Local historian collects civil rights oral histories

Local News

The North Louisiana Civil Rights Coalition is working to preserve the legacy of locals through oral history. With never-before-heard audio, Karen Edwards reports on how one Shreveport native historian is working to teach the next generation about the past.

“I grew up here. I’m a product of the magnet public school system here. We didn’t learn anything about local history,” Dr. Niketa Williams explained.

Williams, a Shreveport native, is now pioneering a movement to change that with oral history. 

“It’s the idea of collecting stories. This notion that you can get richer, more interesting information from people if you basically have conversations with people,” she explained.

Oral tradition and oral history has been vital to African American culture as blacks, at times, could only use word-of-mouth to pass on any kind of historic record.

As oral historian for the North Louisiana Civil Rights Coalition, Williams is carrying that torch through conversations with people like 70-year-old Cleophus Dotson Black, a former Booker T. Washington High School student.

“We led one of the biggest marches from Booker Washington High School in 1968 on a Wednesday morning down Hearne Avenue to the school board office,” Black explained.

And 83-year-old Margaret Edmonson who remembers the fear of being a 12-year-old simply walking down a Shreveport street with friends…only to be stopped by officers.

“Yeah, it was terrible walking down the street. I was just walkin’! And by the time they drove off, there wasn’t nobody standing there but me,” Edmonson remembered with laughter.

Williams says every interview subject has had one important thing in common. 

“Everyone was sort of pushing the whole movement forward in sort of little, incremental steps,” she explained. 

As the Coalition works with the city of Shreveport to restore Galilee Baptist Church as the sight of a local civil rights museum, Williams is working with high school students at two Caddo Parish schools.

“Those conversations that maybe they were having with their grandparents or maybe they weren’t…now they’ll be hopefully equipped with the ability to ask those sorts of questions, the interest to ask those sorts of questions and then they’ll get to ask those sorts of questions hopefully on tape for the future museum,” Williams said.

Leaving a lasting legacy for the next generation. 

For more information on the work for a local museum and the oral history work with students, visit the North Louisiana Civil Rights Coalition website: www.nlcrc.org

Or, follow them on Facebook: www.facebook.com/nwlacivilrightscoalition

Photographs from United States Department of the Interior National Park Service / National Register of Historic Places Registration Form and from the World Oral Literature Series. 

Original music by Nolan Edwards.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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