Dr. Shana Walton began working with the Mississippi Oral History Program in 1992. As an anthropologist, Walton worked to expand the MOHP’s mission to include preserving the state’s cultural heritage. She and Director Chuck Bolton assembled a team that included not just historians, but also political science majors, anthropologists, and folklorists. During that transformative decade, the MOHP became the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage, a prominent name in the preservation of Civil Rights history. In this episode, Walton recalls conducting oral history workshops for local communities interested in preserving their memories.
It was during this period that Walton met, hired, and befriended a legend in the Civil Rights Movement, Worth Long. The son of an AME preacher, Long rose to prominence in 1963, when he became leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Selma, Alabama. By the time Long began working with the COHCH in the 1990s, he was suffering from a degenerative eye condition that was slowly robbing him of his sight, but that did not slow him down in the least.
Worth Long traveled around Mississippi by bus conducting oral history interviews even though he was legally blind, relying on the kindness of strangers to help him reach his destination. Shana Walton remembers how Long used his blindness as an opportunity to make friends and preserve stories. As a civil rights activist, Worth Long heeded his father’s advice on how to set aside anger and see the good in people. Walton marvels at how her friend’s love for humanity would overcome the emotions of the moment.
Oseola McCarty received national acclaim for donating the bulk of her life’s savings to the University of Southern Mississippi. Shana Walton discusses recording McCarty’s oral history and the impact of her gift.
PHOTO: Alabama Department of Archives and History