One main purpose of oral history research is to give voice to the voiceless, to those who have left no written record for historians to use in the future. Oral history has been part of the broader effort in social history to write "from below" to balance the voices of the powerful in history, which are heard through their official documents, ledgers, edicts, and so on.
In ROHO's Western Mining in the Twentieth Century oral history project, there are over one hundred interviews with people who are, for the most part, neither the rich and powerful nor the excluded and forgotten. The project consists of interviews with mine foremen, managers, technicians, metallurgists, professors, and engineers. What is clear from reading these histories is the degree to which neither the official, dominant narratives nor the traditional marginal voices of oral history can give us the whole picture. The middle level of managers, engineers and scientists still have much left to say.
Lee Swent's interview with Braden Mining Co. executive Bob Haldeman is a dramatic story of a powerful man buffeted by still-more-powerful historical forces. A 29-year company man with the Braden Copper Company (Kennecott Copper Co.) in Chile, Haldeman thought he had dodged a bullet in 1967. For the previous ten years, he and his colleagues watched as the Chilean government took greater control of the mining industry. Haldeman brokered a deal for a massive expansion of the mine in exchange for a guarantee of no increases in taxes for 12 years. Three years later, the new mine opened. Three months after that, socialist candidate Salvador Allende was elected President of Chile. Haldeman describes the direct political supervision of him and the mine's managers, along with some of the sabotage and work slowdowns that took place after the election. Compared to the strife on the streets and the tragedy of the subsequent years in Chile during the 1970s, Haldeman's concerns may seem trifling. But his oral history gives us some of the texture of the moment, including the panic among the well-to-do in Chile and the exultation of the young Allende supporters:
Chaos happened. People started to scramble. The Chileans who had money figured that it was the end of their life here. You could go out and buy a brand-new car -- they would give you the keys for a thousand dollar bill.
In February or March  they dug up out of the files an ancient law; I think it was enacted in 1887. For some reason, at that time it said that in vital or basic industries in the country, if for any reason the government feels they are being mismanaged and go against the interest of the country, they can appoint interventores, or watchdogs, overseers, for those key positions to make sure that the people in those positions aren't destroying the operation of the country, the economy, et cetera. They dug that law up.
We had to report to them, and they were privy to all information and had to sit in at all meetings. They could sit in my office and watch what I did all the time; I had to make office space for them. I got an interventor by the name of Mr. Arancibia, an economist, twenty-eight, and a socialist. Mr. Grant got an engineering student from the university, a communist. Thelawyer got another student, who brought his girlfriend as secretary. They locked up at three o'clock in the afternoon and made love on the sofa. [laughs] It was just chaos. You can't imagine. (70-71)
Haldeman began to make arrangements to get his family and belongings out as the political atmosphere deteriorated. As a painter, he had accumulated thirty years of his own work. When he tried to export them, they were declared "national treasures" and denied permits. When he did finally get permits, the paintings were tossed away at customs.
Although this personal adversity must be taken in context, circumstances rapidly grew more sinister for Haldeman in his encounter with the new National Copper Corporation (CODELCO), which was positioning itself to take over the mining industry on behalf of Allende's Chilean government:
Now it was June, and I was called to the Copper Corporation by the minister of mines and the head of the Copper Corporation. I was to be over at the Copper Corporation office at 10 o'clock in the morning. I met them, and they took me into the board room. In the board room there are eight or ten young guys with boinas [berets] on -- Che Guevara style -- all sitting around. I didn't know who they were; they were political hacks. They were all smiling and talking among themselves.
We sat down, and the minister said, "Mr. Haldeman, I'm sorry I had to call you in, and I'm also sorry that I have to tell you that there have been these acts of sabotage, Chileans have been leaving the company and you have been paying them severance pay in dollars," which legally I was entitled to.
They had a whole list of things. He said, "Those are very serious matters." He looked at me, and I said, "Yes, they are, sir." [He then said,] "Well, I have to tell you that we are going to file suit against you for infraction of the civil and penal codes for all of these violations."
