Update on the Returned Peace Corps Oral History Project

One of the many hidden treasures of Peace Corps history is the RPCV Oral History Collection at the JFK Library, begun more than seventeen years ago by RPCV Robert Klein,(Ghana I). Bob interviewed members of Ghana I for his book, Being First: An Informal History of the Early Peace Corps Robert Klein (Ghana 1961-63) Wheatmark, 2010* and realized how valuable those taped interviews were. He decided to expand to interview as many RPCVs as possible, at his own expense. For years, he crisscrossed the country, interviewing RPCVs and teaching them how to interview others. The JFK Library agreed to archive the tapes.

Bob Klein died in 2012 and his work was carried on by his good friend, Phyllis Noble.  Sadly, Phyllis, too has passed on.  But, the JFK Oral History project lives on.  RPCVs have continued this incredibly important work.  Now they have affiliated with the National Peace Corps Association. Here is their latest update:

Be interviewed

  • The project invites Returned Peace Corps Volunteers to be interviewed.  
  • “The toughest job you ever loved” is a slogan that resonates with many Volunteers. There are good days. There are great days. There are bad days. Some volunteers want to stay in their host countries forever; others can’t wait to come home. We all have stories to tell.  
  • Please contact us if you’d like to be interviewed. We will connect you with an interviewer near you. Interviews must be conducted in person to assure the recording meets technical standards. Interviews average sixty to ninety minutes.
  • Contact: https://www.peacecorpsoralhistory.org/cpages/get-involvedor sign up here.

There are two web pages on the NPCA web site:  Here are the links  Project: https://www.peacecorpsoralhistory.org/cpages/home      and https://www.peacecorpsconnect.org/companies/rpcv-oral-history-archive-project

Become an interviewer

  • The first step is to be interviewed yourself.
  • We are eager to expand the network of volunteer RCPV interviewers. There are currently 14 active interviewers and we need more.
  • Interviewers are trained and supported by the RPCV Oral History Archives Project Guide. They follow established oral history interviewing guidelines to ensure that highest quality standards are consistently applied. The required recording technology assures that the digitized data will be preserved and accessible over time. The Guide is maintained by the project leadership team in conjunction with archivists at the JFK Presidential Library.
  • Volunteers procure their own recorders and cover minor costs of supplies and any travel expenses they choose to incur.  
  • Contact: https://www.peacecorpsoralhistory.org/cpages/get-involved or sign up here.

If you have any problems with the links, please note that problem in the comment section.  (Any difficulties with the links are my errors. The RPCVs working with the project are just great! They are working with me to get the links correct.)

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  • The Ghana I story or oral histories was lodged in the JFK Library in Boston that I visited after a reunion of Ghana One RPCVs in Gloucester in 2001 at the Newell Flather family summer home. Impressive was the building and the collections that includes a floor of Ernest Hemingway books and paintings and papers (because his widow and Jackie Kennedy were friends). Robert Klein and after his death Phyllis Noble did a fine job on the Peace Corps materials.

  • I was one of the later RPCVs that Bob K interviewed. He was visiting New Mexico from his new semi-retirement home in Arizona, and I was able to find him some accommodations during his two visits. I had had the opportunity twice before, to talk to Bob, first as a serving Ghana-1 teacher, and then when he was serving in a subsequent staff job in East Africa. I’m still wondering just how these taped interviews will be utilized, in the ongoing story of that “Towering Task”, given to ordinary Americans: the Peace Corps.

    Looking, now with the benefit of years, and experienced eyes, at the declining civility of the country, irrational violence and psychosis, minority problems reemerging, the crumbling and coarsening of America’s political discourse, the fading commitment of the gov’t to fixing anything, and apparently committed mainly to military adventuring and massive fiscal deficits palmed off on hapless future generations. I’m left with the thought: “Where are you John Kennedy, when we need you !? ” Or that memorable line (Ed Mycue, you’ll love it) from the Simon + Garfunkle song: “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio, while a Nation turns it’s lonely eyes to you ? ”

    A time for national rebirth ?? Courageous, even radical solutions ? John Turnbull Lower Canoncito, New Mexico (Ghana-3 Geology and Nyasaland/Malawi-2 Geology Assignment, 1963, -64, -65)

    • Yes John, I feel it too. Thank you for these lines centered from the Paul Simon song (Mrs Robinson) from long ago — “WHILE A NATION TURNS ITS LONELY EYES TO YOU”. While sad recalling, It has been sweet to earworm a return to 5+ decades since our times of rosy-cheeked hope. It leads me to consider that today there are NEW FACES turned to improving the world (that has slipped-back) singing we shall overcome once again

  • My mind goes back to that long ago, and something that most early PCVs serving in S and Central Africa, had heard, coming on the short wave from Radio Lorenzo Markesh, originating in South Africa.

