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Anniversary Event

A hearty thanks to everyone who attended our anniversary kick-off event in October! Over a lively five-course meal at the pictureseque Fasig-Tipton Farm in Lexington, Nunn Center partners and supporters from around the state gathered to celebrate five decades of oral history leadership, memories, and milestones.

Special guest speakers, including award-winning Kentucky chef Ouita Michel, UK President Eli Capilouto, and Lexington Vice Mayor Dan Wu, helped commemorate and honor the many industries, institutions, communities, and individuals who have made the Nunn Center’s journey possible.

For more ways to show your support, consider a gift to the Terry L. Birdwhistell Endowment Fund, established in honor of the Nunn Center’s Founding Director and Kentucky’s keeper of stories. Your support enables the Nunn Center to continue its mission of preserving Kentucky's story one oral history interview at a time.

UK President Eli Capilouto and Nunn Center Director Doug Boyd

UK President Eli Capilouto and Nunn Center Director Doug Boyd. 

Jesse Nau, Jennifer Bartlett, Doug Boyd, Judy Sackett, and Kopana Terry

Oral History Processing Archivist Jesse Nau, Oral History Librarian Jennifer Bartlett, Doug Boyd, former Oral History Librarian Judy Sackett, and Oral History Archivist Kopana Terry.

Doug Boyd and Dan Wu

Doug Boyd and Lexington Vice Mayor Dan Wu.

50 Years Serving the Commonwealth

Over the last 50 years, the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History has grown from a small grant and a dream into a world-renowned leader in the collection and preservation of oral histories. Along the way, the Nunn Center has empowered countless students, researchers, and community groups to discover the remarkable individuals, moments, and stories that make up the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

The Nunn Center’s 18,000 oral history interviews celebrate the incredible diversity that can be found in every corner of the state, from Civil Rights leaders and LGBTQ* Kentuckians to quilters, teachers, entrepreneurs, veterans, writers, coal miners, immigrants, and farmers. With continual improvements in interview quality and coverage, new stories are added to the collection daily.

None of this is possible without the active engagement of community and campus partners. The Nunn Center proudly partners with industries, institutions, and communities across Kentucky to collect the oral histories of bourbon distillers, horse trainers, returned Peace Corps volunteers, and bluegrass musicians. Collaborations with on-campus partners provide students with high-impact learning experiences, and growing faculty and student engagement has led to the increased use of Nunn Center resources and collections in learning environments. In its commitment to deep collaboration practices, the Nunn Center offers training in interview structure and technique and provides professional-quality interview equipment and studio space to its partners, empowering students and researchers to pilot their own projects.

A leader in the collection of oral histories, the Nunn Center has also been a pioneer in their access and preservation. The Oral History Metadata Synchronizer – a free, open source digital tool developed by the Nunn Center that improves user experience with online oral history by connecting word-level searches to precise moments within an interview – is now used by oral history repositories in 67 countries around the world and counting. Most importantly, OHMS has boosted usage of the Nunn Center’s archived interviews from 200 interviews accessed in 2008 to over 230,000 interviews accessed by researchers around the world in 2022.  

With over 50 ongoing interviewing projects and a dedicated team of oral history experts, the Nunn Center’s impact across campus and throughout the Commonwealth grows greater every day. With your support, the Nunn Center can continue to pursue its mission of engaging and empowering communities, creating connections and life-changing learning experiences, increasing access to oral histories the world over, and collecting and preserving Kentucky’s story.

Timeline highlighting a brief history of the Louie B. Nunn Center, from the first funded oral history project in 1973 to an all-time high interview accession number in 2022.

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18,000+ Accessioned Interviews

50+ Ongoing Interview Projects

60+ Countries Using OHMS

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Top 50 Countdown

To celebrate the Nunn Center’s 50th Anniversary, we'll be sharing some of our most treasured moments, milestones, and oral history interviews from our world-class collection. Like all good parents, we hate playing favorites, and if 18,000 posts didn’t seem like a little much, we’d happily share them all.

To let our oral history librarians get a little sleep, we’ll be bringing you one highlight per week throughout the year. See some highlights that we’ve missed? Post your own favorites on your social media channels using #NunnCenter50 to join the fun.

