Everyone Loves a Good Story!
Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives
Members of Congress march to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma during the 2014 Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage. (From left to right: Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, John Conyers of Michigan, Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia, John Lewis of Georgia, Terri Sewell of Alabama, and Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas).
People tell stories for many reasons: to entertain, to make connections, to explain a point of view. Oral histories rely on stories of all kinds to complement other sources about past events and historic figures. Individual oral histories featuring descriptive anecdotes and personal reflections can stand on their own, but when several oral histories are woven together around a common theme or event, they work to tell a more complex and complete account.
The four documentaries created by the Office of the Historian do just that. They use video clips from interviews to build narratives about events and traditions in the House of Representatives. House reading clerk, Irving Swanson, for example, provides a rare and detailed description of the House Chamber on December 8, 1941, the day the U.S. Congress declared war against Japan after its attack on Pearl Harbor. In another documentary, the combined memories of Members and staff created an oral timeline of the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, capturing the uncertainty and the resolve of the Capitol Hill community.
From invaluable behind-the-scenes accounts of landmark civil rights legislation to humorous Page pranks, watch and listen to the documentaries below to discover how the Office of the Historian uses stories unearthed from oral histories to add a new personal perspective to the historical record of the House.
Bridging History: Selma and the Voting Rights Act of 1965
On March 7, 1965, peaceful protesters marching for voting rights in Selma, Alabama, were brutally attacked by state troopers. News of what became known as "Bloody Sunday" swept across America, galvanizing public opinion behind the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act. Through oral histories, archival footage, and historic photographs, this documentary examines the swift legislative response to the events in Selma. Watch as House Members and staff track the path of the Voting Rights Act from its inception, through committee, and onto the desk of President Lyndon B. Johnson.
House Pages through the Years
For nearly 200 years, Pages shuttled bills, delivered messages, and tracked down Members of the U.S. House of Representatives. When they weren’t combing the Capitol campus, they went to school and explored the city. Watch as former Pages describe their day-to-day experiences on Capitol Hill during the 20th century, including their living arrangements, their education, and their many responsibilities. Included in this documentary are interviews with Pages who broke color and gender barriers, and features Pages from different eras, including one who served in 1932.
U.S. Declarations of War in 1941
Early in the afternoon on December 8, 1941, Irving Swanson sat at his spot on the House rostrum and stared into a packed chamber. A few feet away, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war against Japan following its attack on Pearl Harbor the day before. Swanson, the reading clerk, recorded the vote approving military action. Watch as he describes the atmosphere in the chamber, the decision by Montana Representative Jeannette Rankin to oppose the war, and his experience reading the declarations of war against Germany and Italy.
September 11, 2001: A Narrative
During one terrifying morning in early September 2001, Capitol Hill watched as terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. A third plane crashed in a Pennsylvania field, as many wondered if the U.S. Congress was next. Watch as Members, Officers, and staff at the U.S. House of Representatives give a detailed account of September 11, 2001. The narrative includes memories of the House’s emergency recess, the evacuation of the U.S. Capitol, the secure location provided for House and Senate leaders, and the Members’ press conference on the Capitol steps that evening.
We encourage everyone to head to the Oral History section for more videos and great stories about the history of the House of Representatives.