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March1999
Passing for Black
by Wade Hall
Wade Hall with interviewers
On March 3, 1999, Wade Hall (left) was interviewed at his home in Louisville by Bill Goodman, Janet Whitaker, and Liz Hobson (not shown). Photos by Liz Hobson

Bill: Wade, tell us what an oral history is.

Wade: Well, Bill, to me an oral history—if it’s an oral biography—it is the story of a person told in that person’s words, now, usually by way of an interview: Someone sits down and talks to a subject about his or her life, asking questions that pull responses—protracted responses, not just yes-or-no responses. And the person, in a sense, re-creates his or her life in his or her words and tells the story—the most important story in the world—of that person: his or her life story.

Bill: In editing the oral history of Passing for Black, what process did you find with Mae Street Kidd that was maybe different from some of the other interviews that you’ve done in the past? Was there anything different?

Wade: Well, every person’s different. And I knew that Mrs. Kidd had an agenda of her own. She always had an agenda of her own; that’s what made her special to me. And I knew I was going to have problems with her. I knew that there would be times when she would resist responding to some questions, even though we had talked about this before we started.

Wade Hall at homeLet me give you a little background to this: I did not know her very well, but I knew who she was. We had met at various places around Louisville. But I didn’t know her intimately. One day she called me. And she said, “Dr. Hall, this is Mae Street Kidd. Do you know who I am?” And I said, “Yes, ma’am, I know who you are!” And she said, “Well, I have written this scenario”—that’s what she called it, a scenario—“and I would like for you to read it.” And I said, “OK, you want to bring it by, or you want to send it to me?” She said, “I’ll just send it to you.” So I said OK, I’d be glad to read it. So she sent it to me. It came. I read it, and it was awful. It was terrible! It was about a trip that she had been in charge of. A group of black insurance agents were going, by train, I think it was, from Chicago to, I believe, Los Angeles—somewhere in California—back in the late ’40s, early ’50s, and she was in charge of this group. And she would say, “We left Chicago at 6:30 pm and arrived in St. Louis at 7:30 am and we had breakfast and we got back on the train.” I mean, nothing! Nothing at all! It was “Just the facts, ma’am; just the facts.”

I’ve learned to be, you know, gentle. So when I read it, I called her and I said, “Mrs. Kidd, I’ve read your scenario of your trip to California and I’d like to talk to you about it.” And I said, “Could we get together?” She said, “Yes, we can.” So I made an appointment to go to her house on Chestnut Street here in Louisville. And I had my agenda by then, too, because I knew who she was: that she had been a businesswoman, that she had been in the [Kentucky] General Assembly, and that she was an outspoken—plainspoken—woman, which I’ve always liked. She called a spade a spade, by George—and sometimes worse. But she was a very stylish woman. She was the kind of woman who would never have left her house without her hat! And she was the kind of person that you could probably knock on her front door at any time of the day or evening and she’d be dressed for company. She was always stylish. I like that sense of style she had. She had that throughout her life. It wasn’t just in her clothing, but in the way she lived her life.

She was a self-made woman. I knew that. And I knew that she had an important story to tell. And I had not done a biography of a woman. I’d done several biographies of men, and I thought, “Well, it’s time that I did the biography of a woman—especially someone as spunky as Mae Street Kidd.”

So I went over to her house on Chestnut Street, and it was spotless. I always felt that I should take off my shoes when I went in the front door because it was so clean. And we sat down and started talking, and I told her that I enjoyed reading her scenario; and I said, very quickly, I said I didn’t want to talk about it too much, because there wasn’t much to talk about! But I think she had another reason for calling me, too. She wanted me to “read a scenario!” As it turned out, I played into her hands because she was, she would have been ... She’s still living, as of today [March 1999], but not in good condition. She’s in Treyton Oak Towers, in the nursing unit; she’s about 94 years old, I guess, now. And she would have been about 80—in her late ’80s then, and legally blind. She told me she had wanted to write her life story herself, but that she couldn’t do it and was awfully frustrated. So when I said to her, “Mrs. Kidd, how would you like it if you and I talked about doing your life story in a book?” I said, “Would you like that?” And she said, “Yes, I would!” That’s exactly what she had in mind all along, I am sure, because she’d already determined that she couldn’t do it herself. I’m not so sure she could have done it even if she’d been younger.

