Carnegie Mellon University

"RAP" Oral History Project

Remembering Africanamerican Pittsburgh (RAP) Oral History Project

Initiated in 2007, with generous funding from the Falk Foundation, this project includes 185 oral histories of African American life in Pittsburgh since World War II.  In collaboration with the original project director, historian and professor Benjamin Houston, now at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, we are working on completing the transcription processes.

This oral history project, called Remembering Africanamerican Pittsburgh (RAP), was launched in fall 2006 by the Center for Africanamerican Urban Studies and the Economy (CAUSE), which is part of the Department of History at Carnegie Mellon University. The aim is to preserve the spoken memories of Pittsburgh’s African American citizens so that the wisdom of their life experiences can resonate for future generations of scholars and citizens. 

Historians of modern America tend to study how African American communities were affected by the economic, political, and social climate during the years between World War I and World War II. This project takes another step by focusing on changes and continuities in black urban history since World War II, with an eye towards understanding issues of the present-day. Specifically, by interviewing African American Pittsburghers, the project will capture the rich details of community networks, migratory patterns, family and kinship ties, and work and leisure activities that comprised black life and culture in Pittsburgh as local African Americans lived their lives and struggled against inequality in an era of economic decline. These spoken memories and the information they carry will constitute powerful testimony for scholars, public policy-makers, and citizens to heed and understand.
The first phase of the project began with a spring 2007 seminar that trained graduate students (from both Carnegie Mellon and other Pittsburgh-area universities) in oral history methodology. We also held a Community Briefing and Reception on March 6, 2007, where we introduced the project and solicited ideas on who we should talk to and what we should ask. Starting in June 2007, after a week-long workshop studying the recent history of African Americans in Pittsburgh, we began contacting people individually to set up interviews. Interviewing will continue through the summer, and as of January 2008, we will have approximately one hundred interviews recorded. We will continue doing rounds of interviews in summer 2008 and summer 2009. 

While collecting these oral histories and related primary sources over the next three years, we plan to preserve all this information for future public access. Knit together with the extensive city-wide archival resources on African-American Pittsburgh, these oral histories will form a valuable compendium of collective knowledge to inform both new scholarly analysis and meaningful public programming. We hope that these interviews will become a necessary resource for new and thoughtful scholarship, as well as sensitive and informed public policy.
Each interview is audio-recorded. Afterwards, we send the recording off to be transcribed into text (a process which takes many months). After editing the transcript for clarity, we send the interviewee the typed copy to read over and write in any corrections or clarifications they wish to make. After the interviewee returns the transcript, we input the changes and send a final version to the interviewee for their own use. We can send either the transcript or an audio CD of the interview, or both; either is a priceless memoir that can be passed on to family members.