Detroit woman who organized 'Slaves Narratives' at Library of Congress passes away at 106

Posted at 5:53 PM, Jun 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-26 17:53:38-04

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (WXYZ) — On Friday, a retired school librarian credited with helping preserve American history was laid to rest. The family of Ola Mae Spinks says the long-time Detroit resident organized the 'Slave Narratives' in the Library of Congress. She was 106 years old.

"A fantastic woman. We knew it even when we were young and growing up with her as our mom," Bill Spinks told 7 Action News.

His brother Adrian said, "One of the greatest things she ever said to us was 'the three of us together can do anything'."

The brothers tell 7 Action News their mother died June 16 at her senior home in Southfield. For years, they say she worked in Pontiac as a school librarian. However, she lived in Detroit's Boston Edison neighborhood for nearly 60 years.

Bill said, "She was just a remarkable person."

In 1972, they say Ms. Spinks and another librarian, Phyllis Williams, headed to Washington D.C. to volunteer and help organize what's known as the 'Slave Narratives' in the Library of Congress. These are firsthand accounts of slavery from the mouths of 2,000 former slaves who were interviewed during the Great Depression.

"(The texts were) sorted somewhat by state. But it was just all thrown together in these big baskets, and they began the process of putting it together," Bill recalled.
He continued, "And what they did (they) laid the foundation for having those books be bound and so forth and put on microfilm."

Adrian added, "And now it's something that you can go online and take a look at."

They say it's just a fraction of what Ms. Spinks accomplished in her long life, but it's a significant impact her sons are proud of.

"If you know anything about your people at all, you may find something in their that's related to your family. It's a valuable tool," Bill said.

You can access the Slave Narratives by clicking on this link for the Library of Congress.