Recordings and transcripts of oral histories collected from Springfield African-American residents are now available online at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum’s website.
The museum has hosted the collection since 2006, after forming a partnership with the Springfield, Illinois African American History Foundation, which created the oral history program and continues to grow the collection. The library, which digitizes the recordings and proofreads the transcripts, has archived more than 50 interviews, 15 of which are accessible online.
Some of the stories reflect the hardships African-Americans in Springfield faced decades ago as they dealt with segregation and discrimination.
“It was bad here in Springfield,” said Clarence Senor, 81, whose oral history is one of those kept at the library. He and his wife, Peggie, whose history also has been recorded, were both at the library Thursday afternoon, when the collection’s online availability was announced.
“We tend to forget the art of storytelling,” said Doug King, president of the foundation, as he discussed why collecting oral histories is important.
King said the foundation’s oral histories preserve personal life stories, as well as the “hidden story of Springfield.”
“(Oral history) serves as a public record of where we have been,” said state historian Tom Schwartz, who said the collection offers moving stories of families, friends, thriving neighborhoods, churches and businesses.
Several interviewees are from families who have lived in Springfield since the 19th century.
Not all of the reminiscences are negative. In his oral history, Charles Lockhart Jr. talked about how he once bunked with John Coltrane while the two were in the U.S. Navy.
The foundation relied on grants to start up the collection, but that money has run out, King said. While the foundation seeks more funding for interviews and transcription services, library officials said they plan to expand the online material based on the foundation’s completed recordings and transcripts.
Pete Sherman can be reached at 788-1539.