mary and Leslye discuss what happened after the phone call and how their relationship with Agnes changed in the years that followed.
Originally aired November 27, 2016, on NPR’s Weekend Edition.
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, 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.
Alice Mitchell and Ibukun Owolabi
Growing up, Alice Mitchell was always very close with her mother Rosemary Owolabi. A Nigerian immigrant as proud of her heritage as she was of her children, Rosemary would pick Alice up from school dressed in vibrantly colored garments and head-wraps.
When Alice was 14, her mother died unexpectedly from cardiac arrest just two weeks after giving birth to her youngest child, a boy she named Ibukunoluwa, which translates to “Blessing from God.”
Alice was immediately forced to become both sister and mother to her new brother, who they call Ibukun, and took the lead in raising him the way she believed her mother would have wanted him brought up.
Now 10 years old, Ibukun lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with his father and stepmother. Over the years he has seen pictures and heard stories about his mother, but came to StoryCorps with Alice (pictured together in the player above) to talk for the first time about losing their mother.
Originally aired July 1, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Above: Rosemary Owolabi holding Ibukun soon after he was born in September of 2005. Photo courtesy of the Owolabi family.
Clarence “Clancy” Haskett and Jerry Collier
This past weekend marked the official opening of the 2016 Major League Baseball season. And while the games now count in the standings, it won’t be until the weather warms up that the competition on the field will really heat up. But in the stands, there is a battle taking place that won’t wait until summer: the fight to be top vendor.
As anyone who has ever been to a baseball game knows, vendors roam the stands offering anything from hot dogs and peanuts, to scorecards and foam fingers. They are in a head-to-head competition with each other to sell the most of whatever product they are assigned, and one of the all-time greats is a man known as “Fancy Clancy.”
As a teenager, Clarence Haskett (pictured at left) began selling soda at Baltimore Orioles games back when they played their home games at Memorial Stadium (the team moved to their current home, Camden Yards, in 1992). Over the years, he worked his way up to the vendor’s most prized offering—beer.
During his 43-year long career, Clancy has used his quickness and his gift of gab to sell more than a million beers to baseball fans—a number we believe makes him Hall of Fame worthy.
Clancy came to StoryCorps with his friend and former coworker, Jerry Collier (pictured together at left), to talk about their work and how he got started.
Clancy’s story is one of 53 work stories featured in our new book, Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work.
Click here to pre-order Callings before April 19, 2016, and get great gifts from StoryCorps.
Originally aired April 8, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Photo of Clancy pouring beer courtesy of the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Sports Legends Museums.
Willie Watson and PJ Allen
On the morning of April 19, 1995, a truck bomb exploded at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. It was the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history.
The blast was equal to nearly 4000 pounds of TNT. It killed 168 people. Hundreds more were injured.
The federal office building also housed a day care center. The explosives-laden truck was parked directly beneath it.
Of the 21 children there that morning, only 6 survived.
PJ Allen was one of the survivors. He suffered broken bones, severe burns, and damage to his lungs from inhaling debris.
At StoryCorps in Oklahoma City, he spoke with his father, Willie Watson.
Listen to another survivor story here.
Originally aired April 17, 2015 on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Deidra Robinson and William Watford III
Many families with LGBTQ members across generations are personally familiar with the “coming out” conversation.
Deidra Robinson and her father, William Watford III, were extremely close – until he found out she was gay.
They came to StoryCorps in Homewood, Alabama, to talk about that moment.
Originally aired March 29, 2015, on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday.
Albert Sykes and Aidan Sykes
StoryCorps is probably the only place you’ll hear a 9-year-old conduct an interview on a national radio program.
That’s what happened when a fourth grader named Aidan Sykes sat down with his father, 31-year-old Albert Sykes, who runs an education nonprofit and mentors kids who are struggling in school.
At a StoryCorps mobile booth in Jackson, Mississippi, Aidan asked all the questions.
Originally aired March 20, 2015, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Diana Abath and Rick Abath
In the early morning hours of March 18, 1990, two thieves pulled off the biggest art heist in history.
Disguised as police officers, they tricked a night watchman into letting them into Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and made off with artwork worth nearly half a billion dollars.
The thieves have never been caught and the art has never been recovered.
Rick Abath was the guard who opened the door that night. Twenty-five years after the robbery, he sat down to tell his story with his wife, Diana.
Originally aired March 13, 2015, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Photo courtesy of the Boston Police Department.
Kevin Briggs and Kevin Berthia
In March of 2005, Kevin Berthia (pictured above right) was going through a tough time.
His daughter was born premature the year before and medical costs for her care climbed to nearly $250,000.
He couldn’t see a way out of debt, so he fell into a deep depression and decided to end his life at the Golden Gate Bridge.
That’s where he met retired California Highway Patrol Officer Kevin Briggs, who intervened and talked him down.
They spoke about that day at StoryCorps in San Francisco.
Originally aired March 6, 2015, on NPR’s Morning Edition.