This is a guest post by AFC Senior Folklife Specialist, Nancy Groce.
The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress is kicking off 2024 with the much-awaited fifth season of America Works, a podcast series celebrating the diversity, resilience, and creativity of American workers. The new season, launched today, highlights African American men and women who are business owners, farmers, craftspeople and professionals; fellow Americans whose labors create and sustain their communities.
The eight-episode series, part of the American Folklife Center’s ongoing Occupational Folklife Project, introduces listeners to a diverse range of voices and perspectives within the changing American workforce. Each 5-minute episode includes workers whose narratives add to the wealth of our shared national experience.
“As in past years, the Occupational Folklife Project (OFP) is generating so many terrific interviews with workers throughout the United States that it was hard to select just eight for Season 5. Almost 2000 interviews with contemporary American workers have been added to the American Folklife Center’s archive since the launch of the OFP documentation project in 2011. These thoughtful, insightful, and often funny first-person accounts of working in America are inspiring,” said Nancy Groce, host of America Works. “They are a timely reminder of the spirit, grit, and common sense of the American workforce, and I am delighted that they will be added to the historical record of the nation’s library.”
You can read more about the each episode of the series below. Or, if you just want to jump to the podcast itself, it is available at this link, with the most recent episode on top.
The fifth season of America Works features:
Episode 1: Damon Walker, a “luthier” or string instrument maker in Durham, North Carolina, talks about his work making and fixing double or “upright” basses. Mr. Walker–or “Dr. Bass” as he is widely known–explains how his love of music and woodworking combined with years of formal apprenticeship at an atelier led him to became of the very few African American luthiers in the United States.
Episode 2: Marcus Wimby, Director of Haugabrooks Funeral Home in Atlanta, Georgia, talks about his work and career and how, for more than 90 years, his family-run business has been a mainstay of Atlanta’s African American community.
Episode 3: Jerry Bransford, a seasonal tour guide at Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park talks about his family’s multi-generational history with the cave, which dates back to the 1830s. Bransford also explains how he become a guide after retiring from a successful corporate career with the goal of honoring his family and teaching visitors about the contributions of African American workers to this celebrated natural wonder.
Episode 4: Leah Chase, chef and owner of the legendary Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, talks about her life and career in her bustling New Orleans restaurant – and explains why she had to slap President Obama’s hand away when he tried to put hot sauce on her gumbo.
Episode 5: Barbara Norman, a blueberry farmer from Covert, Michigan, speaks about growing up on her family’s farm and the importance of agriculture and family as part of the Occupational Folklife Project “Multigenerational African-Descended Farmers of the Midwest.”
Episode 6: Jobie Hill, an architect and historic preservation specialist from Iowa City, Iowa, explains how her interest in her own African American heritage led her to become an expert on the documentation, preservation, and repurposing of slave dwellings throughout the United States.
Episode 7: Shanda Dunn of Lexington, Kentucky, talks about being a Peer Support Worker and explains how she overcame her own complicated past and struggles with substance abuse to train and now, to work alongside clinicians as a counselor for others recovering from substance abuse disorders.
Episode 8: Jeremy Presar, a rural mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service based out of the French Creek, West Virginia Post Office, talks about his 70-mile route, delivering to 600 mailboxes, the challenges posed by animals, weather and being bi-racial in a largely White area, as well as the pride he takes in working for America’s “vital lifeline.”
The first four seasons of “America Works,” launched in August 2020, April 2021, January 2002, and March 2023 respectively, are also available on Apple Podcasts, and the Library of Congress website. Listen and subscribe at this link.