Just a quick note about this story - as administrator for the Kentucky Oral History Commission (KOHC) adminsitered by the KHS, I get to witness a lot of fantastic stories that come out of oral hsitory projects we support. I am continually amazed what a little bit of funding in the right place can kickstart. I will admit, this story reaches farther than most, but in it's core, it is a perfect example of what acknowledging the cultural and historical value of the individuals in your community can accomplish. What this story reminds me is that the gift of sharing with oral hsitory can go both ways, oh, and if you haven't registered to vote in that election around the corner, get to it! - sarah milligan
When the James Harrod Trust, a preservation organization in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, requested funding from the Kentucky Oral History Commission for an oral history project focused on the African American History of Mercer County, no one imagined one question during one interview would capture national attention.
During the course of the project's first interview, a team of interviewers asked Mrs. Margaret Harris, age 105, if she remembered the struggle for women’s suffrage and her first vote. Her reply was quick and certain: “Yes, because that was the last time I voted. I voted for Herbert Hoover.” Family members in attendance then asked for information regarding the voter registration process. “Miss Margaret” was born in 1906, five years before birth certificates were officially recorded in Kentucky (in 1911). Miss Margaret does not have a driver’s license or government photo identification. There are no living witnesses to attest to Miss Margaret’s birth; family records documenting her birth have been lost over the years. Following up on this information, one of the interviewers who happened to work for the Secretary of State's office, Kandie Adkinson, brought up the issue with Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. How could they get Miss Margaret to become involved in the election process?
This conversation kicked off a series of events beginning with a trip by Secretary Grimes to Mercer County to meet with Mercer County Clerk Chris Horn, Miss Margaret, and some of her family and friends.
After her identity and residency were confirmed, Secretary Grimes & County Clerk Horn proceeded to register Miss Margaret to vote. She also applied for, and received, an absentee ballot if she is unable to attend the polls in person on November 6. Following this visit the story of 105-year-old Margaret Harris’ voter registration was broadcast on television stations throughout Kentucky. The Associated Press and internet news providers, such as CNN, included the news story and portions of Miss Margaret’s television interview in their coverage.
Word continued to spread throughout the state and when President Obama stopped in Cincinnati, the Kentucky Democratic Party arranged for the President to give a “shout out” to Miss Margaret who was in attendance. Yep, this was broadcast on C-SPAN.
During the week of her 106th birthday party, representatives of the Obama Campaign Headquarters in Chicago visited Harrodsburg and interviewed Miss Margaret - or as they referred to her as the end of their visit, "Granny." Video from their visit is posted on the Obama Campaign website encouraging voter participation. When it comes to voter registration and participation, Miss Margaret’s rallying cry is “If I can do it, you can, too.” Regardless of your political leaning, the story here is every one should be able to excercise their right to vote.
For the second time in her 106 years, Margaret Harris, whose sons served our country in the military and whose children and grandchildren, are leaders within their communities, will participate in the election process due to one question…during one interview in one Oral History project…funded in part by the Kentucky Oral History Commission.
--James Harrod Trust Oral History Team
P.S. Thank you to all the players along the way that encouraged this story and spread the word - without you taking an interest, it wouldn't have made it quite so far.
image above: Miss Margaret being registered to vote.
video above: Obama campaign video with Miss Margaret.