Tobi Ojo, a student interviewer of Mrs. Paula Guest and Mr. Howard Griner, talks about how the oral history process changed his viewpoint on history of the 1960s.
Amber Turkin, who interviewed Robert MacKinnon, shares how the oral history project impacted her.
This Oral History assignment was an interesting one. It included a number of firsts for me. I have never conducted an interview before this one. I have never talked to someone of this age about times forty or fifty years prior. I have certainly never sat down with some total strangers early on a Saturday and asked them to hold a conversation with me for two hours (not even close), and lastly, I had never had a Dunkin Donuts coffee. This (and a few other things) I am doing this semester have greatly expanded my communicatory skills and my ability to have confidence in the presence of unfamiliar faces. The fact that these people wanted to talk and desired to help me in every aspect that I requested really altered my perception of the common “grumpy older white male in America” for the better too. I guess on a personal level, my relationship with society as a whole has improved.
Before starting this class, I was always interested in the sixties era but would commonly get aspects of the decade confused with the seventies. Also, some things I assumed had been around forever that are in reality only fifty-year-old concepts. Having the events and accomplishments laid out in sequence as the semester went on, helped me imagine each point in time, and try to figure out what I would have been doing, had I been there. With the addition of the interview, I was able to imagine life back then and comprehend why people were doing the things they did. It was also really nice to have the knowledge of the subject before performing the interview because there was no question as to what the narrator was referring to and I was never lost in the conversation.
The men that I interviewed were pretty chill. they wanted to talk about most of the same topics that the Anderson book touched on. It became obvious early on that there was a great sense of identity with the time that they were explaining. The major events seemed wide spread across the nation; a common opinion had been formed thanks to advances in media such as the TV and transistor radio. When I would ask about something we had learned in class it was always “ohh yes yes well… while that was happening I was doing this”, or “I remember how I contributed this way”. It was as if everyone of that generation was growing as one and asking what they could do for their country as a whole. For the most part, wide spread sense of being was felt across an entire nation. The people had their beliefs and were doing what it took to make the changes in the nation that they saw necessary.
As far as learning goes on my end, I believe this method was successful. It was very beneficial to learn about a subject first hand. The first-hand experience would not have been as beneficial, however, had I not known the subject matter at hand up front. I surely would have been lost had it not been for the readings in the text book, as well as the source packet readings that were provided. On a few occassions, references to literature were made, and it was helpful to know what the narrator was talking about. I think this method is very advantageous for learning history as well as other subjects like speech, politics, or really anything. It would be nice to learn from somebody personally so you can use their experience to your benefit. I believe this project has grown me as a pupil and I now have a new skill to help me be a better student in the future.
The interviews put me in a larger perspective of how the 1960’s were a time of change, war, drugs, and human dynamics.
Hearing these stories of the heavy drug usage by his peers in high school from George Evans; Patricia Lakes and the “backlash” she got from her parents for being in the “Steambath” play; Kathy Bond witnessing a cross burning and the Klu Klux Klan; Orlando Correa as young reporter observing vandalized business establishments from the riot in the Bronx; and Charles Gill reminiscing on Vietnam and how it affected his life when he came back to “civilian life”, were all impacting.
Kathy Bond’s sharing of the sixiteswhen she was at a young age. One thing that she refreshed her memory on that stood out in my mind was her experience with the KKK. Brooding over a car ride on “Jarrettsville road, amazed by the number of state trooper’s uniforms, standing shoulder to shoulder for…a mile down the road” and her mom “putting her on the floor of the car” to shield her from the horrid cross-burning sight. She says she “couldn’t help but look”, which caused it to become stained in her memory and even led her to “had a few nightmares about it.” My reaction would have been horrified and disturbed by the act. This most likely was during the Equal Rights movement and being as it was a residually rural area, most of it was predominately white at the time.
Orlando Correa was a young report during the sixties, who examined and noted on the vandalized businesses from the riots in the Bronx. Only being 19, he witnessed the “shattered dreams of up and coming businesses” because most of them didn’t have insurance.” I’m heartbroken to hear his story on the elderly couple, “who were not even a minority, they were a white couple…” whose innocent shop that catered to minorities was “destroyed” by minorities.
George viewed drug usage in the 11th grade, where he saw “a couple of kids coming in stoned, dozing off, and laughing out loud.” He also mentions the first drug overdose in his high school in which the kid hung himself from spacing out. I see that as a very impactful event to remember, very sad even, on the terms that you might’ve grew up with this person and to see them in this state is very traumatic. He also quotes the addict’s “creed”, “Drop-in, smoke/shoot up, and drop out”, playing on the words of Timothy Leary’s “Turn on, tune-in, drop out”. He implies also that the musical figures of the sixties had a dramatic impact on the image of drugs and how they can make you think more deeply and have a sense of “coolness”.
Patricia Lake, who used to model naked for pop-culture artists during the sixties, recalls a play she did call “Steam Bath”, where she happened to perform “the first nude scene in Delaware theater history.” This coincides with the “sex craze period” that Anderson mentions about the strip clubs, topless bars, pornography and sexually graphic novels. This sort of reminds me of Jane Fonda doing “Barbarella”. Lake says looking back that she has “no false modesty” despite the scrutiny she got from her “strict catholic parents.”
The final and foremost narrator that had a striking influence was Charles Gill. He is an ex-Marine and a Vietnam Vet, who was released and had a hard time coping and adjusting from “the military way to the civilian way” of living. He felt as though he served a purpose being in the miltary and “it’s hard to live with” the fact that his duty is done. He claims that serving his country in Vietnam is “an experience he will never forget.” This make me think about my options for the military and how it will affect me.
