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Encouraging Voices: Understanding and Overcoming Hesitancy in Preserving Oral Histories


The tapestry of African American history is rich and multifaceted, shaped by diverse experiences and stories. Oral history plays a critical role in preserving this legacy, yet there's a noticeable hesitancy among some elders in our community to share these stories, particularly on camera. This blog aims to explore this reluctance, understand its roots in historical trauma, and offer ways to encourage more participation in oral history projects.

The Importance of Oral Histories in African-American Heritage

Oral history has been a cornerstone in African-American studies, serving as a living bridge connecting past and present generations. From the griots of West Africa to the oral traditions that have been passed down through generations, these narratives are more than mere collections of facts; they are living, breathing stories that encapsulate the essence of our shared experiences​​​​.

Historical Context and Challenges

Historical traumas, including slavery, segregation, and systemic racism, have left deep scars and created a distrust of institutions among many African Americans. This distrust can translate into a reluctance to share personal stories, especially in a recorded format. Joel Buchanan, a leading Civil Rights activist and African American historian, exemplified how traumatic experiences can be transformed into positive action, yet the pain and challenges of these experiences should not be underestimated​​.

The Joel Buchanan Archive of African American Oral History

The Joel Buchanan Archive at the University of Florida, with over 1,000 interviews with elders about their experiences in the Civil Rights Movement and community building, is a testament to the richness of these stories. Yet, the archive also highlights challenges in capturing and analyzing these narratives, such as adapting computational tools to the unique linguistic patterns in African American speech​​.

Moving Forward: Encouraging Participation

To encourage more elders to share their stories, we need culturally sensitive methods that respect the privacy and emotions of participants. Including mental health professionals in oral history projects who can support participants who find recalling past traumas distressing. Moreover, having interviewers who can make participants feel at ease can elicit more natural and rich narratives​​.


Preserving African American oral histories is crucial for enriching understanding and fostering a more inclusive historical narrative. We must overcome hesitancies while respecting individual boundaries. As we continue to pass down these stories, we strengthen our community, foster pride in our traditions, and build a more united future​​.


  1. "More Than Words: Oral Storytelling Project Brings Black History to Life." University of Virginia,

  2. "Oral History." National Museum of African American History and Culture,

  3. "The Relevance of 1619 in Black Family Oral History." AAIHS,

  4. "Capturing Your Family’s Oral History." National Museum of African American History and Culture,

  5. "Sharing the experiences of African American elders." University of Florida,

  6. "The Art of Storytelling: How Oral Histories Shape African American Identity." Annual Fathers Day Foundation,

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