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Forty Blocks Oral History Interviews

Posted under Stories by Peter T. Alter

DePaul University interns Catrien Egbert and Yasmin Mitchel are working on the Museum’s latest oral history initiative, Forty Blocks: The East Garfield Park Oral History Project. Through DePaul’s public history program, they were students of Peter T. Alter, the Museum’s director of the Studs Terkel Center for Oral History. Catrien and Yasmin are working with Peter now on the Forty Blocks project and describe here a major milestone in that effort.

On Saturday, March 26, we were excited to be finally capturing the stories of those who would fill in the gaps of post-1970 East Garfield Park history. For over six hours, our teams interviewed twenty-three community members at Breakthrough’s FamilyPlex building. Breakthrough is the Museum’s partner in East Garfield Park and a social service agency with extensive neighborhood connections.

Much planning went into this day of recording oral history. Over the past three months, we researched our oral history narrators, worked with the Film Crew on oral history techniques, and toured surrounding neighborhoods. The Film Crew, a group of nine middle and high school students who are part of Breakthrough’s Arts and Science Academy, interviewed ministers, arts activists, community leaders, coaches, and passionate volunteers.

Film Crew students interview Carl and Barbara Ellis. Photograph by Peter Alter

Throughout the day, many narrators expressed how grateful they were to be participating in such a far-reaching project. Some of them recalled their journey to Chicago during the Civil Rights era. Others expressed their hope for an increase in youth development programs. As the Film Crew asked questions about the narrators’ life experiences, they learned about events and changes that had gone undocumented.

Latoya Winters, a DePaul social work graduate student, prolific poet, and youth worker at Marillac Social Center in East Garfield Park, recalled how youth programs impacted her life despite experiencing violence and other adversity growing up. She spoke of her writing as a channel for her anger and a source of inspiration to others:

We have to motivate and move our children to be more. We have to show them more than what they see every day. We have to tell them and show them. . .the experience we had . . . let them see what we’ve been through that we’ve come out on top. We have to show them that there is a way. You can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve come from.

Now that we have captured these stories, we are transcribing the interviews to make them accessible via the Museum’s website. Currently, the Film Crew is reviewing their footage and creating a documentary film that will premiere in the Museum’s Robert R. McCormick Theater this summer. By capturing this history that would otherwise be lost, we hope to showcase new perspectives and challenge current perceptions of East Garfield Park.

The Forty Blocks team at the end of the day. Photograph by Erin Drewitz


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