Skip to main content

The Modern Civil Rights Movement: Primary Source: Personal Texts & Oral History

Welcome to the library guide for HY 430: The Modern Civil Rights Movement! This guide will provide you with helpful resources from the library and across the web.

Databases with Personal Texts

North American Women's Letters and Diaries--"largest collection of women's diaries and letters ever assembled, covers colonial times--1950."

The Sixties: Primary Documents and Personal Narratives, 1960-1974--"this collection of primary resources documents the history, culture, and politics of the 1960s and early 1970s. Included are diaries, letters, autobiographies and other memoirs."


Personal Texts

Personal texts--diaries, memoirs, letters, autobiographies, and papers--usually make excellent primary sources because they were written by a historical person you're studying.

Personal texts are scattered throughout the internet, in databases, and on the shelves of the UA Libraries.  Here are some techniques for locating diaries, letters, and other primary sources using Scout, Google, or Classic Catalog:

  • Combine keywords describing your subject with such words as sources, letters, speeches, writings, documents, diaries, papers, etc. For example, searching for “World War II ” and diaries will locate diaries written during World War II.
  • Search for key people as authors. For example, let us say that you are researching the European Discovery of America. Searching for Christopher Columbus as an author will locate journals and speeches of Columbus.  You can set your search to author in the "Basic Search" screen.
  • Find secondary sources on a historical figure in Scout. Scan the bibliographies of these secondary sources for diaries, memoirs, letters, and papers.

Civil Rights History Project

Find Oral Histories

History students can use oral histories, or interviews, as primary sources, especially for 20th century topics.  Sometimes, oral histories have been transcribed by other historians, and we can search for and read their transcriptions.  

Here are some places to look for interviews, and all are excellent collections of interview transcripts and recordings of the twentieth century:

>Southern Oral History Program, American Rhetoric

>Historical Voices

>The Sixties

Other Tips:

>Use the "General Collections" under the "Primary Sources" tab on this site.

>Pinpoint oral histories on the internet or general collections by using search terms like "oral history" in quotation marks, or the keyword interview.  Narrow your search to interviews on a specific topic with search statements like interview and "civil rights".  Or, focus your search on interviews with people from a specific region with search statements like interview and Alabama.  

In addition to reading or listening to interviews conducted by other historians, we may want to perform some ourselves. Maybe you're researching the Battle of the Bulge, and you want to interview World War II veterans.  Please consult with your professor and the IRB about University policies before conducting interviews, and the techniques you can use to interview and transcribe.

Gorgas Library's Sanford Media Center offers video and audio recorders that you can use for interviewing.  Checking them out is free!