11. The One With the Broad Sweep

One of the most powerful of the Nunn Center’s collections, the Black People in Lexington Oral History Project is remarkable for its panoramic view of a city and a community in dramatic, decades-long transformation – through depression, war, and the long fight for civil rights. The project’s 232 interviews, conducted largely in the late 1970s and 80s, capture the stories and perspectives of Black Lexingtonians from all walks of life, grounding long-term history in the small-grained details of people, places, and events. The project highlights local leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, members of the Board of Education and the NAACP, and politicians like Harry Sykes, the city’s first Black councilperson. But the project also sets these broad social changes against the backdrop of deeply personal portraits of daily life: Elenora Smith recalls her neighborhood around Illinois Street; Taft Oldham, who worked for 32 years in the contracting business, reminisces about the houses he built; Harriet Haskins shares her experiences teaching at segregated and integrated schools; and Mary Muir discusses working conditions at the Lexington Laundry, where she was employed for 47 years. It is the strength of oral history to capture both the broad sweep and the minute movements of time – and we’re honored to preserve these stories for all Kentuckians.

12. The One With Real Rock & Roll

Excuse us for being a little sweaty – we just got done melting off faces and smashing our guitars with maximum riotous power down in the basement. The cops came and everything! If you think that’s hardcore, just wait until you hear the Chasing Sound Oral History Project. In these 78 interviews, some of the most prominent and creative audio engineers and musicians of the 20th century describe the meteor-like impact of rock and roll on the recording industry. Stay up late splicing magnetic tape with razorblades, remastering classic tracks, and getting the reverb just right. Speaking of which – the project includes two interviews with one of the most innovative of rock and roll pioneers, Les Paul, the inventor of the solid-body electric guitar and the all-important overdub. Conducted by Susan Schmidt Horning in the late 1990s, these interviews form the basis of her book, Chasing Sound: Technology, Culture, and the Art of Studio Recording from Edison to the LP, in which she argues that the recording studio stands at the center of 20th century musical culture. We’ll be turning this one all the way up to 11.

13. The One Where We Went Meta 

Microphone, microphone, on the wall – how do you conduct an oral history interview after all? We’re so glad you asked, because we’ve just dusted off the tapes for the magnificently meta Interviewing the Interviewers Oral History Project. This introspective collection covers 40 years of insights into the styles, functions, and long-term research capabilities of oral history – and features many of the interviewers whose projects have landed on this list. Positively mind-bending! Tune in to hear the late Terry Birdwhistell, the Founding Director of the Nunn Center, talk about the most memorable of his nearly 1,000 interviews (a 1981 interview with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis). While you’re in the mood, stop by to see all the ways the Nunn Center can help you on your path to achieving great oral historian heights, from interview training and recording equipment to state of the art studio space. And yes, whenever it’s time for the 50 year retrospective of the Nunn Top 50 countdown, we will gladly sit in front of the magic mic. Oh the tales we’ll tell!

14. The One Where Kentucky Became Home

From just over 1,000 individuals in 1990, the number of Africa-born immigrants living in Kentucky is now over 24,000 – including one of the largest populations of Congolese refugees in the country in Lexington, where Swahili is the third-most spoken language. The African Immigrants in the Bluegrass Oral History Project collects the stories of 45 of these immigrants, drawn from all walks of life: a former ambassador from Gambia, a Rwandan ESL instructor, a refugee from Liberia who studied nursing at Berea College, and even beloved Lexington restauranteur Mamadou “Sav” Savane, who immigrated from Guinea in the early 1990s. Each interview shares the immense challenges faced by immigrants – from language barriers and loneliness to racism and American ignorance of Africa – along with positive experiences of education, opportunity, and community. Conducted from 2013-17 by former Peace Corps volunteers Jack and Angene Wilson, the interviews in this collection were used as the basis for Voices of African Immigrants in Kentucky, written by Francis Musoni, Iddah Otieno, and the Wilsons and published by University Press of Kentucky in 2020.

