Library of Congress to Display 9,000 Hours of Video Interviews with 2,600 African-Americans

Maya Angelou Has Died

Maya Angelou’s earliest childhood memory took place on a train when she was 3 years old. When her brother, Bailey, whom she described as “my black kingdom come,” went to the bathroom, Ms. Angelou thought he had been taken away by a porter. “It scared me to death,” she recounted in a video interview recorded in 2010. “I wasn’t afraid that my mother wouldn’t come back or my father or anyone else. It was always Bailey.”

The small details of everyday life and more profound events that get to the heart of the black experience in America are part of an ambitious video history called The HistoryMakers that will become part of the Library of Congress, the library is expected to announce Tuesday. The collection includes 9,000 hours of video interviews with 2,600 African-Americans in more than 35 states.

Visitors to the collection, which is expected to open to the public in the fall, will be able to watch interviews with participants like the musician Isaac Hayes, who told a story about dropping out of school because he was embarrassed about the holes in his shoes and pants, and the actress Ruby Dee, who recalled some of her earliest memories of racism in America. “I remember street corners and pickets and parades,” Ms. Dee said in her interview. “That’s what I got teethed on.”

Julieanna Richardson, the founder and executive director of The HistoryMakers, said the Library of Congress was the ideal home for the project. “The slaves will now be joined with their progeny,” Ms. Richardson added, in reference to the library’s slave narratives archives, which include more than 2,300 first-person accounts that the Works Progress Administration collected in the 1930s.

Ms. Richardson, a graduate of Harvard Law School, managed cable channels in Chicago before starting the project at her kitchen table in 1999 when she was in her mid-40s. “You get to a point in your life where you want to leave a legacy. Out from that came this wonderfully rich project,” she said. Ms. Richardson said she chose to use video as the format for recording the interviews “because you can see the twinkling of someone’s eye, you can see what they look like.”

Ms. Richardson said she wanted to collect stories from African-Americans who were “well known and unsung” and who had made significant accomplishments in their lives. She expects to collect a total of 5,000 interviews, at a cost of $30 million. So far, the project has raised half that amount through corporate sponsorships from companies including Target, Xerox, American Airlines and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

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Source: The New York Times | 

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