By Margaret Holloway
While we still haven’t figured out a way to reproduce all of the excitement of the OHA Annual Meeting on the blog (see our most recent attempt here), we have figured out how to bring you a sampling of some of the exciting projects oral historians are working on. Below, we bring you a short version of Margaret Holloway’s paper from the conference, “Translating Hobson City, Alabama: An Ethnographic, Rhetorical, and Technological Approach.” Holloway is using oral history to preserve the memories of Hobson City, Alabama and help it survive into the future. If you are interested in contributing to the blog, email our social media coordinator, Andrew Shaffer, at ohreview[at]gmail[dot]com.
Crossing the train track from the predominantly white Anniston into the historically black Hobson City, Alabama, I immediately noticed the significant changes in environment and people. It was not until I exited my car and physically inserted myself into the Hobson City community that I learned that there was much more to this small town than what initially met my eyes.
Hobson City, Alabama is the oldest incorporated African American town in the state. The town is a part of a larger nationally recognized organization called the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance, which includes Tuskegee, AL, Mound Bayou, MS, Grambling, LA, and Eatonville, FL. Hobson City is located right in predominantly white Anniston; the only thing that separates the two towns is a train track. The train track serves as a national marker that symbolizes segregation along with differences in socio-economic statuses within communities. Over the past two years, I have learned about the town’s rich African American origins, significant political events, and entrepreneurial pioneers of Hobson City that make this place a historical black town.
In May of 2016, I conducted an oral history interview with one of the town’s most significant citizens, Mr. Montressor Sudduth. A native of Hobson City, he is the middle child of three children, with an older brother and a younger sister. He was raised in a single-parent home by his mother. His story is rooted in the early beginnings of Hobson City, Alabama and his contributions to the town live on to this day.
An important theme in this interview was the park as a site for community fellowship and engagement. Mr. Sudduth spoke about how there used to be a swimming pool, a bowling alley and baseball field all at the park. The present park in Hobson City includes a playground, a field that could serve as a football field, and an old basketball court. The park that Mr. Sudduth spoke of in the interview was called the Booker T. Washington Park. I am not sure why this park dissolved but it was the nucleus of all community gatherings in the 50s and 60s.
Mr. Sudduth attended Miles College in Birmingham before working in a foundry in Anniston. While at the foundry he persuaded two of his friends to start a disc jockey group, which they called Stop Slicking the Wicked. The group developed their DJ skills before the disco wave so once disco became popular they were “prepared…ready for the game.” In between his time at Miles and his time as a foundry worker he landed an opportunity as a broadcaster. He stated that he “fulfilled the need for minority broadcasters…at that time FCC was opening doors for minorities to go into broadcasting.” That is how he landed a midnight DJ job at one of the top rock stations. Mr. Sudduth worked as a DJ for a number of years until he and his friends decided to open a record store. The store was located downtown on Noble Street and was the 2ndor 3rd black owned business in Anniston. To this day, Mr. Sudduth works as a DJ for the local radio station that serves the Hobson City area, WGHOM-am 1120 am. His group, Stop Slicking the Wicked, was one of the first to perform on WEN radio station, 107.7 which covered the entire state, from Mobile to Huntsville.
Mr. Sudduth continues to contribute to the historical richness of Hobson City, Alabama. He continues to leave a lasting mark by working at the only radio station that serves the Hobson City area. His presence and service helps preserve the history of this historical black town. Mr. Sudduth takes pride in being a professional, the son of a wonderful mother, a black business owner, a DJ, and a product of Hobson City. At the conclusion of our interview I asked Mr. Sudduth if he had any last thoughts that he wanted to share. He said “if you don’t see life giving you what you want, go out there and get it yourself. Design your life the way you want to design your life. Don’t let no one else design it for ya.” Those words exemplified how Mr. Sudduth lived and continues to live his life. He journeyed through life while making his own personal and professional choices and to this day he continues to contribute to the rich history of Hobson City.
The town established six goals in hopes of gaining access to human and capital resources, so that the town can return to a state of rich economic livelihood. Two of those goals are 1) recovering community histories and 2) achieving National Registry recognition. Collecting oral histories has accomplished the first goal and will hopefully help achieve the National Registry goal.
My oral history is the result of a class project from a course offered in the English Dept. at the University of Alabama taught by Dr. Michelle Bachelor Robinson. The class conducted a total of 14 oral histories with citizens of the town who were selected based on their contributions and significance to the town’s history. For my dissertation, I will conduct 2-3 more oral histories to add to that collection. Oral history plays a major role in gaining National Registry recognition because it recovers, rescues, and (re)inscribes (Royster and Kirsch) the stories that are not written in history books. Oral history allows others to hear and read about underrepresented stories that come out of towns such as Hobson City. It can be used to foster conversations across disciplines, across geographical locations, and across cultures on the importance of rescuing Historical Black Towns that have been marginalized, silenced, and dismissed in American history.
My dissertation goal is to create a digital space using a web platform that will house all of the research where I have assumed the role of either primary investigator or co-investigator for the entire Hobson City project. This space will serve as a digital preservation site for the town and will include the oral history projects, the Photovoice project and the cemetery and genealogy research. My target audiences for this digital space include the citizens of Hobson City, the HBTSA, The University of Alabama, and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who established the partnership with the HBTSA.
Featured image: “Tracks” by Kevin Moreira, CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.