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The People's Recorder


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  • 4. 04 Who's Recording Who?

    30:12
    Episode Summary:In the 1930s, Zora Neale Hurston was already a nationally known novelist, anthropologist and member of the 1920s Harlem Renaissance. Yet she saw her publishing income dry up during the Great Depression even with the publication of her best-known novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. When she took a job with the Writers’ Project in Florida, her first assignment was to write for the WPA Guide to Florida. In the hands of truth-seekers like Hurston and a young white co-worker, Stetson Kennedy, the Florida WPA guidebook would reflect a wide range of Florida life, “warts and all,” including a report of violent voter suppression in the 1920s—until editors started to push back. This episode follows that conflict. Hurston also moved the Writers’ Project to record the songs and folktales of Florida culture. We hear from historians and bestselling novelist James McBride about how that work still resonates today.Speakers:Douglas Brinkley, historian Peggy Bulger, folkloristTameka Hobbs, historianStetson Kennedy, author and Project alum James McBride, authorFlo Turcotte, historianLinks and Resources:Florida Memory Zora Neale Hurston PageZora Neale Hurston Collection at University of FloridaFlorida Memory WPA PageFlorida Memory Stetson Kennedy InterviewNPR: Writer Finds Zora Neale Hurston’s FloridaFurther Reading:WPA Guide to Florida Go Gator and Muddy the Water by Zora Neale Hurston, edited by Pamela BordelonPalmetto Country by Stetson KennedyTheir Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale HurstonThe Good Lord Bird by James McBrideStetson Kennedy: Applied Folklore and Cultural Advocacy by Peggy BulgerDemocracy Abroad, Lynching at Home: Facial Violence in Florida by Tameka HobbsCredits:Host: Chris HaleyDirector: Andrea KalinProducers: Andrea Kalin, David A. Taylor and James MirabelloWriter: David A. TaylorEditor: Ethan OserAssistant Editor: Amy A. YoungStory Editor: Michael MayAdditional Voices: Amesha McElveen and Skip CoblynFeaturing music and archival material from: Pond5Library of CongressNational Archives and Records AdministrationFor additional content, visit peoplesrecorder.info or follow us on social media: @peoplesrecorderProduced with support from: National Endowment for the HumanitiesFlorida Humanities Stetson Kennedy Foundation

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  • Bonus Content - Songs of Freedom, from Petersburg, VA

    05:58
    Episode Summary: As detailed in episodes 2 and 3, Roscoe Lewis’ unit on the Federal Writers’ Project conducted interviews with the survivors of slavery in Virginia. One member of the unit, a former teacher named Susie RC Byrd, interviewed dozens of formerly enslaved persons in Petersburg in a series of weekly meetings. Lewis and Byrd also arranged to borrow equipment from the University of Virginia to record songs performed at one of these meetings.  We are sharing two of those recordings with you today, “Stomp Down” and “Gonna Shout.”  Please note, the audio quality is poor, but what is amazing is that these are the actual voices of those who survived slavery.  It’s easy to think that slavery was something that happened a long time ago, but hearing these voices, you’ll feel that slavery was not in the distant past.  The soloist in “Stomp Down” is Sister Charlotte Taylor and the soloist in “Gonna Shout” is Reverend Ishrael Massie.  Links and Resources: "Voices Remembering Slavery: Freed People Tell Their Stories" at the Library of Congress"Ex-Slave Narratives" at the Library of VirginiaAmerican Folklife CenterCredits:Host: Chris HaleyDirector: Andrea KalinProducers: Andrea Kalin, David A. Taylor, James MirabelloEditors: James Mirabello and Ethan OserWriter: James MirabelloFeaturing music and archival material from: Pond5American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress For additional content, visit peoplesrecorder.info or follow us on social media: @peoplesrecorderProduced with support from: National Endowment for the HumanitiesVirginia Humanities Florida Humanities Wisconsin Humanities California Humanities Humanities Nebraska
  • 3. 03 A Lost Cause?

