Behind the Veil

Interviews, photographs, and oral history project files chronicling African-American life in the American South with a particular focus on the era of legal segregation and its immediate aftermath from the 1890s to the 1970s More »

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About the Digital Collection

The Behind the Veil digital collection was made possible through grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The Behind the Veil Oral History Project was undertaken by Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies from 1993 to 1995. Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the primary purpose of this documentary project was to record and preserve the living memory of African American life in the American South during the age of legal segregation and its immediate aftermath, from the 1890s to the 1970s. Over the span of three summers, teams of researchers conducted oral history interviews with more than one thousand Black elder who remembered the period known as “Jim Crow.” The transcribed recordings of the interviews in this collection capture the vivid personalities, poignant personal stories, and behind-the-scenes decision-making that bring to life the African American experience in the South during the late-19th to mid-20th century. Interviews were conducted in close to 20 locales (urban and rural) across 12 states. It is the largest single collection of Jim Crow oral histories in the world.


This digital collection also contains photographic slides created by the research team from original images shared with them by interviewees. These images capture individual and family portraits, community events and institutions, and document the everyday lives of the interview participants and their extended networks. Additionally, the collection’s project records contain interview notes and detailed documentation on the execution of the project.

The North Carolina recordings were all digitized as part of the Triangle Research Libraries Network’s project “Content, Context and Capacity: A Collaborative Large-Scale Digitization Project on the Long Civil Rights Movement in North Carolina.” (2010-2012) Other collections from that project are also accessible as Duke digital collections. The remaining parts of the collection were digitized as part of the “Documenting African American Life in the Jim Crow South: Digital Access to the Behind the Veil Project Archive” funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (2021-2024).

The entire collection is housed in the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture, in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University.


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Source Collection

This digital collection comprises selected materials from the following archival collection at David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library:

Behind the Veil: Documenting African American Life in the Jim Crow South interviews, photographs, and project records circa 1864-2011, bulk 1990-1999

Collection #RL.00170 | 87 Linear Feet (122 boxes; 4 oversize folders)

ABSTRACT
The Behind the Veil: Documenting African-American Life in the Jim Crow South project was undertaken by Duke University's Center for Documentary Studies from 1990-2005. Its goal was to record and preserve African American experiences in the American South from the 1890s to the 1950s. Materials in the Behind the Veil project collection date from about 1864 to 2011, with the bulk dating from the 1990s; earlier dates represent original image content rather than the reproduction date. The collection comprises over 1200 oral history interviews with associated transcripts and administrative files, several thousand historic and contemporary photographs, and project records, which include paper and electronic administrative files and audiovisual recordings. Oral histories were conducted in 19 locations, chiefly in the South; topics represented in these recordings include childhood, religion, education, politics, celebrations and other events, family histories, work histories and military service, and details about segregation and the effects of racism in the South. Acquired as part of the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African American History and Culture at Duke University.

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From Our Blog

Two Years In: The Finish Line Approaches for Digitizing Behind the Veil

by Giao Baker 7 months ago

Behind the Veil Digitization intern Sarah Waugh and Digital Collections intern Kristina Zapfe’s efforts over the past year have focused on quality control of interviews transcribed by Rev.com. This post was authored by Sarah Waugh and Kristina Zapfe. Introduction The Digital Production Center (DPC) is proud to announce that we have reached a milestone in…
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