Oral history project offers firsthand recollections of Calvert's past

By Meghan Russell
Calvert Recorder
Thursday, September 30, 2010

"You still have all that to do today?"

(Brush, brush, brush.)

"No. . . . They's for tomorrow."

Like a soft rhythmic percussion, the sound of tobacco being stripped off a stick accompanies the few words of Betty Stewart, a black tenant farmer. Trying to get more information, an oral historian asks how she manages to perform this job from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with just a 15-minute lunch break, under such dusty conditions.

"We keep a pail of water on the stove, so that usually keeps the dust down."

(Brush, brush, brush.)

The interviewer asks whether she plays the radio, which cannot be heard in the recording, for enjoyment while she works.

"No, we only play music to keep the time or the date. That's the only reason we got the radio."

That interview with Stewart, who received 18 cents per tobacco stick, took place in 1991. Although she has since died, her oral record survives, thanks to the Calvert County Historic District Commission.

Calvert County residents will soon be able to see and hear the history of the county's land, people and tobacco farming practices in the 20th century, thanks to the recordings of Stewart and dozens of others.

The commission plans to transform old audio recordings, including the oral history interviews, into downloadable digital files.

The project will be paid for with a $14,000 grant from the U.S. National Park Service, said Kirsti Uunila, a historic preservation planner. Calvert will match 40 percent of the amount.

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