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History Makers: Preserving and celebrating the stories of African American lives
Julieanna Richardson makes presentation on key oral history collection
Julieanna Richardson

"HE ALSO said that a man isn’t poor just because has doesn’t have money in his pocket, he’s poor because he doesn’t have enough vision in his head and in his heart."

Those words are from the late Westley Wallace Law, and were quoted by the speaker for the night, Julieanna Richardson, Founder/Executive Officer of the History Makers, as she closed out her presentation and contribution to the 28th annual Black Heritage Festival.

“Focused on the Future—Acknowledging Echoes from the Past” was the theme for Thursday’s annual W.W. Law Lecture. In conjunction with the Black Heritage Festival, the lecture is a series of featured speakers who have made a contribution to the evolution and preservation of Black History, held at the Jepson Center in honor of the late W.W. Law, civil rights activist and former president of the NAACP Savannah chapter.

Harry Delorme, Senior Curator of Education for Telfair Museums, while welcoming Richardson, reminded the audience of the Nick Cave exhibition at the Jepson Center.

“I was really happy to see that Nick Cave was interviewed by the History Makers back, I think in 2004, so that’s a wonderful connection to the program tonight,” he said.

Savannah State University’s Greek Life Coordinator, Shed Dawson was in attendance to introduce lecturer Richardson.

“I heard Ms. Julieanna Richardson on the radio talking about this program called the History Makers, and in her narrative she was telling about the program that would tell a rich story of African Americans from a perspective of those people who made that history,” said Dawson, explaining how History Makers is the largest African American video/oral historical collection in existence..

One of 1,746 historical significant African Americans interviewed, John B. Clemmons Sr., was in close relation to Savannah State University (SSU). Once a professor at Georgia State College (now SSU), Clemmons founded the Delta ETA chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, incorporated at Savannah State University.

Discovering that Clemmons had worked with the History Makers was astonishing for Dawson, who is a member of the same fraternity.

“On each page there’s hundreds of names in different fields, and I was completely mesmerized, because some of them were just local people in local places who, I can only imagine, if they didn’t do what they did there, where would those people in our community be.”

Richardson’s nonprofit educational institution, the History Makers, is his way of telling a richer story than the stories told in the school systems and in the text books, some lessons, Dawson says, involving falsified information.

From President Barack Obama all the way back to the oldest living black cowboy, The History Makers are in the business of gathering history and giving it life, visual life, before it’s too late. Since 1999 The History Makers have educated millions worldwide.

Richardson took the stage first acknowledging those the History Makers have already interviewed in Savannah and those who will soon be interviewed later this week, and second, sharing a moment of a bittersweet nostalgia.

“When you invited me to speak Shirley to speak, little did I know, or that you knew at the time that this was really the opening of a very sore wound.”

Richardson shares that the day Law died. She had phoned him, saying “Mr. Law, I’ll be calling you to schedule your interview. He said in his voice ‘don’t wait too long.’ We waited too long.”

That moment for Richardson she says, was one of her deepest regrets.

Richardson took a moment in her speech to refer to title of the program. She believed the word ‘acknowledging’ used in the title was a word the viewed as being “too passive a term.”

Not only that, in honor of W.W. Law’s contribution and body of work, the events title then became “Focused on the Future —DEMANDING Echoes from the Past.”

She said if the time isn’t taken to educate ourselves of these things we will be forced to repeat what we don’t know. All of this being her general purpose for starting the History Makers.

With the archive being held at the Library of Congress, Richardson said that the History Makers sole purpose is to create the content of history, exposing the archive with large bodies of people at a time, preserving the material for continuous usage, and donate the archive to school and libraries for usage.

Richardson said their main aim when interviewing these monumental leaders is to capture those moments that define history. One way this is done by asking the interviewee to recall sights, smells, and sounds from their childhood.

Of the 2,800 interviews and 9,000 hours of testimonies on the webpage, 500 of those legends interviewed have died. Almost all of the 500 failed to write or have a biography written.

Following the end of the lecture, Richardson was rewarded with a place on the W.W. Law Lecture plaque that is placed in Hill Hall on Savannah State University’s campus.