December 4, 2001 American Folklife Center Places Historic Voices of Day After December 7, 1941 on Web Site

Press Contact: Craig D'Ooge (202) 707-9189
Public Contact: American Folklife Center (202) 707-5510

On December 7, the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress will place on its Web site a selection of audio recordings made the day after the "day which will live in infamy." Featured in this online presentation are 12 selections, in MP3 format, recorded in Washington, D.C.; New York City; Burlington, North Carolina; and Dallas. The selections range in time from 30 seconds to 7 1/2 minutes. They will be available for listening online at

The recordings contain "man on the street" reactions to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. They were made on December 8, 1941, in response to a telegram that was sent to folklorists in 10 different localities around the United States by Alan Lomax, then head of the Library's Archive of American Folk Song, asking for reactions to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the declaration of war.

Among those who responded were distinguished folklore collectors such as John Henry Faulk, Lewis Jones, Fletcher Collins, John Lomax, and Charles Todd. Working primarily in New York City and Washington, D.C., they conducted interviews with salesmen, electricians, janitors, oilmen, cab drivers, housewives, students, soldiers, and physicians.

Young and old, men and women of all backgrounds, longtime residents and recent immigrants are represented in the recordings, expressing their opinions on the social, political, and military aspects of the Pearl Harbor attack.

When asked what he would be fighting for, one young draftee says, "For democracy, I reckon, or something like that. Our forefathers fought for us, so we'll fight for them."

A Polish veteran is passionate: "I am an American, not by birth but by choice, and I am mighty damn proud of it.... the United States never lost a war yet, and never gonna lose it."

A young man in Washington says, "We are many Negroes that are proud of the United States, and they will fight until the last man go down.... And after this war, I hope the Negroes will have much more freedom than they have now."

An 80-year-old woman from California, visiting her children in Dallas, is eloquent: "What a great pity that another nation should be added to those aggressors who choose to limit our freedom.... I find myself an old woman, hanging on to the tail of the world, trying to keep up. One thing that I am very sure of is that hatred is death, but love is light.... But when I look at the holocaust that is happening in the world today, I'm almost ready to let go. ..."

"Nothing replaces the recorded voice," says Center reference specialist Ann Hoog. "When you listen to those voices from 1941, along with the street noises in the background, you are better able to imagine the context of that particular time and place."

Alan Lomax was also folklore consultant for a Radio Research Project, already under way at the Library of Congress during 1941, assembling documentary recordings of Americans from around the country describing their experiences, singing their songs, and telling the stories of their own regions. The staff of the project 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. Included in the project were farmers, merchants, day laborers, and bankers from the Eastern Shore of Maryland; a traveling carnival that happened to set up near Washington; a migrant labor camp in southern California; and a folk festival in Asheville, North Carolina.

The recordings were sent to the Library of Congress for the Radio Research Project, and they were used to create a program that was broadcast on the Mutual Broadcasting System. The entire "December 8, 1941" portion of the recordings consists of 4 1/2 hours of interviews. The American Folklife Center would be grateful to have contact information from anyone who recognizes the voices in this online presentation.

"Since 1928, when the Archive of American Folk Song was established in the Music Division, the Library of Congress has collected the voices of ordinary Americans as an essential component of our national history," said Diane Kresh, director of Public Service Collections at the Library.

The American Folklife Center is currently engaged in a major effort to raise private funds to preserve this precious heritage. The Save Our Sounds project, being conducted jointly with the Smithsonian Institution, seeks funds to match a grant awarded by the National Park Service, as part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's "Save America's Treasures" Program. The "man on the street" interviews from December 8, 1941, are part of the Save Our Sounds project. (

On September 11, 2001, the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress once again called upon folklorists across the nation to document on audiotape the thoughts and feelings expressed by average citizens following a great national tragedy, the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.

"Audio field recordings are invaluable elements of our historical record," said Peggy Bulger, director of the American Folklife Center. "And telling our own stories in times of crisis helps us to manage our feelings."

The U.S. Congress has also acknowledged the importance of capturing the voices of Americans telling their stories by establishing the Veterans History Project through legislation sponsored by Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin and Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and passed in October 2000. The legislation instructs the American Folklife Center to collect the recorded oral histories of American war veterans, in order to preserve their memories in the national library and make them available for future generations. (

The American Folklife Center was created by Congress in 1976 and placed at the Library of Congress to "preserve and present American Folklife" through programs of research, documentation, archival presentation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, public programs, and training. The Center includes the Archive of Folk Culture, which was established in 1928 and is now one of the largest collections of ethnographic material from the United States and around the world.


PR 01-181
ISSN 0731-3527