Life in Twentieth Century Hickory Flat:
Reflection on the Process

By Peggy Corbett, Sequoyah High School


A new shopping center at the four way corner near our school resulted in the destruction of a sagging-in-the-middle weathered barn and the "Boy Scout Hut" that my students had always taken for granted as constant landmarks in their lives. Across the street stands an 1830s farm house that at one time was at the heart of a thriving farming community. A nonchalant question asking them how they will feel when the Quarles house is torn down for another new shopping center captured their attention and eventually their imagination.

As their senior research project, this group of senior English students chose to document life in rural Hickory Flat in the twentieth century. Through interviews with people who had lived and worked in the community for over fifty years, the students documented the hardships of farming the rocky, red clay of North Georgia, the role of the church and the school in the social fabric of a community, and factors that contribute to the shifts that are inevitable in all communities in all times. Over the course of the year, students read, interviewed, transcribed, and composed, ultimately creating a series of narratives that records the history and a video that documents the words and images of a small crossroad in North Georgia.


Raymond Andrews’ book, The Last Radio Baby, was instrumental in informing my students about the kinds of information they might want to recover in their interviews with members of the Hickory Flat community. I used a chapter from the book titled simply "The Farm." In this chapter Andrews generally details the types of activities and jobs he and his family faced each day. Jimmy Carter’s book, An Hour Before Daylight provides similar descriptions and the two are paired well together. I also used a short exerpt from Caroline Miller’s Lamb in His Bosom which details the rigors of farming when Georgia was still in many ways a wilderness and frontier. An idea that emerged here was the levels of difficulty famers have faced throughout history. Following the reading of this material, students were required to generate five inquiry questions that would elicit from their interview subject, answers that revealed the lifestyle of rural inhabitants. Questions ranged from jobs assigned to children to what kind of medical care was available in Hickory Flat in the early part of the century. The students worked together to create an Inquiry Guideline Sheet that they would all use for their interviews.

The next step involved a look at how to conduct an interview. Earlier I had discovered a resource through the Smithsonian Institute that was exclusive to oral history projects. Using guidelines suggested in the materials, students practiced on one another. For a trial run, I invited Reuben Wilson, a 78 year old resident of Hickory Flat who has lived and taught school in the area his entire life. Mr. Wilson visited our classroom and the students practiced their interview skills with him. I modeled some techniques for them such as how to guide the interview subject back to the question at hand. We also discussed technical issues such as testing tape recorders, checking batteries, and etiquette issues such as scheduling and follow-up notes.

Students were then given deadlines and assignment requirements. Some students required help in locating interview subjects, but a communty network helped tremendously here. Several of my students were from long time Hickory Flat families and planned to interview grandparents. Through their association with other people in their churches and neighbors and my own aquaintances in the area everyone was easily connected to an interview subject. I had to do some arrangement juggling in only a few situations and this was handled easily. Armed with tape recorders and notepads, the students set out to capture the stories.

Once students had conducted their interviews and transcribed their tapes they were ready for the narrative writing. Before I instructed them to write their Hickory Flat narrative, we read and wrote some narratives. After reading several short narratives, I allowed my students to interview me for five minutes. One of the questions asked about my most embarrassing moment in high school. I instructed them to take the information they had written down about that event and write it as a narrative. Once I was convinced they understood the conventions of narrative writing I instructed them to write their interview in narrative form. There was considerable discussion about finding threads, of excluding information, and point of view.

This was originally the imagined end-point of this assignment. I thought that ideally we might compile these narratives in a booklet to present to the Cherokee Historical Society and possibly to interview subjects, and the Hickory Flat Branch of the Public Library. However, in the process of learning about the history of the area and the stories they heard about the house and its role in the community, my students became very unsettled about the possibility of the destruction of the house for a supermarket. This led to a visit to the classroom by Cherokee County Historical Society president, Judson Roberts who convinced my students that it was within their means to save the house. He listened as they explained their oral history project; then he suggested that they use the narratives as the source for a video that could eventually be used as a marketing tool to save the house. Having already conducted such a campaign, Mr. Roberts gave the students an overview of what would be involved and the process they would need to follow including financial assistance. At his suggestion, students worked with me to draft a grant proposal to the Georgia Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, asking for financial asssistance to produce the video.

Once the narratives were completed and turned in, a group of students who volunteered to write the video script, read all the narratives and selected information they believed best showed the life of rural members of society in the twentieth century. The house does not take center stage in the video; rather, it brings the video to a close and serves as a symbol of another time and culture. Students had also borrowed photographs and other artifacts from their interview subjects. Part of the video writing process involved choosing narrative strands that paired well with the available images.

The script committee wrote the script, created the story board, and arranged the images for the video company. Their final task was to organize volunteers to provide the voice overs. Two student thespians and three faculty members provided their help in this final stage, and the video production teacher shared his technical expertise in the taping of the script. We used a video recorder with an external microphone rather than an audio recorder for improved sound quality. The tape was made in the school after hours to avoid the bells. The final step was delivering the tape, script, and images to the video production lab. The lab chose appropriate period background music for us. For considerably more money we could have hired professional actors and actresses, but fortunately we were able to locate talented and generous volunteers.

The video has been distributed to local libraries, the historical society, and area schools. It is our hope that teachers will use the video to teach local history in the lower grades.


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