Sharing The Little-Known Story Of Allensworth News & Notes editor Sasa Woodruff recalls one of her favorite segments, which focused on the 100th anniversary of Allensworth, Calif. The town was the first in the state to be funded and founded solely by African Americans.
NPR logo

Sharing The Little-Known Story Of Allensworth

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Sharing The Little-Known Story Of Allensworth

Sharing The Little-Known Story Of Allensworth

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

TONY COX, host:

Today, we're wrapping up our final broadcast by turning to the behind-the-scenes voices for their thoughts about News & Notes. We have now our editor, Sasha Woodruff, who is here to tell us about her favorite segments. Hey Sasha, how are you doing?

SASHA WOODRUFF: I'm doing well, how are you?

COX: I'm fine, thank you. Tell us which stories you're looking back on today.

WOODRUFF: Well, so the first one is a story that I produced last October about the hundredth anniversary of Allensworth. That was the first town in California that was funded and founded solely by African-Americans. We started out with an interview with Lonnie Bunch. He's the founding director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African-American History and Culture. Former host Farai Chideya started by asking him to set the scene of Allensworth.

(Soundbite of interview)

Mr. LONNIE BUNCH (Founding Director, Smithsonian's National Museum of African-American History and Culture): Well, imagine if you will, it's the time in America when segregation is the law of the land, when discrimination against African-Americans was the norm, rather than being unusual. It was a time when a hundred black men per year were lynched in the South. It was a time when most blacks lived in the South and were stuck in low-level jobs - sharecroppers, porters, maids. It was a time when it was hard for people, especially African-Americans, to believe that there would be a better day, and yet they did. And Allensworth was really an example of how a community came together to believe, but also to work hard to find a better day.

CHIDEYA: So, Allensworth was meant to be a haven from discrimination, and it wasn't the only town of its type.

Mr. BUNCH: Well, what happens is that there have been a history of African-American towns - in Massachusetts, in New Jersey, Boley, Oklahoma, Nicodemus, Kansas - and so Allensworth on the surface is just like that, an attempt to create an oasis free of racism. But what I think is so exciting about Allensworth as a community is that they recognized that what they were doing was greater than them. While they definitely wanted to have a community where there could be black business and shopkeepers and school teachers, they recognized that their mission was bigger. If they could be a successful community and show economic progress and show leadership, they felt that would be a beacon of change that would echo around the country, that people would see Allensworth and say, African-Americans can control their own destiny, can be contributing members of American society, and their hope would be that would help to change the racial dynamics in this country.

WOODRUFF: And then we talked to one-time resident Alice Royle(ph), who was born in Allensworth in 1923. She shared these memories with us.

Ms. ALICE ROYLE (Former resident, Allensworth): Well, I remember my grandmother because I used to follow her everywhere - in the home, in her garden - and she raised all of her vegetables and her condiments for cooking. And then across the road, she had her cows and her chickens. I tried to help her collect the eggs because the chickens knew her better than they knew me. So I just had to watch and cautiously try to reach the eggs every day.

CHIDEYA: Or else you'd get a peck on the hand.

Ms. ROYLE: They were Rhode Island red chickens, and of course, eggs were brown and were supposed to be the most nourishing. And then with the cow, I also tried to milk the cow, but I didn't do a very good job as an 8-year-old and so I - most of time, I just watched and helped my mother and my grandmother with the milk and the clean and the churning in the home.

CHIDEYA: What do you remember about the other people in the town? Did people congregate?

Ms. ROYLE: They were very loving, gracious people because my grandparents were highly respected in the community, and then so many of the community members were friends. Some of them where church members and some of them were educators, some of them were business people and we were welcomed when we went to the post office, we were welcomed when we went to the drug store, we were welcomed when we went to the other stores in the community. And of course, my aunt was a teacher in the school during my day, and so on special occasions, we had taffy pulls in the Hackett(ph) home for all the children in the community. And of course, that was a joy time as well.

COX: Allensworth is now a California state park, where people can visit this historic haven. What did you like best about producing this story, Sasha?

WOODRUFF: When I go back and listen to this story, I have to just smile when I hear Alice Royle talked about the details of the chickens and the cows and the taffy pulls, and I love hearing the pride in her voice about helping keep this town's memory alive.

COX: Now, you also did a story about a bass baritone named Eric Owens. Why did you pick this one as one of your favorites?

WOODRUFF: Well, I have to admit I've always been a little bit of an opera geek, and so when I had the chance to book Eric Owens, who just debuted at the Metropolitan Opera late last year, I jumped at the chance. And the most interesting part of the interview for me was when he talked about singing the role of General Leslie Groves in the production of "Doctor Atomic," which is about the making of the atomic bomb.

CHIDEYA: What do you like about this character or playing this character - who was white, by the way, and I wanted to ask you about that.

Mr. ERIC OWENS (Bass Baritone Opera Singer, "Doctor Atomic"): Exactly.

CHIDEYA: You know, it's like...

Mr. OWENS: Absolute - yeah.

CHIDEYA: It's the whole question of cross-racial casting...

Mr. OWENS: Right.

CHIDEYA: Comes into play.

Mr. OWENS: Indeed. You know...

CHIDEYA: Or race-neutral, some people call it.

Mr. OWENS: And it's so funny because I was curious as to how people would react to me playing someone who was white, and a character of the not-too-distant past. You know, there are people who are still alive who knew this man and - but John Adams, he wanted me to be in this opera and he just thought it was character-driven. He thought I could bring this character to life, and it made no difference to him whatsoever, you know, and also the original director and the librettist, Peter Sellars, and they thought this was a story that affects all mankind. So, you know, whether I was black or white didn't really - didn't matter to them and so, ultimately, it didn't matter to me, and I was just happy to be a part of the production.

COX: Well, Sasha, let me ask you this because I don't think people realize that what you do on an everyday basis - I know that you produce things like what we just heard. But every day, you are responsible because every word that is spoken, every written word on the air here has to go through you, right?

WOODRUFF: Yes, it does.

COX: I imagine there are some words that you probably never thought you would run across.

WOODRUFF: Yeah, I mean, you know, and having to read through these scripts every single day, I mean, it's - it can get a little bit greuling.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Anything stand out for you in terms of just the experience of being here in the building around the folks and the staff meetings and the arguments and the, you know, things that we have in terms of trying to put News & Notes on the air every day?

WOODRUFF: You know, we have a really small staff, but it's a really great staff, and as far as the work dynamic goes, I think it's probably one of the best places I've worked as far as that goes, and it's just been a lot of fun. It's also been fun to learn how to work with different hosts. I started out working with Farai, and I had to kind of figure out her - the way she liked things done and now, I'm finally getting the groove of working with you, which has also been a real honor to do. So it's been a really, really wonderful experience this last year.

COX: You've done a good job. We appreciate it.

WOODRUFF: Thank you.

COX: You're listening to News & Notes from NPR News.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.