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 home >> Civil Rights History Project >> Survey of Collections and Repositories >> Collections >> Collection Record

The Civil Rights History Project: Survey of Collections and Repositories

Charles Walton papers

Repository: Chicago Public Library. Woodson Regional Library, Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection

Collection Description (Extant): Born in Alabama, Charles Walton came to Chicago as a child. He became a jazz drummer immediately after World War II. He went on to direct the music education program at Malcolm X College and served as an officer in American Federation of Musicians Local 10-208. In his "retirement," he worked relentlessly to document Chicago's black music history, conducting at least 343 interviews with 179 interviewees. The interviews were part of his research for his unfinished book, Bronzeville Conversations. His papers include drafts of his book, the oral history interviews, essays, rare documents and photographs. Subjects include performers, venues, business relationships and the history of American Federation of Musicians locals in Chicago.

[...] In addition to his work as a musician and educator, over the course of two decades Walton conducted oral history interviews with close to 200 musicians, club owners, politicians, promoters, producers and anyone associated with Bronzeville jazz and blues. His method was to engage interviewees in conversation, which would proceed as a discussion between two people with a vast, shared body of knowledge. In these interviews, Walton interrogated the structure of jazz of Chicago: the economic relations of the music, the race relations, the creation and significance of jazz spaces and clubs like the Sutherland Lounge and the DuSable Hotel, and the interactions among club owners, bookers and the union. He traced a network of individuals and institutions that defined an era during which African American-owned cultural institutions thrived. Although restrictive covenant laws helped to form Bronzeville, it was also the space in which, "partly from necessity and partly by choice," African Americans in Chicago developed their own churches, businesses and recreation.

[...] The Charles Walton Papers have been arranged in seven separate series: Bronzeville Conversations, Interviews, Subject Research Files, Published Essays, Serials, Musical Recordings and Photographs. This is not a traditional personal collection but rather, a research collection about music. The papers are thus arranged according to Walton's unfinished book, Bronzeville Conversations. The first series includes the components that would have been published and is followed by the evidentiary material that related to this project, as well as components published elsewhere.

Origin Info: Donation of Charles Walton in 1996. Additional donations made by Lorraine Walton in 2009, 2010.

Access Copy Note: No restrictions.

[...] Series 2: Interviews, 1970s-1990s

This series includes an inventory of interviews, transcripts of interviews and 343 compact disc (CD) recordings of oral history interviews with 179 subjects. The interviews were originally recorded, from the early 1970s to the early 2000s, on cassettes, minicassettes and VHS tapes. They were often recorded in jazz clubs and crowded spaces, and are not always clear recordings. In addition, the oral history interviews do not define terms, people or places, as they were usually informal and between professional acquaintances. Only a small percentage of the interviews have been transcribed thus far.

The tapes were transferred to more stable formats from fall 2009 to summer 2010, and efforts were made to improve sound quality. Each interviewee has a unique numerical designation (eg, OH 010) but in many cases, there are multiple compact discs. In those cases, each compact disc is foldered separately with a subfolder number. The number of CDs does not necessarily reflect the number of interviews, as some interviews exceeded the capacity of one CD. When dates of interviews were written on the original tape, this has been indicated in the finding aid. In most cases, there are no dates indicated; therefore, the order of the CDs does not represent the order in which interviews were conducted. The keyword descriptions that appear in the list of interviewees were written by Charles Walton.

Date(s): 1928-2005

Digital Status: Yes

Existing IDs: 1996/05

Extent: 28 linear feet (36 archival boxes)

Finding Aid URL: External Link

Language: English

Related Archival Items: Related papers at the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection include the Timuel D. Black Papers, the Charles A. Davis Papers, Walter Dyett Papers and the Theodore Charles Stone Papers.

Interviewees: Josephine Artus, Al Benson, Oscar Brown, Jr., Margaret Burroughs, Gloria Coleman, Jesse Coopwood, Lucky Cordell, Oscar DePriest IV, Earl B. Dickerson, Tommy Jones, Marshall Korshack, Rev. James Mack, Sid McCoy, Larry Smith, Tom (Hank) Todd, Dave Young

Rights (CRHP): Contact the repository which holds the collection for information on rights


African American labor union members
African American musicians
African American radio broadcasters
African Americans--Civil rights--Illinois
American Federation of Musicians
Blues (Music)
Illinois--Race relations


Sound recordings


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   September 26, 2018
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