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Teller of Life Stories

Posted in: Activities

Teller of Life Stories

Oral histories are stories that portray vivid memories or perspectives, important to understanding the overall history of a time period.  These histories are generally passed down in families and shared through conversation, family dinners, nighttime stories, or simply an older generation wanting a younger generation to know more about people, places, and events that served as milestones in their lives or the lives of their fore bearers.

 

Oral histories are always told from the perspective of the teller and often convey a rich essence, personal perspective, and unique details that are often absent from history books.   Oral histories provide a personal connection or insight into an overall event, place or time.

 

Although oral histories are important to understanding an experience, challenges, and circumstances, we must be open to the fact that this information should be considered just one facet of the historical package.  In retelling the human experience, understand that some details could be unclear or incorrect, while other details may serve as the missing link in understanding and appreciating the lives of ancestors and important elements in history.

 

Power in Oral Histories

In a story about Mrs. June Fox Davis of Birmingham, AL, and her personal quest to uncover her past, I wrote,  “In search of family and community history, sometimes we find valuable information through in-depth research, sometimes through luck.  Important clues exist in the oral histories we’ve heard all our lives; the cherished photographs, furniture and momentos, passed on from generation to generation.  Rest assured, in many cases, documents exist, which have the power to confirm, enhance or challenge the stories and precious family heirlooms we keep near.”

 

“Answers are there for those with the interest in learning from the past to meet present-day and future challenges and to share with their children.  The results may or may not be what we would expect.  Nevertheless, living history gives us a sacred opportunity to glimpse our ancestor’s lives and living conditions, however simple or complex, joyous or painful, cumbersome or free.  The process of discovery, connecting, sharing and passing on affirms the spirits of all involved.”

Majella Chube Hamilton

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Build Lasting Strategies of Community Impact

Posted in: Activities

Build Lasting Strategies of Community Impact 

In her historical account, Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route, Saidiya Hartman states, “Every generation confronts the task of choosing its past.  Inheritances are chosen as much as they are passed on.  The past depends less on “what happened then” than on the desires and discontents of the present.  Strivings and failures shape the stories we tell.   What we recall has as much to do with the terrible things we hope to avoid as with the good life for which we yearn… The hope is that return could resolve the old dilemmas, make a victory out of defeat, and engender a new order.  And the disappointment is that there is no going back to a former condition.  Loss remakes you.  Return is as much about the world to which you no longer belong as it is about the one in which you have yet to make a home.”

 

This perspective is a powerful one.  Likewise, we all have the task of “choosing our past.”  For the past seven years in Birmingham, The Ballard House Project, Inc. staff have captured and documented oral histories from individuals and small groups and their memories of what life was like in the community, how people lived, worked, socialized, and served their community. The project is ongoing with plans to permanently exhibit key educational elements from our digitized oral histories of individuals from a cross-section of the city and state.

 

Potential benefits in documenting and sharing community history can be extensive. The comprehensive historical/cultural fabric of a community:

*Builds “community esteem,” addresses issues impacting current residents, and leaves a legacy for future generations.

*Provides a research base for the study of demographic movement patterns, community issues, cultural mores, customs, and geneology research of a metropolitan population, then and now, who migrated at varying times and for varying reasons.

*Reveals similarities and differences in neighborhoods/communities they built, milestone events, key figures, skills/crafts/trades, architecture/preservation.

*Builds awareness of the state of affairs and current conditions of a community’s history, culture, and quality of life.

*Makes a significant, documented contribution to the community’s understanding of its past, present, and future issues, as well as how it defines itself.

*Enhances and engages the community perspective on how a community’s past directly correlates to its present and future.

 

Serving as a cultural think-tank, The Ballard House Project, Inc. goes further than present history.  We endeavor to capture the past, gain a greater understanding of individual and community challenges and opportunities, amid the real-life historical context and backdrop of the times. “If we are to properly understand the past, we have to try to understand what it meant for those who lived it, place ourselves in their situation.”

 

Majella Chube Hamilton

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