Civil rights oral history project receives NEH grant

Team B interviewing Salvador Balcorta, the director of La Fe Clinic who was active in M.A.Y.A. in the late 1960s.

Team B interviewing Salvador Balcorta, the director of La Fe Clinic who was active in M.A.Y.A. in the late 1960s.

The National Endowment for the Humanities on Tuesday announced that the Civil Rights in Black and Brown Oral History Project, a collaborative research initiative led by Assistant Professor of History Max Krochmal, has received a $200,000 grant from the agency. The grant to TCU, which includes $100,000 in outright funding and $100,000 in federal matching funds, is part of $36.6 million in grants announced for more than 200 humanities projects across the country. The oral history project previously received support from The Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston and The Summerlee Foundation of Dallas.

“The grant projects announced [July 28] represent the very best of humanities scholarship and programming,” said NEH Chairman William Adams. “NEH is proud to support programs that illuminate the great ideas and events of our past, broaden access to our nation’s many cultural resources, and open up for us new ways of understanding the world in which we live.”

Civil Rights in Black and Brown: Oral Histories of the Multiracial Freedom Struggle in Texas! brings to life the African American and Mexican American civil rights movements that flourished in mid-20th century Texas and explores how the two struggles advanced intimate conversation with one another. While most research on American race relations has utilized a binary analytical lens — examining either “black” vs. “white” or “Anglo” vs. “Mexican” — the Civil Rights in Black and Brown Oral History Project collects, interprets and disseminates new oral history interviews with members of all three groups. Covering the period from the twilight of the Jim Crow era until today, and based on fieldwork in 15 sites throughout the large, diverse state of Texas, the project promises to uncover “black/brown” collaboration, conflict and everything in between.

The interviews will form the basis of a multi-authored scholarly book that synthesizes the overlapping black and brown freedom struggles in the Lone Star State from mid-century to present. A closer look at men and women who sat in at the lunch counters, marched in the streets, desegregated the schools, registered the voters, organized the unions, launched the welfare rights movements and built autonomous community institutions promises to upend the story of civil rights in Texas while also shedding new light on the larger field of black/brown relations. Scholars of African American Studies, Chicano/a Studies and race across the disciplines will look to the proposed book as the first authoritative history of black/brown relations rooted in the voices of ordinary movement participants.

In the process of preparing the scholarly manuscript, project collaborators will add to an already-functioning online database of digital video and audio interview clips that serves as a second end by-product of the grant: a publicly accessible, free and user-friendly multimedia digital humanities website. Rather than simply displaying the full interviews and transcripts, the site breaks the interviews into short clips, each of which carries a series of thematic metadata codes from a project-specific controlled vocabulary, a set of subject terms that are far more detailed than standard Library of Congress headings.

End users interact with e-commerce style software to search for narrow subjects across the entire interview collection, to view recommended clips based on their browsing history and to add their own user-tags to help future visitors. Created specifically for this project by TCU library staff using open-source inputs, the site’s innovative software allows not only scholars, but also students, teachers, journalists and the general public to easily search for and examine specific themes for their own research projects, lesson plans, news stories, essays and more.

The Civil Rights in Black and Brown project is housed in the Department of History and Geography at TCU, with senior collaborators from the University of Texas, Arlington and the University of North Texas also participating. Archival holdings and the website are hosted by TCU’s Mary Couts Burnett Library. The interviews will also be archive online in the Portal to Texas History at UNT.

Read more:

“Preserving Oral Histories and Creating New Experiences Around the Civil Rights Movement”

A complete state-by-state listing of grants is available here.