NPR Initiative Coming to East Bay to Collect Historical African American Stories

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Tuesday July 31, 2007

An organization affiliated with National Public Radio will be coming to Oakland and Richmond for six weeks beginning Aug. 9, collecting historical stories by Bay Area African-Americans for possible later broadcast on NPR. 

A spokesperson for Mayor Ron Dellums called the announcement “exciting news.” 

With NPR’s StoryCorps Griot Initiative saying that it will “place a special emphasis on the stories of World War II veterans and men and women involved in the Civil Rights struggle,” the broadcasters are expected to find a rich source of material in the East Bay. Much of the area’s African-American population migrated from the South to Oakland, Berkeley, and Richmond during World War II to work in the wartime industries, particularly Richmond’s Kaiser shipyards. 

In addition, the East Bay was one of the national action centers during the civil rights and Black Power periods, with, among other things, Oakland serving as the birthplace of the Black Panther Party.  

NPR’s StoryCorps Griot asks participants to record 40-minute interviews in pairs, with the two people knowing each other, either swapping stories back and forth or with one participant interviewing the other. All participants receive copies of their recorded interviews, with additional copies sent to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress and the National Museum of African-American History and Culture at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., with excerpts of selected interviews to be broadcast on NPR. 

According to the organization, participation is open to anyone “who considers her/himself of African heritage and lives in the United States” and who has stories to tell, but participants are encouraged to register in advance at www.storycorps.net/griot/#reservations or at (800) 850-4406 to ensure there is available time. Participants are also encouraged to contribute a tax-deductible $10 donation or more to help defray costs for the effort. 

StoryCorps Griot had originally planned to do all of its interviews from a bus parked at Frank Ogawa Plaza in front of City Hall, but has scheduled two days in Richmond after learning of that city’s recent efforts in archiving African-American history, including aspects of the Rosie the Riveter National Park and the Memories of MacDonald Avenue project. 

The East Bay stop is one of six urban areas to be visited in the initiative’s one-year effort, with other stops in Atlanta, Newark, Detroit, Chicago, Memphis, Harlem, New York Clarksdale, Mississippi, and Selma and Montgomery, Alabama.