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Citadel News Service
6 Sep 2011

History professor conducts oral history for Smithsonian Collection

Kerry Taylor, assistant professor of history at The Citadel, was selected by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture to interview local Civil Rights activist William Saunders of Johns Island, S.C.

Photo
Civil rights activist and Purple Heart recipient William Saunders at The Citadel in 2003.

The interview is part of The Civil Rights History Project, an effort co-sponsored by the Smithsonian and the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. The project’s aim is to record the testimonies of 100 civil rights movement veterans that had not been previously documented.

“Bill Saunders’ inclusion in the collection is important as a representative of the Lowcountry, but also because his activism spans from before the Supreme Court’s school desegregation decision through the emergence of Black Power, and continues to this day," said Taylor. “His commitments have embodied what scholars refer to as the long civil rights movement with roots in the decades before the ‘60s and legacies that continue to reverberate today.”

Taylor also is coordinator of The Citadel Oral History Program and has conducted similiar interviews as a way of recording and preserving history.

In his interview with Saunders, Saunders recounted his experiences of returning to the segregated South after serving in Korea, his subsequent participation in voter registration drives on Johns Island as well as his leadership in the 1969 Charleston hospital workers strike.

“Over the past 20 years, I’ve interviewed hundreds of activists who had some involvement with the black freedom struggle,” said Taylor. “I can’t remember talking to one who has retreated from the struggle’s commitments to justice and equality. They generally grow stronger in their resolve.”

Once the interview is transcribed, it will be made available to researchers at the Library of Congress as well as through the project website www.loc.gov/folklife/civilrights/.

Saunders has made several appearances in Taylor’s history classes and was awarded a Purple Heart medal during a dress parade at The Citadel in February 2003.

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