But we agreed that I would meet with her periodically, as I had met with other subjects: maybe once or twice a week, for about two hours. I’ve found that after about two hours the subject gets tired. Especially at 86 or 88, you know. I get tired.

It would take, I said, maybe two months in all, because I wanted to get at least 30 hours of taped interviews with her. And I did tell her that I was going to ask her some difficult questions. I said, “There are going to be questions that you may not want to answer, but you’re going to have to if we have a book. We cannot smooth over anything.” And she said, “Well, what kind of questions are you going to ask me?” And I said, “I’m going to ask you about your father.” I said, “You know, you have lived the life of a black woman—an African-American woman—yet you’re as white as I am.” And I said, “I’m going to ask you about who your father was. I know who your mother was; I’ve heard of your mother. But I want to know about your father.” And I said, “Will you tell me about him?” And she hesitated for a few seconds, and she said ... She realized that she had to, if you were going to have a book worthwhile, and she said, “Yes I will.”

Well, so we started the interviews. And you can tell when you’ve got good material from the very first, and I knew I was going to have trouble with her, because I knew that I would get on ... I would touch a wrong nerve. And I stepped on her toes. And, a couple of times, she would lash out at me. Here she was: legally blind, feeling helpless; she had a car that she dearly loved (this comes through in the book; she loved that car), and she couldn’t drive it anymore. She was helpless! And here I was: I could see, and I could write; and I could walk around and drive my car. And I think she was a little bit jealous of me. But I was also the man who was going to put her life in a book, so she knew she had to cooperate. So a few times she’d lash out at me, and I would have to gently remind her. And I would say, “Now, Miss Kidd, just remember you need me a lot more than I need you.” Now, that was a cruel thing to say; but it was true. And she would say, “That’s right; I do.”

Wade Hall at homeAnd of course, you know, nobody talks a book. When you’re doing interviews with a person, regardless of how articulate that person is, she—in this case, she—is not going to talk a book from page 1 through page 250. You can’t do it; and you wouldn’t want the person to do it anyway—because, you see, the book that I produce is my book; I wrote the book using the material that I pulled from her. But I shaped it. I put it together. I rewrote it, in effect. I rewrote her life in her words, in her voice ... mainly in her voice. And people sometimes say, “Wade, she’s telling her story” or “Lyman Johnson is telling his story” or “Wilson Wyatt is telling his story”—isn’t that their book? No! That’s using the first person. Having the person tell his or her own story is a device, a literary device. I could just as easily have put it into the third person and interviewed other people and done a traditional biography. But to me, an oral biography has the dramatic immediacy of the person telling the story of their lives themselves.

Bill: So the liner notes say: “elicited and edited by oral historian Wade Hall.”

Wade: Uh huh.

Bill: The process of asking the questions: Did you do it by period? By decade? Do you really begin at the beginning? How much of what she told you did you have to ... “Embellish” might not be the right word, but, as you said, she didn’t “talk the book.” So how much of that did you actually have to “edit”?

Wade: I don’t know. Umm, I have found that once you get to know a person, by talking to him or her, you begin to feel the voice; and you can begin to impersonate that person when you are rewriting the person’s life. Most of the actual words in Passing for Black are her words. But, at this point, I couldn’t tell you which ones I might have added, because I did some research. I always research my oral biographies a little bit and put in material that the person did not actually tell me in so many words. But I always read the book back to the person. So, in effect, she said, “Yes, that’s my life and that’s my voice, and those are my words.” Because she didn’t know either, for sure, whether she had said those words.