15. The One With the Outrageous Life

An iconic Lexingtonian – charismatic, larger-than-life, and the living embodiment of the authentic creative act – Henry Faulkner was an artist, poet, and bohemian known for his wildly colorful landscapes, surrealist scenes, and a bourbon-drinking pet goat named Alice. In 1982, while gathering material for his book, The Outrageous Life of Henry Faulkner, author Charles House conducted the six interviews that now make up the Henry Faulkner Oral History Project – including an interview with 90-year-old Sweet Evening Breeze, one of Lexington’s first notable drag queens. The collection – along with House’s notes and papers for the book, held at the Special Collections Research Center – tells the story of the animated, eccentric, and complicated artist who stood as one of the pioneers and pillars of the mid-century Kentucky LGBTQ scene. In 2014, the Faulkner Morgan Archive was created to honor his legacy and preserve and share Kentucky’s LGBTQ history and culture. 

16. The One Where Coming Home Was a Battle

For many veterans, the end of military service is the beginning of another difficult battle: transitioning back into civilian life. The American Veterans: From Combat to Kentucky, Student Veteran Oral History Project traces the journeys of men and women who served in the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – across all military branches and in occupations as varied as infantry, medicine, and human resources – as they pursue higher education in Kentucky following their service. These 42 interviews, conducted in the early 2010s, tell deeply personal and often harrowing stories of life before, during, and especially after the war, as student veterans navigate the unique challenges of readjustment. Students in Theatre Professor Herman D. Ferrell’s “Staging History” course used these stories to produce a play entitled Civilian that was featured at the New York International Fringe Festival in 2011.

17. The One With the Whittlers

There’s nothing quite like a late spring afternoon with a porch, a pocket knife, and a piece of wood: oh yes, it’s whittling time! We were going to start out easy with spoons, bowls, and birds, but we’ll admit to being more than a little inspired by the Kentucky Folk Art Oral History Project. So we’re carving straight to the heart of human frailty, and like Edgar Tolson, whittling the Fall of Man! A woodcarver from Wolfe County, Kentucky, Tolson is at the center of these 59 interviews conducted in the mid-1990s by Julia S. Ardery as research for her book, The Temptation: Edgar Tolson and the Genesis of Twentieth-Century Folk Art. Ardery interviewed friends and family of Tolson and key players in the folk art scene, tracing the increasing popularity of these expressive objects with collectors, critics, museums, and auction houses. Two additional oral history projects, Eastern Kentucky Women Artists Working for Social Change and Amidst the Sparrow's Nest: A Look at Eastern Kentucky Through the Arts, bring Appalachian folk art into the present. These projects explore the wide variety of materials and techniques used by contemporary Appalachian folk artists – from basketry, quilting, and stonework to drawing, painting, and pottery – and delve into the impact that the region has on its artists, and that artists have on their region. Pour a tall glass of tea, take a listen, and get whittling!

18. The One Where We Fought for Full Access

One of the Nunn Center’s newest projects, the Disabled in Kentucky Oral History Project documents the first-hand experiences of Kentuckians who identify as having disabilities. These 30 interviews trace the complicated history of disability in Appalachian Kentucky and delve into the intersection of disability with a wide variety of socioeconomic, gender, sexual, racial, and regional identities. Interviewees share powerful personal disability journeys that track their experiences with ableism in education and the workplace, but also celebrate the development of accessible infrastructure and legislation, the rise of disability advocacy, and the long struggle for disability justice. At their core, these are stories of self-acceptance, self-discovery, and the strength of both individuals and communities.

19. The One With the High Lonesome Sound

Swing those fiddles and roll your banjos! The Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum Oral History Project documents the history of this distinctly Appalachian genre and includes interviews with legends from “Bluegrass Music’s First Generation” – including Ralph Stanley, Earl Scruggs, the Osborne Brothers, Donna Stoneman, and Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard – as well as those who have carried its high lonesome sound around the world. These breakdowns will make you hop, howl, start up a clogging line, yearn for a foggy mountain morning, pine for your long lost love, organize a union, and spontaneously buy a mandolin. This finger-picking project was born from a partnership between the Nunn Center and the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum in Owensboro, Kentucky.

