About the Website


The Who Speaks for the Negro?  website is a digital archive of materials related to the book of the same name published by Robert Penn Warren in 1965.  The original materials are held at the University of Kentucky and Yale University Libraries.  We are indebted to both of these institutions for their willingness to share their collections in order to create a full digital record of Warren’s research for the book.  Robert Penn Warren’s children, Gabriel Warren and Rosanna Warren, have generously given their permission for this material to be made available publicly.

The archive consists of digitized versions of the original reel-to-reel recordings that Warren compiled for each of his interviewees as well as print materials related to the project.  All of the print materials appear on the website in two versions: an image of the original document which is not searchable and a re-transcribed document which is searchable.  When a search is implemented, the searched word or phrase will be highlighted within the re-typed document; the user will need to scroll through the document to find the highlighted search term.

This project has been underway since 2007. As with any such long-term undertaking, many people have made substantial contributions along the way to see this venture to fruition.  At a critical point in the life of the project, an anonymous donor stepped forward to provide needed financial support to allow the digital archive to expand into its current form.  Vanderbilt University Provost Richard McCarty and College of Arts and Science Dean Carolyn Dever also granted key fiscal support. The Warren Center is deeply appreciative of this generous support for the digital archive.

Warren Center staff members Polly Case, Galyn Glick Martin, Katherine Newman, Sarah Nobles, Kate Rattner, and Allison Thompson deserve special credit for the Who Speaks for the Negro? digital archive. I cannot thank them enough for their energy and special talents which have collectively made the digital archive an outstanding resource. Along the way, several Vanderbilt University graduate students have provided critical research assistance:  Jason Bates (history), Lauren Davis (economics), Sharon Thompsonowak (Divinity School), and Nick Villanueva (history) have contributed mightily to the archive.  I am especially indebted to Sarah Nobles for her essential research at Yale University’s Beinecke Library which kick-started our digital archive and to Kate Rattner for her wisdom and leadership in finalizing all the countless details related to this complex archive. In the summer of 2014, Vanderbilt University graduate student and Warren Center HASATC Scholar Amy Gant Tan spent many hours using her extraorindary skills as historian and editor to polish and improve the archive. 

Our colleagues in the Jean and Alexander Heard Library created the first on-line archive made up of the digitized oral interviews.  Special thanks go to Paul Gherman and Jody Combs for their leadership in supporting the creation of the initial digital archive.  Librarians Jodie Gambill, Deborah Lilton, Dale Poulter, Suellen Stringer-Hye, and Pete Wilson were also critical members of our team.  The Vanderbilt University Library has been supportive of the project throughout the development of the expanded archive and the Warren Center has benefited tremendously from their guidance.  The archive was enhanced with the support of staff members at the University of Kentucky Library as well and I would especially like to thank Sara Abdmishani Price for her collaboration and Gordon Hogg for his welcoming hospitality.

The material is all, of course, a result of Robert Penn Warren’s wisdom and foresight in recording these interviews with such an extraordinary group of men and women. His dedication to the book Who Speaks for the Negro? reads appropriately “With thanks to all those who speak here.” 

 Mona Frederick
Executive Director, Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities
January, 2012


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