Bill: After the interviews and your editing process and your background ... Did you actually have to do background checks? I mean, uh ...

Wade: I checked articles on her and things like that [from] when she was serving [in the legislature], to get the years right—because a person’s memory ... Every time you tell a story about yourself, you change it, you know; that’s just the way we are. Because we remember it differently. And she did, too. Oftentimes, I would ask a person to tell me about a particular incident several times, because each time the person would come at it from a different direction and tell me more and give me more information about it. And then my job is to put the three or four versions together and make one. So I have to re-create the scene: one scene from three or four variations of it. You see?

Bill: So in the final edit, did you do it in sections, or did you wait until you had a final book, if you will, or history? And then did you go back and read it to her because she was blind?

Wade: Yeah. Now, I finish each book and then schedule a time when we can get together and I can read it to the person—not at one sitting, because it’s too long for that, but in several sittings. And invariably ... I don’t mean to brag, but invariably the person loves his life story. Because it’s his story, but it’s also his voice, even though he ... Lyman Johnson used to say about his book, The Rest of the Dream, that “This book has in it what Wade Hall said I said,” and he’s absolutely right. But it was his voice, and he loved the book. And I don’t mean to be talking too much about Lyman, but Lyman said to me, after we finished the book—he was so moved by his own life, as he should have been—he said: “Wade, you know, only two people could have done this book: two Southerners, one white and one black, because our perspectives are different. You could see the ‘me’ that I could never see, myself; and you got it right.” That was better than any review I have ever had of anything.

Bill: How much of that was true?

Wade: And this was true of Mae Street Kidd: She loved her life. And every once in a while she would say, “Dr. Hall, we have got a best-seller here. I KNOW.” [laughs] She’d say, “I love it. It’s going to be a movie.” And I said, “Yes, ma’am, it’s going to be a movie. Maybe not while we’re alive, but sooner or later somebody’s gonna make a great movie out of it.” Because she was the kind of person who would have wanted to play herself on the screen.

Bill: You’ve done a lot of interviews, and you’ve written a great deal. Was she one of the most unique people you’ve ever met and interviewed?

Wade: I think every person has a story. And that doesn’t mean we need a book on every person. But you could pass a total stranger on the street—I don’t care who he or she was—and, if you interview the person right, you will find material that would make a gripping book. True, Henry James wrote stories about people to whom absolutely nothing ever happened, and made the stories interesting. That’s the ultimate horror story, because he was always writing about unlived lives—people who don’t do anything with their lives. But he made it interesting, and most people have interesting things if you dig enough.

Bill: Is there anything that she said to you that you ... that shocked you? Or that you left out because of some reason? Or that she didn’t want in the book?

Wade: Well, she was hesitant to tell me about her father. She never knew her father, but she once saw him in the post office in Millersburg.

Bill: Why do you think she didn’t want to, want to go up [to her father] at that moment?

Wade: Well, I think she was still a bit upset that she had to live a life maybe not of her own choosing. Her father was a white man, a prominent white man, in Millersburg. He never acknowledged her, publicly, that she’s aware of. Never.

Bill: But the families were so close—the white family, her father and her stepfather and her mother. Didn’t they visit back and forth? The children visited ...

Wade: Yes. Her brother ... Mae had a full brother, by her mother and by her father. And apparently he and the father were fairly close. But for some reason Mae’s mother didn’t want her to get too close to the white, her white relatives. I think she was grooming Mae to be an independent woman—which she succeeded in doing. Because she would never let Mae do any work for anyone else when she was growing up. She would not be a maid for a black or white person. She did not want her to house-clean, or wash clothes, or do any of the things that young girls, especially young black girls, might have done early in the 20th century.

Bill: So pulling that aspect of her life out, about her white father: She was somewhat hesitant to speak about that. Anything else that surprised you, or shocked you, or ... What did you learn that you didn’t already know?