20. The One Where We Played the Ponies

Thundering thoroughbreds! Put on your jodhpurs and your fancy hats for this one. Across four oral history projects, the Nunn Center has captured the ins and outs of the industry that keeps the world’s Horse Capital racing at full gallop. With 112 interviews conducted over 40 years, the Horse Industry in Kentucky Oral History Project really takes the blinders off on subjects spanning racing, breeding, farm management, and Kentucky politics. Stemming from a partnership with the International Museum of the Horse, the Chronicle of African Americans in the Horse Industry Oral History Project tells the stories of Black jockeys, breeders, trainers, and grooms. The Nunn Center’s newest equine endeavor, Making Strides: Women in the Equine Industry, celebrates the women breaking barriers in a male-dominated industry. And Life’s Work: Reflections on Life in the Equine Industry Oral History Project, created through a partnership with the Keeneland Association, the Keeneland Library and Museum Foundation, and the Thoroughbred Daily News, shows how success is determined by lots of hard work and a healthy dose of luck. Grab a big bag of oats and settle down – or giddy up – with these neighing, braying, and very horsey oral histories

21. The One Where We Went North

Between the 1910s and 1970, over six million Black people fled the South for northern and western cities in a slow-motion event that radically transformed the United States. Goin’ North: Tales of the Great Migration Oral History Project focuses on some of the earliest migrants, who arrived in Philadelphia in the 1920s and the early years of the Great Depression. These 71 interviews, conducted in the 1980s with aging Philadelphians who had participated in the Great Migration, tell stories of the lives left behind in the hostile Jim Crow South and the collective experience of adapting to a new home in the City of Brotherly Love. In 2014-16, students at West Chester University, in partnership with the Nunn Center, created an incredible set of digital stories and an archive of images, newspaper articles, and ephemera that vividly complement these oral histories. The Goin’ North project has won awards from the Oral History Association, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference, and the American Historical Association for its innovative methods of digital history. 

22. The One Where We Talked Shop

Located along the North Fork of the Kentucky River in Whitesburg, Kentucky, Appalshop was founded in 1969 as a community film workshop with a mission to teach young Appalachians how to operate 16 mm film equipment. A runaway success, Appalshop quickly bloomed into a hub of Appalachian art, media, and culture, establishing a radio station, a theater, a public art gallery, a record label, an archive, a filmmaking institute, a reproductive justice program, and a community development program. Wow! Appalshop has produced more than 100 films that document over half a century of change in the region and cover topics such as energy and the environment, education, health care, politics, and workers’ rights. Born of a partnership between the Nunn Center, historian Jeffrey A. Keith, and Warren Wilson College, the Exploring the Legacies of Appalshop Oral History Project follows the stories of 39 individuals as their lives lead to, through, and away from Appalshop. Make sure to check out the accompanying digital exhibit for more information about the project and its participants.

23. The One Where Justice Was Served

Born in Louisa, Kentucky, Frederick Moore Vinson is one of the few Americans to have served in all three branches of the US government: as a representative for Kentucky in the US House during the 1920s and 1930s, as Secretary of the Treasury at the end of WWII, and as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1946-1953. The 24 interviews in the Fred M. Vinson Oral History Project, conducted between 1973-1976, gather stories from Vinson’s family, friends, and colleagues. Together, they provide a well-rounded view of Vinson’s life and personality – from his days as a baseball player at Centre College to his fondness for cards – along with detailed accounts of his political career, judicial philosophy, and participation in landmark cases concerning segregation, labor unions, and fears of communism. Vinson’s personal papers are held at UK Libraries’ Wendell H. Ford Public Policy Research Center.

24. The One Where We Wore 42

Swing, batter, batter! We’re serving up some high heat with this one. The 74 interviews of the Desegregation of Major League Baseball Oral History Project bring together the voices of sportswriters, team owners, and dozens of players – including Stan Musial, Bob Feller, and Ted Williams – to tell the stories of a pivotal period in the sport of baseball and the history of the United States. Covering the years of former Kentucky Governor A. B. “Happy” Chandler’s term as Commissioner of Major League Baseball, these interviews range across every corner of the sport in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Of special significance: the incredible career and enormous impact of Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947 and battled through endless mental and physical abuse while galvanizing the fight for civil rights across the country. Listen in for an inside look at the long and difficult process of the desegregation of America’s National Pastime.

