Why Oral Histories?

The GU272 story didn't end in 1863 with the end of slavery. Despite incredible hardship, the descendants of the 314 people who were sold as property in 1838 flourished through their own hard work, ingenuity, perseverance, and kindness. Modern descendants of the GU272 number in the many thousands. They are physicians, homemakers, mechanics, poets, military specialists, musicians and professors. Theirs is a unique and fascinating story.

The interviews on this website record the life experiences of GU272 descendants who are currently living in Maryland, Louisiana, California and other locations. Placed alongside the genealogical data and the historical narrative of the GU272, these oral histories are invaluable resources for the descendant community, genealogists, historians, scholars, and the public. 

Oral History Interview with a Descendant

The descendants' stories provide insight into sharecropping, Jim Crow, desegregation, and other cruel historical iniquities. They are a lens into every day life and practices of faith. They pay tribute to their ancestors through family folklore. Cumulatively, the oral histories explore how and why the history of the GU272 families unfolded from enslavement to today. Ultimately, these recordings enrich our historical understanding of slavery and its legacy, making them a crucial part of our national heritage and an enduring historical treasure.

Historians have traditionally relied on the identification and interpretation of preserved records, manuscripts and other documents. The traceability, temporality to the historical occurrence, and triangulation with other data often dictated the value of these documents (Wineburg, 2001). However, conventional historical research often resulted in a dominant group's narrative, leaving behind the perspectives of under-represented or under-acknowledged peoples (Porat, 2004; Stauffer, 2015). To include more forms of evidence and more diverse perspectives, alternative methodologies, such as the recording of oral histories, became accepted forms of history research (Thompson, 2000; Yow, 2005).

Oral histories are valued as primary sources. Through audio recordings, personal testimonies are preserved. These testimonies provide first-hand narratives on the impact and consequences of historical occurrences over time (Portelli, 1991). The shared knowledge obtained from members within a social group are known as collective memory. Collective memories additionally offer a deeper understanding of the communal sentiments of a social group (Egan, 2017).

Moreover, oral histories are valued for providing expressive descriptions of the past (Clark, 2001 Historical meaning can be derived not only from the facts the subject provides, but from the words they choose and their manner of self-expression. (Clark, 2001; Portelli, 1991). As a result, the inflections of the spoken word from oral recordings can offer new historical insights.

GU272 descendant Lee Baker and oral historian Dr. Linda Mann



The Oxford Handbook of Oral History Egan, J. (2017). Manhattan Beach: A novel. NY, NY: Porat, D. A. (2004). It’s not written here, but this is what happened: Students’ cultural comprehension of textbook narratives on the Israeli-Arab conflict. American Educational Research Journal, 41, 963–996.

The death of Luigi Trastulli, and other stories: Form and meaning in oral history

Stauffer, J. (2015). “Hearing” in Ethical loneliness: The injustice of not being heard, pp. 69- 111 and 137-141. New York: Columbia University Press.

Thompson, P.R. (2000). The voice of the past: Oral history. (3rd Ed,). New York: Oxford University Press.

Wineburg, S. (2001). Historical thinking and other unnatural acts: Charting the future of teaching the past. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Yow, V.R. (2005). Recording oral history: a guide for the humanities and social sciences. Alta Mira Press, CA.

Clark, M.M. (2001). Field notes on catastrophe: Reflections on the September 11, 2001, Oral history memory and narrative project, in Donald A. Ritchie, . New York: Oxford University Press Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Portelli, A. (1991). The death of Luigi Trastulli, and other stories: Form and meaning in oral history. Albany, N.Y: State University of New York Press.