Wade: Well, I learned a lot of things. But I learned that she felt a little bit bitter about the way she was treated by other African Americans, because ... and by men, because she was a woman. She felt that she was discriminated against in her job working for a black insurance company here in Louisville because she was a woman—not because she was a black woman, but because she was a woman. She was bitter about that. And that surprised me a little bit. That, and she was, I think, concerned that—maybe because she was very beautiful, and she could have passed for white—I think she felt that some of her own people resented that, resented that she might have had the option to pass for white. But, as the title says, she never passed for white. Shall I tell how the title came about?

Bill: Please. As you will know when you see the program, [Rochelle] Riley did a wonderful detailed description of that, and also read a portion of that. But why don’t you tell us again?

Wade: Well, as I recall, this was when she was working for Mammoth Life Insurance Company in downtown Louisville. She was on her lunch hour on Fourth Street—and Fourth Street was the main business street in Louisville—and she was window-shopping. There were certain stores that blacks could not go in and really shop, to try on clothes in certain upscale shops. So she was window-shopping, and she happened to turn her head and she saw two of her friends, two black schoolteachers, walking along. And she spoke to them and waved. And she said they didn’t respond; they didn’t say anything. You have to know Mae to see her ... You can just see her walking over to them and saying, “I spoke to you, and you didn’t say anything. What’s wrong?” And one of them said—and this is Mae speaking; Mae’s telling the story—“One of them said to me, she said, ‘Uh, well, Mae, we thought you were “passing.”’” And Mae said, “’Course I knew what she meant, but I said, ‘Passing? Passing for what?’ And the schoolteacher said, ‘Well, you know, Mae, passing for white.’” And Mae said, “Nooo, honey. I have never tried to pass for white, but I’ve been passing for black all my life!”

And it’s true, because she ... I don’t know what percentage of hers [is] white blood; but, legally, if a person had an ounce of black blood, then he or she was legally a black person, an African-American person. And a lot of people wonder why she didn’t try to pass for white. And I got her to talk about that. That was a little bit sensitive. But she loved her mother very much. And she said that it was because of her mother. And she chose to live her life in Kentucky, and of course she said, “If I had wanted to pass for white, it would have been difficult because I had my family here.” She had no connections; she had no one to help her. When she came to Louisville, she was on her own. She had worked for a black insurance company in Millersburg, and so she had that connection. She came to Louisville to work with the insurance company here. So she had a job when she came here. So she had that black connection. But she could not have passed for white in Louisville. She lived out of state for a few years, in Detroit, mainly. But she was already working in black-oriented companies, you know. And when she was ... During World War II she worked in the Red Cross in England. But, again: She worked with the black soldiers, so that she was already into the black culture. And she said, “I love my mother too much to try to pass for white, because my mother had lived her life as a black woman”—even though she was mostly white: She had white and Indian and black blood.

You know, Lyman Johnson talked about this, too. He said: “You know, I think I’m just an all-American.” He said: “I look at myself in the mirror and I see that a third of me comes from maybe Africa, and about a third of me maybe comes from Wales, and about a third of me comes from I don’t know where. I ... I just ... I’m just a ... an American mixture.” And I ... and Mae, you see, is like that: She ... There is a little Indian blood, a little black blood, and white blood in her.

Bill: Were you at all alarmed at some of the statements that she made about some of the other African Americans from Louisville? The one that comes to mind in our modern day is Muhammad Ali, whom she didn’t have the greatest respect for because he moved away and hadn’t spent a lot of time here. Of course, I hope she realizes now that he is coming back, and the museum and all of that; that’s going to occur.

Wade: Well, I think Mae felt that she stayed at home, and worked to better herself, and her people, by staying at home—by working directly. She did this in the state legislature, of course. She was not, you know, not a powerful voice in the state legislature; but people paid attention to her when she spoke. I think Mae felt that she had not received the recognition that she felt she deserved. But she stayed at home and lived her life here, made a reputation for herself as a person who could create a good life. She was married twice but, you know, as she says: She didn’t need either husband. She didn’t really need either husband. I love that line. And she didn’t. She was living at a time when a lot of women felt if they didn’t have a husband, they were somehow half-people, half-persons; but she didn’t really need it.

