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Project South coordinator revisits collection 50 years later

Jim McRae

On April 24th, the University Archives was pleased to welcome back to the farm Jim McRae ('68), coordinator of the KZSU-sponsored Project South, which interviewed civil rights workers during the summer of 1965. Jim (seen here examining interview transcripts) sat down with us to talk about the project and even provided some personal photographs (below) and documents

Project South, 1965During the summer of 1965, eight students from Stanford University spent ten weeks in the southern states tape-recording information on student participation in the Civil Rights Movement. The eight interviewers -- Mary Kay Becker, Mark Dalrymple, Roger Dankert, Richard Gillam, James McRae, Penny Niland, Jon Roise, and Julie Wells -- were sponsored by KZSU, Stanford's student radio station, and their original intent was to gather material suitable for rebroadcasting in the form of radio programs. Northern college students who were working in the South for the first time were the major focus, although many other topics were also investigated. To find out why these students decided to go to the South to work for the movement, what they expected to find there, what they did find, the pressures they experienced, their reaction to these pressures, what they accomplished, and what they planned to do in the future (both near and distant), they interviewed as many students as possible. What is planned is a series of programs expressing in the volunteers' and workers' own words, their motivations and their feelings towards the many aspects of the South and of the Civil Rights Movement experienced that summer.

Project South, 1965Although much attention was focused on white civil rights workers, a great deal of other documentation relevant to black history was also obtained: the interviewers visited over fifty civil rights projects in six states (see appendix) and secured three hundred and thirty hours of recordings, including over two hundred hours of personal interviews. In addition to interviewing members of various, well-known civil rights groups -- the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC or 'Snick') -- the student interviewers also recorded the formal and the informal remarks of those working with smaller, independent civil rights projects, of local blacks associated with the civil rights movement, and of many others including Ku Klux Klansmen and Southerners connected with the Sheriff's Department of Clay County, Mississippi. The interviewers, in addition, spoke with many white volunteers who participated in Snick's 'Washington Lobby' (aimed at unseating the all-white Mississippi Congressional Delegation) but who did not actually go south.

Several of the two-person interview teams recorded parts of the Jackson, Bougalusa, Greensboro, Crawfordsville, and West Point demonstrations, and also gathered various other action tapes of civil rights workers canvassing voters, conducting freedom schools, or participating in demonstrations. Finally, the interviewers recorded many mass meetings and gathered much material on the orientation sessions of MFDP in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and of SCLC in Atlanta, Georgia.

To this day, the significance of the project really hasn't been appreciated. This was one of the first projects to systematically investigate the student civil rights worker - and the only one to do so using taped interviews. The tapes gathered during that summer comprise the only library of recorded information on this (or any other) ongoing social movement in America at the time. The collection is especially valuable because it concerns a transitional period between the first 'freedom summer' of 1964, the high tide of civil rights, and the 'Meredith March of 1966 during which Stokely Carmichael first voiced the compelling cry of 'Black Power'.

It is with great pride that the audio and transcripts from collection are now available online and open to the research community. We thank Jim and the seven other interviewers for their pioneering efforts in documenting and sharing this rich piece of American history.

Comments

Thanks for such an appropriate way to remember the many momentous historical events and people on the 50th. Anniversaries.

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