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Acumen Digital Archives Explorer: Southern Life

Helpful information about navigating the Digital Collections at UA, with collection highlights organized by subject.

Audio: Working Lives Oral Histories

The Working Lives Oral History Project is a collection of 73 of interviews recorded in the early 1980s, with elderly Alabamians (mostly African-American) sharing their thoughts and memories on a variety of subjects, especially

  • Coal mining and the unionization of Birmingham
  • Sharecropping and southern urbanization
  • Racial segregation and voting laws
  • The Great Depression

These audio interviews, accompanied by transcripts, are fascinating on their own, and they help bring to life the glimpses of life caught in photographs and papers throughout Acumen.

“You get so far in debt and can’t pay out, you don’t move nothing, oh he’d clean you up, take everything you got for his debt, wouldn’t leave you nothing to go upon.”

— John Garner, on sharecropping (Garner interview link)


“This is the thing that, I guess that coal miners, black and white, had a unity and where segregation was everywhere else but there.“

— Earl Brown, on race relations in the mines (Brown interview link)


“I felt like a bird let out of a cage. I felt like I could… act human and not act like I was scared half to death of the Ku Klux Klan.”

— Rosa Jackson, on registering to vote for the first time (Jackson interview link)


To find collections pertaining to this topic, enter one of these in the Acumen search box: subject:"business and labor" or subject:"technology and industry"

steel mill, early 1900s



To find collections pertaining to this topic, enter this in the Acumen search box: subject:"farming and agriculture"

women with bags of cotton

Family and Personal Papers - from Alabama and other parts of the Deep South