Saving America’s Soul with Oral History

Why one Texas pastor believes racial reconciliation should start with stories.

Steve Miller has spent his life listening. The black Baptist pastor will approach anyone with a broad smile, and he draws out stories wherever he goes—whether he’s standing in the checkout line or sitting in a movie theater. He’ll gladly pray for you, as any pastor would, but he also has another mission: He’s collecting testimonies of racism.

In Bastrop, Texas, the small Hill Country town where Miller’s storytelling work began, people remember him as friendly and fearless. When Latrice Kellough first met Miller, the charismatic community leader reminded her of Barack Obama, if Obama wore jeans and a Kangol hat. She was immediately at ease, for reasons she couldn’t put her finger on. She listened as Miller prayed for her, and then he listened as she described the racial discrimination she experienced while working at a nursing home.

Miller believes in the power of stories like Kellough’s. Over the past five years, he has worked with Texas communities, churches, and colleges, recording the stories of more than 100 people of color who shared their personal experiences of racism. The pastor believes that oral history—ordinary, firsthand accounts of the not-so-distant past—will move America toward racial reconciliation. And he insists that the church, stories in hand, should lead the way.

“Racism exists because one group of people has more power than another, and that power is enshrined in personal attitudes and social structures,” Miller says. “Those in power do not want to look deeply into the real experiences that oppressed groups suffer every day.”

Back to the Beginning

For Miller, building bridges is second nature. He grew up in Henderson, a tiny East …

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