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Man reading war news aboard streetcar. San Francisco, California

[Detail] Reading war news aboard streetcar. San Francisco, California


After the Day of Infamy: "Man-on-the-Street" Interviews Following the Attack on Pearl Harbor consists of approximately twelve hours of opinions recorded between December 1941 and February 1942. Interviews were conducted in urban and rural areas of the country from Vermont to Arizona.

In December 1941, eighteen fieldworkers in fourteen states and the District of Columbia were collecting recordings of American folk music for the Library of Congress's Archive of American Folk Songs. On December 8, 1941, Alan Lomax, then "assistant in charge" of the Archive, sent telegrams to fieldworkers asking them to collect "man-on-the-street" reactions to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the subsequent declaration of war by the United States. A second set of interviews was recorded in January-February 1942. The later interviewees were asked to address their remarks to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The collection also includes several letters and telegrams to and from Alan Lomax relating to the conduct of the interviews.

On December 11, 1941, field recorder Fletcher Collins, in a letter to Lomax, expressed his support for the man on the street interviews:

"You have my profound admiration for having conceived the idea and having spurred me — and no doubt other folklore people — to try it out. It opens up a field which has not before been touched by the radio, and a field of enormous importance to Americans. It heightens their consciousness of themselves as Americans, and it contributes vitally to civilian morale in expressing what the common people of the nation are feeling and thinking, an expression of others than governmental leaders, radio commentators, and newsmen."

From "Letter from Fletcher Collins to Alan Lomax, Page 1, December 11, 1941"

The interviews of ordinary Americans feature diverse opinions concerning the war and other issues of the day, such as racial prejudice and labor disputes. The collection provides a glimpse of everyday life in America as the United States entered World War II. The interviews capture a "moment in time," providing an exceptional tool for exploring the social history of the United States at the beginning of the war.