A baby boomer’s archive of the civil rights movement

Something common to every baby boomer is that you were alive during the Civil Rights movement. So you will appreciate what our friend, retired Evansville, Indiana newspaper columnist and author Garret Mathews, has done. He calls it “Coming Together,” a collection of oral histories from the era. We asked him to tell us at BoomerCafé how he went about this mammoth project. Here is how he answered.

A few of you will be with me on this, but not many, I’ll wager.

There are 40 interviews I conducted several years ago for a project. Counting the introduction I penned and the timeline of events, it’s more than 30,000 words.

colored_only_busAll that exists now is the raw copy. No computer files.

I allow five weeks to re-enter the material into the computer. It’s my nature to beat deadline so I finish with two days to spare.

These are oral histories I collected from brave men and women who were in the front lines of the civil rights movement in the South during the 1960s.

Our computer wizard of an older son put together my website that I hope will help people, especially young ones, learn about this period of time.

I have a passion for the subject matter. My high school in southwest Virginia did not desegregate until 1965, the start of my junior year. Several shameful incidents of a racial nature took place that cling to my consciousness to this day.

A peaceful lunch counter sit-in in the 1960s.

A peaceful lunch counter sit-in in the 1960s despite taunts.

Why did I devote so much time and energy to tedious retyping? Is it something you would do?
Like (I hope) everybody, I want to leave behind a footprint after leaving this mortal sphere.

I have long known that this calling card will not require the use of my limited social skills. I am not unlike many writers, for whom the solitary nature of the craft is like a comfortable coat. We wear it well.

Few folks will say, “Boy, that Garret was a great guy to have a beer with,” or, “I’ll never forget Mathews. He was always the life of the party.”

Civil rights bus burning.

Civil rights bus burning.

No folks will say, “Gee, Garret tweeted so much it’s amazing he had any fingertips left,” or, “Man, that Mathews really killed it on Facebook.”

Most likely, you would be less than impressed after meeting me in the flesh. I mean well, but there’s this coat, you see…

So it follows that any legacy associated with my departed self will relate to stuff I’ve written. Books, plays, and now a website dedicated to civil rights.

Veteran newspaperman Garret Mathews.

Veteran newspaperman Garret Mathews.

My next task is to set up an electronic haven for several dozen stories I did for the Bluefield, West Virginia, Daily Telegraph in the 1970s when I was just starting out in the newspaper business. Snake handlers. Mule traders. Survivors of coal mine explosions. A female furrier who gutted muskrats while eating a peanut-butter sandwich. And on and on.

Most of these men and women are long gone. I want to preserve their memories.

This will be a massive endeavor that will require a year’s worth of banging on the keyboard.

My footprint, and I look forward to it.

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