“Several give stark accounts of segregation-era racism,” The Gainesville Sun, by Jeff Schweers, March 12, 2014.

The Gainesville Sun highlighted SPOHP’s public history program, “The Florida Civil Rights Struggle: Past & Present,” on March 12. The program featured four panelists: John Due, Dan Harmeling, Vivian Filer, and Rosemary Florence, civil rights activists looking back on their experiences and motivations over lifetimes of social justice involvement, and included video footage of civil rights demonstrations as well as oral history interview excerpts from the African American History Project, read by University of Florida students. Reverend Milford Griner gave the invocation.

“We want them to know what we did, what we went through so it will not repeat itself,” Filer said. “If we sit back and watch … it will repeat itself in another way.”

-Vivian Filer, Panelist

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“UF students get immersed in the history of civil rights,” The Gainesville Sun, by Jeff Schweers, March 10, 2014.

In preparation for the upcoming public history program, “The Florida Civil Rights Struggle: Past & Present,” on Wednesday, March 12, the Gainesville Sun highlighted student and staff work in civil rights research and event organizing. Featuring interviews with staff members Sarah Blanc, Jessica Taylor, and Toni-Lee Maitland, as well as volunteer Jasmine Reynolds, the article focuses on the value of involving students in local history work.

“[Students] learn, it’s something that matters,” she said. “They know what they’re doing has a purpose.”

-Jessica Taylor

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Emily Nyren, an intern alumni from Spring 2013, has volunteered for the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program through summer and fall 2013, and now in her last semester at the University of Florida.  Emily writes for the Events and Public Programs Archive, recording SPOHP events in online features that include photo galleries and press coverage. She is also working on a new SPOHP media outreach effort to share information about the documentaries and workshops on SPOHP111, the program’s YouTube archive.

After taking a class with Dr. Ortiz in Fall 2011 on the Jim Crow Era South, Emily conducted an interview for the Alachua County African American History Project and was “hooked” on oral history! She took three classes with Dr. Ortiz, joined the internship program, and declared her history major. As an intern, she conducted and transcribed oral histories, and worked on the group documentary project about Holy Trinity Episcopal Church,  “The Fire Within.”

Emily decided to volunteer after her internship class completed to remain involved with SPOHP, contributing to projects she finds fulfilling and important. “SPOHP public programs seem to have more relevance than most,” she said. “They always focus around history and social activism, and that’s very different.”

We greatly appreciate Emily’s dedication to sharing the media and message related to SPOHP that focuses on social justice, community organizing, and local history. Her work provides support to key oral history projects and events.

Emily is studying History with a minor in International Development. She is looking forward to graduating in May and plans to backpack in Europe.

Please join us in thanking Emily for her outstanding volunteer service to the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program!

January 15, 2014, “Trouble the Water” Film Screening & Symposium
By Emily Nyren, Intern Alumni and Volunteer

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“Trouble the Water” Screening & Symposium Event Poster

 On January 15, 2014, SPOHP hosted renowned documentary filmmaker Tia Lessin for a film screening and symposium related to her award-winning film, “Trouble the Water.”  In the afternoon, the UF Center for Women’s Studies held a symposium discussion, and SPOHP held a screening of the documentary that evening. In the film, Kimberly Rivers Roberts and her husband Scott document the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina with their own original footage, as well as their struggle to recover in the following months.

Panel Event: Tia Lessin with Prof. Sharon Austin, Prof. Barbara Mennel, Prof. Churchill Roberts, and Prof. Judith Page in Ustler Hall

Panelists included the following UF faculty: Professor Sharon Wright Austin, Director of the African American Studies program and professor of political science, Professor and film scholar Barbara Mennel from the English Department, and Professor Churchill Roberts of the College of Journalism. Professor Judith W. Page, the Director of UF’s Center for Women’s Studies, moderated the panel. During the discussion, Dr. Austin described New Orleans before and after Hurricane Katrina. Before the storm: the city had the highest rate of childhood poverty and was the murder capital of the United States.

Background: Hurricane Katrina

Despite knowing this, New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin and other members of New Orleans local government did not provide public transportation for those without vehicles or the money needed to evacuate. The Ninth Ward, the neighborhood where the film’s heroes emerge, is the poorest section of New Orleans and subsequently, the recipient of the least amount of aid.In the film, Kimberly Rivers makes note of the lack of transportation and says, “If I had wheels I’d be gone too. I’m not leaving because I can’t afford it.” According to Dr. Austin, New Orleans’s political problems can be explained by the lack of a cohesive political regime. Because the mayor did not have a good relationship with other city leaders, political infighting occurred, causing miscommunication and lack of effective action.

As discussed during the panel by Barbara Mennel, “Trouble the Water” exposes the blatant contrast between on-the-ground footage like Kimberly’s and the biased media coverage. According to Mennel, the film documents the socioeconomic inequality faced by residents of the Ninth Ward while also displaying the forms of resistance used to expose the political power structure of the local and federal government. Kimberly’s neighbors looked to her for community and strength in a neighborhood that was already accustomed to waiting for help and change. At the end of the symposium, Lessin describes her purpose for traveling to Louisiana ten days after the storm. Wanting to know why the aid was so late, Lessin traveled to Alexandria, LA to film the return of Louisiana National Guardsmen from Baghdad. While there, Kimberly found Lessin’s camera crew and the two struck up a partnership that led to the creation of the film.

