ORAL HISTORY COLLECTIONS
The Fresno County Historical Society maintains a growing collection of oral histories that document the story of Fresno County and the Central Valley region through first person narratives and recorded conversations. In addition to the interviews conducted by its own staff and volunteers, the Society accepts donated interviews that enhance its collecting areas. Since the 1960s, the Fresno County Historical Society has gathered stories that can be used in conjunction with other sources of the past to create a complete and rich a picture of our Valley’s history. Please note that language and vernacular in oral histories are, by their nature, meant to reflect common usage of the day. Through this unedited method, historical accuracy is preserved rather than interpreted.
We ask people to tell us their stories and we listen when they do!
The Society’s Archives hold nearly 300 oral histories. The interviews cover a wide range of topics, including agriculture, ethnicity, aviation, World War II and local history and are recorded on audiotape. Many include transcripts and several collections have been digitized.
Stories of first and second generation Valley pioneers were recorded starting in the early 1960s. Over fifty interviews were obtained in the late 1970s as part of the CETA-funded Ethnic Oral History Project that focused on the African American and Mexican American communities in Fresno.
More recent additions to the Society’s oral history collection have been added since the late 1990s. The latest efforts have included recording interviews with pioneering Central Valley farmers and their families, seeking the stories of local African American laborers, farmers, business people and exploring the lives of those who lived and worked on the Kearney Estate. The Society has also received copies of collections from other Valley communities, including recordings from Tulare County featuring World War II veteran stories.
Hatayama Family, circa 1924. Pop Laval Foundation
LIST OF ORAL HISTORY COLLECTIONS AND PROJECTS
Years of Valor – Years of Hope: Tulare County and the War Years, 1941-1946
This project, funded in part by the California Council for the Humanities and conducted through the Tulare County Public Library, recorded stories from Tulare County residents during the war years. The collection includes homefront stories from the men, women and children of Tulare County towns, Japanese-American internees, and braceros. It also documents the experiences of World War II veterans and pilots who trained at Sequoia and Rankin Fields in Visalia and Tulare.
Fresno County Oral Histories 1964 – 1978
The Fresno County Historical Society houses a collection of oral histories recorded in the 1960s and 1970s. These recordings contain some rare memories, such as one woman’s vivid description of the 1895 Fresno Courthouse fire and a former policeman recalling the days of working his “beat” in the 1920s.
Ethnic Oral History Project, 1977-1978
Over fifty interviews were conducted in the late 1970s as part of the CETA-funded Ethnic Oral History Project. These oral histories with members of the African American and Mexican American communities profile life in Fresno and surrounding towns from pre-World War I through the 1970s.
Second Baptist Church of Fresno Missionary Society, circa 1910. Left to right: Ora Lewis, Leola Watkins, Nan Berry (front), unidentified (behind), Henrietta Bigby, unidentified, Elizabeth Jones, Lanny Hale, Hazel Jones Marshall, and Lucy Watkins.
William A. Bigby, Jr. Oral History, Fresno Historical Society Archives.
Fresno County Farm Bureau, 1983
In 2001, the Fresno County Farm Bureau donated copies of 28 taped oral histories recorded in 1983. These oral histories contain reminiscences from some of the leading pioneer farmers in this region.
Wintersteen Aviation, 1984-1987
Between 1984 and 1987, William Wintersteen conducted ten individual oral histories of pioneer aviators. These interviews contain memories of barnstorming, aerobatics, local airports, teaching at WWII flight schools, building airline companies, and performing stunt flying in Hollywood movies.
Kearney Ranch, 2003
As part of the Centennial Celebration of Kearney Mansion, a reunion was held in June 2003. Over thirty original residents of the Kearney Ranch, who lived in Kearney Park from the 1920s through the 1960s, attended the event. Seven interviews were conducted with original residents. These interviews highlight personal memories of the park and ranch town during the University of California years.
The African American experience in the Central Valley is explored through stories of longtime residents and community elders in the generation after the Ethnic Oral History Project recordings. Subjects include: African American migration to the California's Central Valley, social, political and cultural organizations in the community, the importance of religion in personal and community life, changes in neighborhoods and districts, discrimination, and personal remembrances of African American farming families, laborers, professional and business people.
Voices of Central Valley Agriculture, 1999 –2010
This continuing series details the agricultural history of the Central Valley. Nine interviews have been completed. Subjects include the following: the origins of Central Valley farmers and their families; the changing size of farm acreages; the leasing and buying of farmland; water and irrigation issues; insect control; cattle ranching; crops grown and the changes in the crop base; the changing economics of farming; and the effect of the Great Depression on Valley farms.
We know you will find each interview compelling and informative and deserving of admiration as you keep in mind these Oral Histories were created by high school students. Through these videos you will learn how both interviewers and interviewees view their beloved faith, the fifth largest in the world, and empathize with the misconceptions, celebrate the beautiful sentiments and, most importantly, learn what it means to be Sikh in America.
In Their Own Words: Sikh Youth Oral History Project, 2023
Funded by a “Humanities for All” grant from California Humanities, the Society, in conjunction with Nanak Mission and CMAC, began the process of recruiting teenaged Sikh students to learn to interview, film and produce oral histories of elders within their community. This is a highly unusual and exciting approach to Oral History recordings as generally, those asking the questions are historians or experts in the field of humanities. This time, however, we wanted the Sikh youth to have the opportunity to select their own subjects and to learn the valuable skills of how to craft an Oral History, complete, thanks to CMAC, with filming and editing their projects.