25. The One Where We Fought Fire With Fire

“Don't scab for the bosses / Don't listen to their lies / Poor folks ain't got a chance / Unless they organize.” It’s a tune as old as time – written by Florence Reece during the Harlan County War in 1931 and revived again and again over the ensuing decades, including during two labor disputes in the early 1970s at the Pikeville Methodist Hospital and the Brookside Coal Mine. The 58 interviews in the Women & Collective Protest Oral History Project tell the stories of the Eastern Kentucky women who were at the forefront of these struggles. Among them are the women who formed the Brookside Women’s Club and militantly maintained the picket lines outside the mine, “frying scabs in a skillet,” as featured in the Academy Award-winning documentary Harlan County, USA. These interviews were recorded with strike participants by Sally Ward Maggard in 1986-87 as part of her dissertation research at UK.

26. The One Where We Spelled V-I-C-T-O-R-Y

We’ve got spirit all right – oh yes we do. The University of Kentucky Cheerleading Squad has been backflipping for the Big Blue for over a century, and since 1985 has tossed, flown, and pyramided its way to an unprecedented 24 National Championships – the highest number of championships of any collegiate sport by any university or college in the US. Wow! When we say Cats, you say Win! Cats! – Cats! – Good job! With all this new-found pep in your step, take a listen to the UK Athletics Cheerleading Squad Oral History Project and celebrate the courage, trust, and friendships that support this long-standing commitment to excellence. Now if you’ll excuse us, we’re working on our roundoff back handsprings – and yelling for the BBN with all our might!

27. The One That Left Us In Stitches 

Don’t throw away those scraps! Our sewing machines are humming and piece by piece this quilt keeps growing. The Nunn Center holds over 1200 oral history interviews with quiltmakers, and if we could stitch them all together, we feel like we could keep the whole of Kentucky warm. Most of these interviews were collected by Quilters’ Save Our Stories (QSOS), a grassroots oral history project that set out to celebrate the lives and stories of quiltmakers from around the world. From 1999 to 2016, QSOS recorded interviews with quilters from Kentucky, the other 49 less fortunate US states, and nine countries, from Australia to Peru. The results are an exquisite patchwork that captures an enduring folk art, gathered and preserved through a partnership between the Nunn Center, the Quilt Alliance, and the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

28. The One Where We Unwound The Octopus

“Either you find a way to oppose the evil, or the evil becomes part of you and you are a part of it, and it winds itself around your soul like the arms of an octopus.” So wrote activist, organizer, and journalist Anne McCarty Braden, one of the most enduring white voices against racism in modern US history. In 1954, as politicians played on fears of communism to preserve southern segregation, Braden was charged with sedition after she helped buy a house for a Black family, the Wades, in an all-white suburb of Louisville. The details of the sensationalized trial – and fifty more years of Braden’s uncompromising activism – can be heard in the 26 interviews in the Anne Braden Oral History Project, conducted by Catherine Fosl as research for her book, Subversive Southerner: Anne Braden and the Struggle for Racial Justice in the Cold War South, published by the University Press of Kentucky.

29. The One Where We Kept Up

In our busy world, with our busy lives, it can be hard to keep up with friends. In the case of lifelong civil rights activist James Embry, the Nunn Center hasn’t had that problem. Embry has been interviewed by the Nunn Center in every decade from the 1970s to the 2020s – in August and November, 197819871993June 19 and June 29, 20062018January and October 2021; and 2023 – telling stories about his participation in the March on Frankfort alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1964, uprisings on UK’s campus in the late 1960s and 70s, the development of UK’s Black Student Union, and a career that would see him engaging in community education, food justice and sustainability, and emerging leadership programs in Kentucky and Detroit, Michigan. Across those ten interviews, spanning nearly 50 years of a life spent in pursuit of justice, we have the privilege of hearing a constancy of vision and purpose refracted through historical change and historical stasis. We’re excited to learn even more in the decades to come.

