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Giving permanence to black oral histories

/ Source: The Associated Press

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting announced a project Wednesday that hopes to record at least 1,500 oral histories from black families over the next year.

The recordings are to be placed at the Library of Congress and in the archives of the Smithsonian Institution’s future National Museum of African American History and Culture.

“One of the greatest treasures of African America is the stories, the words, the family memories,” said Lonnie Bunch, director of the museum, which is planned for the National Mall.

“In essence, this is really one of the ways we will help America to remember by preserving those words,” he said.

The audio CD recordings will be produced by the New York-based nonprofit group Sound Portraits Productions, which produces the StoryCorps interview series on National Public Radio. That series aims to create an oral history of the nation through 40-minute interviews with ordinary citizens, including survivors of Hurricane Katrina and relatives of those killed in the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is funding the $1.4 million StoryCorps Griot project. Part of the project’s name, “griot,” is derived from the West African tradition of storytelling where a respected tribe member, a “griot,” is a living repository of the community’s history.

The first recording sessions are planned for Feb. 15 in Atlanta through a mobile recording studio that will stop in nine cities over the next year.

The mobile recording units also will travel to Chicago; Clarksdale, Miss.; Detroit; Memphis, Tenn.; Montgomery, Ala.; Newark, N.J.; Oakland, Calif.; and Selma, Ala.