Missouri State University
The Journey Continues
African Americans in the Ozarks

Making “Betty’s Story”: Mothers and children

Vintage portrait of a mother and child
Photo from the Katherine Lederer Ozarks African American History Collection, Missouri State University

When we interviewed Mrs. Ransom, motherhood emerged as a strong theme, not only because she’s a mother of eight, but also because of the way she talked about her own mother and her older sister, who played a maternal role in her life.

The story she told us about realizing she wouldn’t be welcomed at the park is haunting, partly because of the matter-of-fact way her mother tells her, “When they say ‘everyone,’ they don’t mean us.”

It helped me understand that for mothers raising children during segregation, these conversations must have been common, part of the responsibility a mother has for helping her child deal with hard truths. And while life presents enough hard truths on its own, teaching a child to navigate the meanness of segregation must’ve kicked this role into overdrive.

In editing the video, I chose to amplify this theme by visually representing its application to many mothers and children across generations. Missouri State’s Katherine Lederer Collection was a critical source in making these visuals happen because, included in Dr. Lederer’s collection of photographs and artifacts related to Springfield’s African American community, there are a number of beautiful portraits of children.

There were many more available than I could use in “Betty’s Story,” and in reviewing them, I gained new understanding of countless conversations between mothers and their children, conversations that must have often concluded: “When they say ‘everyone,’ they don’t mean us.”

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Missouri Humanities Council grant supports The Journey Continues

Lucie Amberg, a Missouri State communications specialist, per course faculty member and graduate student pursuing a Master of Professional Studies degree, recently wrote a successful grant application to the Missouri Humanities Council for an interdisciplinary, multimedia project on African-American history in the Ozarks.

Stories that are waiting to be told

This project began with sociology faculty members Lyle Foster and Tim Knapp, who completed a series of KSMU interviews last spring. Amberg joined the project as a producer when Foster and Knapp became interested in expanding it into video and other forms of media.

“I have always been interested in people and their stories,” Amberg said. “And these stories are right there, waiting to be told. The exciting thing about digital media is that we can share people’s experiences in their own words.”

Documenting history of African-Americans in the Ozarks

The project is a living archive; Amberg and her research partners are developing a website that details the purpose of the project — to document and share the experiences of African-Americans in the Ozarks. The website features specific people, interviews, events and places illustrated through videos, articles and audio recordings.

When the first version releases, Amberg hopes other contributors will add their own stories and experiences to this living archive: “If you want to know what an experience was like for someone, you have to ask them — and then you have to listen. Even a situation you feel you know, you never truly understand until you hear from someone who has lived it.”

Amberg credits successful collaboration between the research partners with drawing out these stories. “As a producer, you know that the interview can only be as good as the interviewer. It’s incumbent on the interviewer to listen deeply and create an atmosphere of openness. Lyle did this beautifully, which is why the footage is so compelling.”

Grant pays for production costs

The Missouri Humanities Council grant is a critical supporter in making the technological pieces of this project happen.

“The council was very generous in awarding us money,” Amberg said. “The grant has allowed us to hire an extra editor and paid for a few other costs associated with getting the videos and website up and running.”

Workshop gives boost needed to apply   

“As part of the grant, we have public interaction around this piece,” Amberg said. “We are currently talking about events timed with African American Heritage Month and the Collaborative Diversity Conference.”Although Amberg had no experience with the grant process, she sensed this project held potential for grant-funded support. In May, she attended a grant-writing workshop the College of Arts and Letters hosted with the College of Humanities and Public Affairs, which pointed her in the direction of the Missouri Humanities Council grant.

Blending academic studies with professional life

Amberg will graduate in 2017. From the experience she has gained from the MPS program, Amberg said she feels she has furthered her professional development.

“I’m able to customize my studies into my professional world, which gives me the opportunity to work on producing and writing for new media — advancing my professional skills and experience.”

This article was written by Trysta Herzog and originally appeared on the media, journalism and film blog.

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