    It was like a newfound anthem for Africa, called, in the Zulu language, simply “Oye Mbube”. Sung by Zulu songster, Solomon Linda, and his group, The Morning Birds. American folk singer Pete Seeger heard it, and thought they were saying “Wimone”, or “A Wimowe”. That’s how most Americans and Europeans would hear it. Later American composers, dissatisfied with no lyrics, added their own, and renamed it “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” — exactly the opposite of the original sentiment.

    Probably the only song with only two words of lyric (four, translated into English). The drift of the song was the longing of the people for the return of the Lion King, the powerful and all-just leader, who would lead the people back to the time of happiness. The haunting yodel, sung by Linda in the original, was the call of the long-departed Lion King, to his people. The repetitious chorus, sung by The Morning Birds, speaking for all the people, was Oye Mbube. Oye Mbube, Oye Mbube. . . Translated it means “you are the Lion”. Meaning, we recongnize you, come and lead us to happiness.

    In keeping with the posting here, I think that this song may have special meaning for Americans today. At a time when the rule of law has been bought off by special interests, the Constitution has been marginalized and left as a facade, and democratic rule increasingly meaningless, the only recourse is powerful and just leaders, to straighten things out. Thank you, Solomon Linda. Still today i can hear your yodelling call in the distance. Oye Mbube !

    The things one learns as a PCV. John Turnbull

  • Hi Joanne,

    This is Cedar with the Oral History Project. Our team is trying to reach you but your email keeps bouncing back our messages. Sorry to post here but I don’t know how else to get in contact with you. You can message me at cedar(at)cedarspringwolf.com

    Thanks,
    Cedar

  • RESHAPING THE LINE by Edward Mycue from the Ghana One 1961 group

    Vocatus atque non vocatus, deus auderit” (Horace, 2nd Bk Odes, #18) (DEATH KICKS-IN THE DOORS OF RICH AND POOR ALIKE: INVOKED OR UNINVOKED DEATH WAITS)

    We older ones are aging, and I’m 81. Is there any place where small memories may be sent?

    One day some others could recall us
    who in turn may be remembered.
    In the general drift we in our lives will
    add our grains of sand to time’s beach.

    I look out from Ocean Beach, in San Francisco, California — the edge of my local pond –at those little grains thinking of our shared humanities.

    Golden memory, continuously burnished.
    Memento Mori we say remembering our dead.
    I remember that I will join them, thank them.
    They kept me from getting to sleep last night.
    I was riding the tiger.

    The east and the west were mine.
    America doesn’t exist for corporations’ interest.
    I was told I was an anchor baby because my mom and dad over near Toronto driving around were plowed-into by one of those Ontario 16 year-olds and a passing baseball pal of my dad Jack saw them on the side of the road and my mom Ruth due (WITH ME!) on that Easter Sunday 1937 GOT MOM into his car and drove her south across the border to Niagara Falls, NY to her grandmother Rebecca Taylor’s.
    I was born the new day in the USA
    on Palm Sunday THE FIRST DAY in 1937
    SPRING UNDER THE NEW MOON that year.
    Both my mom and dad were Americans
    and themselves were born in Niagara Falls, NY.
    But I, I always felt, missing the beat,
    I would have like to be a Canadian.
    My father’s father William Oliver Mycue’s people
    were from NEW FRANCE or Quebec now
    from the early 17th century coming over with other Protestant followers of HENRI IV of Navarre who became King of France when he married that Medici woman as a Roman catholic (because Paris was worth a mass he is said to have said), these followers who he was saving by sending them to NEW FRANCE. Those fellows married native AMERIcan Indians ensuring that I am by now a small part NATIVE AMERICAN who welcomed immigrants. And as well I am a child of generations of immigrants. I am also the grandson of one grandmother MARGARET POWERS who married William Oliver Mycue AND SHE CAME FROM DUBLIN (where she bragged they speak the best ENGLISH in the world).

