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First Person   First Person: Twentieth-Century History as Told by People Who Lived It and Made It

Oral histories offer us the opportunity to see the past from a variety of perspectives. As we read and hear individual stories, it becomes clear that the past is a complicated terrain, experienced and acted upon in many and vastly different ways. By our examination of the many stories, we begin to more fully comprehend the larger landscape of twentieth century history, as told by those who live it and who made it.

Assembled here are the stories of western Massachusetts citizens who witnessed and played a part in the history of the twentieth century. Brief clips from of their hour-long interviews have been chosen and arranged into chronological story pages which follow the interviewee through time, illuminating his or her memories of both personal and national events. Captioned illustrations shed light on the speaker's personal role within the larger context of the history of the twentieth century. Viewers can learn more about the interviewee in a personal timeline, and more about a given topic through resource suggestions at the bottom of each story page. A page for each interview that includes audio clips and a transcription of the entire interview is also provided.

portrait of Juanita Nelson Juanita Nelson

“I am concerned to strive for a coherent, integrated life…”

Juanita Nelson staged her first protest when she 16 years old, traveling to Georgia on a segregated train. As a result of this decision and others like it, Juanita is considered a pioneering civil rights activist. More accurately, she has pursued a life-long commitment to her belief in nonviolence. Throughout her life, this promise has guided her choices.

portrait of Robert Romer Robert Romer

A Quest for Civil Rights

Retired Amherst College physics professor Robert Romer remembers how he joined a dedication to teaching young people about science with a quest to transform hearts and to change minds. His journeys brought him to the August 1963, March on Washington, to rural South Carolina so that he could teach at an all black college, and to Westover Air Force Base where he participated in Vietnam era anti-war protests.

portrait of Ray Elliott Ray Elliott

The Oneness of the Human Family

Retired chemist Ray Elliott shares the stories of his father's service as a Buffalo soldier during World War I, his own experiences as a black soldier during the Second World War and, when he returned home, as a civil rights worker dedicated to nonviolent resistance.

portrait of David Cohen David Cohen

Witness to the Holocaust

During the Second World War, David Cohen was a radio operator for the 4th Armored Division of Patton's Third Army. He participated in the Battle of the Bulge and in the liberation of two Nazi concentration camps. During his lifetime, David has witnessed humanity's capacity for great evil and for great good.

portrait of Ruth Loving Dr. Ruth B. Loving

Any body can eat at our table...Anybody

Born in 1914, Ruth Loving has participated in over 90 years of American History. She has lived through two world wars, remembers the Great Depression, rationing and FDR's fireside chats, danced in the Cotton Club, and performed for the USO. She learned Morse code while serving in the Massachusetts Woman's Defense Corps, and became a social activist following the Second World War.

portrait of Paul Slater Paul Slater

Life as a sailor during World War II

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Paul Slater joined the Navy, and was assigned to serve as an engineer on board the destroyer escort the USS Walter S. Brown. Paul and his crewmates survived the Atlantic Hurricane of 1944, and they were involved in the famous Battle of UGS 40 in May of that year.

portrait of Dorothy Pryor Dorothy Pryor

“You teach people who you are and where you’ve been”

Dorothy Pryor’s life has revolved around education and her Springfield, Massachusetts home. During World War II, her academic years at Fisk University where punctuated by summers working in the Springfield Armory. Her husband became Springfield’s first black high school teacher, and she came to teach English at the city’s Technical High School and at the Springfield Technical Community College (STCC). Dorothy is guided by her belief that, “you don't teach anybody what you know. You teach people who you are and where you've been.”

Resources  for further learning about the topics and events discussed in these oral histories

These World War II era oral histories were made possible through the generous support of The Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts (the Credit Data Services, Inc. Fund), the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, and the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, and were produced in collaboration with the Veterans Education Project.


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