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Collection After the Day of Infamy: "Man-on-the-Street" Interviews Following the Attack on Pearl Harbor

About this Collection

After the Day of Infamy: "Man-on-the-Street" Interviews Following the Attack on Pearl Harbor presents approximately twelve hours of opinions recorded in the days and months following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, from more than two hundred individuals in cities and towns across the United States. On December 8, 1941 (the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor), Alan Lomax, then "assistant in charge" of the Archive of American Folk Song (now the American Folklife Center archive), sent a telegram to fieldworkers in ten different localities across the United States, asking them to collect "man-on-the-street" reactions of ordinary Americans to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the subsequent declaration of war by the United States. A second series of interviews, called "Dear Mr. President," was recorded in January and February 1942. Both collections are included in this presentation. They feature a wide diversity of opinion concerning the war and other social and political issues of the day, such as racial prejudice and labor disputes. The result is a portrait of everyday life in America as the United States entered World War II.

Pete Seeger playing banjo, 1948. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, New York World Telegram and Sun Newspaper Collection. Photograph by Mel Kirkwood. Reproduction Number LC-USZ62-124417.

The 1941 recordings were made as a part of the the Library of Congress' Radio Research Project. A portion of this project aimed to create documentary recordings of Americans from around the country who described their lives, sang their songs, and told the stories of their own regions. The project's staff believed that most commercial radio broadcasts of the day were dominated by programs created in the great urban centers and that these programs failed to reflect regional culture, local talent, and, in particular, the voices of the people speaking in their own words. Alan Lomax was serving as folklore consultant for the project when he sent the December 8, 1941 telegram, asking fieldworkers to collect "man-on-the-street" reactions. This request resulted in approximately four and one half hours of recordings that were used to create a fifteen-minute radio program for the Mutual Broadcasting System.

A second set of recordings, in which the interviewees were asked to address their thoughts and opinions on the attack and the declaration of war directly to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was made under the auspices of the Office of Emergency Management in January and February 1942. These recordings total approximately seven and one half hours and were also used to create a radio program, entitled "Dear Mr. President," which was broadcast in May 1942. Pete Seeger and Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly) recorded original songs for the "Dear Mr. President" interviews. Included in this presentation are Pete Seeger's "Dear Mr. President" and "The Martins and Coys."

In most cases, the recordings were digitized by Library of Congress staff directly from the discs on which they were originally recorded. The only editing redacted interviewee names from several recordings and removed Leadbelly's two songs for which permissions have not yet been received. Otherwise, the recordings are presented as they were originally recorded.

This online presentation includes one essay: "Making and Maintaining the Original Recordings." Also included are biographies of the fieldworkers who conducted and arranged the interviews, complete transcripts of the interviews, related manuscripts, and original disc sleeves.

This online presentation also includes a set of interviews conducted in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. During the course of these interviews, Library interviewers advised some interviewees that the interviews would not be broadcast. Presumably, the agreement to safeguard the identity of these persons was intentional, as some of the interviewees worked for the Federal government and/or otherwise required anonymity in order to participate. For this reason, the Library has edited the Washington, D.C., audiotapes and transcripts to remove interviewee names.

This presentation was made possible with the generous support of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute and the New Deal Network.