Race and Change: The Florida Experience

Read how Kitty Oliver, a veteran South Florida journalist, author, oral historian, jazz singer, and university professor, was inspired to collect the personal stories of Floridians from many cultures as way to bridge the racial divide, promote healing, and affirm progress.

Among her many appearances, Oliver, who wrote the book Multicolored Memories of a Black Southern Girl, was featured in the CNN News “Black in America” series and director Ron Howard’s 2016 documentary on the Beatles, “Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years.”

By Kitty Oliver

I call myself “Florida Southern,” the product of contrasting perspectives on race that have underscored my personal life and professional work.

By Deep South accounts, when I was growing up my home state was dismissed as a racially-liberal Yankee outpost because of the influx of transplants from the North, while my hometown of Jacksonville was nicknamed “south Georgia” because of the hostile racial attitudes. I left the old world of segregation for a journey across the Black/White divide as one of the first Black freshmen at the University of Florida and ended up as a writer, teacher and diversity consultant in multicultural South Florida. But race continued to plague me, like red country clay clinging to walking shoes.

At the close of one of those feel-good workshops about the value of celebrating differences, perplexed immigrants would take me aside to whisper conspiratorially that skin color really is an underlying factor in the rate of acceptance into U.S. society — as if acknowledging the discovery was a form of treason. Then, hesitantly, they would reveal the shadows of race that lurked in their home country’s history.

So, I began to ask questions, and I listened. And the Race and Change work emerged, using oral history methods to encourage people across cultures to talk about how they experience race in their everyday lives over time and using those stories to create non-confrontational dialogue on race in communities to promote healing and affirm the progress we have made.

In the past decade, the life stories and race relations experiences of over 125 native-born and immigrant Florida residents from various Black, White, Hispanic, Caribbean, and Asian cultures have been preserved in the Race and Change Oral Histories Archive for scholarly research. Books have been written and public television documentaries have been produced featuring more interviews. Through the Race and Change Initiative, the intergenerational iTunes radio podcast “Voices of Race and Change” has grown to over 50 programs produced by high school and college students, many of them first-generation Americans.

This body of work forms the foundation of my Florida Humanities Council Speakers Bureau presentations –- poignant “Florida Southern” memories as nagging and sweet as a squeaky porch swing.


Programming to celebrate Black History Month

We feature Kitty Oliver and many other speakers for Black History Month in February. For program details visit our event calendar.

CNN’s Black in America looks at Dr. Kitty Oliver’s background as an integration pioneer in 1960s and career creating healing dialogues across cultures through oral history and television work. June 18, 2008.