Dr. Joseph Linsk

For the second year in a row, StoryCorps invited everyone to take part in The Great Thanksgiving Listen—our effort to collect and preserve intergenerational interviews over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. And while tens of thousands of TGTL conversations continue to be archived and listened to, one interview in particular has gotten us wondering: Is it ever too late to make amends?

1480098019980-1The day after Thanksgiving, Dr. Joseph Linsk was joined in his Atlantic City, New Jersey, home by his son Richard. Dr. Linsk, 94, whose practice once focused on treating patients with cancer and blood diseases, is now himself in poor health and living with Parkinson’s disease. During the recording, Dr. Linsk shared a story that he says has left him “smitten with grief” for more than 80 years.

When he was 8 years old, Dr. Linsk was playing with friends in the schoolyard when he unintentionally broke another child’s glasses. Needing to pay for their repair, he stole the money his mother had left for their family cleaning lady, an African American woman named Pearl. When Pearl asked for her pay, Dr. Linsk’s mother accused her of stealing and a young Dr. Linsk said nothing. His mother fired Pearl, whom he remembers as having a few children, and word quickly spread that Pearl was a thief, damaging her reputation and making it impossible for her to find work again.

There is also Pearl’s side to the story. How did this lie and the cover-up affect her and her family? Unfortunately, Dr. Linsk doesn’t know her full name or any further details about her family, but he did grow up on Atlantic Avenue in the Uptown section of Atlantic City in the early 1930s, so if you believe you know anything about her or any of her surviving family members, we would love to hear from you.

Contact us at: characters@storycorps.org or call us at 301-744-TALK.

Originally aired December 9, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Top Photo of Dr. Joseph Linsk from 2011 courtesy of Stefanie Campolo and The Press of Atlantic City.

Hartmut Lau and Barbara Lau

After graduating from West Point in 1967, Hartmut Lau was given a choice to serve his active duty in either the United States or Europe. He volunteered to go to Vietnam.

With the U.S. escalating its involvement in the Vietnam War, and the draft still two years away, Hartmut joined the Army’s 9th Infantry Division during one of the war’s worst years of combat. In 1968, American casualties peaked at 16,899, and 29 of Hartmut’s 589 fellow cadets from the class of ’67 were killed.

In 1991, after 24 years of service, Hartmut retired at the rank of colonel having been awarded the Silver Star Medal, the Bronze Star Medal, and the Purple Heart. Five years later, he met his wife, Barbara.

Over the course of their 20-year marriage, he has shared with her stories about his time at West Point, but Hartmut had never before spoken to Barbara about his service during the Vietnam War—until they came to StoryCorps.

Originally aired November 11, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Terri Roberts and Delores Hayford

It has been a decade since Charles Roberts IV took 10 young Amish girls hostage inside the West Nickel Mines School one-room schoolhouse in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, before killing five, wounding the others, and committing suicide.

robertsnpr2Immediately following the tragedy, the Amish community reacted in a way that many found surprising—with forgiveness.

Forgiveness is an important tenet of the Amish faith, which closely follows Jesus’ teachings to forgive one another and place the needs of others before your own. Vengeance and retribution are left to God. Their quickness to forgive the killer led a number Amish to attend the funeral of Charles Roberts, and closeness developed between his family and the community—particular his mother, Terri Roberts.

Terri sat down for StoryCorps with her friend Delores Hayford (pictured together above) to remember the events of October 2, 2006, how the Amish community treated her following the killings, and to discuss her current relationship with one of the severely wounded girls.

Originally aired September 30, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Rev. Troy Perry

On June 24, 1973, a fire tore through the Upstairs Lounge, a gay bar in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Thirty-two people were killed in the blaze and many more injured. To this day, it remains the deadliest fire in New Orleans history and until the killings on June 12 at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, this act of arson was believed to be the largest single mass killing of gay people in U.S. history.

Unlike in Orlando where there has been an outpouring of support for the victims, following the Upstairs Lounge fire, there was overwhelming silence from politicians, religious leaders, and the local community. PerryNPR2And while police conducted an investigation, no one was ever arrested for the murders.

After hearing about the tragedy, Rev. Troy Perry (pictured at left with his partner Phillip “Buddy” De Blieck in June 1970, at the first LGBT Pride Parade in Los Angeles), founder of the Metropolitan Community Church, a national Christian denomination dedicated to serving gays and lesbians, flew from his home in California to New Orleans to provide support.

