Remarkable video interviews keep history alive

WASHINGTON - The Library of Congress said Tuesday it has acquired a remarkable collection of video interviews that capture the heart of the black experience in America.

Around 2,600 African-Americans took part in the project - some famous, and some who would become famous.

Four years before she died, author Maya Angelou was asked what she would want her legacy to be.

"There are those who will say I bring people together, black and white, Asian, Spanish-speaking, Native Americans, gays, straight. It's true because that what I am. I'm all of that," she said.

Angelou was speaking to Julieanna Richardson, founder of the HistoryMakers, a video library of African-American history.

Who is the audience for this project?

"I want the African-American child to understand their roots, but I also want mainstream America to understand the contributions of black people to this country," said Richardson.

Chicago Cubs star Ernie Banks opened a window to his inner world.

"I actually play the game as if nobody's there but me," he said in an interview.

"When I hit a home run, in mind I was saying, 'I'm this little ball. I'm going to get inside this ball that's coming at me, and I'm going to take a ride in it.'"

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Bernard Harris became the first African-American to walk in space.
CBS News

Thirteen years ago, Richardson did an interview with an obscure Illinois state senator named Barack Obama, who told her running for office wasn't his idea.

"Some friends of mine came and approached me and said, 'Look, here's a vacant seat. Would you be interested?'" Obama said.

As a child, Bernard Harris watched Neil Armstrong step on the moon.

"I remember seeing it and then after, running outside to look at the moon."

Harris later became the first African-American to walk in space.

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Julieanna Richardson is the founder of the HistoryMakers, a video library of African-American history.
CBS News

For Richardson, giving her collection of 9,000 hours of interviews to the Library of Congress is the fulfillment of a dream.

"This is the only place. You don't work this hard on a project and not have preserved correctly," she said, wiping away a tear.

A project based on an idea -- that if you don't document history, it will be forgotten.

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.

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