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Telling a city’s ‘secrets’: Alum concludes oral history project

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Keith McDaniel interviews Oak Ridge Historian Ray Smith at the Oak Ridge History Museum for the Center for Oak Ridge Oral History.

(July 15, 2019) OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — Many of the residents of Oak Ridge, dubbed the “Secret City,” hold a wealth of World War II history within their own life experiences.

Keith McDaniel, a 1988 Carson-Newman University alumnus, has recently concluded a nine-year project, documenting approximately 400 current and former residents’ life stories in order to build a digital collection for the Oak Ridge Public Library’s Center for Oak Ridge Oral History.

McDaniel was part of the group that made plans for the COROH and, following the city’s receipt of an annual grant from the Department of Energy, took the contract for the documentary work.

“A lot of original Oak Ridgers were dying and getting older. We felt it was really important to collect their memories, to collect their stories,” McDaniel said.

The one-on-one filmed interviews gave those connected to the Manhattan Project, and later to the city at large, the opportunity to share their life stories.

“Keith was one of two videographers that took on that responsibility. I think he has done by far the majority of what we’ve accomplished,” Oak Ridge City Historian Ray Smith said. “I would commend Keith on his dedication to helping capture the history of Oak Ridge through oral history, one of the most important methods we can use. He’s done it very well.

The interviews are available at the Oak Ridge Library and online at: oakridgetn.gov

“I loved doing those interviews. I loved talking to those people,” McDaniel said. “Many of those people I interviewed early on are no longer with us. I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to talk to them.”

Among the hundreds he interviewed were individuals such as Bill Wilcox, Dr. Helen Vodopick, Clyde Hopkins, Murray Rosenthal and Lester Fox.

“This was really kind of an outreach of my documentary work,” McDaniel said. “I interviewed these people the same way I would for one of my films.”

McDaniel is a filmmaker, film festival director and actor. He is the creator of the documentary films “The Clinton 12,” “Secret City: The Oak Ridge Story” and others. He was recently honored by the East Tennessee Historical Society with a History in Media award and also by the Tennessee Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution with a Media and Public Relations award, both of which were for his documentary work over the past 20 years.

He is special projects manager/video producer and adjunct professor of film at Carson-Newman.

Founded in 1851, Carson-Newman is a Christian liberal arts university located in Jefferson City, Tennessee, among the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. The University has over 2,500 students and offers 50 undergraduate majors, as well as associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees.

For media inquiries, visit the University Relations page.

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