Monday, August 7, 2017

Bill Church helps publish local stories

The following is an article from the St. Joseph News-Press by Jessica Kopp (July 29, 2017).

Local African Americans tell their stories in recently published history book

Community members interested in learning about local African-American history were invited to attend the book release party of the recently published “In Their Own Words: An Oral History of African Americans in St. Joseph, MO” by Dr. William Church at the Black Archives Museum on Saturday.

The book aims to record the stories of people who lived through history and can give a personal account.
“We wanted to reach our youth, really, and let them hear it from the elders, how things used to be, rather than just read it in a book,” Alonzo Weston, a contributor and interviewee, said.
Weston was the one to first set out and try to preserve as many voices as he could; however, he was afraid he would not be able to interview as many seniors as he wanted to — simply because of their advanced age.
After publicly lamenting his dilemma in the St. Joseph News-Press, where Weston works as a columnist, Missouri Western’s Dr. William Church got in touch and offered help.
“So I contacted him and said, ‘Do you need help? I’ve got some students and we could form a team and we could help you with this,’” Church said.
The students and Church worked for an entire summer to interview 14 people. The book is the last part of a two-step project, which involved creating a short film first.
“Step one was to get it all on film, and to get everyone in their own natural setting if we could. So, many people were interviewed in their home, as you can see on the film,” Church said.
Afterward, Church sat down and transcribed all the interviews.
“Then it was a project of moving things around a little bit. Because, as we speak, we tend to roam and not always stay on task,” Church said.
The stories span a wide range of topics.
“It’s really heartwarming to hear the stories in there and hear what people have gone through, and the themes emerge of education and sacrifice, hard work, family,” Church said.
Church and Weston weren’t the only ones signing books: some of the storytellers made their way to the archives as well, like 88-year-old Moses Hicks.
“At my age, I thought I had a lot to give. And past history makes future history,” Hicks said.
Laraine Jones attended the event in honor of her late father, who told his story in the book.
“My dad used to tell me stories about St. Joseph and the history and all those things that are kind of lost. So, this oral history will tell us a little more about the things that have come and gone and the buildings that are torn down and no longer here,” Jones said.
The book is available in the museum’s gift shop and on Amazon. The film can be viewed on YouTube.
Jessica Kopp can be reached at or you can follow her on Twitter: @NPNOWKopp

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