This weekend, I did some interviews about the stories and history of African Americans in the fire service. I have plans for a podcast and a fringe festival show next year. These stories and histories will play a centerpiece in those projects. As I sat in the boardroom, I sprawled out my equipment: separate mics, the digital recorder, and many cables of different colors. I’m speaking with George Collins, a historian for the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters (IABPFF). He’s a tall guy with salt and pepper hair and is full of energy and stories of the African American fire service.
This particular interview, we talk about Molly Williams, the first recorded female firefighter. She’s also African American. The downside to this phenomenal accomplishment is that being both female and African American, finding accurate historical information is extremely difficult. History works to capture important events only if you give attention to them. Clearly, Molly has two strikes against her. I began thinking “What’s a great way to honor what Molly Williams did, with the limited information that is known?” The fire service could use some help inspiring underrepresented groups to join. That’s when I thought about creating my own Tall Tale
The Definition as I understand It
It’s been a while, but this isn’t the first time I wrote about tall tales. (see The Stories We Tell – Tall Tales and Short Lies). I decided to look on the internet to see if there was anything new since the last time I looked. When first looking to define Tall Tale, you find definitions like merriam-webster.com stating that it’s “a story that is very difficult to believe; a greatly exaggerated story.” Clearly not a very honorable way to remember someone.
Luckily, I know a number of storytellers, some of which who tell tall tales. I know it can be more. After a bit more looking about tall tales, I found the YouTube video channel Tale Foundry. In particular, I found this video 5 Heroes of American Legend – American Folk Heroes Month. If you have be following my blog series “The Stories We Tell” you will notice that there are words like “folk” and “legend” that are used in the video have their own storytelling genres. As I cross reference these stories from this video with other sites online, the stories mentioned in the video are considered Tall Tales.
What this means to me
At the end of the video, one of the points brought up is that stories like these can be used to inspire and give hope. The tall tale of John Henry, for example, speakers to the grit of a person to excel in an area of life. With that in mind, creating a tall tale for Molly Williams seems to be a good way to do that. To remind us that people of all backgrounds can contribute to being in the fire service.
I’ll be releasing more info later this year about the podcast I’m working on. One of the episodes will be sure to feature a tall tale about Molly Williams. I’m looking forward to telling her story, on purpose.
5 Heroes of American Legend – American Folk Heroes Month