Screening Presentation: “Trouble the Water” with Tia Lessin in Pugh Hall

Justin Hosbey, a graduate coordinator for SPOHP’s African American History Project and a third year doctoral student in the Department of Anthropology at UF, introduced Lessin to the audience. Hosbey’s doctoral research focuses on post-Katrina New Orleans and the social consequences of the privatization of public schools and prisons. Many members of the audience showed agreement for Hosbey’s claim that calling Katrina a “natural disaster” is a misnomer because the human response to the hurricane is more responsible for the disastrous effects. Hosbey’s claim is proven after watching the film because it takes you through the many steps taken by Kimberly, Scott and their new friend Brian as they attempt to carve out a new life without help from anyone in power.

One of the most shocking aspects of the film was the blatant lack of response by the federal government and FEMA to the crisis. After the storm, President George W. Bush claimed that the U.S. could simultaneously defend the country via the War on Terror while also aiding victims of Hurricane Katrina. Evident in the film was the lack of help from the National Guard as it took days for them to arrive from far-away states like Oregon. 6,000 of Louisiana’s National Guard, including their high-water vehicles, were serving in Baghdad during Hurricane Katrina. This information caused vocal disbelief from the audience during the film. If the federal government had not sent the vast majority of Louisiana’s Guardsmen overseas, the citizens of New Orleans would have undoubtedly received more expedient help in the immediate hours after the storm instead of enduring 100 hours without food or water.

During the Q/A, Lessin explained the formatting of the film. Lessin wanted to mirror the way that PTSD occurs by continuously returning to the location of the disaster. Her method inspired deep empathy from the audience as well as outrage that so little help was provided for vulnerable groups, including the poor, elderly, and hospitalized.

Event Gallery

“Trouble the Water” illustrates the concern of New Orleans’ economic and political leaders for increasing tourism rather than rebuilding neighborhoods and communities that still need aid, almost ten years later. While certainly not the first or last time that a local and federal government has acted with the interests of the powerful and wealthy in mind, the situation of Katrina is particularly upsetting. At the end of the film, one and a half years after the storm, Kimberly says, “Here in New Orleans its like they’re preparing people for prison.”

The response to Hurricane Katrina, as depicted in “Trouble the Water,” is both an instructional how-to for governments that wish to perpetuate inequality for its citizens as well as an inspiring story of perseverance and mutual-aid for those like Kimberly and Scott who did not give up.


The “Trouble the Water” symposium and film screening was free and open to the public, organized by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program and co-sponsored by the Center for Humanities and the Public Sphere Rothman Endowment, African American Studies Program, UF Center for Women’s Studies, UF Smathers Libraries, Bob Graham Center for Public Service, Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations and College of Journalism and CommunicationsPleasant Plain United Methodist Church and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.

Mr. Don Obrist has been working with the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program since 2011, primarily on the Veterans History Project, with Ann Smith and a talented group of volunteers who hail from all walks of life. Don has interviewed military veterans from a broad range of eras, including World War II, Korea, and Vietnam-era service members.

Ann Smith, the coordinator of SPOHP’s Veterans’ Project, gives Don a large amount of the credit for the remarkable success of VHP’s interview work in the area of military and civilian service histories. In recent years, nearly 200 such interviews have been gathered and processed. “Don’s skills as an interviewer, his sense of humility and professionalism as well as his friendliness have opened many doors for UF Oral History in the veterans’ community,” said Smith.

SPOHP has always had a special mission in preserving the narratives of military veterans. Our founder, Samuel Proctor, was a WWII veteran who always emphasized the importance of using veterans’ narratives to teach students about the values of service and commitment in a cause greater than themselves. Don’s initiative and dedication allow us to continue working in the tradition that Sam Proctor started at the University of Florida.

Don moved to Gainesville after retiring from a 38-year career in consumer product sales in Syracuse, New York. He is a graduate of Syracuse University’s graduate business program and served six years in the New York Army National Guard 42nd Rainbow Division.

Please join us in thanking Mr. Don Obrist for his outstanding volunteer service to the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program!

Thank you, Mr. Clayton!
Thank you, Mr. Clayton!

Mr. Clayton has taken outstanding photographs of SPOHP public programs, symposia, and special events for several years running. A combat veteran of the army, he has also assisted SPOHP in expanding our connections in African American as well as veterans’ communities.

Originally interviewed for the African American History Project, Mr. Clayton shared his experiences of living in the South and service in the Vietnam War. He started working with the volunteer program as a photographer, and his work can be seen around the website, including the Events and Public Programs Archive.

We greatly appreciate Mr. Clayton’s enthusiasm and dedication to the program. His photographs of public programs and office life are unique snapshots of the community that supports the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, including interns, staff, volunteers, and community partners.

Mr. Clayton’s photography skills are well-known throughout the state. He can be reached for photos and events through his online contact page.

Please join us in thanking Mr. Cornelius Clayton for his outstanding volunteer service to the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program!