Offering comfort and assistance to the victims in hospitals, Rev. Perry recalls speaking with one badly burned man who told him that the school he taught at had fired him after learning that he was present at the Upstairs Lounge. That man died the next day.

Not wanting to return home until he held a service, Rev. Perry remembers the difficult time he had finding a church willing to act as a host. Eventually, the St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in the French Quarter opened its doors and mourners came to fill it. When the service ended, cameras outside confronted attendees and Rev. Perry offered them a way out the back. But in a show of strength, pride, and courage, “Nobody left by the backdoor. And that’s the legacy. We never ran away.”

The initial reaction to the fire is something that New Orleans has had to come to terms with in the ensuing years. In 1998, a plaque was placed on the spot where the Upstairs Lounge once stood to mark 25 years since the fire, and in a Time Magazine piece on the 40th anniversary of the blaze, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans apologized for its silence.

Rev. Perry came to StoryCorps to recall what he saw upon his arrival in New Orleans.

Originally aired June 24, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Top Photo: Inside of the Upstairs Lounge on June 25, 1973. Associated Press/Jack Thornell.
Photo of Phillip “Buddy” De Blieck and Rev. Troy Perry courtesy of Rev. Troy Perry.

Joel Tucker and Gordon Blake

UPDATE: Joel and Gordon’s story aired June 26, 2016, on NPR’s Weekend Edition.

The shooting at the Orlando, Florida, nightclub Pulse on June 12, that left 49 dead and 53 wounded, while unprecedented in scale, is certainly not the first time a killer has chosen to target the LGBTQ community. Anti-LGBTQ violence has a long history in the United States, and in this special StoryCorps production (excerpted from our latest podcast, StoryCorps 473: Upstairs, Backstreet, Pulse), we look back at another high-profile incident.

Tucker3On September 22, 2000, 53-year-old Ronald Gay entered the Backstreet Café, a gay-friendly bar in Roanoke, Virginia. According to police accounts, Gay had set out that evening in search of gay people to kill, and after seeing two men inside the Backstreet Café embrace, he pulled out a 9mm gun and began firing. Gay ended up killing Danny Overstreet and wounding six others.

One of those shot was Danny’s friend Joel Tucker who was there with his partner and friends drinking beer and playing pool. At the time, Joel was not out as a gay man and recalls in a StoryCorps interview that he regrets telling a newspaper reporter that he was at the café at the time with his girlfriend. While initially not realizing what was going on, Joel remembers seeing fire come out of the gun, and when it dawned on him that there was a man shooting at people, he screamed for everybody to get down. “It was just like seven shots, seven people. Then he just walked out the door.”

Joel (above left) came to StoryCorps with his long-time friend Gordon Blake (above right) in Hollywood, Florida, days after the Orlando massacre to share some of the emotions that flooded back to him after learning about the killings at Pulse. Gordon, who was supposed to meet up with Joel and their friends at the Backstreet Café that evening in 2000 but did not make it, joins with Joel in offering advice to the survivors:

“You have got to be strong. Don’t let something like this ruin your life because it could’ve ruined mine…This was one person who hated and I have seen hundreds of people who love. And I think love wins.”

This story is excerpted from a special StoryCorps podcast featuring another previously unheard piece from a witness to the devastation that followed the June 24, 1973, fire at the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Until the killings at Pulse, this blaze, which took 32 lives, was believed to be the largest single mass killing of gay people in U.S. history.

Click here to listen to StoryCorps 473: Upstairs, Backstreet, Pulse.

Top Photo: A vigil outside the Backstreet Café in Roanoke, Virginia, September 2000. Copyright, The Roanoke Times, republished by permission.

Tom Houck and Angelo Fuster

In 1965, Tom Houck was a high school senior when he decided to drop out of school and join the fight for civil rights.

Leaving Jacksonville, Florida, and heading to Selma, Alabama, Tom, 19, eventually met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and quickly volunteered to work for Dr. King’s Atlanta-based Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

Soon after his arrival in Atlanta, Tom was invited to the King home for lunch and Dr. King’s wife—Coretta—asked him to become the family’s driver.

