Oral History Project Aims to Bring People Together

DES MOINES, Iowa -- StoryCorps has been traveling around the country for ten years recording the oral histories of people in different towns each year.

The goal of the history project is to bring people of different genders, races and ethnicities together and they made a month-long stop in Des Moines.

Here’s how it works: someone brings their close family member or friend into the mobile interview studio to be interviewed and they will ask their loved one questions with the help of a StoryCorps moderator for a total of 40 minutes.

Iowa Public Radio is their local partner and cut down several interviews and shared one with Des Moines Civil Rights Activist Mary Campos.

She was the first Latina to serve on the Iowa Civil Rights Commission and to be inducted in the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame, according to Iowa Public Radio.

In her interview Campos recalled a memory on a bus trip that planted the seed for action.

“My mother was so proud of me, being the first one of eight kids to graduate, she was going to take me on a trip to California. So then we went to Burlington bus line to get on the bus and I was sitting with my mother and I got up because there were three African American service people in the back of the bus. So being the kind of kid I was I was kind of nosey I guess and I went back to talk to the young people and we were busy talking and all of a sudden the bus stops with a great big lurch and this big man, he was the bus driver, and he said you cannot be back here with these people cause this is reserved for blacks and you have to go sit in your seat and that just really tore me up. I felt so bad,” Campos said.

In her interview, Campos also talked about the challenges she faced as a young Latina in Iowa.

“I was good in math, I was good in short hand, I was good at typing, I spoke two languages, I was a good speller, I loved to read and I couldn’t find a job. And you know why? Because I was brown. The man told me one day, 'you had a good application and a good interview, but I’m sorry. Everyone in this office, we’re all white and they don’t know how you’ll fit in with these people,'” Campos said.

StoryCorps is wrapping up interviews in Des Moines this week and you can hear more on IPR news Thursdays during Morning Edition and All Things Considered.