Filmmaker Keith McDaniel has completed a nine-year project to document the oral histories of about 400 current and former Oak Ridge residents, including those connected to the Manhattan Project during World War II.
The life stories were used to build a digital collection for the Oak Ridge Public Library’s Center for Oak Ridge Oral History, or COROH. McDaniel was part of the group that made plans for the COROH and, following the city’s receipt of an annual grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, took the contract for the documentary work.
“A lot of original Oak Ridgers were dying and getting older,” McDaniel said in a press release from Carson-Newman University. “We felt it was really important to collect their memories, to collect their stories.”
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, the press release said.
“Keith was one of two videographers that took on that responsibility,” Oak Ridge City Historian Ray Smith said. “I think he has done by far the majority of what we’ve accomplished. 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, 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.”
The Manhattan Project was a top-secret federal program to build the world’s first atomic weapons during World War II. Oak Ridge had three large federal sites involved in the project: K-25 (now Heritage Center), X-10 (now Oak Ridge National Laboratory), and Y-12 (now Y-12 National Security Complex). The city has continued to be involved in scientific research and to work on nuclear weapons since the war.
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.
Keith McDaniel is a 1988 Carson-Newman University alumnus, and he is now special projects manager/video producer and adjunct professor of film at Carson-Newman.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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