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Share Your Voice Through Oral History

Post Date: October 7, 2019

Cynthia Maharrey is the Oral History Coordinator for the Chronicle of African Americans in the Horse Industry. She wrote this blog to share why she’s passionate about recording the voices of our community. The museum’s oral history project is guided by our partnering repository, the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky.

It is a privilege and a pleasure to work with the people who are making the Chronicle of African Americans in the Horse Industry a reality. This passionately dedicated group of individuals is working tirelessly to bring this project to fruition.

The same can be said for the people who have shared their lives and experiences with the Chronicle. Each oral history contribution brings context to the horse industry in a way that will allow people to learn and explore it from a different perspective; one largely untold.

Until now.

Why We Collect Oral Histories

Everyone has a story.

Unfortunately, many people don’t believe “everyone” includes them. Perhaps they don’t think anybody else would want to learn from their experiences. Nothing could be further from the truth. Everyone’s life is important. Therefore, everyone’s memories and personal reflections are also important.

While the written word can come across as flat, the spoken word can bring a story to life: 

  • The hoarseness in a trainer’s voice as he tells the story of his favorite horse—the one he brought along to be a champion
  • The giddiness in the old-timer’s voice as he relates a story from his childhood—the first time his grandfather put him on a horse and everyone talked about how fine he sat that horse

Emotion and inflection don’t always translate to the written word. But when you listen to a person’s story as they tell it, it is simply different. More real, more thought provoking.

How We Collect Oral Histories

The collection of oral histories for the Chronicle is steadily growing. The first were collected during History Harvests at the Lyric Theater in Lexington, Kentucky. While they were brief—25 minutes in length—some of those individuals elected to give follow-up interviews that added valuable stories, memories and experiences to each person’s oral history.

We continue to collect these life stories from people who are willing to share them. If you would like to have your oral history recorded please email [email protected] or call 859-259-4279 to begin the process. We will send you an information packet and set up an interview place, date and time.

Cynthia Maharrey in the IMH library

A good listener with a quiet space is ready for you to share your life story. Cynthia is a professional genealogist trained in conducting oral histories by the Kentucky Arts Council Community Scholars certification program. 

Interviews can be recorded at the International Museum of the Horse at the Kentucky Horse Park or at a location more convenient for you. Your interview will last between one and two hours. During the interview, you will be asked questions which will help you tell your story. Feel free to bring pictures, news clippings, personal documents, or anything else which will encourage conversation.

Whose Stories Do We Need?

All African Americans who are (or were) grooms, exercise riders, trainers, farriers, transporters, jockeys, breeders, veterinarians, owners—anyone in a horse-related occupation: we want to add your story to the Chronicle! Your voice telling your story belongs in the Chronicle.

If you are not involved in the horse industry, but you know someone who is, please encourage them to become a part of this worthwhile project. If you are a descendant or survivor of a loved one who was an African American horseman or horsewoman, we want to hear from you as well.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but what is the value of a voice telling the story of a life lived?

Immeasurable, I’d say.

~~~

Listen to excerpts of the oral history project from a podcast recorded for Lexington Community Radio at the Lyric Theatre on Soundcloud.

Check out the interviews in the Nunn Center’s database, and check back soon for complete indexing for a richer exploration of the recordings. 

The goal of the Chronicle website is to display contributors’ materials along with their oral histories all in one place. Help us build it by sharing your story. 

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Institute of Museum and Library Services