Keeler Grant allows Diboll ‘Cornbread’ interviews to be digitized

Every family knows stories that were told by grandparents or great-grandparents and passed down from one generation to another.  But wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear those stories in the actual voices of those who originally told them?

Thanks to a project undertaken by the staff at The History Center and funds from the Thomas T. Keeler Grant Program, people all over the world will soon be able to hear the voices of some past Dibollians.

Emily Hyatt, History Center archivist, and Patsy Colbert, assistant archivist, recently explained how a portion of this year’s Keeler Grant would make this possible.  The History Center received $7,910 as partial funding for the Digitized Media Project.

“The Historical Society began interviewing people during the 1970s and 1980s and eventually used the material to compile and publish ‘The Cornbread Whistle,’” Hyatt said.  “However, those recorded interviews are on cassette tapes, a medium which is now pretty much obsolete.  We knew that we had to convert them to a format that was more modern and sustainable.”

The guidelines published by the Keeler Program indicate that for organizations to be selected for grants, they should “demonstrate a mission which seeks to enhance the educational, social, and physical qualities of life within the community in the areas of education, health, community and social services, cultural arts, and the humanities.”  The grants are made in honor of Thomas and Cora Keeler and in memory of his grandfather, T.L.L. Temple, and his mother, Marquerite Temple Payne.

After publication of the book detailing Diboll’s origins, History Center staff members continued to interview residents in order to further develop the oral history.  Colbert referenced words that Executive Director Jonathan Gerland used in the cover letter submitted with the application: “These are the recorded spoken words of Diboll’s past generations, people who lived and worked here and who built the present we now enjoy.”

Since 2008, the interviews have been recorded in digital format, but about 250 audio tape cassettes still exist.  Most of those early interviewees, people like Clyde Thompson, Arthur and Latane Temple, and Vivian Warner, have died, but their voices can still be preserved if the tapes are converted to new formats before they wear out.

Hyatt explained that converting would accomplish a three-fold purpose.

“First of all would be preservation,” she said.  “In digital format they will be more stable and they will be backed up on a server as well as an off-site hard drive to prevent loss or damage.”

“Second, they will be more accessible to researchers and the general public,” she continued. “It’s easier to provide the material if it can be copied from the computer or emailed.”

The third advantage of the conversion is the ability to place the material on the History Center website.  From there it can be available to anybody in the world who has an Internet connection.  Staff has already begun the process of uploading a transcript of each interview, a photo of the person being interviewed, and an audio copy of the interview.

“These are the actual voices,” Hyatt said. “The present generation can enjoy and benefit from these interviews by hearing the inflections, the pauses, the laughter—all the things that help make these people real to us today.”

The tapes will be sent to a company doing the conversion within the next few weeks.  That company will clean the tapes if necessary and save them in several digital formats.  Hyatt hopes the conversion will be completed by fall and that all the saving and uploading can be finished within nine months to a year.

Colbert indicated that it is gratifying to hear from people who have accessed the website.  “We get emails and calls all the time from individuals who have discovered relatives’ interviews,” she said.

Both ladies expressed their appreciation to the Booster Club and the Keeler Program for the ability to complete this project.

As Gerland asked in his grant-application letter, “What greater good for present as well as future generations can we do than to preserve the recorded, spoken words of past generations?”

Emily Hyatt, History Center archivist, poses with about 250 hours of cassette tapes that will be digitized thanks to a grant from the Thomas T. Keeler Grant Program. The tapes are recordings of past Dibollians. Photo by Richard Nelson

Emily Hyatt, History Center archivist, poses with about 250 hours of cassette tapes that will be digitized thanks to a grant from the Thomas T. Keeler Grant Program. The tapes are recordings of past Dibollians.
Photo by Richard Nelson