The Burnette Bugle

By Burnette, Georgia | The Oral History Review, Summer-Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

The Burnette Bugle


Burnette, Georgia, The Oral History Review


The call came at nine the morning of April 29, 1999. It was our niece, Chris, from Chicago, telling us that her mother had died quietly during the night. Myrtle Bailey, my husband's younger sister at age 74, had battled hypertension with limited success for a number of years, but this event was an absolute surprise. Although her death was the precipitating factor that thrust me abruptly into the oral history arena, in truth, several meandering threads of my life converged at this time leading me to this place, at this time.

It all began earlier when an interest in genealogy led me to take a class at the local junior college, then join a newly formed organization focused on genealogy for black Americans. Next came the coordination of two reunions for the Burnett(e) family over a five year period, at the same time writing and editing the family newsletter, The Burnett(e) Bugle. Finally, the discovery of and participation as a panelist in Temple University's African American Family Reunion Conference, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, brought the circle to a close. Myrtle's death energized me and caused me to take the next step.

With the entire Bailey clan still in the city, I began to interview family members the day after the funeral. There were children I'd not seen in years, babies, grandchildren, and new wives I'd never met. So I introduced myself, or refreshed their memories, took out paper and pencil and went to work! Perhaps they thought I was crazy, but an older aunt is to be respected at all costs, thus the interviews went smoothly. I'm sure it helped to know that their biographies would grace the next issue of the family newsletter, and after a few cautious beginnings, everyone got into the swing of things. It was a very rewarding day for me, and so began a feature in The Bugle entitled "The Burnett(e) Time Capsule."

But with the 1999 family reunion just eight weeks away, I knew something had to be done to gather the biographies and stories of the three remaining elders of the Burnett(e) family. At that time, the only bit of family history in our possession was a 1981 audiotape of Mamma Minnie, matriarch of the family, (now deceased), recorded by a son and granddaughter while on vacation to the homestead in Arkansas. In the meantime, two older brothers had died, and tamely pictures were the extent of our archives. I immediately engaged a videographer, and letters (with guidelines) were sent to an older brother and sister requesting their participation in an oral history presentation scheduled for Saturday morning. To involve the children, I developed a short questionnaire and they were asked to interview an older relative from a different branch of the family prior to the Saturday morning program. Following the presentation by the family elders, the children spoke briefly about their interviews, followed by a snippet of personal information regarding school and hobbies.

Our cup runneth over! The Saturday morning project was the highlight of the 1999 reunion, and since that time biographies of the majority of the family have been recorded in the Burnett(e) Bugle. An excerpt from the Burnette Time Capsule reads:

 
   For this issue, The Detroit Burnett(e)s share the spotlight and were 
   interviewed following Thanksgiving dinner, 1999, at the home of Blanche 
   Thomas in Buffalo, NY. Although everyone was stuffed to the eyeballs, and 
   the small children on a dedicated rampage, we got the job done. 

And so it continues. As we travel throughout the country to family reunions, visits to children, friends and vacation spots, we have pad and pencil at the ready, and family know it is their duty to be interviewed for The Bugle. …

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