Bill: Did that at all surprise you when she said that?

Wade: I think so, yeah. But it surprised me, but then it didn’t surprise me; because I already knew things about her that it would be surprising for anyone else to have said, you know. “I did not need either one.” I thought at first, I thought: “This is an awfully ugly thing to say about your two husbands.” And she ... and both of them died, you know.

Liz: She divorced one of them.

Wade: They were divorced. Once divorced, they remarried. Yeah.

Bill: For a short time.

Liz: And I love her line in there because she said, “Oh, he just had some ways I didn’t like” or “I didn’t like his ways.”

Wade: Yeah.

Liz: But then he came back a couple months later, so what happened? Or do you know what he did?

Wade: He may have been stepping out on her, I think. I didn’t ask her, but I think that was it. But I like the passage in which she tells about buying the house that I was interviewing her in. She [laughs] ... she said ... I don’t think they were married yet, but this old—somewhat older—man who worked as an officer in the insurance company was courting her, and they were going to get married. And he took her over to see this house and asked her if she liked it; and [she] knew the house because, I think, she had been in it before. And he said that he would buy it for her, and she liked that. It was kind of a bribe, you know, to get her to marry him. And they ... And so then a few days later, he came in and showed her the deeds. He said, “I bought the house that you like.” And she picked up the deeds, and she said, “Whose name is on those deeds?” [laughs] He said, “My name.” And she said, “I’m going to give you exactly two weeks to get those deeds changed, and if my name is not on those deeds with yours, our marriage is called off.” And she said, “You know what? It didn’t take that man two weeks. He came back in a couple of days and showed me the deeds. My name was on there, too.” Now, you know, that tells you something about what kind of person she was. She might have been hard to live with, but she was her own person throughout her life; and she is a role model. I mean, that is a term we throw around, but she’s really a role model, not just for black girls but for white girls and white and black men as well.

Bill: People.

Wade: People, yeah. Not just ... It’s not that immediate.

Bill: Again, what was her reaction—other than the statement that she made about “This is going to be a movie” and so forth—when you would read that back to her? Or, I’m sure somebody—even though she could not see—somebody gave her a copy of that book, and she held it, and I know she felt that those were her words.

Wade: Uh huh.

Bill: What was her reaction?

Wade Hall at homeWade: Well, I think, like a lot of people ... As we get old and face the end of our lives, we wonder: What have I done? What have I accomplished? What have I amounted to? Will there be anything that I will leave behind? See, she had no children that she could say, “This is my legacy.” She couldn’t say that. And we do forget. We cannot remember everybody who lives, even everybody who lives a meaningful and productive life. We can’t remember everybody. And so some people have to be forgotten. And I think Mae felt that this book had given her a kind of immortality that all people want at some time. As Shakespeare said: “So long as ... so long lives this and this gives life to thee,” as he said to his friend in one of the sonnets, you know.

Bill: Uh huh.

Wade: “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, so long lives this, and this gives life to thee.” Unfortunately, we don’t know the name of Shakespeare’s friend. [laughs] So we don’t know who it is that is being immortalized. But we do know the name of Mae Street Kidd.

Bill: Janet has a final question.

Janet: Well, I guess ... [To Liz] Do you want to ask any more about ...

Liz: No, I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure. Before we get to the question, though, I’m curious about your personal reaction to her, because what we were interested in, in reading the book—and I guess it’s the first time I read an oral history—so I was interested in the fact that it seemed so much her words. And I kept wondering, “Well, I wonder what Mr. Hall thinks? Wonder what the legislators thought? Wonder what her bosses ...” Kind of thinking, “Well, if this were a biography, I would know all that stuff.” So I’ve always wanted to ask you.

