Thinking about collections

Then and Now: Revisiting The Lou Kushnick Interviews

By Hattie

The majority of our archival material here at the AIU Centre relates to the UK, more specifically to Manchester, emphasising our focus on race relations within our local communities’ history and heritage. However, I have recently taken on the task of getting to grips with the ‘Lou Kushnick Interviews’, which are all the way across the Atlantic ocean from Manchester in their subject matter. While they may focus on US history rather than Manchester’s, there is one quite major connection between the interviews and our city. Lou Kushnick, the founder of The Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource centre, came to Manchester from the US in 1963 to study, and decided to stay. He became a lecturer in American Studies at the University of Manchester and these interviews formed part of his various research endeavours, conducted both in this city and back in the US. They now form part of our archive, and can be browsed along with Lou’s various papers and documents.

There are 95 interviews in total, each around an hour in length. Some span over multiple recordings, and some are shorter and straight to the point. The interviewees are mostly American politicians, academics, lawyers, union members and activists. If you are interested in US political and social history, or US racial inequality within housing, employment, education and welfare, the Lou Kushnick interviews will fascinate you. As a past student of American Studies myself, they certainly fascinated me.

A photo of a diagram drawn in pen linking each interview to its relevant theme
Note-taking and brainstorming while listening to the Lou Kushnick Interviews

This blog post acts as a mid-way point in my journey. It’s a huge task, but I hope to have listened to all the interviews soon so that this resource can be made the most use of. With 41 down, 54 to go, I have decided to pause and reflect on the ones I’ve listened to so far, to form a bigger picture and share my progress. They offer an excellent insight into 1980s/90s America, but are they still relevant now?

Amidst the passionate (and often very loud) voices of the interviewees, bizarre background noises (I would love to know where some of these interviews were conducted – middle of a construction site perhaps?) and the hearty banter from Lou, I have deciphered some key themes that the interviews fall into:

  • Women’s and Children’s Rights
  • Trade Unions/Labour Movements
  • Immigration
  • US Political Leaders
  • US Justice System
  • Housing

It’s not surprising that these are the topics that have emerged as most prominent in Lou’s discussions. The discrimination and inequality faced by African Americans, as well as Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and other minorities in the US, manifest themselves most strongly in these areas. The combination of first-hand accounts of discrimination and a more observed analysis of inequality provides a very useful insight into the failure of the US government to take care of its most vulnerable. One troubling aspect of the interviews is the fact that, unfortunately, the words spoken on the political leadership, criminal justice system and treatment of immigrants in the US at the time of the interviews could very well be spoken of the US today and still be accurate. It makes me wonder what the interviewees would say now, given the chance.

If you’re hooked, stay tuned for updates on my progress and for some posts spotlighting my favourite interviews (or those I feel are especially worth a listen) and you can have a listen yourself!

By aiucentre

An open access library specialising in the study of race, ethnicity and migration. Part of the University of Manchester and based at Manchester Central Library.

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