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Speaker hopes oral history helps kids (By Paul Clark)

Reprinted with the permission of The Asheville Citizen-Times.

ASHEVILLE - Young blacks would better understand their parents if they'd listen to Kelly Navies, Everette Parrish believes.

Navies spent weeks interviewing and taping graduates of Stephens-Lee High School, an all-black high school in Asheville before desegregation.

Her oral history project, which she will present today at Stephens-Lee Community Center, will help young people frame the times their parents lived in, said Parrish, Class of '48.

"I know what the school meant to me and the pride we had in our school," Parrish said. "I'm just hoping that young people will pick up on some of this."

Navies was electrified by the project, she said in an earlier interview. The UNC-Chapel Hill history graduate student found so much in common with the people she interviewed that she's decided to move here, she said. Her great-great-grandmother lived in Weaverville, and she has relatives there still.

Navies undertook the project as part of the Southern Oral History Program at UNC-Chapel Hill. The nationally recognized program marks its 25th anniversary this year by putting together "Listening for a Change: North Carolina Communities in Transition." The project is an attempt to understand the changes in the state that were set in motion by World War II.

Last summer, fresh from having interviewed relatives about her great-great-grandmother, Navies pushed deeply into the memories of Stephens-Lee grads, exploring a world before integration, before equal opportunity, before the school closed in 1965 and was demolished in 1975. Surprisingly, she said, inequity was not on their minds so much as was the stellar education they got and wonderful times they had.

The Citizen-Times was unable to contact Navies Friday. But in interviews in April, she said she was struck by the students' pride. The school incorporated black studies into its curriculum widely through literature, history and music, they told her. Knowing where they came from gave them confidence in a sometimes hostile world.

"You can tell from talking to Stephens-Lee students - and (from) their bearing - that they are so proud," Navies said. "You can sense a strong sense of dignity. They have this strong sense of self."

The Southern Oral History Program
Center for the Study of the American South
Love House and Hutchins Forum
410 East Franklin St., CB# 9127, UNC-CH
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-9127
(919) 962-0455