Toward A Larger Freedom: An Oral History Project by Together Baton Rouge

Together Baton Rouge

Guest post by Phillip Norman

Phillip Norman is the Communications Coordinator for Together Baton Rouge, a broad-based coalition of congregations and community-based organizations in the Greater Baton Rouge area working on community issues. Phillip was an intern with Voice of Witness in 2017, which kicked off his interest in oral history.

Toward A Larger Freedom: Ten Years of Citizen Power Organizing with Together Baton Rouge is a project highlighting the vital role everyday citizens play in strengthening democracy. Over the past year, a team from the non-partisan grassroots organization Together Baton Rouge (TBR) recorded oral histories with their mentors. The project they’ve developed offers an interactive historical record of local grassroots organizing by combining these community leaders’ narratives with a series of portraits by Lily Brooks.

Since the organization’s launch in 2010, Together Baton Rouge leaders have fought a wide range of battles to improve the quality of life for families all across their city, parish, and state. TBR works to address a variety of community concerns, including public safety and criminal justice reforms, health care equity, fresh food access, drinking water protection, and immigration justice.

The individuals featured in this oral history project have contributed critically to the growth and success of Together Baton Rouge’s community-based work. In addition to grabbing headlines with large-scale public actions, they have been faithfully present for what Civil Rights icon Ella Baker called “spadework,” those seemingly small, often grueling tasks that hold grassroots campaigns together—canvassing neighborhoods, making turn-out phone calls, showing up to weeknight meetings that run late and long. These leaders do vital work behind the scenes, usually to little fanfare and with no expectation of formal recognition. Their stories remind us that the most essential members of our communities are often the most humble, both the least needing of praise and the most deserving of it.

A selection of oral history excerpts and narrator portraits are featured below, and the full Toward a Larger Freedom project is available online here. To continue their work sharing these stories of citizen power organizing, the TBR team is seeking sponsorship and support for future exhibits and programming.

Edgar Cage, TBR leader from the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana
“Now, these things, I was probably doing before Together Baton Rouge, to some degree, and not knowing what I was doing and why. But Together Baton Rouge sort of put a process, a name, and a label on those tactics, and instilled in me that these are things that you have to do in preparation for an action or to get anything done. [I learned] that people in numbers, and collegially, is the best way to do it. Individually, like I said, it’s next to impossible. Your voice is not as loud, or as powerful.”
Edgar Cage Together Baton Rouge
Dianne Hanley, TBR Leader from Spirit & Justice
Dianne Hanley Together Baton Rogue
“I went from hitting my head against the wall, to actually doing things that made a difference. That created change. One of the first things I did with TBR was become co-chair with Edgar Cage on the public transportation committee. We got something like $23 million of dedicated funding for public transportation by the work that was done by Together Baton Rouge. So, I was on fire and I’m still on fire.”
Dorothy Thomas, TBR Leader from St. Mary Baptist Church
“As we worked on getting the bridge [into my neighborhood] fixed, I had to speak in front of elected officials and big crowds of people… And I didn’t get used to it quickly! But I did eventually. I mean, I didn’t have any choice. Because the other people in the neighborhood wouldn’t talk. They were like me. They were shy, they didn’t want to be in front of the camera, but someone had to do it. So, I was kinda pushed into doin a lot of things. But I got over it and I started getting better. And I feel like now, I’ve gotten to the place where I can get up and speak.”
Dorothy Thomas Together Baton Rouge

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