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NEWS | Feb. 5, 2014

Program highlights African-American storytelling

By David San Miguel U.S. Army Reserve Command

FORT BRAGG, N.C. – Bringing the African-American experience to life, Mitchell G. Capel captivated more than 100 military and civilian employees during a “brown bag” presentation hosted by the U.S. Army Reserve Command here, Feb. 5.

The presentation is part of an initiative by the Office of Army Reserve History to commemorate Black History Month and to educate its employees of African-American contributions to the nation.

Known nationally as “Grand’daddy Junebug,” Capel is a noted storyteller, poet, recording artist, actor and author who has performed at festivals and events nationwide to include venues such as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Smithsonian Institution for the Presidential Inauguration of Barrack Obama.

A native of Southern Pines, a progressive town centrally located in the Sandhills of North Carolina amid the longleaf pine forests, Capel recalls how his interest in storytelling began.

“It was ingrained in me since the age of three,” he said. “I can remember my grandmother reading to me poems from ‘The Life and Works of Paul Laurence Dunbar,’ a turn-of-the-century
African-American poet, novelist and playwright.”

A native of Dayton, Ohio, Dunbar, was the son of former slaves who gained prominence for his poems and novels which were written in black dialect.

According to Capel, Dunbar’s writings were the source of his family’s entertainment for generations.

When Capel grew older, his parents would encourage him and his brothers to memorize the works of great poets and to recite them at church and civic events.

“The more I studied and read Dunbar’s stories, I realized this was history and these events actually happened,” he said. “I realized that the oral history was being lost.”

Capel attributes much of this lost art to the integration of public schools during the mid-60s.

“When the schools were integrated, teachers no longer taught African-American history,” he said. “So all of our heroes and heroines were kicked to the curb.

“I wanted to keep that history alive and show them the contributions that African-Americans made to society,” Capel said. “I wanted to show them that we all contributed into making America the great country that it is.

“I’m continuing that family tradition of preserving culture and teaching through stories,” he said.