ROHO interviewer Ann Lage retires

Photo of Ann Lage, 2012ROHO interviewer and project director Ann Lage retired in 2011. Ann joined the ROHO staff in 1978 and has been responsible for so many interviews in the ROHO collection, as an interviewer and as a project director, that it would be impossible to overstate the importance of her contribution to oral history in general and to the Regional Oral History Office and The Bancroft Library in particular.

Among other things, she organized a pioneering project on the disability rights and independent living movement, which had Berkeley as one of its epicenters but quickly spread around the globe. This series of interviews provided the prototype for ROHO?s use of the web as an oral history resource for students, scholars, and activists. She also organized a project documenting the history of the Sierra Club.

In the spring, for Bancroft’s first-ever “Friends and Family” open house, we invited staff members to share their thoughts about particular interviews in ROHO?s collection of thousands of oral histories. Here is one of Ann?s reflections:

Paul Longmore’s oral history lends truth to the saying, “The personal is political,” and one could add, “and academic also.”

Paul’s polio at age seven left him with a significant physical disability. He relied on a wheel chair for mobility, a ventilator to breathe, and personal assistants for many tasks of daily living. His oral history explores his paths to understanding disability, first as a personal experience; then as the product of societal barriers comparable to the discrimination and stigmatization faced by members of other minority groups.

Paul was on the advisory committee of our Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement documentation project, which has recorded more than 150 in-depth oral histories with leaders of the movement nationwide and collected historical papers from movement organizations and participants.

As an oral historian, I have learned from each one of my interviewees, and Paul Longmore was no exception. I especially like Paul’s words in the last interview of this oral history, where he reflects on the positive contributions of disability to society (pp. 159-160):

There’s a really valuable insight there in the notion that in many respects most disabilities are just different, a different way of being in the world, a different way of experiencing your body, a different way of accessing reality, a different way of operating, that?s not inherently inferior. . . .

[Disability helps us] think about alternative ways of being a part of society . . . ways of looking at the world, looking at society, critiquing society, rebuilding society, building community, experiencing community, all that as things that we can positively offer to the rest of society.

by Linda Norton

ROHO remembers Gabrielle S. Morris, 1929-2013

Photo of Gabrielle Morris with Willa Baum, Regional Oral History Office, 1976Gabrielle Morris, who chronicled California state politics and community history during a thirty-year career at the Regional Oral History Office died on April 24 after battling ovarian cancer for more than a decade. She was eighty-three.

Gaby was ROHO’s specialist in state government history.  Coming to the office in 1970 to interview for the Earl Warren gubernatorial oral history project, she later planned and directed major projects on the gubernatorial administrations of Edmund Brown, Sr., Goodwin Knight, and Ronald Reagan.  Her legacy in this area includes well over two hundred in-depth oral histories documenting critical aspects of government administration and policy, from fiscal management, to land use and water resources, to health, education, and welfare issues.  Gaby’s other subject area at ROHO was social and community history.  She was responsible for a remarkable series of forty oral histories examining the development and impact of Bay Area philanthropic foundations, from 1936 to 1980, as well as a number of memoirs of volunteer community leaders.

Although she interviewed state and national leaders, including U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, Governor Edmund G. “Pat” Brown and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, perhaps her favorite project was one recording the life experiences of ten outstanding African-American graduates of the University of California from 1914 to 1960.  This group included educator Ida Louise Jackson, Oakland mayor Lionel Wilson, California Supreme Court justice Allen Broussard, and Olympic gold medalist Archie Williams.  Her book, Head of the Class: An Oral History of African-American Achievement in Higher Education (1995 Twayne Publishers), used excerpts of those interviews to portray the life of black college students in a predominantly white public university, before the sweeping social changes of the civil rights era.

Gaby, a 1950 graduate of Connecticut College in economics, got her first professional experience as an historian for the US Air Force, when she documented the 59th Air Depot Wing at Burtonwood Air Force Base in England shortly after the Berlin Airlift. After returning to Connecticut, she and a college friend piled their belongings into a station wagon and headed for California in 1954. After a meandering six-week journey fueled by peanut butter and apples, they arrived in San Francisco on a rainy November night, stopping first at the home of a friend where Gaby met Frank Morris, who she would marry two years later.  They lived in Berkeley for fifty-six years.

Like many women of her era, Gaby put her career on hold while she raised three children and immersed herself in the PTA, League of Women of Voters and local politics in Berkeley.  ROHO soon became the beneficiary of all of her community experience, political savvy, and wisdom.

Gaby is survived by her husband, children, Catherine, Patrick and William, beloved granddaughters, Becca and Sara, and her cat, Duster, who will be colder now without her favorite lap.

Donations in Gaby’s memory can be made to Connecticut College, Friends of the Berkeley Public Library or the Alameda County Community Food Bank. Plans for a memorial service are pending.

–by the Morris family and Ann Lage

Family photo of Gabrielle Morris, 2007