Fordham University has made public over 300 oral interviews conducted for the Bronx African American History Project of said residents living in the borough since the 1930’s. It, “is regarded as one of the premier community based oral history projects in the United States”, according to project’s website.
Well known Bronxites like the late Morgan Powell, Caridad de la Luz (aka La Bruja), and Kurtis Blow are included in this massive archive—even Latinos, and Jews alike.
The project began in 2002 and for over a decade, researchers conducted oral interviews with these individuals along with research of historical archives to come up with the Black experience as told by themselves and not the often distorted media narratives we are accustomed to reading.
These were done in conjunction with the Bronx County Historical Society which, “conducted over 300 full length interviews with African American political leaders, educators, musicians, social workers, business people, clergy. athletes and leaders of community based organizations who have lived and worked in the Bronx since the late 1930s, along with a small number of their Latino and white neighbors and co-workers.”
“The interviews, all conducted by scholars associated with Fordham’s Department of African and African American Studies, provide an in-depth portrait of the cultural, political, and social history of Bronx Black communities as seen through the eyes of a diverse group of neighborhood residents and document the mass migration of African Americans and West Indians from Harlem to the Bronx in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.
Mark Naison, professor of history and African and African-American studies at Fordham and principal investigator of the project, notes that for many years The Bronx was a very diverse community as White flight did not happen all at once. “For about 20 years the Bronx had a very unusual mix,” said Dr. Naison. “The transformation was a much slower process than people realize. We captured that experience.”
The late and beloved Kristopher Morgan Powell (known to most simply as Morgan), who passed away suddenly last year, worked on the archives extensively. He was instrumental especially in the early stages of the archives as an Assistant Archivist who worked on the surveys as part of the Bronx AfricanAmerican Archival Survey (BAAS).
In the abstract of Morgan’s interview, “He recalls being among the first dark-skinned people in his northern Bronx neighborhood in the 80s, which was mostly Italian and Jewish, and he remembers playing in board games with the neighborhood kids. It was a place full of life, but was regarded as being worthless and full of social decay by the rest of America during the time.”
It goes on to say, “Unlike most the other people he grew up with, Powell “identifies with the Bronx, has come from the Bronx, and is an educated person who wishes to stay in the Bronx.” He stayed for several reasons, one being that after graduating high school at age 17, his mother refused to sign any papers for him going to college. He also reflects that people wanted to leave the Bronx because, growing up there, they were taught it was a “godforsaken” place.” (you can view the full transcript of the interview or even listen to it via the website).
After Morgan’s untimely death last year, his family graciously donated his entire collection of his own research he had done on the African American experience in The Bronx to the Bronx African American History Project to be housed at Fordham University’s Walsh Library (Although not yet archived, Morgan’s papers are available to the public. To make an appointment for the collection at Walsh Library, contact Patrice Kane- Head of Archives and Special Collections, 718-817-3560, firstname.lastname@example.org.).
Make sure you check out the following:
- You can scroll through the list of oral archives (abstracts, transcripts, and even audio files of the interviews are included) by going here.
- Video interviews are also available here.
The scope of this archive and the historical content available is simply breathtaking. The oral histories provide a glimpse into a world we don’t know all to well and is not taught in schools. The range of individuals, their professions and walks of life are as wide as can be.
The Bronx African American History Project needs to receive continued funding and expansion, it is simply that important part of our collective history here in The Bronx.