What is the South Phoenix Oral History Project?

“The South Phoenix Oral History Project has given South Mountain Community College a sense of place.”
~ Faculty Feedback, 2020

Until now, I had no idea South Phoenix even mattered.”
~ Student Feedback, 2018

South Phoenix Oral History Project is a student-founded, student-led initiative to capture and preserve the untold stories of innovation, education, and racial uplift in South Phoenix, Arizona.

It is a collaboration of The Storytelling Institute and the History Department at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix, Arizona.

South Phoenix is a sacred and relevant place with little academic attention afforded to its history. Long before farmers and miners made Phoenix their home, the Hohokam carved irrigation ditches and developed an agricultural empire at the base of Greasy Mountain (South Mountain). Centuries later, newcomers to the area siphoned off the South Phoenix area by redirecting water and transportation to the more attractive Central and North Phoenix districts by using the ancient canal system left behind by the Hohokam. Over the course of the young city’s history, South Phoenix was left behind. As Tom Sheridan writes in his definitive Arizona, “Phoenix developed into a geographically segregated city with ever-widening economic disparities between its north and south halves.” These widening disparities are evident even in the historical record. Very few academic or popular records exist detailing the history of South Phoenix, its role in the evolution of the largest metropolis in the Southwest outside of California, or its traditionally underserved population of Black, Hispanic, and Asian residents. Our project seeks to right this wrong. Oral history holds space for those whose stories have not been told. Storytelling ensures that their memories are readily accessible.

South Mountain Community College itself is a testament to historic movements for social justice and equity in response to community and structural opposition. Our collections seek to reclaim the stories of people in our community who refused to be ignored or left behind without access to higher education.

What is Oral History?

Oral history is a field of study and a method of gathering, preserving and interpreting the voices and memories of people, communities, and participants in past events. Oral history is both the oldest type of historical inquiry, predating the written word, and one of the most modern, initiated with tape recorders in the 1940s and now using 21st-century digital technologies.

Oral History Association

Oral history is the dynamic practice of studying, researching, collecting, and analyzing the lived histories of individuals. It is a student-centered approach to engage in the historical process through direct communication with history-makers. Through the retelling of their histories, narrators share their memories and experiences, filling out the “real story” of the historical narrative.

Summer Cherland, PhD

Oral History is an imprecise term: it is used to refer to formal, rehearsed accounts of the past presented by culturally sanctioned tradition-bearers; to informal conversations about “the old days” among family members, neighbors, or coworkers; to printed compilations of stories told about past times and present experiences; and to recorded interviews with individuals deemed to have an important story to tell.

History Matters


Let’s tell together.