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During this past year, Cairo’s Roddenbery Memorial Library obtained a grant from the Georgia Public Library Service to digitize 80 cassette tapes of oral histories and church choir recordings from the Grady County African American community. These interviews were recorded in 1982 by Dr. Robert Hall and Frank W. Roebuck as part of another library grant titled “They Endure: a Chronicle of Courage”.
“For at least 25 years, I have seen these tapes sitting in a file drawer” states Janet Boudet, library director. “I have looked at and used the accompanying documentation to these tapes in several local and family history inquiries, but never listened to the tapes themselves. Many of the names on the tapes were of people I had heard of or met such as The Willifords, Charles Copeland, Mrs. Pinkie Simmons, and Lucille Williams.”
During the recent renovation of the library building, Boudet came across the tapes again and says she thought it a shame to have them sitting in a file drawer unheard.
When an archival/local history grant opportunity was announced, Boudet applied and was awarded the grant.
“One year later, during a pandemic, and many hours of work by a U.G.A. student intern, these 58 voices can be heard again. Most have been silent for over 25 years, as they have passed on from this life,” states Boudet.
While the quality of recording was good at the time, it is lacking compared to today’s technology. Some voices are quite clear and strong, while others are soft, tired, or distant, according to Boudet.
Many of the recordings were done on the front porch, so there is background noise for listeners to contend with.
“But, imagine hearing your relative’s voice again after many years, or for the first time! I had never heard Miss Wessie’s voice before,” said Janet Boudet, who started working at the library two years after Wessie Connell, the founding library director, died. “I have heard so many stories about her, seen pictures, etc., but had never heard her voice. She had a very Southern and genteel sounding voice.”
The interviewees came from a wide range of backgrounds including military veterans, educators, farmers, domestic workers, midwives, and church officials. Each interview provides valuable insights into the personal lives of the African American community in Cairo, with a particular focus on religious, social, and educational organizations.
Boudet says the purpose of the project was to aid in the understanding of the role of this segment of our community in changing times.
“After the events of this past year, now seems like an opportune time to hear how some of these past Grady countians lived and endured struggles during the early to mid-20th century,” comments Boudet.