Before the Greek alphabet, cuneiform or hieroglyphics there was oral tradition. Stories told over campfires were man's earliest form of entertainment, and the tales often were laced with historical anecdotes.
Now, the Harlem Historical Preservation Commission is introducing a modernized version of oral tradition with Tall Tales: Stories, Lives and Memories of Harlem.
A group of older Harlem natives are telling their stories of Harlem and its history to be preserved for posterity on DVD.
"What I want to do is record the story of Harlem," said Ann Blalock, the chairwoman of the city's Historic Preservation Commission. "These people are not people that will walk up to you and tell you all they know about Harlem. You have to be around them for a while and talk to them. Then these stories start coming out."
Blalock is heading the project in which she records four people at a time telling their stories of their hometown at the Harlem Library. After the project is complete, she plans to solicit help from Harlem Middle School's media personnel to edit the sessions and create two DVDs - one for Harlem City Hall and another for the Harlem Library, where the public can check it out.
Lucy Ann Singleton (from left), Raymond Cook, Jack Hatcher and Polly Clary are the featured speakers for a session of Tall Tales at the Harlem Library on Nov. 29.
Photo by Donnie Fetter
The second session was Saturday, and the first session was held last month. Another session is scheduled for January, and each one features prominent Harlem figures such as Francis Tracey, Mary Sanders and the Clary family.
"What we wanted to do was not necessarily tell historical facts," Blalock said. "What we did last time was Francis Tracey telling us about how he founded Tracey-Lucky Pecan Company. His father was a candy salesman and was hit by a car. Francis began selling candy in his father's place to support his family and found out a lot of these candy companies needed a good source of pecans. That led to his getting into the pecan business, and it was told from his point of view, not a technical point of view."
Blalock, a retired teacher, and her husband, Harlem City Councilman Tom Blalock, moved to Harlem from Martinez five years ago and was immediately struck by the city's strong sense of community. She said that close-knit feeling lends itself to good storytelling.
"You could never get a sense of community in Martinez or Evans," she said. "It's just one big mass of people. Here you have people that have been friends their entire lives. When they get together and start reliving old times it can turn into something pretty special."
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