Highschoolers and historical society combine effort to preserve history of blacks in Mesa, AZ
This is so cool. This Mesa, Arizona oral history project is a cooperative effort of Westwood High School and the Mesa Historical Society. Why is it cool? Because I know Sarah Moorehead, who’s named in the article. She’s the chairwoman of the oral history committee for the historical society. All the interviewees live in the Escobedo housing project, which was originally built to house WW2 soldiers, and then later became a public housing project. The city-owned property will be sold, and residents will move. But first, their stories and memories of the place will be preserved.
Here’s what Sarah Moorehead has to say about the oral history project:
Now that the city housing is closing, Moorehead said it’s become more urgent to preserve its history, because departing residents are taking their memories with them.
“When you have current history, there’s a limited number of ways to really save that history. Personal experiences are a very important part of that,” she said.
So often, documented city history focuses on leaders, often white males.
“But they have little to say about the average person and what the everyday life of an average person was like,” she said. “Our society is so much more than what our political leaders are doing.”
Wardean Corder, 77, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1968, said she was happy to participate in the project.
“I love the idea of being heard and not seen,” she said.
Why’s that cool? In the cage match between audio and video interviews, this is a knock out blow for audio only. (Okay, so maybe it isn’t a cage match. You get the idea.)
But wait, there’s more. Each interview delves into one personal slice of history. For the interviewer, it makes History (captial H) personal. Or at least, accessible.
Melissa Crandall (age 16) interviewed Ms. Corder. Here’s what the highschooler reflected on the experience:
“It was really fascinating to interview her,” she said. “She told me about her childhood in Mississippi and then what it was like to come to Mesa. She told me about her experiences during the civil rights movement. I had never heard a personal account of that before. It was so interesting.”
I’m so pleased to hear that memories of the escobedo projects are being preserved. I live in Phoenix now but I grew up in the ‘barrio’ as we affectionatly called it, and I recently visited mesa to show my daughters where I grew up. I was so shocked to see all the windows boarded up. It was like a ghost town and I saw my own ghosts stirring in the wind. So many memories came rushing back, it was all so bitter sweet. I was also a student at Westwood High school and I was touched that my school was part of this important project. So many lives have been impacted by the experience of living in the neighborhood and it would be a shame to forget them or let them be forgotten. Thank you for remembering us.