StoryCorps Griot project records oral histories of LA’s African American community

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Kim Nowacki/KPCC

The StoryCorps mobile recording studio, housed in a shiny Airstream trailer, will be outside the California African American History Museum in LA’s Exposition Park through April 23.

The documentary project StoryCorps allows people to share significant moments in their lives in a conversation that’s recorded for posterity. The StoryCorps crew is in Los Angeles for the next month to record African American oral histories for a national archive. KPCC’s Shirley Jahad has this story from Thursday's opening outside the California African American History Museum in LA’s Exposition Park.


Inside the StoryCorps mobile recording studio, something happens that is both ordinary and profound.

“Our mission is to record, preserve and share the stories of every day Americans," says StoryCorps’ Marquita James.

Participants sit inside and engage in conversation with a loved one. They often come out having discovered something they never knew before.

“It’s really simple. We want to encourage people to talk to each other on a deeper level," says James. "We hope if we have enough of these conversations and if we travel enough of the country we will begin to in some small way transform the way that Americans relate to each other."

People are transformed in the telling of their story and in the listening to someone else’s. Even the fact that someone wants to hear it can transform the experience.

This particular visit is part of StoryCorps' Griot Initiative, aimed at preserving African American experiences and life stories. Griot (pronounced GREE-oh) is a storyteller and a position of honor in West African tradition.

Glynn Turman was the first on Thursday to step into the silver Airstream trailer that is the StoryCorps mobile recording studio during this LA stop. He shared stories with his adult daughter about the grandmother she never met ... and stories about being an actor for 50 years starting in the original Broadway cast of “A Raisin in the Sun.”

He says he also acted in a stage version of another oral history project that documented the lives of freed slaves: “Never ever thinking an instance would come where my story," says Turman, "might be compiled with others to at some later date be a part of the American fabric was all about.”

StoryCorps has collected 35,000 oral histories from around the country so far. The participants keep one copy of their session; another goes into an archive at the Library of Congress.

KPCC is a sponsor of the StoryCorps Griot Initiative. You can hear StoryCorps segments every Friday on NPR’s Morning Edition program, or listen online.

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