StoryCorps’ MobileBooth is in Birmingham for five weeks. Register now to tell your story at Railroad Park.

StoryCorps' MobileBooth is at Railroad Park from February 12-March 13.
StoryCorps’ MobileBooth is at Railroad Park from now ’till March 13. Photo by Hannah Chambley for Bham Now

For the next five weeks, from February 12-March 13, StoryCorps’ MobileBooth is in town. They’d love for you to reserve a spot today to tell your story. And even if you don’t want to tell your story, stop by Railroad Park and say hello, or check them out on the radio or online.

What is StoryCorps?

When you were in school, did you ever make a time capsule? We did, and it was so exciting to imagine that some kids, far off in the future, would find all the little treasures.

StoryCorps is like a time capsule: the treasures are stories of everyday Americans. Except instead of burying them in the ground, they share some on the air and archive the rest.

In fact, since they got started back in October 2003, they’ve collected over 65,000 interviews. Their interviews include folks from all 50 states, and this isn’t their first time in ‘Bama. Their aim is to increase empathy and a sense of shared humanity. What’s not to love about that?

Check out StoryCorps’ MobileBooth at Railroad Park

StoryCorps' MobileBooth Airstream at Railroad Park.
StoryCorps’ MobileBooth Airstream, at Railroad Park. Photo by Hannah Chambley for Bham Now

On a rainy, windy, February 12, StoryCorps’ MobileBooth rolled into Railroad Park. You can find it there for the next five weeks, until March 13. It’s an airstream trailer that houses a recording studio.

If you and a friend, family member, or colleague would like to go share your story, call to reserve your spot asap: 1-800-850-4406. Reservation slots open up today, February 13, and this line is available 24/7.

Mom Willie Mae and son Ronald Buford’s StoryCorps story: “support staff to the foot soldiers” in Kelly Ingram Park

Willie Mae Buford was one of Birmingham's first StoryCorps participants.
Willie Mae Buford, one of the first Birmingham StoryCorps participants. Photo by Hannah Chambley for Bham Now

StoryCorps invited mother-son duo Willie Mae and Ronald Buford to come share their story after a Black History Month event at Alabama Power. At that event, Mr. Buford shared the story of their “limited involvement in the Civil Rights movement.”

The story was that when Ron was a young lad, he and his mom Willie Mae Buford lived a few blocks from Kelly Ingram Park. In those days, this was known as “the colored park” downtown, and Linn Park was “the white park.” He considers that his mom was “support staff to the foot soldiers.” She became very involved in the Civil Rights movement, and he tagged along.

Ron Buford was one of the first StoryCorps participants at WBHM.
Ronald Buford told the story of his and his mom’s involvement in the Civil Rights struggle at Kelly Ingram Park. Photo by Hannah Chambley for Bham Now

“As a lad, I was in the park when the firehoses were being used. People were being hit. Women were knocked down. I saw a man get hit and drug down the sidewalk. Brutal brutal forceful water streams were being projected on people who were in Kelly Ingram Park trying to lawfully assemble for the purpose of showing resistance to the segregation that had taken place in Birmingham.”

Ronald Buford

It’s hard not to be moved, listening to StoryCorps’ stories

As the Bufords went on to tell more of their deeply moving story, I was transported to a different Birmingham, in a different time, when African Americans had to enter Pizitz through the Second Avenue entrance, or drink from “colored” water fountains, or stand in the “colored” section of the bus, even if there were empty seats in the “white” section. They told of the struggle to change all of this, and to make not only a different Birmingham, but a different world.

There is an intimacy to sitting and listening to fellow humans share these kinds of stories, and it is impossible not to be moved. I was grateful that they were willing to share parts of their story with us, and with the project.

Who’s behind StoryCorps, and what do they do with the stories?

Chuck Holmes was one of the folks at WBHM who helped bring the StoryCorps MobileBooth to Birmingham.
Chuck Holmes, Station Manager at WBHM and Sharron Swain, Content Producer at Bham Now. Chuck Holmes really is part of the team that brought StoryCorps here. I’m just a shameless public radio nerd. Photo by Hannah Chambley for Bham Now

WBHM, Birmingham’s National Public Radio (NPR) station, and StoryCorps are partnering on this project. Their goal is to gather interviews with Alabamians. WBHM will be airing some of these local interviews on the radio.

Station manager Chuck Holmes is happy to increase WBHM’s involvement with NPR organizations. Last time the MobileBooth was here was 2011.

“The best StoryCorps stories have two people whose lives have intersected in some sort of way. People who’ve faced a challenge or overcome something together. It’s a great way to engage with the community and let them come tell their stories. We picked Railroad Park because it’s one of the most diverse places around.”

Chuck Holmes, WBHM’s station manager

StoryCorps shares parts of select stories with the world. If you want to listen to some of StoryCorps’ work, check out their podcast, animated shorts, or books. They also archive interviews at the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center. Which pretty much guarantees that they’ll be discovered down the road, like a time capsule.

Having StoryCorps’ MobileBooth in town is a great opportunity for Birmingham. We can go tell stories, or encourage our friends, family members, or work colleagues to participate. We can learn more about this incredible project and discover a wealth of information we didn’t even know existed. And, we can listen to stories of people whose lives are different from ours and—maybe, just maybe—come away with a bit more compassion and understanding.

Sharron Swain
Sharron Swain

Writer, Interviewer + Adventurer | Telling stories to make a difference

Articles: 814