    27:13
    Episode Summary:This episode looks at communities that have suffered neglect from official history, and the example of African American landmarks and burial grounds in Virginia. Some families and communities have pushed to reclaim their place and spaces, often using tools employed earlier by the Federal Writers’ Project. Project workers often consulted landmarks and cemetery headstones to present a fuller picture of local history.  In southern states, the Writers’ Project encountered the Lost Cause, the effort emerging after the Civil War that aimed to rewrite the war’s meaning and origins in slavery. The myth shaped the environment for white writers of the WPA Guide to Virginia, and it continues to hold influence even today. Yet the field research underlying the WPA guide – the details the federal writers uncovered in records, interviews and landmarks – as well as another Project publication, The Negro in Virginia, provide a way to untangle the Lost Cause myth. We probe that history with poet Kiki Petrosino as she researches her family’s Virginia history, and with historians at the Library of Virginia, the Alexandria Black History Museum and the University of Richmond.Speakers:Audrey Davis, historianJulian Hayter, historianGregg Kimball, historianKiki Petrosino, poetAlton Darden, Helping Hand Cemetery trusteeMaurice Darden, Helping Hand Cemetery trusteeDolores Peterson, Helping Hand Cemetery trusteeLinks and Resources:Helping Hand Cemetery Club"Unmarked" documentaryPhoto Essay about East End Cemetery by Kiki Petrosino and Brian PalmerEncyclopedia Virginia entry on the Lost CauseAlexandria Black History MuseumLibrary of VirginiaFurther Reading: The Negro in Virginia by the Federal Writers’ Project White Blood by Kiki PetrosinoRewriting America: New Essays on the Federal Writers’ Project, edited by Sara RutkowskiHow the Word is Passed by Clint SmithThe Dream is Lost by Julian HayterAmerican City, Southern Place by Gregg Kimball Credits:Host: Chris HaleyDirector: Andrea KalinProducers: Andrea Kalin, David A. Taylor, James MirabelloWriter: David A. TaylorEditors: Ethan Oser and Julie ChalhoubStory Editor: Michael MayAdditional Voices: Skip Coblyn, James Mirabello, Jared Buggage, Jerry Ray and Danielle Nance Featuring music and archival material from: Pond5Library of CongressNational Archives and Records AdministrationNPRWUSA9ABC NewsNews2ShareFor additional content, visit peoplesrecorder.info or follow us on social media: @peoplesrecorderProduced with support from: National Endowment for the HumanitiesVirginia Humanities
  • Special Interview with Host Chris Haley

    24:02
    Episode Summary:Get to know The People's Recorder host Chris Haley a little bit better. Chris is Director of Research, Education and Outreach, and the Study of the Legacy of Slavery at the Maryland State Archives. He's also an actor, a poet, and a filmmaker.  In this special bonus episode, he speaks with Spark Media's Bright Djampa about growing up as his Uncle Alex's iconic book "Roots" became a phenomenon, his own love of history and genealogy, and the importance of the work done by those on the Federal Writers' Project. Links and Resources: Unmarked film. co-directed by Chris HaleyChris Haley's website Legacy of Slavery in Maryland, Maryland State Archives National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Remembering Roots, History.comCredits: Director: Andrea KalinProducers: Andrea Kalin, David A. Taylor, James MirabelloInterviewer: Bright DjampaEditors: Amelia Jarecke and Ethan OserFeaturing music from Pond5For additional content, visit peoplesrecorder.info or follow us on social media: @peoplesrecorderProduced with support from: National Endowment for the HumanitiesFlorida HumanitiesVirginia HumanitiesWisconsin HumanitiesCalifornia HumanitiesHumanities Nebraska
  • 1. 01 A Giant Listening Project

