Community Oral History Grant Recipients
The Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum in Austin, Texas, will collect community histories, noteworthy anecdotes, and precious memories from those who knew American sculptor Charles Umlauf (1910-1994) during his lifetime and those working to preserve his legacy. Umlauf boasts the highest number of sculptures on public view in Texas, including one on Baylor University’s campus, Kneeling Christ (1973, bronze). With each passing day, valuable information regarding Texas’ premiere sculptor is lost. Our project will survey key figures in Umlauf’s past who can shed light on Umlauf’s personality, work ethic, artistic practice, and personal life for the benefit of the museum’s future visitors and leadership. Umlauf’s children, grandchildren, students, models, muses, colleagues, as well as volunteers and staff of the museum will prove enlightening resources for this undertaking.
The museum aims to collect these interviews and extract key anecdotes for audio guides, which will highlight various sculptures throughout our garden. We intend to film interviews as well, for use in later documentary films by the museum or others. We will create a culture of sharing around the project, and ensure interviewing techniques and conversations are thoughtful and perceptive. Charles Umlauf left not only the gift of his art when he passed, but the gift of his story. We aim to honor that bequest by making more comprehensive information on Umlauf accessible to the public, furthering their understanding of the sculptor and deepening their appreciation of his artworks. The completed interviews will be shared and cherished among the thriving Umlauf community and the public, giving us all more clarity on “the man with oversized hands" behind the spectacular bronzes that belong to all of Austin.
Levita Baptist Church (now Levita Bible Fellowship), has been in continuous existence in Levita, TX since 1881. A once thriving community on the Texas frontier, the population of Levita began to decline after a 1932 town fire and the closing of the local railroad station in 1941. Despite the population loss to the nearby city of Gatesville, Levita Baptist Church still retained 83 members as late as 1981 indicating its prominence in the local community. Today, the town features only minimally in histories of Gatesville and the surrounding Coryell County, with no known history devoted to the community itself. Many consider Levita a ghost town with only a small population of aging residents. The continued population loss of the community has since reduced the congregation to eleven senior citizens. These aging members of the congregation, however, preserve an extensive oral history of the congregation and the town. Some of them preserve family memories from their parents and grandparents.
This oral history project will interview current and past members of Levita Baptist Church in order to record the oral history of one of Coryell County’s oldest continually operating churches. The oral history of this congregation contributes not only to the history of religious life in Coryell County, but also to the study of Baptist identity in rural communities.
The Czech Heritage Museum and Genealogy Center in Temple, Texas, will document the lived experience of Texas Czechs in an oral history project titled "Fifteen-Year Countdown: Preserving the Endangered Dialect and Oral Histories of Texas Czech Immigrants." The Czech Heritage Museum serves as a repository of memory within one of the state’s largest concentrations of descendants from Moravia, a former territory of Austria-Hungary, now the Czech Republic. Their ancestors came to Texas in the 1800s and created strong family, community, and church ties. Czechs founded both Catholic and Brethren churches that remain active today. The project's title reflects the predicted disappearance of the Texas Czech dialect within fifteen years. The oral history project will capture in English the stories of some of the last generation to speak the endangered dialect. In separate recordings, the museum will preserve the spoken dialect in cooperation with the Texas Czech Legacy Project, a linguistic study of changes in the dialect over time. The museum will use photos, audio, and video gathered during the project to produce a montage exhibit of Texas Czech life. Susan Chandler, the museum’s administrator, intends for this first oral history collection "to provide the seeds for a long-term and hopefully ongoing project of preserving the living history of this fascinating community and, in the future, of other ethnic groups living in this area."
Volunteers and staff of the Joseph and Susanna Dickinson Hannig Museum in Austin are conducting interviews with local community leaders who came of age in the Texas state capitol for the project "Conversations to Create Unity: Oral Histories of Austin, Texas." The project's goal is to "cultivate conversations" that will foster a "continuing dialogue" between people of diverse racial and cultural heritage. They are gathering stories of growing up in Austin from area Hispanic, African American, and Anglo leaders whose families represent multiple generations in Central Texas. One expected outcome of the project is to learn how the past informs community relations today. The Museum, which will preserve and archive the interviews, will host a reception for the entire community and present an exhibit and panel to share themes that emerge from the project.
