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Clinton to give medal to historian (By Alan Scher Zagier)

Reprinted with the permission of the Raleigh News & Observer.

CHAPEL HILL--Her name might not turn heads in Hollywood, Manhattan or inside the Beltway, but UNC-CH professor Jacquelyn Dowd Hall gets to share a White House dais today with some pretty heady company.

The founder and director of the Southern Oral History Program will be feted by President Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton at a South Lawn ceremony for this year's recipients of the National Humanities Medal, one of the nation's highest cultural honors.

Joining Hall as medallists are filmmaker Steven Spielberg, radio host Garrison Keillor, playwright August Wilson, civil rights author Taylor Branch, television journalist Jim Lehrer and two others.

Armed with little more than tape recorders and notepads, Hall and her fellow oral historians at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have spent 25 years documenting the lives of not only the South's powerbrokers but also its mill workers, tobacco farmers and other regular men and women.

"Most oral history before the '60s was a matter of interviewing famous people about their lives and times," said John Shelton Reed, a UNC-CH sociologist and Southern scholar. "The [UNC-CH] oral history program has collected the accounts of ordinary folks, people who ordinarily wouldn't have much of a voice."

A graduate of Rhodes College in Memphis who did graduate work at Columbia University, Hall is the history center's first and only director. She is coauthor of "Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World" and author of "Revolt Against Chivalry: Jessie Daniel Ames and the Women's Campaign Against Lynching."

Hall, presumably on her way to Washington, could not be reached for comment late Tuesday. So it was up to others on campus to laud her accomplishments.

"She's had this vision for a long time that the oral tradition, particularly in the South, had been undocumented and needed to be preserved," said Provost Dick Richardson, the subject of a Hall interview session soon to be added to the collection's vast holdings. "Jacquelyn is just extraordinary."

Hall is the third Triangle winner of the humanities medal in as many years. Last year's winners included Nancye Brown Gaj, a Raleigh literacy educator. Former UNC President William Friday brought home the prize in 1997.

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