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Ola Mae Spinks (1914–2020), librarian who helped organize historic “Slave Narratives”

by Linnea Crowther

Ola Mae Spinks was a retired librarian who led the team that organized the historic “Slave Narratives” in the U.S. Library of Congress.

Preserving vital history

Raised in the historic all-Black community of Vernon, Oklahoma, Spinks settled in Detroit as an adult, where she taught first grade before becoming a middle school librarian. A few years before her 1976 retirement, she volunteered to begin organizing a collection of narratives that tell the stories of slaves in their own words. Gathered during the Great Depression by public works employees, the narratives weren’t easily useable before Spinks and a friend began their organizational work. Done over a summer vacation, Spinks’ work provided a baseline for a team she recruited to continue from. In the end, the collection became more navigable, and the Library of Congress sent Spinks a letter of commendation to thank her for spearheading the project.

What people said about her

Full obituary: Detroit Free Press

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