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Documenting history

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GCU records oral interviews with Taylor and Green county African-Americans

By Joan C. McKinney

The history of local African-Americans is being recorded for posterity's sake, thanks to Greater Campbellsville United.

Oral history interviews with 32 African-Americans in Taylor and Green counties were presented on CDs recently to Taylor County Public Library, Campbellsville University, the Heistand House, the Kentucky Oral History Commission and Green County Public Library.

The presentation was the result of a grant obtained by Greater Campbellsville United. Jon Allen interviewed key individuals who were knowledgeable about the African-American community.

Copies of the interviews were presented to Campbellsville University Librarian John Burch, Elaine Munday, librarian at Taylor County Public Library; Shelley Pruitt, librarian at Green County Public Library; and Betty Jane Gorin-Smith, local historian, for the Heistand House. Sarah Milligan of the Kentucky Oral History Commission also received a copy of the interviews.

Wanda Washington, coordinator of Greater Campbellsville United, invited everyone to use the valuable resources offered in the interviews.

"We want everyone to take advantage of the history that's being offered here," she said.

Washington said the goal of the project was to learn about the cultural heritage of local African-Americans who have passed stories down from generation to generation and to document their history as recalled through family histories.

"These collections of personal memories were collected through oral interviews with key residents in order to capture the essence of African-American life, their heritage and communities that have moved, grown or diminished over time."

Washington said the project has expanded the awareness of African-American culture in Taylor and Green counties by identifying the African-American experience and preserving their history while celebrating their important roles in the community.

"This process is a positive and proactive way to build a healthy cultural identity and increase community pride," she said. "Residents will be able to recognize, honor and value the talents and heritage of these African-Americans who have helped to create the fabric of a tolerant and diverse county."

Those interviewed were:

Taylor County

Douglas Allen, family grocery store owner; Peggy Anderson, banker; Ruth Anderson, senior citizen; B.J. Brown, funeral director; Joyce Dunlap, teacher; Kenneth Fisher, teacher; Clem Haskins, coach; Yevette Haskins, class officer and valedictorian at Durham High; George Hatcher, involved in civil rights legal issues; Eddie Lee Hazelwood Jr., business; Sharon Hoskins, banker; the Rev. Walter Johnson, pastor; Phyllis Mattingly, teacher; Helen McKay, class officer at Durham High; Helen Mills, historian; Joseph Rowe, basketball, Durham High; the Rev. Cory Shull, pastor; Mildred Smith, historian; Margaret Stewart, librarian/historian; Jean Wickliffe, teacher; Samuel Wickliffe, teacher/coach; Mary C. Williams, Fruit of the Loom; and the following who are now deceased - Frances Clinkscales, nurse; Fannie Ivery, teacher; R.K. Ivery, teacher/coach and Harriet Penick, hairdresser.

Green County

Mary Cowherd, banker; Jerry Cowherd, city council/business owner; Margaret Gaddie, nurse; Louis Henry, police officer; Mildred Williams, housewife and Myrtle Winn, Historical Society.

Washington said several issues regarding African-Americans were explored in the interviews including verifying the location of early African-American settlements in Campbellsville and Taylor County; documenting how the communities physically changed over the years through the built environment; discovering the dynamics of segregation and integration within the county; revealing civil rights activities during the mid-1900s; understanding the perspective of business, political and cultural leaders; discussing the Underground Railroad and its impact on the area and exploring how the economics of the county influenced the type of work available to African-Americans.

Allen said he would love to have the young people of today learn about the African-Americans who were interviewed and see what they went through in life.

"I made a lot of friends in the process [of interviewing]," he said.

He said the oldest person he interviewed was Ruth Anderson, who was in her 90s.

The interviews are 30 minutes long.

Yevette Haskins, one of those interviewed and also co-chair of Greater Campbellsville United, said it was "just an honor to have this kind of history to share. If we don't honor the past, we lose sight of it."

John Burch, librarian at Campbellsville University, said, "The African-American Oral History Interview Collection captures and illuminates the African-American experience in the local region in a manner that can't be replicated on the written page."

Elaine Munday, Taylor County Public Library's librarian, said "We are very grateful for the oral history interviews donated to us by Greater Campbellsville United. This is a very rich history of Green and Taylor counties and will be available for the entire community to enjoy."

Shelley Pruitt, librarian in Green County, said, "We are very enthused and very appreciative to add this to our collection. It will be a great asset to our genealogy department."

Campbellsville Mayor Brenda Allen and Taylor County Judge/Executive Eddie Rogers were on hand at the presentation of the oral histories.

For more information about the project, contact Greater Campbellsville United at 465-9636.

- Joan C. McKinney is news and publications coordinator at Campbellsville University.