â€śYesterday, December 7th, 1941â€¦a date that will live in infamy.â€ť So began President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a speech to Congress the day after Japan bombed the military base at Pearl Harbor. In this speech he asked for a declaration of war which was approved almost unanimously by both houses of Congress.
After the speech, Alan Lomax and the staff from the Radio Research Project, a program sponsored by the Library of Congress to collect the stories of AmericansÂ from many walks of life, spread out around the United States to record comments about the Pearl Harbor bombing and the United Statesâ€™ entry into World War II. While most of the comments were reactions to the attack and how the United States should respond, some of those interviewed also discussed issues such as racism, high prices and labor strikes. Lomax and the Radio Research Project staff collected a second set of interviews in early 1942 and learned more about the attitudes and thoughts of those interviewed, including their fears of Japan or Germany bombing U.S .cities, concerns about those being sent to fight and the low morale of the American people. These recordings are available online in the American Memory collection, After the Day of Infamy: “Man-on-the-Street” Interviews Following the Attack on Pearl Harbor.
These recordings provide a snapshot of American society at the start of World War II and can help students understand the experiences of those living at that time. They remind students that history is created by people like them, not just by the leaders of a country.
The language in some recordings may be offensive to most listeners, and you may wish to review the recordings prior to using them in class.
Here are some ideas on how to incorporate the interviews into classroom activities.
Have students record their own “Dear Mr. President” recordings discussing topics of interest to them or highlighting issues of interest.
Students can pretend they are staff members of President Roosevelt given the assignment to review the â€śDear Mr. Presidentâ€ť recordings and then to respond to one or more of the interviewees.
Have students listen to some of the Veterans History Project interviews with military staff stationed at Pearl HarborÂ at the time of the attack. Compare their feelings about becoming involved in World War II with those interviewed by Lomax and the Radio Research Project staff.
How do students react when they listen to the stories of people who lived during important events in history?