30. The One Where We Lit the Lamp

Oh, Mother of Exiles! The American Dream is bittersweet. The 31 interviews of the Appalachia: Immigrants in the Coal Fields Oral History Project detail the lives of immigrant coal miners and their families in Eastern Kentucky and provide incredible insights into the rhythms and structures of mine work and mining towns in the first half of the 20th century. Conducted in the late 1980s, these interviews tell difficult stories of discrimination and prejudice, moonshine, mine bosses, and safety hazards, while celebrating the role of women, schools, and the social, political, and union activities that held communities together. When Lady Liberty lifts her lamp beside the golden door, it is lit with true grit – and no thanks to US Steel!

31. The One Where We Opened the Door to the Garden

A pioneering woman journalist, Betty Tevis Eckdahl was the first woman Sports Editor of the Kentucky Kernel and the first woman to sit at the press table at Madison Square Garden while covering a UK men’s basketball game there in the 1940s. In this interview conducted in 1989, Eckdahl shares stories of press conferences with the legendary men’s basketball coach Adolph Rupp, the atmosphere of the UK campus during World War II, and the challenges of breaking through the “good old boy” structures that she encountered throughout her professional life. For more about this trailblazing sports writer, check out the Nunn Center’s Saving Stories episode on Eckdahl.

32. The One Where We Grew Love

Produced through a partnership between the Nunn Center and UK’s Office of LGBTQ* Resources, the OutSouth: LGBTQ+ Oral History Project documents the lives of Southern LGBTQ+ individuals who have fostered and grown LGBTQ+ communities locally, regionally, and nationally. These 55 interviews share stories that span decades of LGBTQ+ history, from trailblazing community members and the AIDS epidemic to contemporary activism and the enshrinement of legal rights. They also capture deeply personal moments of coming out to friends and family, finding the warmth of community and safe spaces, falling in love, and persevering through the difficult journey from self-discovery to self-acceptance and self-realization.

33. The One That’s Finger-Lickin’ Good

Kentucky’s most recognizable Colonel, Harlan Sanders smiles down from the signs of over 25,000 KFC restaurants in 145 countries around the world. He’s been portrayed by the likes of Norm Macdonald, Jason Alexander, Mario Lopez, and Reba McEntire – but we know you’re itching for the deep-fried, finger-lickin’ truth. That’s why we’re highlighting this 1977 interview with the Colonel in which he discusses his trademark white suit and string tie, his life as a celebrity, and the delectably crunchy history of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Sanders Cafe, the birthplace of the KFC secret recipe, is still serving up tenders today in North Corbin, Kentucky.

34. The One Where We Saved History

Ah, history! That nightmare from which we are all trying to awaken. Luckily for us, no one in Kentucky has done history quite like Thomas D. Clark. Named the Historian Laureate of the Commonwealth for life in 1990, the long-time chair of UK’s History Department also helped start the UK Libraries newspaper microfilm program, wrote a whopping 37 books, and in his off time managed to save a large portion of Kentucky’s printed history from falling into the waste bin (materials that would one day become the core of the Special Collections Research Center). Across 27 interviews in the Thomas D. Clark Oral History Project, Clark describes in historian’s detail his 70-year-long enterprise of cataloging, organizing, rescuing, and preserving Kentucky's history.

35. The One Where We Changed the World

In honor of the profound legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this week, we are excited to share one of the true treasures of the Nunn Center’s collections: Robert Penn Warren’s 1964 interview with the world-changing civil rights leader. In the interview, Dr. King defends his philosophy of nonviolence, considers the next phases of the civil rights movement, and discusses how his accessibility to white Americans affects his leadership and provokes resistance among other civil rights activists. The interview is one of 43 conducted by Warren with civil rights leaders, activists, artists, and intellectuals as research for his book, Who Speaks for the Negro?, all contained in the Robert Penn Warren Civil Rights Oral History Project.

36. The One Where We Got a Bee in Our Bonnet

In 1983, students at Henderson County North Middle School, under the direction of teacher Roy Pullam, began conducting videotaped interviews with prominent people in Kentucky. 20 years later, Bonnet Productions: North Middle School, Henderson County (KY) Oral History Project had grown to nearly 800 total interviews. Spanning high-achieving Kentuckians of every stripe, from governors, musicians, writers, and athletes to journalists, lawyers, and medical professionals, it seems like just about everybody who’s anybody in the Commonwealth has talked to a North Middle School Cadet. When we were in middle school – well, that was a long time ago. We’d rather not talk about it.

