Listen to how we speak

In the course of conducting interviews for DARE from 1965-1970, fieldworkers used reel-to-reel machines to record more than 1,800 people — some spoke about a topic of their choosing and others read the story “Arthur the Rat.” These recordings provide a snapshot of daily life during that time and insight into local history and other topics.

Tennessee, black power

23-year-old black woman with a college education from Memphis, Tenn.


[Many people], uh, have given Stokely Carmichael the credit for “black power.” Stokely Carmichael was a total unknown except to, for the people who were in the Snick [=SNCC] organization in Atlanta. And Stokely Carmichael was a field marshal; even though he was head of his organization he was just, he was just like a marshal, keepin’ everyone in line, and everything. And Martin Luther King and all the big leaders, and everything, was at the front of the march, you know. And I, they had newsmen all around, but Stokely wasn’t in there, he was back there in the middle, you know, with the rest of us. And I was close to the end, and, uh, we singin’ “We need more power, power, Lord. We need more power, power, Lord.” And we was just talkin’ ’bout power to get on, uh, you know; we need power in our legs, you know, to go on walkin’. We need power in our minds, you know, not to give up. And this little boy, who was around ’bout twelve years old, he decided somewhere in the back of his little mind, he said, “We need black power, power, Lord, we,” and they would sing, “We need brown power, pow,” and then, and he, well he kept on sayin’ “We need black power, power.” And then, all of a sudden, everybody started to say, everybody else talkin ’bout power, all this power, you know. And [on] the hill, “black power” like they caught on for some reason, like a spark, just like that. And we were all in the back singin’ this, “We need black power, power,” and then everybody caught on in the middle, and that’s where Stokely was. And Stokely Car[laughter], Stokely Carmichael caught on and started sayin’, “black power.” He started marchin’ up and down the line, talkin’ ’bout, “Come on you all, sing.” You know, everybody was just droopin’ on down ahead of me. He said, “You sing or somethin’, then you start feelin’ all right.” And he said, said “We need black power, power, Lord.” Well, see, every time they would change over to “We need,” uh, uh, “leg power, power, Lord. We need,” you know, “full power,” you know, like that. And Stokely Carmichael kept on sayin’, “We need black power, power, Lord.”

New York, smuggling liquor

70-year-old white woman with a college education from Brooklyn, N.Y.


[INF:] Oh-oh, goin’ to Cuba. I went to Cuba in prohibition time, too. And, uh, I bought a lot of fancy bottles, little like one drink in, for souvenirs for all of my friends. Well, Atlantic City the ship was stopped. It was all in the newspapers about it, too. The crew had, uh, ripped the walls and put all liquor in the walls. So we all had to get up, three o’clock in the morning, and, oh, it was a scream. The men were comin’ down their pajamas an’ bathrobes, and they had bottles stickin’ all out all over. And anyone could see they had the bottles. And, uh, oh, the captain says, “Get rid of that stuff. They’re searchin’ the boats. They’re down stairs rippin’ the wall apart.” So, uh, they looked us all over and uh, for liquor and, uh, bringin’ things in from Cuba, and the girl in front of me, she had a bottle she was bringin’ in for her mother-in-law. And they found that bottle in her bag, so they found her fifty dollars and threw it over the side of the boat. So then, I got panicky. I had about six little bottles, and I thought, “I’ll have to stay on boat and wash the dishes.” I spent all my money down there, was comin’ home broke. So the doctors are not allowed to touch the women. They send you down to the matron. So when he went to examine me, he said, “You’re a very sick woman. You better go down to the matron.” See, I was so nervous and upset that my pulse was goin’ so fast, and I couldn’t talk. And I was holdin’ my coat around my stomach, see, so they wouldn’t, and I guess he thought I was pregnant, see, because the bottles all started to move to the front. So he says, “Oh you look like a sick woman. You better get down to the matron.” And all I kept thinkin’ about was “Oh, if they ever find those bottles, I’ll have to stay on ship a month to pay up for it, if they fine you fifty dollars a bottle.” I think had eight and I was broke because I was down there a month, and I spent my money.[FW:] What happened?[INF:] And, uh, she didn’t examine me. She said, uh, “What’s the matter?” “Oh,” I said, “Oh, I’m so nervous. Those doctors, they’re foolin’ around.” And I said, ” My friend in front they threw the bottle overboard and I got all nervous and upset. And she says, “Well, uh, I’ll give you a pill and you calm down.” So then, she did. But I would never bring liquor in again after that. I wouldn’t go through that again, for no souvenirs.

Maine, boatmaking

77-year-old white man with a grade-school education from Beals, Maine


[FW:] How do you go about makin’ a, uh, small rowboat?[INF:] Well, you just make, the uh, small scale model and draft it from that. Make a keel out.[FW:] You make a scale model first?[INF:] Mos’, most everybody does, make a scale model or else they draft ‘em out, draw them out on paper. Either one you want do-doesn’t matter.

[FW:] How big are these, uh, scale models?

[INF:] A general rule on small type boat, just a three quarter inch to a foot. The large ones are up to a quarter inch to a foot.

[FW:] Uh-huh. An’ what’s the purpose of the, uh, scale, scale model?

[INF:]Well, to determine the length, and the breadth, and the width and all this.

[FW:] Oh, I see. They just use smaller…

[INF:] That’s right.

[FW:] Everything, and then they just scale them up and down.

[INF:] Uh-huh.

