Spanning nearly 15 years and hundreds of hours of footage, The Hill Country Project's Oral History Collection began with the simple idea to record the stories of Benton County resident's lives before and during the civil rights movement.
Initiated in 1995 by civil rights volunteers Aviva Futorian and Gloria Clark, along with Roy DeBerry, (once a Freedom School student of Aviva's), and Wil Colom, 10 residents were interviewed at first. The project continued again in 2003 during a civil rights reunion in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Joining Aviva Futorian in Mississippi was John Lyons, a Chicago filmmaker who had edited the original 10 interviews into a one hour film for the reunion called My Mind Stayed on Freedom. Along with Roy DeBerry, they continued interviewing residents about their life experiences in Benton County. Invariably, the topic of Benton County's current condition was raised, both on camera and off, by residents who felt the county could and should be more prosperous. From these discussions, the idea for founding the Hill Country Project was born.
To date, over 75 residents of Benton County have been interviewed, from the 101 year old Emmerline Robinson to current high school students. Also included are veterans of the local Civil Rights movement and their children (many of whom integrated the Benton County school system).