Behind the Veil: Documenting African-American Life in the Jim Crow South records, 1940-1997 and undated, bulk 1993-1997
Using These Materials
- All researchers must sign an agreement form before using the records. Please consult the Description of Series section of the finding aid for information concerning the restrictions governing...
- Behind the Veil Project
- 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.
69.9 Linear Feet
about 14,018 Items
- Collection ID:
- Scope and Content:
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.
- Biographical / Historical:
Launched by Duke University's Lyndhurst Center for Documentary Studies in 1990, the Behind the Veil project 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 1950s. In order to correct historical misrepresentations of African-American experiences in the Jim Crow South, the project seized the opportunity to capture, through interviews, family photographs and other materials, the memories of black elders who survived this era of profound racial oppression. The resulting collection offers researchers an abundance of rich resources for understanding black self-images, racial pride and achievement during the long period of American apartheid. This documentary record reflects not only the terror, hardship and frustration of this period of second-class citizenship, but also the individual and collective struggles of black southerners to survive and prosper in spite of the policies of white supremacy. By collecting narratives that recount the everyday experiences of African Americans from various locations and backgrounds, the collection provides rich documentary evidence of the diversity of black life during the Jim Crow era.
Behind the Veil not only focuses on the experiences of individuals, but it also reflects the importance of black institutions as the backbone of black communities. The interviews, documents and photographs reflect the crucial role that black churches, fraternal societies, women's clubs, and political organizations played in African American community life. The testimony of educators and students from historically black colleges, agricultural schools and institutes enrich conventional beliefs about black agency in segregated schools. A rich record about black education can be gleaned from examining certain research sites including Tuskegee, Ala.; Fargo, Ark.; Tallahassee, Fla.; and Norfolk, Va.
Behind the Veil also provides a richly detailed account of the shape of southern segregation across time and in diverse locations, mapping the contours of both the formal laws and informal rules that restricted southern life. Segregation as public policy differed in rural and urban communities, while the rules that governed black interactions with whites often were distinct to each community. These nuances that governed race relations in southern cities, towns and rural communities are interspersed throughout the documents in this collection.
Although the questions that spurred on research in the Behind the Veil Project were raised by historians interested primarily in the age of segregation, the resulting record can inform research in diverse fields. Although the focus of the interviews was on the Jim Crow era, the life history format of most interviews led informants to comment on events after segregation. Vital information about civil rights struggles in the 1960s, African American participation in desegregation within local communities, and post-1965 activism and community work are also included in many Behind the Veil interviews. The interviews in this collection also raise crucial questions about the shape of memory and the creation of narratives that can inform not only research in oral history but also literature and anthropology. Research into black religion can be enriched by the voices of Behind the Veil. Studies that examine oppression and resistance could be challenged by the rich documentary record of labor and social culture that the collection presents. The Behind the Veil collection illuminates innumerable topics, time periods, and research interests.
During the summers of 1993, 1994 and 1995, multi-racial research teams traveled throughout the South to conduct oral history interviews with elders in African-American communities. During the first summer, the project ran a series of pilot studies in five North Carolina communities. Subsequently, the project followed a thematic approach while conducting research in areas selected to represent the diversity of cultures and geographic regions within the South, as well as the predominant work cultures of the region. Researchers were chosen from applications from history graduate students at a diverse range of schools, from the Ivy League to historically black institutions such as Jackson State and Clark-Atlanta to state universities such as Michigan and Maryland. Collectively, they conducted 1260 oral history interviews in more than twenty communities in ten Southern states. They also copied thousands of family photographs and other materials that reveal the diversity of African-American experiences under Jim Crow.
While based at Duke University, the Behind the Veil project has been a collaborative venture from its inception. Scholars from historically black colleges and universities such as LeMoyne-Owen College, North Carolina Central University, Johnson C. Smith University, Jackson State University and Clark-Atlanta University have helped to shape the research project and have developed related curriculum projects to introduce undergraduates to oral history methodology as a means to discover and document the histories of the communities in which they live. Research teams worked in collaboration with a wide variety of black community and civic groups, which played critical roles in recruiting potential interviewees and providing logistical support. Summer researchers were hosted by distinguished institutions such as the Black Archives at Florida A&M University and the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Alabama. Local institutions also helped researchers to understand the communities in which they worked and to frame their interview questions and research agendas accordingly. In turn, the Behind the Veil project has deposited copies of the interviews in local archives at or near the various cooperating institutions, assuring that these histories will be accessible to local community members as well as scholars throughout the South.
The Behind the Veil project received major funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ford Foundation and the Lyndhurst Foundation. Duke University historians William Chafe, Raymond Gavins and Robert Korstad co-direct the project. Aminah Pilgrim has served as Research Associate for Behind the Veil, and Leslie Brown, Alexander X. Byrd, Greta Ai-Yu Niu, Paul Ortiz and Anne M. Valk have been the project's Research Coordinators.
The addition to the collection, 2000-0183, includes information from "American Communities: An Oral History Approach," a course associated with the Behind the Veil oral history project at Duke's Center for Documentary Studies. The course was taught by Paul Ortiz at Duke University in 1996-1997.
Another addition, 2004-0344, includes slides related to African American life in the 20th century with a focus on the Jim Crow Era.Interview Questions for Interviews Conducted 1993-1995
- When did you come here (to this town/city)? Why? With whom? What neighborhood or community did you live in at first? How many people lived in your home? Anyone besides your immediate family?
- What do you remember about your grandparents? Where did they live? When did you see them? Did you see them often? What would you do with them? Did they ever talk about their youth or share stories with you about their lives?
- What was your first job? What were your wages? How long did you stay at this work? What other jobs have you held? For how long? What job did you like best and what job did you like least? Who else worked in your family? When did you retire?