They were all smiling. My lawyer started to speak, and I kicked him in the shins. I told him quietly, "Shut up. Don't say anything." I looked at the minister, and he was smiling. I said, "Yes, Mr. Minister, that's very serious. I just don't know what to say." He didn't say anything. Nothing happened. It was a showdown, and I didn't defend myself. The head of the Copper Corporation repeated some of the charges, and I said, "Yes, I understand that they are very serious." He said, "Yes, it's very serious."
You've heard of Pavlov's dog and conditioned reflex" In any meeting where you are the one invited, if you stand up to leave, everyone stands up. I said, "Is that all, Mr. Minister"" He said, "Yes." I said, "Mr. Vice President, is that all"" "Yes," [he said]. I stood up, and everybody stood up. I said, "With your permission, I'll be leaving." They all collapsed.
I walked by the minister, and he said, "Bob, just a minute," and grabbed my hand. "I'd like to talk to you." I said, "Wait a minute [for my lawyer]," and he said, "No, just you alone." Two of them took me in and sat down. "Do you want coffee"" I said, "No, thanks." "These are very serious charges," [they said]. I said, "Yes, very serious." I agreed with everything, and he was becoming more frustrated. I said, "I'll just have to go back and see what I can do about this. Can I ask you a favor"" "Anything you want," [they said]. "This is so serious that I would like it if you would give me forty-eight hours to leave the country," [I asked]. He said, "No, that's not the idea. That's not the purpose of all this." [laughs] They wanted to put me on a kangaroo court!
I had a group of Chileans who still stuck with me. They were loyal, and they wouldn't take any orders from these overseers, managed the company the way we wanted to and it was frustrating them. The Anaconda [Copper Co.] people just melted away and practically turned it over to the overseers before the legislation came through. (74-76)
Haldeman knew he had to leave the country immediately. What follows is straight out of a political thriller, what Haldeman called "James Bond stuff," involving telephone scramblers, counter-surveillance, and clandestine meetings. He and his spouse were out of the country the next day.
As one can see, the mining interviews in ROHO's collection do not just consist of technical descriptions of mining processes and labor negotiations. In this small sample from one of the oral histories in Western Mining in the Twentieth Century, there is this rich narrative of a direct human experience of the geopolitics, clashing ideologies, and politics of corporate hierarchies of the time. More of Bob Haldeman's life history can be found here.
Paul Burnett, ROHO Historian
The official theme of this year's annual Oral History Association Conference, held in Oklahoma City, was "Hidden Stories, Contested Truths: The Craft of Oral History." However, the unofficial theme was on moving oral history into the digital age. Earlier this year the Oral History Review published a special issue entitled "Oral History in the Digital Age" and the ideas, challenges, and questions which were raised in its pages were at the forefront of the conference. Many presentations focused on using digital technology to conduct, promote, process, and make projects accessible online; some of these sessions included "OHMS: Enhancing Access to Oral History for Free," "New Approaches to Bringing Community Histories into Public Space in an Urban Region," "Campus Oral History Programs,"and "New Answers to Old Questions in the Digital Age," and the Saturday plenary session on "Oral History and the Documentation of American Foodways" demonstrated how integral digital technology is in the application of their work.
The first session that I attended, "OHMS: Enhancing Access to Oral History for Free," focused on the OHMS [Oral History Metadata Synthesizer] system, an open source platform for coding and indexing oral history interviews. Doug Boyd from the Louis B. Nunn Center for Oral History walked the audience through the conceptual and practical foundation of OHMS. Baylor University Institute for Oral History (BUIOH) and the Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS) were both selected to pilot the OHMS system before it is made public; Steven Sielaff from BUIOH and Sady Sullivan from BHS discussed how their oral history programs run, the way in which they used OHMS to process interviews, and the strengths and weaknesses they experienced in using the system. Dean Rehberger from Michigan State University, who works on OHMS with Boyd, talked about the future of system.
