C-N alum concludes 9-year oral history project

Filmmaker and actor Keith McDaniel interviews Oak Ridge Historian Ray Smith at the Oak Ridge History Museum for the Center for Oak Ridge Oral History.

Many of the residents of Oak Ridge held a wealth of World War II history within their own life experiences.

Keith McDaniel, a 1988 Carson-Newman alumnus, has recently concluded a nine-year project documenting approximately 400 current and former residents’ life stories in order to build a digital collection for the Oak Ridge Public Library’s Center for Oak Ridge Oral History.

“A lot of original Oak Ridgers were dying and getting older. We felt it was really important to collect their memories, to collect their stories,” McDaniel said.

McDaniel was part of the group that made plans for the COROH and, following the city’s receipt of an annual grant from the Department of Energy, took the contract for the documentary work.

The one-on-one filmed interviews gave those connected to the Manhattan Project, and later to the city at large, the opportunity to share their life stories.

“Keith was one of two videographers that took on that responsibility. I think he has done by far the majority of what we’ve accomplished,” Oak Ridge City Historian Ray Smith said. “I would commend Keith on his dedication to helping capture the history of Oak Ridge through oral history, one of the most important methods we can use.

“He’s done it very well.”

Among the hundreds he interviewed were individuals such as Bill Wilcox, Dr. Helen Vodopick, Clyde Hopkins, Murray Rosenthal and Lester Fox.

“I loved doing those interviews. I loved talking to those people,” said McDaniel, who is a filmmaker and an actor. “Many of those people I interviewed early on are no longer with us. I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to talk to them.”

McDaniel is the creator of the documentary films “The Clinton 12,” “Secret City: The Oak Ridge Story” and others. He was recently honored by the East Tennessee Historical Society with a History in Media award and also by the Tennessee Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution with a Media and Public Relations award, both of which were for his documentary work over the past 20 years.

“This was really kind of an outreach of my documentary work,” McDaniel said. “I interviewed these people the same way I would for one of my films.”