Recording School Desegregation: Conduct Your Own Oral History Project
In this unit, students will research the history of school desegregation, and bring that history to life by listening to oral histories of North Carolinians who lived through desegregation. Students will then become historians, recording their own oral histories with relatives or community members, and reflecting on the experience through writing. The oral histories will be collected into a final project and placed in the school’s library for students and teachers to study in the future.
Grade 8 - Social Studies
Classroom Time Needed: approximately 3-4 weeks
Students will fully understand the major events and impact of school desegregation in the United States.
Students will record an oral history, learning how to complete background research, craft questions, respond to and analyze the interviewee’s experiences, and understand how cultural influences shaped the interviewee’s responses.
Students will compare and contrast the responses of interviewees on the issue of school desegregation.
North Carolina Standard Course of Study - Grade 8 Social Studies
Goal 7: The learner will analyze changes in North Carolina during the postwar period to the 1970's.
Goal 9: The learner will explore examples of and opportunities for active citizenship, past and present, at the local and state levels.
Materials and Resources
Teachers should listen to the oral history excerpts (Joanne Peerman, William Culp, and William Hamlin) in advance, and review the discussion questions.
Teachers should, perhaps in collaboration with their school library media specialist, gather online and print resources about school desegregation for students to use when researching. Reserve time in the library media center for student research and for students to listen to sample oral histories.
Teachers should review the Inquiry-Chart, and modify or choose another research method if desired.
Teachers should contact community members who have experienced school desegregation and would be willing to travel to the school to be interviewed by students.
Teachers should review the Release Form and modify for their own purposes (if necessary).
Activity One: Activating Background Knowledge
In this brief activity, students will brainstorm ideas about school desegregation. Teachers will be able to determine students’ levels of prior knowledge and students will begin thinking about the issue.
Read students each prompt, or write them on the board or overhead:
Give students time to generate ideas and questions.
Explain that students will be studying school desegregation in preparation for interviewing an adult about their experiences with this controversial issue. Encourage students to start thinking about possible interviewees: parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other relatives; neighbors; family friends; coaches; teachers; or other community members who would be willing to be interviewed.
Activity Two: Researching School Desegregation
Explain to students that they will now have a chance to learn more about school desegregation, so they will have enough knowledge and understanding of the topic to interview someone about it.
Hand out a copy of the Inquiry-Chart (Hoffman, 1992) to each student. If students aren’t familiar with the chart, review how to fill it out and how it will help organize their research. Teachers may want to model this strategy before students try it on their own.
Decide if students will generate their own questions individually or in groups, or if you will provide the questions for them.
Allow students sufficient time to fill out their charts, helping them answer questions and guiding their research.
Activity Three: What is an Oral History?
Introduce the concept of an oral history, and discuss their value as we study important events. Mention that oral histories provide a chance for the “regular person” to record his or her experiences, not just the well-known or famous people often recorded in written history.
Ask students to brainstorm more reasons we should value oral histories—such as allowing minority groups to record and publicize their experiences, making connections between generations, passing on the art of storytelling, etc.
Explain that students will be hearing oral history excerpts about school desegregation from North Carolinians.
Play first oral history excerpt for students. The speaker is Joanne Peerman, a Chapel Hill woman who experienced the turmoil of integration as a middle school student in the late 1960s. Discussion questions:
Play second oral history excerpt. The speaker is William Culp, a man from Charlotte whose children attended integrated schools. Discussion questions:
Play third oral history excerpt. The speaker is William Hamlin, a Charlotte resident who attended segregated schools but sent his children to integrated schools. Discussion questions:
Activity Four: Practicing Oral History
Give students time to listen to and explore oral histories online, especially student oral history projects (see Additional Websites for links to examples). Have students take notes on things they observe in the oral histories that do or do not work well: especially good or effective questions, questions that seem to get short answers, techniques for encouraging the speaker to continue talking, the tone of voice used by the interviewer and interviewee throughout the interviews, and so on.
Divide students into groups of 3 or 4. Give each group a copy of the "Conducting Oral Histories" packet.
After students review the "Questions Guidelines" and "Interviewing Guidelines" in their packets, they will conduct practice interviews in class. Assign a topic all students will be able to talk at length about, such as experiences in elementary school, how holidays are celebrated within his or her family, trips he or she has taken in the past, etc. Have students take turns being the interviewer and interviewee, and end with a class discussion on what kinds of questions were best, what questions didn't get very good answers, and how the interviews could have been improved.
Using their Inquiry-Chart to inform them, students will spend time generating potential questions for their interviewee about school desegregation. Each student should have 5-7 questions prepared. Teachers may want to assign this activity for homework to save on class time.
Activity Five: Becoming Oral Historians
For each group, assign roles of interviewer, writer, and transcriber to students, or allow them to choose roles. If you have 4 students in a group, the fourth student will be an additional transcriber.
Make sure each group has a suitable interviewee who is willing to be interviewed on tape and has experienced school desegregation. For groups who aren't able to find an interviewee, assign one of the volunteer community members.
Students will then begin to complete the tasks assigned to their roles. Over the next one to two class meetings, the interviewer will practice using the tape recording equipment and set up a meeting time to conduct the interview; the writer will collect and edit the group's questions, then write additional questions; and the transcriber will listen to sample oral histories and practice transcribing them (links to sample oral histories are in Additional Web Sites).
After preparing during class, students will record their oral histories as outlined in their packets. Teachers may need to devote class time to this task if community members are coming to the school to be interviewed.
Activity Six: Reflecting on the Oral Histories
Each group will choose an excerpt to play from their oral history that they feel is especially interesting or says a lot about the history of desegregation. They will provide handouts of the transcript of this section, and teachers will make a copy for each member of the class.
Devote one to two class periods for students to listen to the oral histories their classmates have recorded. Each group will give a brief introduction to their speaker's background, and then play the excerpt for the entire class.
After the class has gotten a chance to hear everyone's work, students will complete these reflection questions:
Additional Web Sites
The Legacy of School Busing- National Public Radio series
"With an Even Hand:" Brown V. Board at Fifty - Library of Congress multimedia online exhibit
Brown V. Board: An American Legacy - Teaching Tolerance
Horizons of Opportunities: Celebrating 50 Years of Brown v. Board of Education- National Education Association
Separate is Not Equal - Smithsonian National Museum of American History online exhibit
School Desegregation Electronic Fieldtrips- 50 minute online videos created by the Smithsonian for middle and high school students
Oral History Collections
Oral Histories of the American South - University of North Carolina
Civil Rights Oral History Interviews - Washington State University
Oral History with Fannie Lou Hamer - University of Southern Mississippi
T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History Collections - Louisiana State University
The Whole World Was Watching: An Oral History of 1968 - South Kingston High School, Rhode Island
Bland County History Archives - Rocky Gap High School, Virginia
Conducting Your Own Oral History Project
Introduction to Oral History - Baylor University
Teacher Resources - D.C. Everest Area Schools Oral History Project
Tips for Interviewing - Regional Oral History Office, University of California
Ten Questions for Planning an Oral History Project - LearnNC