Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Black Struggle for Freedom

By William H. Chafe | Go to book overview
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A Note on Sources

Civilities and Civil Rights is based on a mixture of primary sources, written and oral.* Although oral testimony is often invaluable, it sometimes contains errors of fact or judgment that can be avoided if historians devote equal attention to written sources. By the same token, scholars who rely on written sources alone--particularly in writing recent history--run the risk of losing indispensable perspectives available through oral sources. The written record too often represents the experience of only a small segment of the society--usually white, male, and upper class--and hence ignores the experience of the vast majority of people. In writing about the history of black people and white people in the recent past, therefore, it becomes essential to draw upon both kinds of historical evidence.

The type of oral history research used here differs from that associated with most oral history programs. For the most part those programs have been archival in nature, with the interviewees chosen because of their individual fame or distinction, and the transcripts of the interviews deposited in libraries for use of scholars in the future. Because of this orientation, the interviews are ordinarily autobiographical in nature and somewhat unstructured. Since no common theme or focus ties one interview to another, oral history archives often contain material dealing with a multiplicity of subjects.

Civilities and Civil Rights, by contrast, is based upon a problem-centered approach to oral history. The individuals interviewed were selected not because of their fame or "standing" in Greensboro, but because of their ability to add significant information to the specific story of the civil rights struggle in that Southern city. The questions asked, therefore, were also specific. The purpose of these questions was to explore those research issues that could not be

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*
For a listing of the secondary sources used, see the notes, especially note 1 of the Introduction.

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