The Behind the Veil Oral History Project was undertaken by Duke University's Lyndhurst Center for Documentary Studies in 1990. It seeks to record and preserve the living memory of African-American life during the age of legal segregation in the American South, from the 1890s to the 1950.
The Behind the Veil: Documenting African-American Life in the Jim Crow South Records span the years 1940-1997 (bulk 1993-1997) and are comprised chiefly of interviews recorded on cassette tapes. The 1260 interviews, 1993-1997, in this collection cover a number of topics related to African-American life in the 20th century with a focus on the age of southern segregation. The collection includes interviews with people from Albany, Ga.; Fargo, Ark.; Birmingham and Tuskegee, Ala.; Charlotte, Durham, Enfield, New Bern and Wilmington, N. C.; LeFlore County, Miss.; Memphis, Tenn.; Muhlenburg County, Ky.; New Iberia and New Orleans, La.; Norfolk, Va.; Columbia, Orangeburg, St. Helena, and Summerton, S. C.; and Tallahassee, Fla. In addition to interviews conducted specifically for the Behind the Veil project, the collection includes six interviews from the James City Historical Society, Craven County, N.C. as well as eight interviews conducted by Paul Ortiz in Tallahassee, Fla., in the summer of 1997 as part of his dissertation research.
The collection includes duplicate sets of approximately 1700 interview tapes. The Master Tapes Series is closed except for appropriate use by authorized staff from the Behind the Veil project and the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. The Use Tapes Series contains copies of the tapes for use by researchers. The Printed Materials Series provides biographical information about informants, interview agreement forms, proper names sheets, and brief summaries (one-three pages) of each of the 1260 interviews. Also included are some personal papers, the earliest of which is dated 1940. The Transcripts Series currently includes unverified transcripts of 314 interviews in the collection. These transcripts are also available as electronic documents. A disk directory log exists. Contact Research Services staff for more information. More transcripts will be available each semester.
The Behind the Veil collection will eventually include approximately 5100 photographs and slides. This Visual Materials Series will contain items donated by informants and others in the communities where Behind the Veil field-workers conducted interviews. The vast majority of these pictures show family and community members at home or at special events. A smaller number portray buildings and other local places. Images of political events are notably rare in the collection. We also anticipate the eventual addition of the Behind the Veil project's papers, which will be held as the Administrative Files Series.
Behind the Veil interviewers were provided with a list of Interview Questions before they entered the field. Although most interviews in the collection do not follow the list question by question, the list provides a useful research guide to the type of inquiry many interviews follow. The list of questions is included as an appendix in this guide. Frequently discussed topics include family history, local neighborhoods, educational background, employment history, religious institutions, experiences of segregation, local political activities, civic organizations and activities, black-owned businesses and local culture. Behind the Veil informants represent a number of occupational groups, including domestic workers, educators, homemakers, health professionals, manufacturing workers, miners, ministers, political figures, professionals and servicemen.
A Behind the Veil Database, created by Alex X. Byrd, will soon accompany the collection. The fields included are in two categories: Informant and Circumstance of Interview. The Informant fields are Last Name, First Name, Middle or Maiden Name, Sex, Zip Code, Date of Birth, Place of Birth, and Principal Occupations. The Circumstance of Interview fields are Date of Interview, Location of Interview, Processing Subseries, and Interviewers. The other fields are: was the informant part of a group interview?; has the interview been transcribed?; if part of a group interview, under whose name is the material filed?; number of tapes for interview.
Consult reference staff concerning the availability of the database.
The addition (acc# 2001-0183)(100 items, 1.5 linear feet; dated 1996-1997) includes a course syllabus, interviews of African-American North Carolinians on cassette tapes, some student self-evaluations, contracts, indices, and transcript excerpts. The area most represented is Durham, N.C. Students were to aim for insight into how African-Americans built communities during an age of racial oppression. The interviews include much information about family history and social and community issues.