    24:26
    Episode Summary:In the depths of the Great Depression, the U.S government hired out-of-work writers and laid-off reporters and sent them out to record the stories of all kinds of Americans. Dubbed the Federal Writers’ Project, historians have called the program a giant "listening project." In this introductory episode, host Chris Haley sets the stage, laying out 1930s America, the New Deal, and the cultural forces that both supported and opposed the Writers’ Project.  We meet the agency’s national director Henry Alsberg and a handful of its writers across the country, including Zora Neale Hurston, Studs Terkel and Ralph Ellison. We also dig into the key questions that are still debated in public forums today: What history gets told?  And who gets to tell it?  Speakers:Scott Borchert, authorDavid Bradley, novelistDouglas Brinkley, historianTameka Hobbs, historianDavid Kipen, authorDena Epstein, daughter of federal writer Hilda PolacheckStuds Terkel, oral historianLinks and Resources:American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ ProjectBorn to Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ ProjectAuthor Scott Borchert on the Federal Writers’ Project and the WPA guidebooks Article on Library of Congress symposium on The Millions Further Reading:Soul of a People by David A. TaylorRepublic of Detours by Scott Borchert Barracoon by Zora Neale HurstonCalifornia in the 1930s by David KipenHard Times by Studs TerkelFirst-Person America by Ann Banks Henry Alsberg by Susan DeMasiLong Past Slavery by Catherine A. StewartCredits:Host: Chris HaleyDirector: Andrea KalinProducers: Andrea Kalin, David A. Taylor, James MirabelloWriter: David A. TaylorEditors: Steve Klingbiel and Ethan OserStory Editor: Michael MayAdditional Voices: Karen Simon, Robert Mirabello, Gary Hogan and Vince BrownFeaturing music and archival material from:Pond5Library of Congress National Archives New York Public LibrarySwing Time (RKO, 1936)Smithsonian FolkwaysFor additional content, visit peoplesrecorder.info or follow us on social media: @peoplesrecorderProduced with support from: National Endowment for the HumanitiesFlorida Humanities Virginia HumanitiesWisconsin HumanitiesCalifornia HumanitiesHumanities Nebraska
  • 2. 02 A New Kind of History

    36:35
    Episode Summary:The Federal Writers’ Project set out to create a series of books that held up a mirror to America, and chronicled communities that had long been ignored. Howard University professor Sterling Brown led the agency’s effort to document African American history in a series of books. In Virginia, chemistry professor Roscoe Lewis led a small team to produce the first book in that national series, titled The Negro in Virginia.  Lewis recruited a dozen Black writers and researchers across the state for a pioneering effort that recorded interviews with nearly 300 formerly enslaved people. They navigated a backlash from state editors and local officials. Against all odds, their book on Black life became a national Book-of-the-Month Club selection, and a milestone on the path to the Civil Rights movement.Speakers:Audrey Davis, historianJulian Hayter, historianGregg Kimball, historianKiki Petrosino, poetLinks and Resources:Photo essay about East End Cemetery by Kiki Petrosino and Brian Palmer in VQR“Unmarked” documentaryVirginia Humanities Q&A with David A. TaylorWashington Post article on Roscoe Lewis and The Negro in VirginiaAlexandria Black History MuseumReading List:The Negro in Virginia (Library of Virginia)White Blood by Kiki PetrosinoLong Past Slavery: Representing Race in the Federal Writers’ Project by Catherine A. StewartTo Walk About in Freedom by Carole EmbertonThe Dream is Lost by Julian Hayter Credits:Host: Chris HaleyDirector: Andrea KalinProducers: Andrea Kalin, David A. Taylor, James MirabelloWriter: David A. TaylorEditors: Ethan Oser and Julie ChalhoubStory Editor: Michael MayAdditional Voices: Skip Coblyn, Sherry Carter-Brownell, Robert Mirabello, James Mirabello and Danielle NanceFeaturing music and archival material from:Pond5Library of Congress National Archives For additional content, visit peoplesrecorder.info or follow us on social media: @peoplesrecorderProduced with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and Virginia Humanities.
  • Trailer

    04:53
    Join us on an unvarnished tour of America. The People’s Recorder is a podcast about the 1930s Federal Writers’ Project: what it achieved, where it fell short, and what it means for Americans today. Each episode features stories of individual writers, new places, and the project's impact on people's lives. Along the way we hear from historians, novelists, and others who shed light on that experience and unexpected connections to American society today.The People’s Recorder is produced by Spark Media with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Florida Humanities, Virginia Humanities, Wisconsin Humanities, California Humanities and Humanities Nebraska.