Janet: What were other people’s reactions?

Liz: To her, and what ... When you did research, what did ...

Wade: Oh.

Liz: ... people think about her? And what did you think?

Wade: Well, I don’t think Mae would ever have won any popularity contests [laughs] at work. Maybe not even in her church. See, she and Lyman Johnson were members of the same church.

Bill: Uh huh.

Wade: And I think that’s why Mae called me in the first place. She had ... She knew Lyman had a book, and I had done that book with him, you know. And she thought: “I’m just as important as Lyman Johnson, and I deserve my own book, by George.” But ... And, uh, she is a little bit jealous of him. But I don’t think ... She was not an easy person to work with, particularly at the time that she was working, whether it was the legislature—in her, what? 60s I guess, and 70s.

Bill: Uh huh.

Wade: She was an ... you know, an older woman when she went into the General Assembly.

Bill: Uh huh.

Wade: And when she was a younger woman, working as a public relations officer at Mammoth Life Insurance Company, she would have been, as we used to say, headstrong. And you couldn’t push her around. And I think this was a time when most women, even in positions like that, would have agreed to be compromised. That is, somebody could have said, “Well, Mae, we don’t like that program you’ve got; bring us something else.” She would have said, “Yes, sir. I’ll do it.” But she probably—if she had liked the program, the PR program that she was presenting—she probably would have said, “OK. You are wrong. I’ll tell you why. This is why you’re wrong, and let me ...” She would try to sell the program to the person who just said “I don’t like it,” you know. She was opinionated, people say to me who read the book. And her friends liked it. But when you mention Mae Street Kidd here in Louisville, people will say, “Ahh, you know Mae. You know Mae.” And when I would talk about maybe having a little difficulty with her during the process, then they would say, “Well, you know Mae.” In other words, we know that Mae is not the easiest person in the world to get to work with because she has got her own program.

Bill: Yeah.

Liz: Did you like her?

Wade Hall at homeWade: Oh, I admire her immensely. But I don’t think that I would want to, as I said, work with her day by day; or to ... I think her two husbands deserve medals, posthumously, for having lived with her. But I think she was beautiful, and she knew it. And she liked to be around beautiful people. And she, I think ... In the book, doesn’t she say that when—was this her first? I think it was her second husband (who is younger, I think, than the first one)—she said, “When we were dressed up, we would turn eyes as we came into the room.”

Bill: Uh huh.

Wade: And, you know, they were ... She was striking.

Bill: Uh huh.

Wade: And she liked that.

Bill: Uh huh.

Wade: And that suggests that she might have been superficial, but she was not superficial. You know, she was a woman of style; but she was also a woman of substance.

Janet: I just had really wanted to ask something else, but, in terms of substance: She felt that she had represented the black community relatively well, did she not?

Wade: Uh huh.

Janet: And do you feel that there’s that same regard—that she did make changes, that she was successful in helping the black community?

Wade: Well, I think she was looking out for the black community; but, as she says, she was elected not by just black voters but by white voters, too. And she was not just trying to represent her own black people. She wanted to represent all of her people. And she had had the position—and I think it’s the right one—that there shouldn’t be any “black issues” and “white issues”; there should be “people issues.” And when she was promoting a bill in the General Assembly dealing with the removal of old lead-based paint, it was not just because little poor black children might be poisoned by eating it or getting it in their mouths in a run-down neighborhood, but white children also—it could have affected them, too. And I think when she introduced the bill that caused Kentucky to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution that we had not done, freeing the slaves, she felt that that was unfinished business, not just for blacks but mainly for whites, as something that Kentucky should have done a long time ago. And I think she thought this was closure and she was doing it for all of us, not just for herself and for her people. Her people was everybody.

Janet: Was she liberal?

Wade: I think she was liberal. But having said that, I don’t know: You would have to give me a particular issue. I think she was conservative in many things.

Janet: Uh huh.

