Oral History | New collection launches with hundreds of interviews with African American elders

text reading i see my light shining the baldwin-emerson elders project with a graphic of an african american man in a 1920s era suit holding suitcasesNow available online:

The Baldwin-Emerson Elders’ Project!


Established by award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson, the Baldwin-Emerson Elders Project captures and celebrates the untold stories of activists, storytellers, and community builders who have witnessed and shaped monumental change in American public life…

In their interviews, elders reflect on their own life histories as well as major historical events, giving unparalleled insights into their decisions, actions, and experiences. Each interview is an invitation to celebrate and honor the individuals who have contributed to shaping American history and culture.

Baldwin for the Arts, Emerson Collective, the Columbia Center for Oral History Research, and the Oral History Archives at Columbia worked with ten writers in 2020 to train them in oral history methods. Drawing from the Federal Writers’ Project, the writers then ventured to different regions of the U.S., many to their own hometowns, to document over 200 elders’ unique local and national histories.

The Baldwin-Emerson Elders Project is a nationwide initiative focused on preserving the histories of Black, Latine, Asian, Indigenous, and queer elders. Produced by the Baldwin for the Arts and the Columbia Center for Oral History Research, with backing from Emerson Collective, the Elders Project draws inspiration from the Federal Writers’ Project.

The collection’s interviews are now available through the project’s bespoke online portal. With 800+ hours of audio, you can listen to individual interviews or filter interviews curated by location or themes, such as migration, housing and gentrification, visual arts, parenthood, queer kinship, policing, and a number of other topics.

Interview audio and transcripts will be available for in person access from the Oral History Archives at Columbia at a future date.


Project announcement: “Emerson Collective and Columbia University Launch Jacqueline Woodson’s New Oral History Project, “I See My Light Shining

More project details: “With ten writers, in ten regions, America’s elders make history

At this writing, there are no plans to expand upon the project nor include new narrators.