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A Man Tapes His Town

Eddie interviews Oxford resident, Martha Hammie.
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Eddie interviews Oxford resident, Martha Hammie.

Eddie McCoy is an unlikely historian and an unlikely subject for Lost and Found Sound. He never went to college. He grew up and lived his whole life in Oxford, North Carolina -- a tobacco town of some 10,000 people. He spent years running a janitorial business. But Eddie is a man who needs to stay busy. So, when he was injured in a car accident and couldn’t keep working, he had to figure out something to do.

A doctor’s suggestion led him to become interested in local history. He found an old tape recorder and began conducting interviews with some of the older residents of the county. Since then, Eddie’s recordings have become a unique window into African-American life in a small corner of the South. With more than 140 interviews, Eddie documented life in the Oxford area as far back as the end of the 19th century. He’s heard stories from teachers, janitors, railroad workers, doctors and sharecroppers. In this piece, Lost and Found Sound gets a few samples of his work.

During the hayday of the Civil Rights movement, Oxford’s African-American residents witnessed white terrorism and an active branch of the Klu Klux Clan. It’s a time period Eddie experienced and talks about with his interview subjects. But his oral histories also head to more basic subjects, like the joys one woman felt when she used a new invention called a washing machine.

McCoy’s interviews have become part of the Southern Oral History Project at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There, Professor David S. Cecelski says that Eddie’s ease interviewing people in his own community has allowed him to hear more than outsiders might. He jokes with his subjects, cajoles them and sympathizes with them. And he ends up with stories that no formally trained historian with a doctorate would be likely to get.

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