[FW:] And, uh, then how do you go about starting to build the, the boat itself?

[INF:] Well, you make a keel first, from the model, or from the draftings, drawings, whatever it is. Then, you make a stem, and a stern. After the small stuff, the small boats, well, you bend the frame, uh, the, you make a molds-what we call the molds, that is, sectionals, sections of it, of the, if they are so far apart, on the boat, you take the shape of it, make sections.

[FW:] What do they use to do that? Plywood?

[INF:] Just plywood or cedar-either, it doesn’t matter.

New Mexico, chuck wagon etiquette

76-year-old white man with a grade-school education from Roswell, N.M.


[INF:] And you are never supposed to eat on the chuck box lid. We have a lid, a box where the cook keeps all of his dishes and his, uh, cooking utensils with a fire about ten feet behind that wagon. The chuck box is lid down, and you are never supposed to walk between that chuck box and that fire, because that part of the ground belongs to the cook. And you’re never supposed to eat on a chuck box lid. The beds are thrown off at noontime for the boys to sit on and rest on. And they sit down on the ground and put their plate right on the ground. When we’re through eatin,’ there’s two big wash tubs, right close to the fire. Every man is supposed to clean out his plate, throw it away, and take it and put it over in the tub. That’s what we call rackin’ ‘em, rack the dishes. Sometimes, they’ll stand twenty feet and try and see if they can rack, rack ‘em but then, that’s a, that’s an unwritten law that belongs to the wagon. And you are never supposed to ride up to the wagon from the side the wind’s comin’ from, because your horse and the dust and the hairs off your horse will fly into your cookin’ utensils. You’re supposed to ride facing the wind coming to the wagon and never get too close.

“Arthur the Rat”

“Arthur the Rat” is a short tale devised to obtain phonetic representation throughout the country of all the sounds of American English. DARE recorded people from all over the United States reading this passage. This recording merges several speakers, each reading a short segment of the story. The transcript below identifies the age, gender, race and hometown of each speaker.


Speaker is from Brooklyn, New York; she is a 70-year old white female with a college education:Once upon a time there was a rat who couldn’t make up his mind. Whenever the other rats asked him if he would like to come out hunting with them, he would answer in a hoarse voice, “I don’t know.” And when they said, “Would you rather stay inside?” he wouldn’t say yes, or no either. He’d always shirk making a choice.Speaker is from a rural community in northern Maine; he is a 73-year old white male with a high school education:One fine day his aunt Josephine said to him, “Now look here! No one will ever care for you if you carry on like this. You have no more mind of your own than a greasy old blade of grass!” The young rat coughed and looked wise, as usual, but said nothing.

Speaker is from Roxbury section of Boston, Massachusetts; she is a young black female with a high school education:

“Don’t you think so?” said his aunt stamping with her foot, for she couldn’t bear to see the young rat so coldblooded. “I don’t know,” was all he ever answered, and then he’d walk off to think for an hour or more, whether he would stay in his hole in the ground or go out into the loft.

Speaker is from Memphis, Tennessee; he is a 72-year old black man with a college education:

One night the rats heard a loud noise in the loft. It was a very dreary old place. The roof let the rain come washing in, the beams and rafters had all rotted through, so that the whole thing was quite unsafe. At last one of the joists gave way, and the beams fell with one edge on the floor. The walls shook, and the cupola fell off, and all the rats’ hair stood on end with fear and horror.

Speaker is from an island in eastern Virginia; he is a middle-aged white male with a high school education:

“This won’t do,” said their leader. “We can’t stay cooped up here any longer.” So they sent out scouts to search for a new home. A little later on that evening the scouts came back and said they had found an old-fashioned horse-barn where there would be room and board for all of them. The leader gave the order at once, “Company fall in!” and the rats crawled out of their holes right away and stood on the floor in a long line.

Speaker is from a small city in south-central Georgia; she is a middle-aged white female with a college education:

Just then the old rat caught sight of young Arthur — that was the name of the shirker. He wasn’t in the line, and he wasn’t exactly outside it–he stood just by it. “Come on, get in line!” growled the old rat coarsely. “Of course you’re coming too?” “I don’t know,” said Arthur calmly. “Why, the idea of it! You don’t think it’s safe here any more, do you?”

Speaker is from Wichita Falls, Texas; he is a middle-aged white male with probably a high school education:

“I’m not certain,” said Arthur undaunted. “The roof may not fall down yet.” “Well,” said the old rat, “we can’t wait for you to join us.” Then he turned to the others and shouted, “Right about face! March!” and the long line marched out of the barn while the young rat watched them.

Speaker is from a village in northwestern Washington; he is a 74-year old white male with a high school education:

“I think I’ll go tomorrow,” he said to himself, “but then again, perhaps I won’t — it’s so nice and snug here. I guess I’ll go back to my hole under the log for a while just to make up my mind.” But during the night there was a big crash. Down came beams, rafters, joists — the whole business.

Speaker is from a small city in northwest Wisconsin; she is a middle-aged white woman with a college education:

Next morning — it was a foggy day — some men came to look over the damage. It seemed odd that the old building was not haunted by rats. But at last one of them happened to move a board, and he caught sight of a young rat, quite dead, half in and half out of his hole. Thus the shirker got his due, and there was no mourning for him.

844 additional examples of Arthur the Rat can be heard at American Languages: Our Nation’s Many Voices. Click on “Search the collection.” Following “Search entire collection by keyword:” type in “Arthur”.