Oral Histories

Open California Oral History Project

California institutions offer a treasure of personal stories that create the quilt of the state’s history. From blacklisted Hollywood writers and interned Japanese-Americans to women political activists and laborers in Southern California restaurants, oral histories of the prominent and the obscure tell the story of the state.

With a grant from the State Library, Open California has begun a project to promote the extensive oral history resources available to educators, historians, students and – most importantly – the public.

Open California also has begun producing video oral histories that that focus on individual stories in what we hope is a compelling format. We have also provided links to other existing resources for those who wish to learn more about the subjects of our profiles.

Our projects include:

Abby Abinanti

Chief judge of the Yurok Tribe, Abinanti dispenses restorative justice for her tribe, the most populous in California. She was interviewed by Mary Louise Frampton, director of the Aoki Center for Critical Race and Nation Studiesatthe University of California, Davis Law School. Three parts.

John Burton

John Burton, proud to be a San Francisco Democrat, tells of his life in politics, from Sacramento to Washington. A two-part Interview conducted by Jerry Roberts, a veteran journalist who has covered California and national politics as a reporter and editor for more than four decades.

Diana Dooley

Dooley’s career with Jerry Brown spanned his four terms as governor, starting as an aide dealing with state worker pay and ending as chief of staff. A two part interview conducted by Pauline Bartolone.

Thelton Henderson

A federal judge in San Francisco for 37 years, Henderson was interviewed by Lowell Bergman, a renowned investigative reporter who has known the judge for many years. Three parts.

Phil Isenberg

The former legislator, mayor of Sacramento and chair of the Delta Stewardship Council talks about the challenges of dealing with one of California’s most enduring and vexing issues: how to provide water from the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta for farmers and urban residents while preserving the environment for fish and wildlife. The two-part interview was conducted by Chris Austin.

Clay Jackson

Jackson was once one of Sacramento’s most powerful lobbyists until he was convicted of federal political corruption charges and served more than five years in prison. Interviewed by Sigrid Bathen, a journalist and lecturer at California State University, Sacramento. Two parts.

Brian K. Landsberg

An examination of the life and work of Landsberg, an emeritus professor at Pacific McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, who was a witness to some of the most pivotal events of the civil rights movement in Alabama in the 1960s. Interviewed by Mary Louise Frampton of the University of California Las School. Two parts.

Edwin Meese

From Ronald Reagan’s first days as governor in 1967 until the closing days of his presidency two decades later, one man, Edwin Meese III, was one of his closest advisors. Meese tells his story to Lou Cannon.

Don Novey

Don Novey grew up all over the world, but his Sacramento roots led him back to a lifetime of work building the California Correctional Peace Officers Association into one of the most powerful unions in state history.

Richard Ratcliff

A lobbyist in Sacramento for four decades, Ratcliff established a reputation as one of the Capitol’s most thoughtful and effective lobbyists. Interviewed by Steve Wiegand, a longtime reporter in California’s Capitol. One part.

Tom Reed
Tom Reed joined Ronald Reagan’s first campaign for governor in 1966. When Reagan became president, Reed helped advise him on national security policy. He was interviewed in Los Angeles on May 23, 2019 by Reagan biographer Lou Cannon.

George Skelton

Legendary Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton shares a wealth of stories and perspectives from his six-plus decades of covering the key people and events that have shaped modern day California.

Stuart K. Spencer

As a young political consultant, Spencer helped launch the political career of Ronald Reagan, first as governor, later as president. Interviewed by Reagan biographer Lou Cannon. Two parts.

George Steffes

Steffes served as Ronald Reagan’s legislative secretary when Reagan was governor of California and later built a successful lobbying firm. Interviewed by Lou Cannon, author of authoritative biographies of Reagan as governor and president. Three parts.

Roz Wyman

Roz Wyman’s impact on Los Angeles is hard to overstate. The first woman elected to the LA City Council, she played a fundamental role in bringing the Dodgers west. Patt Morrison, an award-winning Los Angeles Times columnist interviewed Roz in February 2019. Three parts

We look forward to expanding this series of profiles, and making them available to a wide audience.

This project was made possible in part by grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the California State Library.

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