'Chesterfield Remembers' collects stories of everyday residents
Chesterfield County is gathering stories from residents for a recently launched oral history project called “ Chesterfield Remembers.” So far, submissions detail a journey from Colombia to the county and a discussion about being a Black race car driver at Southside Speedway, among others.
The project started after County Administrator Joe Casey saw an exhibit honoring veterans in Columbus, Ohio, said Jennifer Hayek, branch manager at the Central Library.
“He was inspired to do something similar that would collect stories [of] local veterans,” Hayek said. "Then, as this has progressed, it's kind of expanded to include stories of residents or those with ties to Chesterfield.”
Hayek said the roughly 10-minute audio-visual vignettes are all recorded at the Chesterfield Central Library on Lucy Corr Boulevard.
“We have a video camera; we have an audio recorder. And then we have a backdrop and some lights,” Hayek said. “If they want some prompts written on the whiteboard behind them to kind of jog their memory as they go along, we have that.”
She said participants don’t need a prepared script, but “we encourage them to practice beforehand.”
One of the first to sign up was Allen George, whose 17-year-old son Devin was one of the only Black race car drivers at the now-closed Southside Speedway. Devin raced a type of car known as legends, which are smaller-scale race cars that look like older models.
George spoke at a recent board of supervisors meeting about the fate of the speedway, which closed about two years ago during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
After his comments, he was approached by county staff to record his story for “Chesterfield Remembers.”
“I felt like, you know, that'd be something great to get some information out there. For others to hear,” George said.
George said before he and Devin began racing at the track, he wasn’t sure how they would be accepted.
“One thing I noticed about being African American at the track, we weren't sure how we're going to be treated just because of the history of the sport,” George said.
But one thing George said he wanted to share is how great an experience they had there. He said both he and his son were treated just like everyone else.
“It's amazing because I don't feel like they're judging us for anything,” George said. “But I do feel that there are some people that definitely look at us differently, and that's another thing that I need to learn as well — is that not everyone is going to be as accepting as other people.”
But overall, George said he and Devin were encouraged to keep racing — even when Devin started to beat other drivers.
“Watching how people embraced him. You know, when you see your child and you see how they're being supported and accepted. That's what really made it overwhelming for me, which made it a great experience,” George said. “Because not one time did I feel my color, did he feel his color. It was just strictly about racing, and the relationships and everything out there.”
George said after his son graduates from Manchester High School, he wants to race in NASCAR. Current NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin also graduated from Manchester, and also raced at Southside Speedway.
Other stories collected in “Chesterfield Remembers” include a person’s journey immigrating from Colombia to the United States, as well as the military service of one resident.
Hayek said they’re still looking for more residents to tell their stories. All the stories collected for “Chesterfield Remembers” will be kept as part of the library’s digital collection.
Visit CCPL’s website for more information about participating in “Chesterfield Remembers.”