- Define your neighborhood community. Can you give geographic boundaries? What was most important to people in that community? How has the community changed within your lifetime? as far as physical appearance is concerned? What were the "bad sections" of town? Can you describe them? Were you afraid to go there?
- What do you remember about your home and your neighbors' homes? Can you describe them? Who were your neighbors? Did relatives live nearby? Which relatives? What were the occasions for family gatherings? What do you recall about them?
- What are some of your earliest childhood memories? Can you recall the greatest joy or sadness in your childhood? Who were your childhood role models? What were the things that you enjoyed doing as a child?
- How were decisions made in your family? Who made decisions about housekeeping, budget, etc.? How about other decisions like schooling, moving, occupation, approval of marriage? Do you ever remember any conflicts over decisions or decision making? Who took responsibility for child care and discipline in your family? Did you treat your own children the same or differently than your parents treated you?
- What kinds of values do you think your parents instilled in you? How were you expected to behave in front of adults, bit black and white? What contact did you have with white children?
- Do you remember a point at which people stopped treating you like a child? Or when you considered yourself grown up?
- Who were the people most important to you? How were unmarried people viewed in your neighborhood?
- What property (land or house) do you own today? How did you come to own it? Did your family ever rent?
- Did you go to school? Where did you go and for how long? Did you attend school for the entire school year? What did you like and dislike about school? Were you ever disciplined by your teachers? Did the teachers in your school play favorites? How were your parents involved in your schooling? What kinds of things did you learn in school? Were you taught any African American history? What were the major differences between your education and your parent's education? Your children's education?
- Did your family attend church? Do you continue to go to church? If you do not attend why? If you do, what churches have you attended and why? Who from your community belongs to your church? What was your church's and ministers' role in civic affairs?
- Acquisition Information:
- The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library acquired the Records of the Behind the Veil Oral History Project from the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies in 1997, 1998, 2000, and 2002.
- Processing information:
Processed by: Lisa Gayle Hazirjian, Alexander X. Byrd, Homer D. Hill, Paul Ortiz, and Aminah Nailah Pilgrim.
Research Coordinators for the Behind the Veil Project: Annie Valek, Leslie Brown, Alexander X. Byrd, and Paul Ortiz.
Research Associate for the Behind the Veil Project: Aminah Nailah Pilgrim. Research Assistants: Blair L. Murphy, Jonora Jones, Arthur Smith, and Homer D. Hill.
Completed July 1, 1998
Additions processed at folder level by Pemra Hazbay; Muhammad Hutasuhut; Alice Poffinberger; Joshua Kaiser; Ruth E. Bryan
Further transcript processing by Joshua Kaiser
Last updated November 2006
Encoded by Don Sechler; Stephen Miller; AlicePoffinberger; Joshua Kaiser; Ruth E. Bryan; Jill Katte
In anticipation of additions to this collection, the boxes in each series have been numbered separately. Hence, researchers should be sure to list the complete box number when requesting specific materials. For example, if you wish to use the third box of use tapes, request box UT3. Complete details about the arrangement of each series can be found below in the Description of Series/Container List.
- Physical Location:
- For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
- Rules or Conventions:
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Alternative Form Available:
Selected interviews and transcripts from this collection have been digitized and are available in: Behind the Veil: Documenting African American Life in the Jim Crow South - Duke Digital Collections.
Click on terms below to find related finding aids on this site. For other related materials in the Duke University Libraries, search for these terms in the Catalog.
African American families -- North Carolina
Racism -- Southern States
Segregation -- Southern States
African Americans -- Social life and customs
African Americans -- Social conditions -- Southern States
African Americans -- Segregation -- Southern States
African American women -- Southern States -- History
Archive of Documentary Arts (Duke University)
Duke University. Center for Documentary Studies
John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture
Southern States -- Race relations
Columbia (S.C.) -- Social life and customs
Orangeburg (S.C.) -- Social life and customs
St. Helena (S.C.) -- Social life and customs
Summerton, (S.C.) -- Social life and customs
Southern States -- Social life and customs
Albany (Ga.) -- Social life and customs
Fargo (Ark.) -- Social life and customs
Birmingham (Ala.) -- Social life and customs
New Orleans (La.) -- Social life and customs
Norfolk (Va.) -- Social life and customs
Kentucky -- Social life and customs
New Iberia (La.) -- Social life and customs
Durham (N.C.) -- Social life and customs
Enfield (N.C.) -- Social life and customs
Tuskegee (Ala.) -- Social life and customs
Charlotte (N.C.) -- Social life and customs
Mississippi -- Social life and customs
Memphis (Tenn.) -- Social life and customs
New Bern (N.C.) -- Social life and customs
Wilmington (N.C.) -- Social life and customs
Tallahassee, (Fla.) -- Social life and customs
United States -- Race relations
Using These Materials
All researchers must sign an agreement form before using the records. Please consult the Description of Series section of the finding aid for information concerning the restrictions governing access to and use of the materials in the Behind the Veil Collection. Some materials are closed to all researchers.
Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.
All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. The library may require up to 48 hours to retrieve these materials for research use.
Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to use this collection.
- USE & PERMISSIONS:
Duke University holds the copyright for this collection. Additional restrictions may apply to the use of materials in the Behind the Veil Collection. See the Description of Series section of the finding aid or consult with Library staff for more information.
- BEFORE YOU VISIT:
- Register online to request material for use in our reading room and track the status of your requests. Requests for material must be made 2 full business days in advance of your visit. Most of our collections are stored at the Library Service Center, our off-site repository.
- PREFERRED CITATION:
[name of interviewee], interviewed by [name of interviewer], [city], [state], [date]. From Behind the Veil: Documenting African-American Life in the Jim Crow South. Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.