We can understand from this interview [Patricia Lake’s], how memories of the 1960’s elaborate on the topics presented in [Terry] Anderson’s book [The Sixties], as well is a few of the source readings, concerning counterculture and the environmental movements. We are able to visualize the experience through the oral history interview with Pat in the aspects of the sexual revolution and some of the backlash that occurred to young women with they went out of terms of the norm. This interview confirms the notions I had of the 1960’s concerning the roles of women in and out of the workplace and home, and the views associated with those who did not conform to the norm. It is obvious what is meaningful to the narrator as she discusses the environmental aspects, sexual revolution and hippy lifestyle of the 1960’s to a great length. The impact of an oral history project is different in many aspects from traditional classroom learning. In class you learn about the events in history and analyze the events. Participating in an oral history project, you get the perceptive of the individual person verse society as a whole. You are able to visualize history through the eyes of the narrator. Often you interview a person you respect thus you are more liable to listen intensively, allowing you to better grasp the event or history.
This oral history project has overall impacted my approach to learning history because it has made me eager to want to learn more about many other people’s lives. Getting involved with this project was a great experience and very interesting in getting to know the other members of the class’s family and friends. With having such a diverse class as we did, getting to hear the other view point of the class member’s families and groups gave us a better understanding of the lives they lived and what happened to them in the certain area where they were living at the time.
Hearing [George Evans] talk about Woodstock was awesome. It made me jealous wishing I could have been able to be there, even though he didn’t get to go. He had friends who did, and he bought the live album of the concert. He mentioned kids using drugs and the first overdose he witnessed was when he was in 12th grade. He said they lost three students that year. That hit home because I lost three students of my class because of overdoses, so that showed that some things never change and drug use is always going to be a problem unless some serious actions are taken. Also that’s something I’m thinking of doing in my future, dealing with substance abuse, and it sounds like the sixties had a mess of that just like we do now. I liked hearing his favorite moments of the sixties, and how he said his friends and being free that just made me happy to hear that. It was cool to hear my dad mention things that we have discussed and learned in the class, what I’ve read in source packets and the Anderson book. After hearing things he mentioned, I felt envious because I wish I could have been able to grow up in those times rather than our times today. My favorite thing he said was when he was talking about the best part of the sixties. “Best thing of the sixties was we were free.” When he said that, it gave me chills and made me wish I was able to grow up in those times rather just reading about them. This whole experience was awesome, and something I’m going to take with me as I get older, learning more about my father and his times of growing while also learning American history. I’m also happy the Harford Voices website was able to be developed so this is something I can always refer to and have this memory of filming this with my father and hearing him speak on these issues.
Linda Bratcher, a student from Fall 2012, reflects on making the interviews and how they impacted her personally.
In the beginning of the project I was a little scared to ask someone to talk about their past experience in the 1960’s. Not knowing anyone in my area to speak with, I was bit worried I wouldn’t be able to do this. I am not much for speaking in public, which meant the camera was intimidating.
I tried to relate back to the 1960’s with my own memories and experiences, and it was a little hard to relate to some situations. I was four years old in 1960. I do remember hearing of colored-only places but nothing personal that affected my way of thinking of being black or white. So I guess this class and the oral history project made more aware of things. Vietnam I do remember being a big thing because I was in high school, and a lot of the boys where joining the military.
From my narrator, Jacqueline Hassell, and others I watched on the videos, it was very real and affirmed all things I had heard about the 1960’s. A lot of things were going on in the 1960’s. I think people where getting fed up with being lied to, suppressed by the narrowed minded. People wanted equal rights, wanted the freedom and rights to be speak for themselves. In most of the narrator’s stories they told of what was going on at the time and how it affected them, either in good ways or bad. I don’t believe any of these people came out the 1960’s bitter, but they had a better insight on how the world and people in it have different ideas of how we should act in the society. I believe all the narrators probably became stronger people knowing they could go on with their lives even after all the craziness of the 1960’s.
I now have a better understanding of our history I hadn’t had before. I appreciate what the generation [of the 1960’s] actually accomplished. Civil rights, women’s rights, equal rights in many ways; in employment, housing, etc. I guess in short I do have a better understanding and appreciation.
As a student historian, this has simply re-ignited my passion to learn and hear more from people who have lived through various time periods, even in the recent past of about a hundred years. I am more dedicated than ever, I believe, to trying to capture and interview whomever I can, even if it is not video recorded. I also want to record somehow both my own memories and those of my age group and younger. Things that I remember and forget are so historical, such as 9/11, the fall of the Berlin wall, and the end of the cold war; what it was like living under the threat of nuclear war, how people reacted at the prospect of Y2K, etc. Interestingly enough it makes me want to turn into a roving journalist again, asking anyone I come in contact with the things that they think majorly influenced them or their lives.
We all have a story to tell. Many people out there have a lot of stories to tell. I also have really realized and been impacted recently at how many traditions and stories we are losing/have lost because the world has become so much smaller and time crunched. Years ago people sat around on Sundays or holidays and retold the stories that they remembered from their youth or different times in their life. That doesn’t happen anymore at all. People in general do not seem to have time to vest in other people’s lives and they certainly don’t have time to sit around and listen to old war stories or the ‘good ole days’. Especially as our society ages and passes on, we are losing so many stories, so many memories. Even people who are under fifty who are alive today have no real connection to history before them. I believe it is our duty as historians to capture as many stories and memories as possible. I know that my children love to hear stories of how my mother had to park her model-T car backwards up a hill so that they could drift start it, and other comical and serious memories. The world today seems to be speeding by at such an incredibly fast pace that it seems we are in danger of not even having a ‘collective memory’. But, of course, what I think is just as important, is the individual and their personal story. To me, that is history.