Paine graduate helps resurrect and preserve local Georgia history

Posted by ncarter | 10/13/2011 06:44 AM

Story Courtesy of Savannah Herald

(Savannah, GA)- Bridget Stephens, a senior English Literature and Language major at Savannah State University and a member of the Gamma Upsilon Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. and Eric Jonas Stephens a graduate of Paine College and a historian, researcher and a doctoral student in the History Department at Auburn University, were selected to participate in the Breaking New Ground program, an oral history project focusing on the lives of African American farm owners since the Civil War. Both individuals were afforded the opportunity to be trained by two premier oral historians from New York and Illinois as well as gain hands on experience of conducting oral history, which included learning how to properly collect oral interviews and understand the importance of landownership to the aspirations of freedmen and women and their descendents.

Their summer was spent collecting over thirty oral interviews from African American farm owners from the Southwestern region of Georgia; focusing on communities in Decatur, Miller, Baker and Seminole counties. These interviews, which will be archived at the Southern Oral History Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, hope to illuminate the lived experiences of African American farmers from the 1930’s until the present. A part from the interviews being archived for historical preservation at Chapel Hill’s Southern Oral History Program (SOHP), they were also collected as part of Breaking New Ground, a two year project with the goal of providing a basis for beginning to understand another important facet of Southern life, history and culture, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The program’s sole purpose was to collect oral interviews which are intended to unearth the history of black farm owning families from the early twentieth century to the present, because historians have minimal information about African American actually owning farm land.

Both individuals were humbly gracious to be a part of such a historically ground breaking program and are astounded about the accomplishments they have given to not only the history of their community, but also to the history of Georgia and the South. Mr. Stephens states that: “As an historian-in-training at Auburn University, Breaking New Ground has provided me with the confidence to conduct and frame historical narratives and better understand the correlation between ownership, renting and sharecropping of land.” For Ms. Stephens, who worked with her brother, Mr. Stephens on this project states that she was “amazed by every story that I have the opportunity to collect. Growing up in a rural community I never thought my small community had such rich African American landowning history. I had the chance to listen to firsthand accounts of just how much of a rite landowning was to the African American development, sense of value and self-worth.

Ms. Bridget Stephens and Mr. Eric Jonas Stephens both confirmed that this is one of the greatest educational experiences that they have ever had. They are both confident in the fact that projects such as Breaking New Ground provide scholars with a chance to recapture a certain memory or moment in time and that moment’s interaction with the present; in essence a way of holding onto the elemental things that

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(Reprinted from Savannah Herald)