Chester is typically known as a de-industrialized, impoverished, and shrinking community. Conversations about crime, unemployment, and corruption tend to dominate the recording of Chester’s recent history. Against this backdrop, those who have sought to recover a “golden past” have noted the significance of this place as one of the first colonial settlements in the 17th century, or the importance of Crozer Theological Seminary as the institution that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. attended in the late 1940s. Interviewers in the Chester Oral History Project, however, have discovered that the historical significance of this place does not lie in the lives of politicians, business leaders, or even mass social justice movement leaders. It lies rather in the memories that ordinary Chester residents carried through the years, which provided meaning, dignity, and a sense of community in personal ways. The stories that are presented in this website range from Chester residents’ migration experiences from the South, to their education at Chester High School, to their work as union organizers. Whether overtly political or not, the women presented here struggled to secure their dignity as mothers, daughters, sisters, friends, and role models. Their lives testify to the power of love, hope, and perseverance in the long journey of community-building.



Contributors to the Chester Oral History Project:

Sonia Lee

Abraham Bae
Jung (Kevin) Kim
Cecilia Marquez
Sable Mensah
Carl Shapiro
Elena Smith

Full interview transcripts and audio files can be retrieved at

* History Department at Swarthmore College, Swarthmore PA
* Nia Center, Chester PA
* Wolfgram Memorial Library at Widener University, Chester PA.

Support for the Chester Oral History Project comes from the History Department and the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility at Swarthmore College, and the Chester Housing Authority