The audience asked relevant questions that illuminated issues other oral history programs face and the practicality of using OHMS. Overall, this session provided people with issues to be carefully considered when deciding whether to use OHMS when it is public.
"New Approaches to Bringing Community Histories into Public Space in an Urban Region" featured a collaborative project between Erie County Public Library, Randforce Associates, and locally-based community groups in Buffalo, New York. The project, which was originally funded by an NEH digital start-up grant but grew into a large multi-year effort (which is on-going) funded by an IMLS grant, is showcasing their archival collection by connecting issues from the Depression Era to contemporary life in Buffalo. This project combines digital technology, such as Omeka and Interclipper, with low-tech tools, such as the posters and photographs, and uses available resources like the physical space of the library and the knowledge and network of their community partners to bolster their work. A component of this project is a series of public programs that intend to engender dialogue among professional experts and community members while featuring archival material. Their project involves forward-thinkers who are thoroughly addressing the needs of both the library and the community. Their decision to combine the use of new technology and existing resources is a creative solution that enhances the project. This was a great example of a complex project that could serve as a model for other collaborative projects.
Panelists from Louisiana State University, Oklahoma State University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Baylor University, and UCLA presented at the "Campus Oral History Programs" session. They each gave examples of their specific projects, the way in which their programs run, and an overview of issues they face. They are dealing with similar issues: fundraising, outreach, public engagement, digital access, and campus politics. Some of these programs have solved their problems by re-assessing their needs, creating work plans that are often re-visited or revised, using students in the production and editing process, and utilizing cheap digital resources. Most of all, they are struggling with how best to bring their collections and future work into the digital age. The audience asked many questions that revealed most oral history programs are dealing with the very same issues.
Though these are just a few highlights from the 2013 OHA Conference, there were many other dynamic presentations and examples of robust and tangible oral history projects. My biggest takeaway was that the field seems to be yearning for a solution to their issues surrounding digitization and is looking for some guidance. People want to engage in dialogue about challenges associated with the digital technology, especially those affiliated with campus or established oral history programs. This is the perfect time for us all to work together as a community and share our solutions (and failures) in order progress the field and push our work into the digital age. I look forward to next year's conference in Wisconsin, where there will hopefully more discussions on such topics.
Shanna Farrell, ROHO Historian
Gabrielle Morris, who chronicled California state politics and community history during a thirty-year career at the Regional Oral History Office died on April 24 after battling ovarian cancer for more than a decade. She was eighty-three.
Gaby was ROHO's specialist in state government history. Coming to the office in 1970 to interview for the Earl Warren gubernatorial oral history project, she later planned and directed major projects on the gubernatorial administrations of Edmund Brown, Sr., Goodwin Knight, and Ronald Reagan. Her legacy in this area includes well over two hundred in-depth oral histories documenting critical aspects of government administration and policy, from fiscal management, to land use and water resources, to health, education, and welfare issues. Gaby's other subject area at ROHO was social and community history. She was responsible for a remarkable series of forty oral histories examining the development and impact of Bay Area philanthropic foundations, from 1936 to 1980, as well as a number of memoirs of volunteer community leaders.
Although she interviewed state and national leaders, including U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, Governor Edmund G. "Pat" Brown and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, perhaps her favorite project was one recording the life experiences of ten outstanding African-American graduates of the University of California from 1914 to 1960. This group included educator Ida Louise Jackson, Oakland mayor Lionel Wilson, California Supreme Court justice Allen Broussard, and Olympic gold medalist Archie Williams. Her book, Head of the Class: An Oral History of African-American Achievement in Higher Education (1995 Twayne Publishers), used excerpts of those interviews to portray the life of black college students in a predominantly white public university, before the sweeping social changes of the civil rights era.
