Using Oral History, Music & Art to Strengthen Communities & Foster Reconciliation

“Who will carry on this story when I’m gone?”  
SLAVA BRYN, Minnesota Elder

Archiving Minnesota’s Life Stories

“When senior members of a community go into schools and talk about their lives and work, and children write songs with Larry Long about what they have learned, they create a remarkable celebration of humanity and hard work.”  
DR. TONY SEEGER, Smithsonian Folkways

“I was a student of yours in 1988-1989. The experience with you helped shape me as the person I am today. I just want to say thank you”
JULIE BROTHERS, Children's Author & Educator

Seventy-seven year old Ezra Cunningham could tell the children about civil rights. He could tell them what it was to be a black man who grew up in Alabama before Martin Luther King. He could tell them what it was to fight for change.  The children in a third grade class listened. They were asked, “What is freedom?” and with inspiration from what they had heard, they wrote the song Freedom, Oh Freedom.  

In a curriculum called Elders’ Wisdom, Children’s Song, elders like Ezra Cunningham have been brought into classrooms to share their life stories. These oral histories and songs written in their honor are as varied as our citizens: everything from a childhood in a Japanese internment camp, to fleeing war in Somalia, to farm winters in harsh northern Minnesota, to fighting in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, becoming an Anishinabe Ojibwe language instructor, to being the first grandchild of slaves to attend college.  

Over 1,000 life stories in narrative and song like these have been stored on Hard Drives, CDs, Digital Analogue Tapes (DAT) and written documents.  

This collection, also, contains materials that represent some of the most important and progressive events in Minnesota. For instance, the Mississippi River Revival that spearheaded the Clean Rivers Movement, the Soviet-American Peace Cruises on the Mississippi and Volga Rivers. There is material relating to various watershed strikes in Minnesota, such as the Hormel P-9 strike, the Hibbing Seven strike, the longest strike in Minnesota history by women who walked out of their jobs at the American Linen Company, and the American Agriculture Movement Tractorcade in support of parity for United States farmers. Paul Wellstone’s campaigns for US Senator from Minnesota are well documented, plus there are a number of play scripts (one based on Wellstone.)

Last year much of this collection was under immediate threat of deterioration, but through Give To The Max donations and a grant from the Minnesota Cultural Legacy Fund, the paper documents within this collection have now been rough-sorted and stored in acid free archival boxes through the hard work of professional archivist, Barbara Bezat.

During 2018 we will be sorting, cataloguing and securing thousands of hours of audio and film portions of these archives onto digital hard-drives.  Once this work is completed this collection will be donated and made available to the Minnesota History Center or regional library. These archives will be open to the public for generations of researchers, historians, teachers, students and family members.

We need your help! Your donation will help us reach this final goal and be able to make this fabulous collection of peoples’ history available to the public.

“I’m honored to be a contributor and hoping that others will come to the fore.... It’s imperative that these archives be made available to inspire others.”

PETER YARROW, Peter, Paul and Mary

“My heartfelt thanks to Larry Long and all the voices from which our history continues to generate encouragement, enthusiasm and wisdom.”    
ARLO GUTHRIE, Songwriter, Son of Woody Guthrie   

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