The goal of "Footprints of Times Past," a research project initiated by the Limestone County Historical Commission, is to preserve the histories of eleven rural communities that once served the agriculturally-based economy of the area but are now deserted or nearly deserted. Former communities targeted for research include Big Hill, Forsa, Lavender, Odds, Oletha, Point Enterprise, Sandy, Woodlands, Doyle, Comanche Crossing, and Webb Chapel. Four of the communities were settled by freed slaves. In the grant proposal narrative, the applicants wrote, "Through the interviews, the oral histories will breathe life into these communities, again revealing the role that each played in the history of Limestone County. At one time, each placed a deep footprint in the history of the county. Today, the natural forces of time are wearing the footprints away. The streets are empty, the structures where children once played and recited Bible verses are empty shells or have totally disappeared with the passing of time, and the voices to tell the stories are becoming softer and softer. It is imperative that we document the stories and the histories of these communities before they are lost forever."
From among several worthy proposals, the Bremond Historical Society was named recipient of the 2012 Community Oral History Grant. The purpose of the society's Bremond Polish Oral History Project is to gather the history of the life of the historic Polish community in this Central Texas town, covering Polish contributions to business, religion, education, music, sports, and farm life. Community volunteers received training and conducted interviews, and the Bremond Historical Society archived the interviews. A public reception recognized the interviewees at the conclusion of the project.
A 2011 Community Oral History Grant was awarded to the Friends of Gillespie County Country Schools. The project trained and equipped community volunteers to collect stories from former students and teachers of the twelve historic one-room schools and three teacherages still standing in rural Gillespie County, Texas. A few years ago, the Friends organization saved the sale and possible destruction of the school houses, the lone remnants of forty such schools that served the rural population of the county in the first half of the twentieth century. The organization hosts open-house school tours and reunions and maintains a Web site on the schools at www.historicschools.org. The oral histories are deposited in the Gillespie County Historical Society, and excerpts of the transcripts will be available on the Web site to help preserve the stories of life and education in rural Texas. In their final report, the Friends assessed the value of the project: "These stories give an in-depth look at life in rural Texas during the 1920s-1940s, a time unchanged for over 75 years. They tell of a simple and hard life during the dry and wet years, the early farming and ranching times, depression years and war years. The innocence of country life, a time of faith with devotion to local church and community, a time of strong family ties, with devotion to country and of patriotism. These stories will be used with exhibits that we construct for the county fair and other events throughout the years. With the start that has been provided, we will continue to collect the stories as long as we have individuals living that recall their days at the old schools. These stories will also help us as we attempt to garner funds for the continued restoration and repair of these 100 year old structures."
Also receiving a 2011 Community Oral History Grant was the Central Texas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for a project titled, "Oral History of the Hispanic Community in Waco." The project gathered stories of Hispanic life in Waco from Hispanic leaders in business, education, politics, religion, sports, music, and neighborhood activities. The volunteer interviewers were members of the Hispanic Chamber or were from the community. The project was a first attempt by the Waco Hispanic community to undertake its own oral history project. Plans for sharing the project included video recordings of the interviews aired on Waco Channel 10, the local community access station.
The 2010 Community Oral History Grant was awarded to the Goliad Center for Texas History, part of the Goliad County Library in Goliad, Texas. With the Institute's help, the Goliad Oral History Project marked the beginning of a permanent oral history project to collect, preserve, and make accessible oral interview recordings and transcripts rounding out the history of one of the oldest towns in Texas. The Spanish and Colonial roots of Goliad and its role in the Texas Revolution are well known, but the story that lives in human memory lacks documentation. The project developers identified potential interviewees representing a diverse cross-section of the community, including citizens descended from African, German, Tejano, Mexican, and Anglo families. The memories available from these community members cover topics relevant to the area's history: ranching, agriculture, the revival of the longhorn breed, preservation of the town's major historical sites, and the development of businesses, services, and social organizations. Their stories touch on the major events of the twentieth-century--the Great Depression, the world wars, Korean and Vietnam wars, the 1950s oil boom, and the desegregation of schools. In their grant evaluation, the recipients commented, "It is hard to see how Baylor's participation could be better. You provided us with training, helped with equipment choices, transcribed interviews, and were always available to answer questions."