Western Carolina University Produces a Digital Archive of a Black Oral History Project

The Special and Digital Collections unit at Hunter Library on the campus of Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina, has digitized a collection of oral history interviews conducted between 1986 and 1989 with Black residents from Western North Carolina, all of whom were older than 69 at the time.  The recordings include memories of interactions during segregation, life in the mountains as a Black person, and the importance of church and school in the community. Their stories are of days spent sharecropping, service in the military, and fighting in world wars, the civil rights movement and integration, and other social changes in their lifetimes.

The recordings are of African American residents who lived in Jackson, Swain, Haywood, Cherokee and Buncombe counties. An example is Dr. Howard Harrison, who was interviewed in 1987. Born in 1903 on Hill Street in Asheville, Harrison later worked his way through college as a barber and a Pullman porter on the railroad. He recalled starting a medical practice in 1941, being drafted into World War II in 1942, and how he returned to a very segregated Asheville in 1946, where he continued practicing medicine. Dr. Harrison died in 1992.

“We are very pleased to have the opportunity to offer interviews conducted by the Western North Carolina Tomorrow Black Oral History Project as part of Hunter Library’s Special and Digital Collections,” said Jason Brady, interim chief of Special and Digital Collections. “These interviews give fascinating glimpses into the experiences of African Americans in Western North Carolina through much of the 20th century and contribute to our goal of providing inclusive content to the study of the history and culture of Southern Appalachia.”

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