    My grandad told me so many stories possibly partly
    mostly made-up about our Amerindian ANCESTORS
    until we when I was eleven in 1948 moved southwest to Dallas, Texas. I always thought I’d look like great Heros that included Geronimo and Cochise that I saw acted in the movies by Jeff Chandler and looked so noble. But I ended a teardrop visage pretty much following my lovely dad Jack. Now I think that I am lucky I have stories and that Jack (John Powers Mycue) was my dad.

    I was told by my mom Ruth Taylor Delehant Mycue THAT being ‘stage Irish’ was an abomination. My father’s mom also would have cottoned-to the ‘stage-Irish’ AT ALL. But I must say that the stories of immigrant Irish WERE thrilling to me and that I love William Butler Yeats and his poetry and pretty much of what he attempted and accomplished also.

    Richard Steger and I went to Ireland in 1985 and loved it. One of his grandmothers was Sophie Neely from Chicago and was both Scots and Irish who married his Steger grandfather, the railroad man. Richard’s dad Daniel Steger married Irene Perrou who had parents from Italy way up there in the hills near Torino and were of the Waldensian people (Protestants who Martin Luther referred to as the FIRST CHRISTIANS).

    I first met the then Senator John (Jack) Fitzgerald Kennedy in early summer 1960 in Cambridge, Massachusetts (when he was seeking the Democrat Party nomination for U.S. President) at WGBH-TV on the M.I.T. campus (where it was then housed) when I was an Lowell Council for Cooperative Broadcasting intern and graduate student at Boston University Graduate School for Public Relations and Communications (as it was then named) when he was interviewed by Louis Lyons (curator, Harvard’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism) on the twice-weekly New England News quarter-hour news and interviews where Lyons was the host and I was the technical director.
    I was 23, up from graduate study in government at the then-named North Texas State College in Denton. The next time Jack Kennedy came to WGBH-TV was in the autumn after he’d been selected as the Democrat Party candidate for President.

    The third time I met him was in the White House late August the next year first in the Rose Garden following which for individual photographs in the Oval Office. I was in the Ghana group that flew out after that from Washington, D.C. afternoon in a two-engine Convair (with stops in the Azores for refueling and in Dakar, Senegal for supplies) to Accra, Ghana where we were to teach in secondary schools and I was assigned to a new one outside Acherensua a village in the Brong-Ahafo state (part of the old Kumasi kingdom) in the rain forest near the eastern border with the Ivory Coast. I saw him next in Dallas two blocks before he was shot riding with the First Lady his wife on Elm Street.

    Today I can still see them, Louis Lyons and Jack Kennedy, from on the other side of the small glassed-in control room looking out into the slightly larger one where Lyons would interview and report. WGBH was a small station in a two-story brick building that I’d heard had formerly housed a roller rink. Next to it was the Kresge auditorium and the famed chapel where we did big interviews such as the one I floor-managed with Aldous Huxley as the guest. He was nice as nice to me and spoke so vituperatively of Richard Nixon. Over one building was the Charles River and the Massachusetts Avenue bridge to Boston from Cambridge. WGBH is no longer in Cambridge, but moved years ago to the Boston and Boston University side of the Charles.
    Into what may have seemed missteps (character, performance) circumstances slip-in changing cases.
    I thought I knew how to circumvent that,
    but the rubble of personal-history-deal-breakers
    push up into other circumstances of even sapphires’
    and garlic flowers’ probabilities.

    Seeking courage, insight, re-learning the touch of stumbling forward, time gusts, winds swing the hands sweeping around the dial centering our world into sunsets before bursting our moorings, thrusting our colors beyond our kenning, spinning. And you have to grow old (or die young).

    How you reshape the line:
    Paths lead up, down. Day is not east. It is west. All’s traffic. In these necessary hours, one man lifts his arms, stretching ready, signaling flame crimson.

    A long shadow adds you.
    The green you add and all through the night, love, bending everything. If numbers inquire, tell them we are the ones, they are ones, I am one and you are one — awe-filled, and not some kind of a robotic turned-brain knob.

    When the numbers inquire, tell me you are one and that I am your one even as We truckle, burnished, roan now, in submarine confusion, swollen, last guest happy saying life’s the insult (even when not).

    So when the numbers inquire, tell how differing
    drummers relive, repeat lessons of pilgrimage,
    malaise, the hungering decline of allegiances,
    how to fill a numb center reshaping the line.

    © Copyright Edward Mycue 23 April 2018 (revised)

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