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Michael Comer
07-20-2004, 02:34 PM
In the 1930's the Federal Writer's Project collected slave narratives. These were oral histories recorded from interivews with ex-slaves. I have several of these from the SE Missouri area and thought I would post some occassionally if there is interest. This is from an interview with Lucy Davis who lived in Cape Girardeau, MO at the time. While it does not mention the year in the narrative, I think this one probably refers to the battle of Belmont, MO with its mention of the guns at Columbus, KY. I have posted it in the vernacular as it was written in 1937.

" In dem ole days we lived down near Hickman, Kentucky. We belonged to Masta' Joe Mott and Missus Mary Mott. Den dey was young Massa' James Andrew an' young Massa' Joe, an' dey wuz Missis Ophelia an' Missie Mary Rebecca.

Dey had a nice big house, white wid big porches an' big locust trees aroun' in de yard. Dey only had us one famly o' slaves but dey wuz a good many er us.

My Daddy wuz Henry Litener and my mammy wuz Rosanna Litener. My daddy belonged to Woodson Morris. He wuz a cousin of Massa Joe Mott an' lived a few miles away. He wuz allus allowed to visit us over Saturday night an' Sunday. Mammy done da cookin' at de big house an' Massa Joe allus said dey warn't nobody cud cook like Rose -- dat's what he called her.

We lived in a three-room house an' we allus had plenty good eatin'. Puddinear all year round chickens, an' sweet'taters an' possums too.

Caint tell bout no good times in dem days cause dey warn't none. We didn' have no church but Ole Missus Mary usta carry mammy along to her church - ridin' behind on her horse. I guess dey wuz mos'ly right good to us all. The chillern wouldn' never let nobody whup me cause we all played togedder. But Ole Massa usta whup mammy when he'd git mad.

When de war came Ole Massa didden go but he war a reg'lar ole seeshesh! Young James Andrew went off to war an' ole Missus usta grieve for him. We aint never seed no fightin' round our place but we could heer de big guns over at Columbus. When de sojers was round de neighborhood dey'd allus have me playing' round de front gate so I cud tell em when dey's comin' up de road. Den dey goes an' hides 'fore de sojers gits dar. Dey all skeer'd o' de sojers. I's skeerd too but dey say sojers won't bother little black gal. De sojers jes' came in en' rensack de house --dey find sumthin to eat en' dey looks for money. Dey wants money! but dey don' find none. Den dey wants ter know whar's my folks-- but I tells 'em I don't know. Dey jes left en' didden say whar dey wuz goin'.

When de war wuz over Ole Massa Joe came in an' he say. "Rose, you all aint slaves no mo' -- You is all free as I is". Den you should a heard my mammy shout! You never heard sich shoutin' in all yo' bahn days. An' Ole Missus she joined in de shoutin' too. She war glad cause no James Andrew would be comin' home.

Old Missus Delia Reed, dat wuz Old Massa's sister she wuz good bout looking atter us wen we's ailin' but iffen we's sick dey'd git de doctor. Dey wuz jes as dutiful to us as to dere white folks.

Dey usta talk bout hoodoos and castin' spell en' sech like but I guess dey warn't much to it er dey'd a cast spells on some a' de mean Massa's when dey beat um up. Still iffen dey had, mebby dey'd a beat um up worser or mebby killed em."

These narratives are a very interesting look at some voices that are often overlooked in a part of the war that is also put on the back burner. Hope you all enjoy it.

Michael, good stuff. I'm going to put it in the Civil War History forum so it doesn't get lost in the Sinks. Thanks again - Mike Chapman

Charles Heath
07-20-2004, 03:05 PM
Great stuff! Along these same lines is a good book, still readily available:

http://www.neworleansshowcase.com/fs02525.html

It's title is Bullwhip Days just in case the link (one of many) doesn't work due to operator error (me).

Charles Heath

hiplainsyank
07-21-2004, 12:01 AM
I seem to recall that some of the former slaves were interviewed twice, once by a white interviewer and once by a black interviewer. And they seemed to be more open when speaking to the black interviewers, more willing to impart information about the bad behavior of white folks.

It makes me wonder who the interviewer was for this interview.

Michael Comer
07-21-2004, 12:29 AM
I don't know the color of the interviewer. There are others that deal with masters that were meaner than the one mentioned here and I would be glad to post some of them too. I picked this one because of the mention of the war being close by and the experiences with soldiers.