37. The One Where We Found Our Green Thumbs

Don’t look now, but are our thumbs – turning green? And is that an acre of perfectly ripe corn we see? It must be because we’ve been listening to the Farm & Farmstead Oral History Project. Part of the extensive Family Farms of Kentucky series, the project provides an intimate look at the social and spatial organization of agricultural life in the Commonwealth. In these 46 interviews from the early 1990s, Kentucky farmers along Cane Creek in Powell County share a wealth of farming and cultural knowledge as they tell their life stories and lead interviewers through their homes and around their farms.

38. The One Where We Got It Down to a Science

To all you home distillers out there: did you know that if you cleave the alpha-1,4 linkages in your starch, you’ll have a much more efficient mashing process? We didn’t either! There’s a lot we can all learn from Elmer Lucille Allen, who in 1966 became the first Black chemist at the Brown-Forman Company, the manufacturers of Jack Daniels and Woodford Reserve and one of the largest spirits companies in the world. In these interviews from 2021 – part of the Women in Bourbon Oral History Project – Allen shares experiences growing up in a segregated neighborhood in Louisville, working as senior analytical chemist for Brown-Forman, and her long and accomplished career as a ceramicist, fiber artist, and community arts advocate.

39. The One Where Real Country Folks Played Real Country Music

In 1939, John Lair built a big barn in Renfro Valley, Kentucky, and the state’s Country Music Capital was born. For over 80 years the barn has played home to the Renfro Valley Barn Dance, a country music stage and radio show. Broadcast across the country in the 1940s-50s, the show launched country music legends like Red Foley and the “Hillbilly Shakespeare” Hank Williams. In this interview from 1970, John Lair reflects on his career, his doubters, and the growth and success of the Barn Dance. With 1,000 fans packed in on a Saturday night, that barn is a square-dancin’ good time. Around your partner do-si-do!

40. The One Where We Went Into The Trenches

Fought from 1914-1918, World War I was one of the deadliest wars in history, claiming the lives of millions of soldiers and civilians. The last living WWI veteran passed away in 2010, but the Nunn Center has preserved the oral histories of three Kentuckians who served during the conflict. Their stories describe the horrors of life in the trenches – sleeping among trench rats under the constant threat of poison gas attacks – and trace their lives following the war. In their 80s and 90s when interviewed, these veterans have whole lifetimes of wisdom to share.

41. The One Where We Got Sworn In

What is a Commonwealth without a Gov’na? Mere anarchy! we say. Luckily the institution is mostly sound in this here state, and the Nunn Center has done its due diligence in recording the history of the office and its illustrious officeholders. Over its five decade history, the Nunn Center has conducted a whopping 363 interviews with 14 former Kentucky governors, including Wendell H. Ford, Paul Patton, Steven L. Beshear, and John Y. Brown, Jr. (also known as the fella that bought Kentucky Fried Chicken from Colonel Sanders). Keep getting Bs in civics classes, and you too can be on this list one day.

42. The One Where We Had A Little Too Much

Call us Old Fashioned, but there’s just something about sour corn mash aged in a charred white oak barrel. Whether you like your bourbon neat or on the rocks, you can learn all about the characters and history of this quintessential Kentucky industry from the Nunn Center’s many bourbon oral history projects, including Kentucky Bourbon Tales and Women in Bourbon. For stories that go down like Manhattans, try straight-from-the-barrel interviews with father and son Jim Beam master distillers Frederick Booker "Booker" Noe, II and Frederick Booker "Fred" Noe, III. Fred? Booker. Booker? Fred. We can’t keep it straight either. But we promise: this Kentucky Derby mint julep cup is purely decorative. Er, usually.

