Fairmont oral history project seeking stories

An oral history of the Fairmont community is being compiled by the University of Georgia-Griffin Campus.

So far, 15 people have been interviewed for the oral history project, according to John Cruickshank, a librarian at the UGA-Griffin Campus Library. The project began a few years ago, Cruickshank said, following a presentation he made on the history of Fairmont based on what historical records he could find about the source of the name.

“Right after,” he said, “people came up, told me they knew some of the people I’d named.”

The oral history, he said, is a first-person account of the history.

“There are a lot of narratives people don’t know about,” he said. “I thought it would be important to gather information up to digitize, archive and share.”

He said the effort so far has concentrated on older people in the community, before those memories are lost. “We interview them for about an hour,” with times varying depending on what the person has to say. “Mostly, we let them talk, and only ask a few questions.”

Art Cain, coordinator of Continuing Education for UGA-Griffin, said he’s been fortunate to serve as one of the interviewers. Some of those interviewed so far included Haskell Ward, Bob Dull and Jewell Walker-Harps.

“I got a call from Jewell,” about the project, Cain said, “and she can be pretty persuasive.”

He said his duties at UGA-Griffin give him some freedom to pursue projects he’s interested in, so he has worked on this oral history project.

“I’ve learned a tremendous amount about Griffin,” Cain said. “I did not grow up here, but grew up in a town very similar and I see the similarities in the stories here.”

Oral histories, he said, “are more powerful than written histories. You hear from primary sources.”

Cain said, “if you know someone, we’d like to interview them. It’s a project once archived, it will be around in perpetuity.”

This oral history is documented and archived at the UGA’s Richard B. Russell Library in Athens and online. You can watch and read verbatim transcripts of the interviews, Cruickshanks said.

Walker-Harps said it’s not just black people, “it’s white people, brown people, people who were part of legislature, those who served in interracial organizations that helped with desegregation.”

“We are looking for persons who attended the vocational school at the former Rosenwald school, anyone who remembers Molock’s Gym at the school. What it’s all about is telling our history,” she said. “Fairmont was very vibrant community, where our doctors, lawyers, teachers and preachers came from.”

Walker-Harps thanked UGA-Griffin, saying “it wouldn’t be happening with these guys from UGA. It really is a lot of work.”

Anyone interested in sharing their story, or the stories of their parents, Walker-Harps invited them to call the Griffin Branch NAACP at 770-228-3990.

Visit https://ugaurbanag.com/fairmont-oral-history-project/ to listen to or read the transcript of the interview with Jewell Walker-Harps.