As a new staff member working with the oral history collections here at KHS, I recently got to experience an exciting coincidence that encapsulated Kentucky’s long-held commitment to documenting and preserving the stories of our commonwealth.
KHS director Kent Whitworth invited new staff and interns to join the executive board for their January board meeting lunch. We were encouraged to mingle, and always being up for meeting new people, I sat down next to a friendly looking mustachioed man. I introduced myself and asked his name and he told me he was Mike Mullins, executive director of the Hindman Settlement School. Being a city girl (I live in Louisville) I only recently learned a bit about Hindman and asked Mr. Mullins if he knew James Still. “Yeah, I knew him. We had Thanksgiving dinner together every year for the last 32 years before he died.” As we discussed his work at the historic settlement school one of the new interns, Jamie Holt, approached our table and asked if we minded if he sat down. I had met Jamie a few days previously in the digital lab where we convert cassette tape recordings to digital files and I introduced the two. As they chatted, they soon discovered they had something in common—oral history.
Jamie is finishing his degree from Alice Lloyd College with a semester-long Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities (AIKCU) internship with the Special Collections and Library team. Part of his work involves digitizing and uploading oral history interviews to the KHS digital collections website, as well as creating catalog records for some of our 9,000 interviews. This task complements Jamie’s efforts in the library at Alice Lloyd where he and former AIKCU/KHS intern (and fellow Alice Lloyd student) Justin Maynard are working on the initial effort to digitize the nearly three thousand oral histories collected during the Appalachian Oral History Project (AOHP). Founded in 1970, the AOHP ranks as the earliest large-scale oral history project conducted in Kentucky. Sarah Milligan, administrator of the Kentucky Oral History Commission at KHS, has been advising Alice Lloyd on the digitization process and now supervises Jamie’s work with oral history during his time at KHS.
Well, it turns out that prior to working as executive director at Hindman, Mr. Mullins taught classes at Alice Lloyd College and when Mr. Mullins heard about Jamie’s work on the AOHP he shared that he had actually recorded some of the original interviews and also directed his students in conducting interviews as part of their curriculum. He told us about his favorite interviews from the project, those of Verna Mae Slone, quilter and doll maker among other things or as Mr. Mullins called her “Grandma Moses of the Mountains.” Ms. Slone condensed her interviews into a book about her life in Appalachia called What I Want to Tell, a memoir she wrote for her family members, the first of six books she would write. Mullins recounted the progression that Ms. Slone’s book took from hand-typed personal memories stapled together and passed out at family gatherings, to published work, and how proud he was when he opened up the newspaper on the beach one morning on vacation and saw Ms. Slone’s picture looking back at him.
As the desserts arrived, Mr. Mullins expressed appreciation to Jamie for the work he has done to preserve these invaluable histories of Kentucky’s heritage and I realized I was witnessing the progress of the oral history tradition in our commonwealth. Mr. Mullins worked in the pioneering days to establish the value of oral history documentation and Jamie works today to help preserve and present these histories in the digital age. I’m happy that digital technology has allowed me to capture and present this auspicious meeting to you.
--Heather Fox, project archivist for Pass the Word: The Guide to Oral History in Kentucky
UPDATE: Mike Mullins unexpectedly passed away on February 19, 2012. The Kentucky Historical Society has an interview with Mr. Mullins in the oral history collection and we asked Jamie Holt to digitize the interview and put it online. The interview can be accessed through our digital collection website. Click on the audio links at the left of the screen to listen to the interview.