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Guide for Interviewing Relatives about the Civil Rights Movement

Tips, interview questions, and steps for saving to FamilySearch memories

The Civil Rights Movement began in 1954. It is considered to have ended when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was ratified in 1968, outlawing institutionalized racial discrimination, disenfranchisement, and racial segregation in the United States.

As we continue to strive for racial equality throughout the world, it can be helpful to reflect on the progress that’s been made as we look to meet our present-day challenges. Here is a guide of Civil Rights Movement discussion tips and questions for interviewing others or for personal reflection.

Tips to consider

Don’t assume all stories will be positive or easy to listen to. Be prepared for the emotions that can arise when discussing a very difficult but productive time in history.

Don’t describe racism as an issue of the “past.” Strides for racial equality continue today while discrimination and hate are not yet defeated. Also in 2020, NAACP leaders and President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints together called for increased unity to end systemic racism and individual prejudice: 

“Unitedly we declare that the answers to racism, prejudice, discrimination, and hate will not come from government or law enforcement alone. Solutions will come as we open our hearts to those whose lives are different than our own, as we work to build bonds of genuine friendship, and as we see each other as the brothers and sisters we are—for we are all children of a loving God.”

Civil rights movement leaders at the Lincoln Memorial

Keep an open mind while listening. You never know what to expect when asking someone about his or her personal experiences. Try to keep an open mind while listening, and look for key takeaways. If there is disagreement, realize that while you can’t control others, you can control what you learn and how you respond.

Be willing to do more research. Often people don’t remember all of the facts correctly or have been misinformed themselves. Keep a list to fact-check after discussions and interviews. Offer to share your findings.

Remember that no one group knows everything about the civil rights movement. The Civil Rights Movement has affected every community in the United States and beyond in some way.

Don’t ignore concerns about leaders from that time period. No leaders or individuals from the Civil Rights Movement were perfect, but it’s okay to focus on their imperfect yet honorable contributions. Realize that they were humans just like us. Recognize that public figures were held to high standards and scrutinized more than the average community member.

The signing of the 1964 civil rights act.

Civil Rights Questions to Ask Your Relatives:

  1. How old were you during the Civil Rights Movement?
  2. Where were you living at the time?
  3. What was your community like?
  4. Did you experience segregation? What was that like? 
  5. What was school like?
  6. What was your family situation?
  7. How did you receive local and national news at the time?
  8. What do you remember about the media coverage of the Civil Rights Movement?
  9. How did you feel about the Civil Rights Movement, and how has that changed today?
  10. What else would you like our generation or the next generation to understand?
  11. When did you first vote?
  12. Who were the prominent government leaders? What do you remember about them?
  13. Who were the important black national figures in this time?
  14. What role did women play in the movement?
  15. Who was fighting for segregation?
  16. Who was fighting against segregation?  
  17. How has the Civil Rights Movement affected your life?
  18. Is there anything else you would like to add? 
A girl talks to her grandparents about the civil rights movement.

Save your Civil Rights Movement interviews with FamilySearch

Saving your oral interviews to FamilySearch is easier than ever! You can use the desktop version of FamilySearch or the FamilySearch Memories app.

Steps (website)

You can upload audio files of up to 15 MB (or about 15-minute increments) from either Memories or Tree. 

Here’s how you upload an audio file from the Memories section:

  1. After signing in to FamilySearch, go to the menu bar at the top of the screen, and click Memories.
  2. In the drop-down, click Gallery.
  3. Click the plus sign (+) in the green circle.
  4. Drag and drop content from your computer to the screen, or click Choose Files
  5. Tag the file to the person in Family Tree that the audio file is either from or about.

Steps (mobile app)

You can record new audio files of up to 15 MB (or about 15-minute increments) and upload them using both the Family Tree and Memories mobile apps. Neither app currently has an option to add prerecorded files. If you already have audio files, upload them using the FamilySearch website.

Here is how you can use the Memories app to record and upload an audio file:

  1. In the Memories mobile app, tap +.
  2. Tap Record Audio.
  3. Tap Start.
  4. Record the answer.
  5. Tap Done.
  6. Enter a title, and tap OK.
  7. Tag the file to the person in Family Tree that the audio file is either from or about.

Refer to our article Using FamilySearch Apps to Record Oral Histories for pictures and step-by-step instructions. 

Source: Family Search

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