StoryCorps Griot Project Comes to UAB

Jan 17, 2013

The University of Alabama at Birmingham collected several interviews with African-Americans in the area and is sharing 10 of them tonight during an open house at UAB’s Digital Media Commons. UAB students collaborated with the StoryCorps Griot Initiative for the project. “Griot” is a West-African word meaning “storyteller.” Rosie O’Beirne is director of digital media and learning at UAB. She says the process began two years ago.

“In January 2011, StoryCorps, which is the largest oral history project of its kind, came to Birmingham’s Civil Rights Institute,” says O’Beirne. “They brought a mobile recording booth and community members were invited to record their stories.”

O’Beirne says received a positive response from the community. UAB students collected about 130 interviews that were anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour long. O’Beirne says the editing process wasn’t easy.

“The interviews come to the students and their challenge is to create a short, edited piece,” says O’Beirne. “Anywhere from an hour to two minutes. That’s a really difficult process and so many of them have so many stories.”

But O’Beirne says, despite the challenges, students found the project to be a rewarding experience.

“They were able to sit down and talk in a very informal manner and collect stories that make people’s lives interesting and not just what they read in the history books.”

Tonight’s featured interviews include Yancey Williams, an educator in intercity Birmingham schools talking about some of the challenges he’s faced as an educator. There’s also a featured conversation between retired federal judge U.W. Clemon and his daughter, Michelle.

“His story kind of reveals his grandparent’s story of coming off a plantation in Mississippi,” says O’Beirne.

O’Beirne says students will continue to collect Griot stories throughout the year. All interviews recorded as part of the Griot Initiative will be archived at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture. They’ll also be stored at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

To learn more about UAB's partnership with the StoryCorps Griot Initiative and listen to the interviews, visit their website at