By DONNA URSCHEL
Ray Charles, Dorothy Height, Gordon Parks, John Hope Franklin and Coretta Scott King are a few of the 200 prominent African-Americans whose oral life histories will be permanently housed in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
The National Visionary Leadership Project (NVLP) was facilitated by the organization’s co-founders, Renee Poussaint, an award-winning former network correspondent, and Camille O. Cosby, an educator and producer. In her introductory remarks at an event announcing the collaboration, Poussaint, who serves as NVLP’s CEO, said, “As long as there is a United States of America, there will be a Library of Congress, and the words of our elders will be housed and preserved in perpetuity.”
Deanna Marcum, associate librarian for Library Services, spoke on behalf of the Library of Congress:
“We are glad that the National Visionary Leadership Project is working with the American Folklife Center to maintain this collection of memorable and powerful oral histories,” she said. “The interviews with these outstanding role models illustrate the diversity of thoughts and beliefs, career paths, talents and contributions of elders in the African-American community, and the many reasons why their collective wisdom needs to be preserved and shared for generations to come.”
Johnnetta Cole, former president of Spelman College and chair of the NVLP board, also spoke at the ceremony. “We must look back in order to look forward,” she said. “Our stories, told by our visionary leaders, are stories reflecting the lives of our people. They will come to such a safe place, such a magnificent place.”
During the donation ceremony, children escorted a “treasure chest” containing the first set of oral histories of African-American elders onto the stage of the Coolidge Auditorium. Transcripts of the interviews, along with photographs of these notable Americans, are included in the donation.
The interviews of notable African-Americans were conducted by Poussaint and Cosby during the five years since the establishment of the NVLP. The collection also includes interviews with lesser-known elders from local communities across the country. Those elders were selected and interviewed by college students participating in the NVLP Fellows Program.
Donna Urschel is a public affairs specialist in the Library’s Public Affairs Office.