Tom, who has continued to spend his life fighting for civil rights, came to StoryCorps with his friend, Angelo Fuster (pictured below left), to share memories of his time with the King family.   HouckNPR1-636x470

Originally aired January 15, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Top Photo: Tom Houck in front of a mural at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta. (Credit: Todd Burandt)

Mary Reed and Emma McMahon

In the summer of 2010, following her junior year of high school, Emma McMahon left her home in Tucson, Arizona, and traveled to Washington, D.C., to work as a page for her local Congresswoman, U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

Following her internship, she returned home to her family, but without one important memento from her summer—a photo of herself with the congresswoman.

Looking to rectify the situation, her mother, Mary Reed, learned months later that Rep. Giffords would be holding a constituent meet-and-greet in the parking lot of an area shopping center and made plans for her family to attend and finally get that coveted photo.

That was the day, January 8, 2011, that Jared Lee Loughner opened fire on a crowd outside of the Safeway critically wounding Gabby Giffords and shooting 18 others—six of whom were killed.

Mary, one of those who were shot that day, came to StoryCorps with Emma to remember the day she shielded her daughter from a gunman.

McMahon&GiffordsOriginally aired January 8, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Above photo: Former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and Emma McMahon at a dinner for survivors of the 2011 shooting held at the Giffords home on January 8, 2014 (courtesy of Emma McMahon).
Top photo: Mary Reed and Emma McMahon, this month, in the parking lot of the Casas Adobes Safeway where the shooting took place.

 

Jeff Dupre and David Phillips

MatlovichTIMEIn September 1975, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Leonard Matlovich was featured on the cover of Time magazine under the headline, “I Am a Homosexual.”

It was the first time an openly gay man appeared on the cover of a national news magazine.

In March of that year, Matlovich—who served three tours in Vietnam and received both a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart—delivered a letter to his commanding officer stating that he was gay and that he intended to continue his military career (click here to view a copy of the letter).

Leonard Matlovitch was challenging the military ban on gay service members.

Soon after the issue of Time hit newsstands, Matlovich was discharged from the Air Force for his admission. For the next five years, the decorated veteran fought his dismissal in Federal court and was eventually reinstated. While he never returned to active duty, he did receive a monetary settlement from the military that included back pay.

Tech. Sgt. Leonard Matlovich died on June 22, 1988.

Jeff Dupre (above left) knew Leonard Matlovich in the 1970s. He came to StoryCorps with his husband, David Phillips, to record Jeff’s memories of the man who started the legal battle for military acceptance of LGBTQ people.

Originally aired October 30, 2015, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

831_LEONARD-MATLOVICH-GRAVESTONGrave photo courtesy of leonardmatlovich.com.
Letter courtesy of Leonard Matlovich Papers, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Historical Society.

Andy Downs and Angelia Sheer

Young Andy Downs with his father, pilot Brent Downs, and his mother.On Oct 4, 1971, George Giffe, a 35-year-old Tennessee man suffering from mental illness, hijacked a charter plane at gunpoint from the Nashville airport. He also claimed to be in possession of a bomb.

Running low on fuel, the plane’s pilot landed in Jacksonville, FL, where the FBI was waiting. After a brief standoff, Giffe killed the two hostages who remained onboard before turning the gun on himself.

One of the two was Brent Downs—the pilot of the plane.

downs4At StoryCorps, Brent’s son Andy (pictured above with his mother Janie and his father) spoke with Angelia Sheer, the daughter of the man who killed his father.

This tragedy helped shape the way in which law enforcement subsequently handled hijackings after a federal appeals court ruled in 1975 that the FBI acted negligently when agents ignored the safety of the people onboard (the plane is pictured above sitting on the tarmac in Jacksonville, FL).

Originally aired October 2, 2015, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Photos courtesy of Andy Downs.

Burnell Cotlon and Lillie Cotlon

For New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, the section of the city hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina and the flooding that followed, recovery has been slow.

Nearly ten years after the storm, the neighborhood still did not have a single grocery store. But Ninth Ward resident Burnell Cotlon (pictured above, right) set out to change that.

Using money saved while working at fast food restaurants and dollar stores, he bought a dilapidated building on an empty block. And in 2014 he opened the Lower Ninth Ward’s first grocery store since the storm. At StoryCorps, he sat down with his mother, Lillie (pictured above, left), to remember the days after the flood.

To help Burnell further his dream of expanding the Lower 9th Ward Market, visit his Go Fund Me page.

Originally aired August 8, 2015, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Photos courtesy of Daniel Schergen, Ian Spencer Cook, and Hanna Rasanen for StoryCorps.

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