‘In their own words’: new digitized recordings with prominent African Americans in Cairo available online

Published: Feb. 25, 2021 at 7:19 PM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - A new digitized collection at the Roddenbery Memorial Library in Cairo, Georgia features interviews with African American leaders in the 20th century.

The interviews were conducted between 1981 and 1982 on cassette tapes by Dr. Robert Hall and Frank Roebuck as part of a grant from the Georgia Endowment for the Humanities.

They were digitized in 2020, thanks to a grant from the Georgia Public Library Service, and are now available on Soundcloud and the library’s website, now accessible for everyone to hear.

Family members of many of the interviewees still live in Cairo. They say hearing their loved ones’ voices is educational and emotional.

Every summer growing up, Linda Bradshaw Rodgers visited Cairo from her home in New York. She moved to the area full time about ten years ago.

“Cairo has my heart!” she says.

Her grandmother, Ada Mitchell, taught her how to can vegetables.

Now, Mitchell’s voice is one of the ones immortalized in the recordings from almost 40 years ago.

She described her family’s life, working together outside.

“Everybody had to do something. Yeah, we had to work like I don’t know what!” Mitchell told Frank Roebuck, chuckling.

Mitchell passed away in the early 2000s.

“Listening to her and all the recordings, it gave me a new perspective on Cairo,” says Rodgers. “To hear her voice again, it was like, oh wow. Mama I miss you.”

Another community leader featured: Charles Copeland.

He discusses community schools and churches, getting into local history.

“Of course, now you have some more AME, but you call AME Zion, African Methodist Zion!” Copeland says in the tapes.

His great-niece, LaFaye Copeland, says the recordings bring him back.

“Listening to it can bring chills, you know what I’m saying? Just like they’re right there in the room with you,” says Copeland.

A mother and daughter duo are also in the tapes: Easter Perry and Trudie James discuss the history of the African Methodist Episcopal Church together.

“There was a time when they looked to our Church for leadership!” they explained.

Ann James Wooten and her brother Cody James were thrilled to hear their family’s firsthand accounts of their involvement in the church.

However, their mother and grandmother’s commitment was no surprise to them.

“Our grandmother and mother taught us the importance of family,” says Wooten. “We grew up in the church. There was never a question of whether or not we were going to church; that was a given, that was understood!”

Cody James says their congregation has had a rebirth; Cairo’s Bethlehem African Methodist Episcopal Church celebrated its 147th anniversary in 2020, staying strong through the pandemic.

James says he believes his family would be proud.

“The Church is not just inside those 4 walls, but it’s the entire community and how we impact the community in a positive manner,” he says.

One project participant is still educating those around her: Pinkie Simmons.

She was a midwife for thirty years, delivering more than 500 babies.

“She didn’t charge, she didn’t say you had to pay me. If they had a bag of beans or some collared greens or potatoes to give her, that was her payment,” says Simmons’ niece, Myrtice Corker James.

Not only did Simmons help give life to those children, but she’s also guided her own.

“She always told us that we could do anything we wanted to do, and we could achieve it, just put everything in it and do your best job,” says Simmons’ daughter, Geraldine Simmons Faulk Thomas.

Simmons told WCTV in an interview that she’s seen quite a few events over the years. She’ll turn 95 in April.

“There’s been some changes; integration came along,” says Simmons. “Growing up in Grady County was a pleasure; Grady County is a good place to live.”

Frank Roebuck, who did the interviews for the library decades ago, hopes to eventually see transcriptions.

“I think it could be a document that would be great for museums and for other libraries to get involved in,” says Roebuck.

There are almost 80 total recordings and a display for Black History Month at the Roddenbery Memorial Library.

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