Oral History Center, KQED to shine a light on the life and career of Jerry Brown, one interview at a time

Governor speaking in 2013
Gov. Jerry Brown is the subject of an upcoming oral history project, a collaboration between The Bancroft Library’s Oral History Center and KQED. (Photo courtesy of the Governor’s Office)

Jerry Brown has been a fixture in California politics across five separate decades. And soon, a new project will offer an inside look at the state’s longest-serving governor — through conversations with the man himself.

Today, The Bancroft Library’s Oral History Center and KQED are announcing an oral history project chronicling Brown’s life and expansive career. The project is expected to include at least 30 hours of original interviews with Brown, a UC Berkeley alum. The conversations — which will begin later this year — will cover much of Brown’s adult life, including his time in the seminary; lessons learned from the governorship of his father, Pat Brown; his terms as secretary of state, attorney general and governor of California, and mayor of Oakland; and three presidential bids.

Research and interview duties will be shared by Martin Meeker, the Charles B. Faulhaber director of the Oral History Center, or OHC; Todd Holmes, historian/interviewer and associate academic specialist at the OHC; and Scott Shafer, senior editor for KQED’s Politics and Government Desk and co-host of the weekly radio program and podcast Political Breakdown.

“Our upcoming oral history with Gov. Brown represents just our most recent effort in our six-plus decades of documenting California politics,” Meeker said. “The governor’s interview will join major interviews with everyone from suffragist Alice Paul to Gov. Pat Brown, Jerry’s father.

Martin meeker
Martin Meeker

“For anyone studying California’s political history of the 20th and 21st centuries, the Oral History Center’s interviews are a gold mine.”

Meeker started at the Regional Oral History Office, the precursor to the OHC, in 2003, and became director of the OHC in 2016. His hundreds of interviews include conversations with Willie Brown, the first African American mayor of San Francisco; John Podesta, Bill Clinton’s chief of staff; and Robert Rubin, former secretary of the treasury.

Holmes joined the OHC in 2016. He has interviewed figures such as Jim Chappell, the director of the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association, or SPUR; professor of planning Michael Teitz, and journalist Rick Laubscher. His upcoming book, The Fruits of Fracture, focuses on Ronald Reagan’s tenure as governor.  

Todd Holmes
Todd Holmes

The final interviews will join the OHC’s vast collection, totaling about 4,000 interviews. The collection includes major oral histories of the Free Speech Movement, Sierra Club, and disability rights and independent living movement, as well as biographies of Pat Brown, Earl Warren, and Ronald Reagan, among many others. Transcripts and audio and video of the interviews with Jerry Brown will be available on the OHC’s website

As part of the project, KQED is planning a podcast series on Brown’s life and career, combining the conversations with Brown with new interviews with figures close to the governor, archival material, and other audio clips.

“The Oral History Center is thrilled to partner with KQED to see that Gov. Brown’s oral history is completed and made available to everyone,” Meeker said. “The KQED-OHC team brings decades of political interviewing expertise to this important project.

“We are humbled to be the ones with the honor of making sure that this history is recorded and preserved.”

About the Oral History Center

The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library documents the history of California, the nation, and the global arena. The OHC produces carefully researched, audio/video-recorded and transcribed oral histories and interpretative historical materials for the widest possible use. Since its inception in 1954, the OHC has carried out interviews in a variety of major subject areas, including politics and government; and law and jurisprudence. Interviews have been used as source material for monographs, books, articles, stage productions, radio programs, video and film documentaries, websites and blogs, and dissertations and theses. The OHC has conducted over 4,000 oral histories, which total tens of thousands of interview hours.

About KQED

KQED serves the people of Northern California with a public-supported alternative to commercial media. An NPR and PBS affiliate based in San Francisco, KQED is home to one of the most listened-to public radio stations in the nation, one of the highest-rated public television services, and an award-winning education program helping students and educators thrive in 21st-century classrooms. A trusted news source and leader and innovator in interactive technology, KQED takes people of all ages on journeys of exploration — exposing them to new people, places, and ideas.