On 29 May 1970, a white store manager shot and killed an African American teenager in Alexandria, Virginia. The shooting touched off days of rioting that led the city council to declare a partial state of emergency. Yet it also helped bring electoral victory to the first African American since Reconstruction to serve in a major city office.
Four decades later, MA student Laura O'Hara decided to explore these events for her graduate research seminar, Riots in History. Among the most intriguing sources she found were audio recordings of three emergency city council meetings, held in the days after the shooting. According to newspaper accounts, citizens used the meetings to express their thoughts about the shooting and the state of the city. The full recordings could yield crucial insights.
The problem? The recordings were created with a SoundScriber tape machine, a long-obsolete technology. Machines capable of playing the tapes are rare, and getting the original tapes transferred to a current format would cost hundreds of dollars.
O'Hara has now won funding from the Cosmos Club Foundation, which provides research grants to graduate students attending Washington area universities. As a Cosmos Scholar, O'Hara will be able to get the recordings transferred and the hearings transcribed. The Department of History and Art History is eager to know just what those Alexandrians said.
February 06, 2012