Last stop on story tour

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 15, 2008

DEMOPOLIS &8212; After traveling for a year recording 1,750 interviews with black families all over the country, the StoryCorps Griot made one last stop in Demopolis this week to hear the stories of people in the community.

A griot is a storyteller in the West African tradition, who is known to hand down family and community history from one generation to the next. The group, which began its mission in 2003, took this idea and turned it into an ongoing project to do just that, only with microphones and modern day technology.

Once all the interviews have been compiled, copies will go to the National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian Institute and the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

Email newsletter signup

The interviews are mainly bits and pieces of family stories as told in 45-minute conversations between one person and a relative or friend. Just a few of the stories contributed came from Johnny Ray Haskin, who was born and raised in Demopolis.

Haskin said he came to do the project by request of his niece, Connie Lawson, who works at the library.

And Haskin has certainly seen his share of history. He relayed his experiences of going to segregated schools, and how it was difficult to find a job after the Civil Rights Movement because many people were shunned for being involved in protests.

But the story he was most animated about was the time his family&8217;s home on East Jackson Street was the setting for a meal with Dr. Martin Luther King.

King came to the community in early 1965 to talk about the issues that were the focal point of violence and atrocities across the South. He spoke about the segregation and integration issues that were hailed and reviled simultaneously by warring factions living in the same communities.

After King&8217;s speech at Morning Star Baptist Church, he stayed with Haskin&8217;s family, who lived across the street. His home became the staging point of many of the civil rights activities in Demopolis, and was known as the &8220;Freedom House.&8221;

John White, one of StoryCorps members who interviewed Haskin, said he has heard so many stories like these in his trip that have made this journey an experience to remember.

In addition to stops in New York, Detroit and Atlanta, StoryCorps made several stops in Alabama including Greensboro, Camden, Gee&8217;s Bend and Selma. Although their one-year tour has ended, White said the project will continue collecting oral bits of history.