The interviewing techniques used by National Public Radio’s StoryCorps project will be used locally to create a special collection tracing the history of African-American life in Hillsborough County.
Millions of NPR listeners are familiar with stories collected through StoryCorps.org and broadcast on NPR’s “Morning Edition” program.
StoryCorps’ mission “is to provide people of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of our lives,” according to the organization’s website.
Some of the recorded stories are played on the radio. The taped interviews are also archived in the Library of Congress.
Since 2003, StoryCorps has collected and archived more than 45,000 interviews, involving approximately 90,000 participants.
With the special grant it received, the Tampa-Hillsborough library system plans to invite people to share their recollections about the history of the African-American community in Hillsborough County, said Renelda Sellf, chief librarian for the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative.
Specifically, the library system wants to hear from people who can share their insights, memories and knowledge about Central Avenue, the former center of commerce for the African-American community; Robert W. Saunders Sr., a civil rights activist; the history of local black nurses; the Jackson House, a boarding house where many high-profile African-Americans stayed in the days before blacks could stay in hotels; and, Negro League baseball players.
“There is a lot of rich history that we want to collect,” Sellf said.
Saunders played a key role in the civil rights movement in Florida and served as the Florida NAACP field secretary. He endured death threats from the Ku Klux Klan; worked statewide to desegregate public schools, beaches and housing; won raises for black teachers; brought affirmative action to government contracting and college admissions; stopped police brutality; and registered voters, according to a report published in The Tampa Bay Times after Saunders’ death.
The taped interviews will be kept in a special collection at the Robert W. Saunders Sr. Branch Library, 1505 N. Nebraska Ave. The existing library is slated for demolition and a new one will be built on the same site.
Most of the interviews will be conducted at the Saunders branch, but the project will also travel to other locations to collect stories, Sellf said. Those details are not yet final, but will be posted on the library system’s website when the information is available.
Staff members and volunteers for the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System will receive training to lay the groundwork for collecting the personal stories, Sellf said.
After this local effort to create a special collection of recordings involving African-American history wraps up, the library system will be allowed to keep the equipment, and its staff will continue to benefit from the training provided through the project, Sellf said.
The library system was one of the 10 systems selected nationwide to participate in the StoryCorps “@ your library” pilot program.
The American Library Association Public Programs Office, in partnership with StoryCorps, selected the grant winners.
“There were more than 200 applications,” Sellf said.
For additional information about the project, call (813) 273-3652, or visit hcplc.org.