Photo shows Ola Mae Walker during her college years in the mid-1930s; she died at age 106 on June 16, 2020 in Southfield, Michigan (family photo). (Photo: Family photo)
Welcome home, Ola! Well done, my good and faithful servant! xo Ola Mae Spinks, retired librarian, dies at 106; helped organize 'Slave Narratives'
Ola Mae Spinks, a retired librarian from the Pontiac schools who helped to organize the historic "Slave Narratives" in the U.S. Library of Congress, died June 16 at a senior living center in Southfield.
Mrs. Spinks was 106. Her age was verified by her birthdate noted in a family Bible, her children said. In 2017, she moved to Southfield from Detroit’s Boston-Edison area, where she had resided since 1959. Until age 102, she was still driving herself a mile to People’s Community Church in Detroit, and she stayed remarkably alert and active in social groups for her entire life, family members said.
It was near the end of her career in education, when she was working as a school librarian in Pontiac, that Mrs. Spinks took on a brief volunteer project of national significance. She and a friend, also a librarian, contacted the U.S. Library of Congress and volunteered to visit Washington, D.C., to help organize the "Slave Narratives."
According to published records of volunteer work performed at what is the world's largest library, and that are still on file there: "For two months, beginning in June 1972, two Detroit librarians, Ola M. Spinks and Phyllis G. Williams, labored to organize the unwieldy materials in the Archive of Folk Song."
The records about their work, provided to the Free Press by a communications official at the library, go on to state: "Mrs. Spinks and Mrs. Williams began organizing the materials for two states, Alabama and Arkansas, of the 17 states covered by the Project. In July 1972, the two dedicated librarians contacted Mrs. Oscar Mervene Couch of the History Department at the Federal City College and persuaded her and students from the college to continue this ambitious project."
The "Slave Narratives" are composed of the vivid recollections of more than 2,000 former slaves, gathered in 1936-38 during the Great Depression as a public-works project, according to the Library of Congress website. Mrs. Spinks volunteered at her own expense, family members said. View the "Slave Narratives" (at the U.S. Library of Congress): [ see below link ]
“She received a letter of commendation from the Library of Congress for that work. We still have that letter," her son Adrian Spinks of Southfield said.
Mrs. Spinks was born Ola Mae Walker in 1914, the last of four children, to a family in rural Mansfield, Louisiana. In 1922, the family moved to the all-Black town of Vernon, Oklahoma, one of 13 such communities still in existence nationwide, according to an online history of Black settlements. She attended elementary school in Vernon, then lived with an older sister 60 miles away in Muskogee, Oklahoma, to attend Manual Training High School.
[ . . . ] https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/oakland/2020/06/26/ola-mae-spinks-librarian-dies-106-worked-historic-slave-narratives/3260792001/?fbclid=IwAR0Jt5d31z6FwRu0m2GvMgch54OFbqSc6pXiHMwjpFSf_y8QW7tD_y4k61A Slave Narratives: https://www.loc.gov/collections/slave-narratives-from-the-federal-writers-project-1936-to-1938/about-this-collection/