Gaby, a 1950 graduate of Connecticut College in economics, got her first professional experience as an historian for the US Air Force, when she documented the 59th Air Depot Wing at Burtonwood Air Force Base in England shortly after the Berlin Airlift. After returning to Connecticut, she and a college friend piled their belongings into a station wagon and headed for California in 1954. After a meandering six-week journey fueled by peanut butter and apples, they arrived in San Francisco on a rainy November night, stopping first at the home of a friend where Gaby met Frank Morris, who she would marry two years later. They lived in Berkeley for fifty-six years.
Like many women of her era, Gaby put her career on hold while she raised three children and immersed herself in the PTA, League of Women of Voters and local politics in Berkeley. ROHO soon became the beneficiary of all of her community experience, political savvy, and wisdom.
Gaby is survived by her husband, children, Catherine, Patrick and William, beloved granddaughters, Becca and Sara, and her cat, Duster, who will be colder now without her favorite lap.
Donations in Gaby's memory can be made to Connecticut College, Friends of the Berkeley Public Library or the Alameda County Community Food Bank. Plans for a memorial service are pending.
--by the Morris family and Ann Lage
I began interviewing Jimmy McCracklin in the late 1990s for our blues/jazz series of oral histories, and in 2004 I collaborated with Ronnie Stewart, bluesman and director of Bay Area Blues Society and filmmaker on a short film documentary about McCracklin's life. The film, entitled "Jimmy Sings the Blues," premiered at the International Oakland Film Festival in 2004 and had many showings at festivals and theaters such as Mill Valley's Throckmorton.
B.B. King and Bonnie Raitt, great McCracklin fans, appeared in the film, and Jimmy was highly pleased to hear B.B. call him "the greatest living blues writer and author of his signature song "The Thrill is Gone." Many of McCracklin's songs were pirated before he and his Blues Blasters began recording with Checker Records in the late 1950s. About the same time, "The Walk," covered by the Beatles and many others, made it to Billboard's top ten and got him a gig on Dick Clark's "American Bandstand."
"There is no West Coast blues, and no East Coast blues, the blues is just a feeling," McCracklin said, "and I've had the blues feeling all my life."
by Caroline Crawford
ROHO Music Lead Interviewer
Music and Dance Oral History Series
Arts in California oral histories featuring audio and video excerpts
ROHO interviewer and project director Ann Lage retired in 2011. Ann joined the ROHO staff in 1978 and has been responsible for so many interviews in the ROHO collection, as an interviewer and as a project director, that it would be impossible to overstate the importance of her contribution to oral history in general and to the Regional Oral History Office and The Bancroft Library in particular.
Among other things, she organized a pioneering project on the disability rights and independent living movement, which had Berkeley as one of its epicenters but quickly spread around the globe. This series of interviews provided the prototype for ROHO?s use of the web as an oral history resource for students, scholars, and activists. She also organized a project documenting the history of the Sierra Club.
In the spring, for Bancroft's first-ever "Friends and Family" open house, we invited staff members to share their thoughts about particular interviews in ROHO?s collection of thousands of oral histories. Here is one of Ann?s reflections:
Paul's polio at age seven left him with a significant physical disability. He relied on a wheel chair for mobility, a ventilator to breathe, and personal assistants for many tasks of daily living. His oral history explores his paths to understanding disability, first as a personal experience; then as the product of societal barriers comparable to the discrimination and stigmatization faced by members of other minority groups.
Paul was on the advisory committee of our Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement documentation project, which has recorded more than 150 in-depth oral histories with leaders of the movement nationwide and collected historical papers from movement organizations and participants.
As an oral historian, I have learned from each one of my interviewees, and Paul Longmore was no exception. I especially like Paul's words in the last interview of this oral history, where he reflects on the positive contributions of disability to society (pp. 159-160):
There's a really valuable insight there in the notion that in many respects most disabilities are just different, a different way of being in the world, a different way of experiencing your body, a different way of accessing reality, a different way of operating, that?s not inherently inferior. . . .
[Disability helps us] think about alternative ways of being a part of society . . . ways of looking at the world, looking at society, critiquing society, rebuilding society, building community, experiencing community, all that as things that we can positively offer to the rest of society.
by Linda Norton