Wade: See, she believed that you shouldn’t expect people to do for you what you should do for yourself. Regardless of your skin color.

Bill: She wasn’t liberal in the regard of—if this is a fair characterization—of affirmative action.

Wade: No.

Bill: She pretty much went on the record as being opposed to affirmative action.

Wade: Right, right. She believed in equal opportunity, but she thought that, in the long run, it doesn’t help a person to be given an unfair advantage—or what she considered an unfair advantage. “Just give me a level playing field and don’t discriminate against me because I happen to be a woman, or black, and I’m not going to ask anything else from you. Because if you give me unfair advantage, you are keeping me weak.” And she was certainly not weak, no. I think this came through every page; at least we—I—hoped it did. Because when you are doing a book like this, you can’t tell everything. You have to pick and choose, and I tried to show her as an independent woman. We almost called it that, called the book The Independent Woman. But we thought Passing for Black was more catchy.

Liz: She liked that title?

Wade: Well, she liked it all right. But I remember, when I said that the University Press had selected that—after several I had proposed or had given them—I said, “This is my favorite,” because it was catchy. But she said, “Well, I just ... I’m just tired of people talking about color, skin color. I don’t want to hear that. I don’t want to hear about it.” And I think she was absolutely right. As Lyman Johnson says in his book, “I look forward to the day when I come into the room, or my grandchildren come into the room, you won’t look up and say, ‘Oh, there is a black man’ or black woman. There is a man coming into the room, or a woman coming into the room.” And I think, you know, a colorless society was what they both looked forward to. Not that they were ashamed of being African Americans; that was who they were. And both people believed that it was actually to their advantage to have black blood and white blood and Lord knows what else in them, as most Americans have. You know, you are not just all one thing.

Liz: Is there anything you have left out of the book that you want to tell us about?

Wade: [laughs] I can’t think of anything. Because I remember when I sent the manuscript to the University Press, the editor called me and said, “Is there anything [else]?” She said, “It’s rather short.” Usually people tell me what I write is too long, you know; it’s much too long. And I said, “Well, I don’t know that there is anything that I could add to it.” And by that time she was not able to give me any more material. But I had felt when I finished the taping that I had gotten her story, and I think it’s sufficient. I don’t know of anything that needed to be added. I mean, I can’t imagine anything that would make her more memorable, you know.

Liz: Oh, I agree; and I thank you for bringing this woman to me. I mean, I really felt it was an enriching experience to read the book and find out about this woman. It was really a wonderful experience.

Wade: Thank you. Well, she was a true Kentuckian, too. [laughs]

Liz: Uh huh, yeah. She really was.

Wade: She was, you know. We might call her a pioneer—a pioneering woman—because she lived a life of her own choosing. I think when she left her home, now that was a big break for her. Even though she had a little job here in Louisville, she, you know ... Louisville was a big city.

Bill: Uh huh.

Wade: And she did ... You know, she had ... I’m sure she knew a few people that she had met in her work in the insurance company in Millersburg; but, you know, she was a little girl coming into a big city—and Louisville was a big city—and it was an incredible adventure for her. And she made it. She succeeded. And she lost her job several times, and she came back. And, you know, you have to respect somebody who could live a life like that of her own choosing. Most people have their lives chosen for them.

Liz: Uh huh.

Wade: And she chose her own life very well.

Janet: Well, we are sort of coming full circle, back to Bill’s first question about oral history. You said something really thought-provoking—really, really, beautiful—earlier, about your feeling about the human voice. Would you talk about that just a little bit?

Wade: Well, I can ... I think the most sacred sound in the world ... We can’t hear the voices of the angels—at least I can’t; I haven’t heard them lately—the most sacred sound that I can hear is the sound of the human voice, whether it’s singing or talking. And if you put the sacred sound of the human voice in the service of storytelling, especially if that story happens to be the story of the person who’s speaking, then you have got a wonderful combination. You’ve got the sacred sound of the human voice, and the sacred life that’s being told about.

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