We ask authors of books reviewed in Oral History Review to answer 5 questions about why we should read their books. In our latest installment of the series, Evan Faulkenbury discusses his book Poll Power: The Voter Education Project and the Movement for the Ballot in the American South.
Thomas Saylor’s review of Poll Power will soon be available online.
What’s it about and why does it matter?
My book, Poll Power: The Voter Education Project and the Movement for the Ballot in the American South (UNC Press, 2019), tells the story of the VEP [Voter Education Project] during the 1960s and 1970s. I argue that the VEP was the behind-the-scenes engine of the southern civil rights movement, working to empower grassroots voting campaigns with funds and support. Between 1962 and 1964, the VEP supported dozens of local campaigns with SNCC, the NAACP, the SCLC, and CORE, as well as many more local organizations. Together, VEP-backed campaigns registered 688,000 African Americans to vote, which sustained the tidal wave of Black protest for voting rights leading to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
How does oral history contribute to your book?
Oral histories provided information and meaning to this story. I drew on many archived oral histories, with individuals including Ella Baker, Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer, and many more well-known Black leaders who were involved with the VEP. And I conducted several of my own, such as with John Lewis, Vernon Jordan, and Julian Bond. The story would not be as rich without these voices.
What do you like about using oral history as a methodology?
I like to use oral history later in the research process, when possible. I use existing archives and primary sources to sketch out the story and argument as best as I can, and where there are gaps, I can begin to think about what questions remain and who can best answer them. Oral histories give meaning to events, and so these stories can enrich the historical narrative in powerful ways.
Oral histories give meaning to events, and so these stories can enrich the historical narrative in powerful ways.
Why will fellow oral historians be interested in your book?
What is the one thing that you most want readers to remember about the book?
Evan Faulkenbury is an associate professor of history at SUNY Cortland. His courses and research focus on the civil rights movement, public history, and United States history. He earned his Ph.D. in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2016. He writes a monthly column for his local newspaper, the Cortland Standard, on history and current events.