Terkel at the Packard

Curator's Note

Editors’ Note: The post was co-curated by Cary O'Dell and Christopher Sterling

Though the outside of the Library of Congress facility in rural Culpeper, Virginia, states National Audio-Visual Conservation Center, Packard Campus, the breadth of its holdings might not be fully conveyed via that sign. Yes, the Packard contains, in its mile long vaults, films and musical albums, but it also counts a staggering amount of broadcast material, television and TV’s too often overlooked older sibling—radio. Radio has arrived to the Packard on any variety of means: ¼” magnetic tape, CD’s and 16” electronic transcription discs. (There are approximately 150,000 discs in the Library’s NBC Collection alone.) And the Packard’s radio repository runs the gamut: from countdowns to newscasts to radio dramas to remarkable interviews involving some of the top thinkers and statesmen of the 20th century. Certainly both these descriptors can be used to describe both the guest and host of a radio show that first aired September 29, 1962. It’s between legendary Chicago oral historian Studs Terkel and author/activist/social critic James Baldwin. The Terkel-Baldwin interview is one of 7,000 items from the Studs Terkel Collection that is now jointly housed at the Chicago Historical Society and the Packard Campus.

Over the course of Terkel’s life, as a broadcaster and oral historian, this folksy renaissance man would talk to hundreds of people—from “regular folk” to the likes of Bob Dylan, Rosa Parks, Marlon Brando, Martin Luther King, Jr., Tennessee Williams, and Leonard Bernstein. His 15-minute chat with Baldwin is of particular interest in that they have a thoughtful discussion about topics that are usually primed for controversy. And their exchange stands in stark contrast to the current state of talk radio, and, increasingly, all political discussion. At one point Baldwin states to Terkel: I’m not mad at this country anymore; I’m very worried about it…. The country doesn’t know what is has done to Negroes. The country has no notion whatever--and this is disastrous—[in] what it has done to itself. They have yet to access the price they have paid, North and South, in keeping the Negro in his place. And from my point of view, it shows in every single level of our lives. Considering such measured eloquence, it’s not surprising that of the thousands of Terkel recordings in existence, and at the Library of Congress, this was the one highlighted by the Library’s National Recording Registry in 2005.

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