Columbus State University geography students and a local filmmaker are seeking help for an oral history project and documentary film envisioned to air on public television.
Billed as the “Liberia Migration Project History Harvests,” two opportunities will be available Saturday:
- From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Mildred L. Terry Public Library, 640 Veterans Parkway, in Columbus.
- From 3:30-5:30 p.m. at the Eufaula Community Center, 530 Lake Drive, in Eufaula.
CSU geography professor Amanda Rees, her students and Azilia Films creative director, Matt McDaniel will host the history harvests.
They are looking for anyone related to the approximately 450 people who are part ofthe more than 100 families who migrated from the lower Chattahoochee Valley to the west African nation of Liberia between 1850 and 1900.
McDaniel learned about the Columbus area’s connection to Liberia while attending Louisiana State University a decade ago.
“I’ve always thought it would be great to keep digging and find out what happened to the emigrants in Liberia,” he said. “Well, I’ve been to Africa and found their descendants. So now we’re hoping to reconnect folks on this side of the ocean with the story too. And we think an educational film would be a great way to do it and make it easier to share this largely forgotten history.”
Those who qualify are encouraged to attend one of the history harvests to share their family stories and are asked to bring any objects that can be scanned, such as photos and letters.
They will be included in a digital humanities project published at CSU’s archives next year. They also might be included in McDaniel’s film.
Those who qualify but can’t attend one of the history harvests may fill out a form at LiberiaMigrationProject.com to be contacted later.
The film, titled “Liberia: An American-African Legacy,” is expected to highlight the historic and present connections between the Chattahoochee Valley and Africa’s first republic.
In emailed interviews Thursday, Rees and McDaniel explained the reason for their projects and their collaboration.
All CSU geography courses require a project “that uses geographical thinking to research, map, analyze and provide fresh and insightful perspectives on community challenges,” Rees said. “… Matt reached out to us to help him connect with the families of the Liberian emigres still living in the lower Chattahoochee Valley.”
Among the skills students are learning through this project, Rees said, are genealogical research, using Geographic Information System software to create analytical maps, and how to compile an oral history.
“As we only have the full names and ages of the folks that left — mostly on two ships, one in 1867 and the other in 1868 — it’s challenging to find the present-day dependents,” she said. “… I’m also hoping that we might be able to connect with folks in Liberia, asking them about their immigrant stories. … Once connections are made, there’s no knowing what sort of amazing opportunities that will flow.”
For those mulling whether to participate in the project, McDaniel said, “Who knows? Maybe we can reconnect you with family in Liberia.”
Local financial support for the nonprofit film project includes the Historic Columbus Foundation and the Daniel P. Amos Family Foundation, but more money is needed “to go into full production,” McDaniel said.