Using Stories of Change-makers to Make Change

by Luke Hirst

The Heirs to a Fighting Tradition project started in 2005 with the mission to strengthen and broaden the base of North Carolina social justice organizers who have the skills, passion and capacity to work collectively for fundamental social transformation. To work toward this mission, we 14 collected oral histories of North Carolina organizers and shared them in peer learning and community building events. To quote from the interview of organizer Barbara Zelter, “This is the story of how a person gets radicalized.”

We engaged communities in organizational and leadership development trainings aimed at inspiring community action. We developed and supported grassroots community organizers through anti-oppression trainings and leadership development workshops, using lessons from the oral histories throughout. And now we are in the final stages of getting the oral histories archived with the Southern Oral History Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (You can see them online here:

We are thrilled that they are including these histories in their collection, one which has a rich diversity of voices rooted in social justice, including a project called “The Long Civil Rights Movement.” The other parts of the Heirs project have come to a close. However, we do not want these histories to just sit in the archives and never be heard from again. We are trying to find ways to be sure they continue to be used. Once the collection is finalized, we are planning to reach out to local organizers and academics to let them know about this resource. We also hope to issue a press release and have the opportunity to discuss them on a local radio program. We would love to hear from other folks if you have ideas or examples of how to get oral histories out of the archives and into the world.