One Chicago woman is on a mission to change the way Americans, black and white, view African-American history. All she needs is $30 million and time. Lots of time.
“I’m the sort of person, if I can see it, then there’s very little that will really sort of stop me,” says Julieanna Richardson, the brains behind HistoryMakers.
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For ten years, she has been building “a living archive” of interviews of African-Americans..from all walks of life. Dancers and singers to leaders and politicians like a pre-presidency Barack Obama.
HistoryMakers currently has 2,000 videotaped interviews – that’s 8,000 hours of tape..the largest oral history collection of its kind.
“It’s an amazing collection. The oldest is 110, our youngest is 29, we’ve done interviews in over 80 cities and towns. The earliest recollection goes back to the 1700s.
The carefully constructed, three-hour interviews open a window not only onto black America, but also onto the human condition.
“I wanted the interviews to be mainstreamed,” says Richardson. “I wanted them to be viewed as American stories.”
The nonprofit’s small but dedicated staff also produces and sells celebrity interviews that appear on public television. Realizing her dream has been a struggle. Much of Richardson’s time is spent raising $30 million to meet her goal of recording 5,000 interviews.
“A year ago, I didn’t know if we were still going to be around, ” says Richardson.
But things are looking up. A federal grant and a million dollar gift have come in. And later this year, HistoryMakers interviews should be available on its website.
“I’m going to go to my grave a happy person,” says Richardson. “I see that it has the chance to make a profound difference in society.”