Jennifer Philistin ’24

Berkshire NAACP, Pittsfield, MA

This summer, I had the opportunity to intern with Berkshire County’s chapter of the NAACP. I worked with Dr. Jones-Sneed who is the chair of the education committee and a lead consultant for the Black Berkshire Oral History Initiative—the project that we worked on for the duration of my internship. The Black Berkshire Oral History Initiative is a collaborative effort between multiple nonprofit organizations in the Berkshires and was created to collect and consolidate the Black spoken history and experiences in Berkshire County. These narratives are collected through interviews, which are cataloged and transcribed and then sent to the W.E.B. Du Bois Library to be archived and memorialized.

At the beginning of my internship, my work focused on learning and utilizing proper oral history methodologies to help conduct interviews and research. In order to ensure consistency in the interviewing process—especially the volunteer interviewers—Dr. Jones and I prepared multiple sources on oral history techniques and consolidated those into a guide for people to reference. Another task of mine was to research the interviewees’ family histories and ancestry. I did this by consulting Census record manuscripts and local Berkshire newspaper archives. For many of the interviewees, I was able to trace back to their great-grandparents, however, for a few I wasn’t able to backtrack far enough with the resources available to me. Diving deeper into each interviewee’s ancestry, I attempted to contextualize their family’s financial and social status, using factors such as their gender, whether they rent or own a home, whether they can read or write, etc. This ancestral research was helpful in allowing the interviewers to formulate meaningful questions that would touch upon family history and migrations.

I found my time with the Berkshire NAACP to be extremely eye-opening and rewarding. Before beginning my internship, I had only a vague goal of continuing my Africana studies concentration in graduate school, and I didn’t really know what specifically I wanted to focus on. This summer, I had a lot of fun conducting research and learning more about the history of the Black community in Pittsfield, and I can now see myself in a graduate history department, collecting and cataloging primary sources. Aside from academics, this internship was very helpful for me personally. Through Dr. Jones, I was able to meet and make meaningful connections with some of the Black leaders and organizers in Pittsfield, something that I don’t think would’ve been possible otherwise due to the isolating nature of the Williams “Purple Bubble.” I hope to be able to maintain these connections throughout my time at Williams and to facilitate open communication between the Black student body and the greater Black community of the Berkshires.

All in all, I had an incredible time working with Dr. Jones and the Berkshire NAACP, and I’m grateful to have received this opportunity as I’ve gained more insight into oral history methods and gotten to know the Black community of the Berkshires. Thank you to the ’68 Center for Career Exploration and the Alumni Sponsored Internship Program for making this possible.