43. The One Full of Animal Dreams and Bean Trees

We know – we couldn’t put down The Poisonwood Bible either. And don’t even get us started on Demon Copperhead! But you’d best believe that all the books by Kentucky treasure Barbara Kingsolver will be even better when paired with this marvelous interview. Catch your breath between chapters and take a listen as Kingsolver discusses her writing process, publishing history, and early novels, along with childhood experiences growing up in Carlisle, Kentucky and living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The recent Pulitzer Prize winner was interviewed on April 17, 1993 by Linda LaPinta as part of the Kentucky Writers Oral HIstory Project.

44. The One Where We Broke Barriers

One of the most important figures in the history of Kentucky education, civil rights activist Lyman T. Johnson was the first Black student to attend the University of Kentucky. Across 35 incredible interviews in the Nunn Center’s collections, Johnson shares his life story, his experiences in segregated Louisville, and the landmark court case that led to the integration of the UK in 1949 and opened the door for thousands of Black students to follow. A long-time Louisville high school teacher, Johnson fought to end unequal pay for Black teachers and led struggles to integrate neighborhoods, public accommodations, and public housing across the state, while also heading the Louisville chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Take a listen – and celebrate the strength it takes to pave the way.

45. The One Where We Came (and Returned) In Peace

You dream, I dream, we all dream of world peace! Meet the inspiring and intrepid peaceniks who have traveled the globe to empower communities and build cross-cultural bridges in the Nunn Center’s 1000+ interviews with Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs). These interviews document the Peace Corps from its inception and span five different oral history projects, chronicling the experiences of RPCVs from across the United States and all around Kentucky. Interviews from the latter project were used as the basis for the book Voices from the Peace Corps: Fifty Years of Kentucky Volunteers by Angene and Jack Wilson, published by the University Press of Kentucky in 2011.

46. The One Where We Never Flinched

On August 17, 1978, the Nunn Center interviewed Zirl A. Palmer, the first African American pharmacist in Lexington, as part of the Black People in Lexington Oral History Project. In the interview, Dr. Palmer discusses the roadblocks he encountered while establishing his pharmacy in a segregated Lexington and the discrimination he faced while operating his business, culminating in the bombing of his store on September 4, 1968. Ever undaunted, Dr. Palmer continued to break barriers, becoming the first African American member of the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees in 1972.

47. The One Where We Rode Along

Haint tales! Coal mines! Moonshine! Oh my! One of the Nunn Center’s most treasured collections, the 212 interviews in the Frontier Nursing Service (FNS) Oral History Project document the organization begun in 1925 by Mary Breckinridge to bring primary health care to remote areas of Eastern Kentucky, often delivering services by horseback. These incredible slices of Appalachian life – from nurses, doctors, and residents – cover everything from quilting, canning, corn hoeing, and local feuds to home remedies, clinics, hospitals, and the FNS’s specialty: midwifery.

48. The One Where We Forged The Long Road Back

Unlike veterans of other wars, Vietnam veterans did not return home to cheers and ceremonies. Most Americans wanted to forget the trauma of the war, which left many veterans feeling isolated from family and friends. The Nunn Center interviewed Vietnam veterans in Kentucky in 1985 and produced the documentary “Long Road Back: Vietnam Remembered,” which aired on KET. Find video and audio interviews with detailed stories of these veterans’ war experiences – and the difficulties many encountered returning home – in the American Veterans: Vietnam War Oral History Project.

49. The One Where We Discovered True Resilience

The devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010 divided time into “before” and “after.” Over 150,000 people lost their lives and 1.5 million were displaced. In the months after the disaster, historian Claire Antone Payton recorded 118 interviews as part of her Haiti Memory Project. Interviewees tell stories of their lives in post-disaster homeless camps and provide remarkable and intimate details of their resilience in the aftermath of a life-changing event. The Nunn Center partnered with Payton in 2011 to add her interviews to its collections.

50. The One Where We Found Inner Peace

Repeat after me: I am a purely benevolent being, the Earth is a heavenly realm, I am the jewel in the lotus flower, I am one with my mind and soul! Now that you’re two steps closer to enlightenment, take a listen to this oral history interview with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso). Recorded in May 2013 in Louisville, KY and accessioned by the Nunn Center in 2021, the interview is part of a series conducted by Louisville filmmaker Morgan C. Atkinson for his documentary “The Many Storeys and Last Days of Thomas Merton.”