I don't think that you can draw a conclusion that the interviewer was white based on the lack of mention of beatings and other such things however. Masters ran the gamut and not all fit the stereotypical slaveowner that so many people expect to always read about. While there were some that were brutal, there were others that were kindly and most were probably pretty benign. After all, an injured slave could not produce any work so it was not in the owner's best interest to beat or hit unless they felt they had extremely good reason to do so or were just a sadistic person. We may very well be looking at a narrative that is exactly what it appears to be - a memoir of a slave who had a master that could be cruel at times but was generally not and provided for his slaves' necessities.

Matthew.Rector
07-21-2004, 12:33 PM
It’s been noted elsewhere but may be worth posting again. The American Memory Website from the Library of Congress has a couple good sections with slave narratives. Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938 and Voices from the Days of Slavery: Former Slaves Tell Their Stories.

The descriptions:

Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938

"Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938 contains more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 black-and-white photographs of former slaves. These narratives were collected in the 1930s as part of the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and assembled and microfilmed in 1941 as the seventeen-volume Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves. This online collection is a joint presentation of the Manuscript and Prints and Photographs Divisions of the Library of Congress and includes more than 200 photographs from the Prints and Photographs Division that are now made available to the public for the first time. Born in Slavery was made possible by a major gift from the Citigroup Foundation."
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/snhtml/snhome.html

You can also hear audio from some of these slaves...

Voices from the Days of Slavery: Former Slaves Tell Their Stories

"Voices from the Days of Slavery: Former Slaves Tell Their Stories provides the opportunity to listen to former slaves describe their lives. These interviews, conducted between 1932 and 1975, capture the recollections of twenty-three identifiable people born between 1823 and the early 1860s and known to have been former slaves. Several of the people interviewed were centenarians, the oldest being 130 at the time of the interview. The almost seven hours of recordings were made in nine Southern states and provide an important glimpse of what life was like for slaves and freedmen. The former slaves discuss how they felt about slavery, slaveholders, how slaves were coerced, their families, and, of course, freedom. It is important to keep in mind, however, that all of those interviewed spoke sixty or more years after the end of their enslavement, and it is their full lives, rather than their lives during slavery, that are reflected in their words. They have much to say about living as African Americans from the 1870s to the 1930s, and beyond. As part of their testimony, several of the ex-slaves sing songs, many of which were learned during the time of their enslavement."
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/vfshtml/vfshome.html

Yulie
07-21-2004, 03:09 PM
I seem to recall that some of the former slaves were interviewed twice, once by a white interviewer and once by a black interviewer. And they seemed to be more open when speaking to the black interviewers, more willing to impart information about the bad behavior of white folks.

It makes me wonder who the interviewer was for this interview.


Yes. The LOC American Memory has an excellent section on the problems of the WPA Slave Narratives: See. http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/snhtml/snintro00.html.

These narratives are a case of not only study what you read but also studying how that information was compiled. Although contributing to the study of nineteenth century America, the WPA's Slave Narratives are known and accepted to be problematic. Oral histories, as a whole, consider how the interviewee responded to the interviewer as they tend to affect the answer, and how the interviewer recorded the responses. Keep in mind that these oral histories were harvested in the 1930s -- the “era of terror” in the south and the New Negro Movement in the north. So, the interviewers have become important factors regarding these narratives. There are other issues explored, such as the use of dialogue, transcription, the age of the interviewee during enslavement (Lucy Davis seems to have been a child). I have two of the type written 1970s volumes and some of the narratives are slightly different than those available in current publications.

Regardless, the narratives are most reads.

TheGrayGhost
07-26-2004, 10:11 AM
I seem to recall that some of the former slaves were interviewed twice, once by a white interviewer and once by a black interviewer. And they seemed to be more open when speaking to the black interviewers, more willing to impart information about the bad behavior of white folks.

It makes me wonder who the interviewer was for this interview.

This is strange....
I have read some of these slave narratives and don't recall any of them making note of the interviewers race.....nor of any slave being interviewed twice. I would like to see some examples.

***

Tom Chance

hiplainsyank
07-29-2004, 12:38 PM
I'm sorry I can't provide you right yet with examples as I last studied this material over ten years ago in a Civil War class in college. You are probably right that folks weren't interviewed twice, but I do distinctly remember learning that what the ex-slave said in the interview often depended upon the race of the interviewer.

I'll try to do some digging, but am not hopeful that I will be able to find anything. Maybe others can provide some assistance who have worked more with the narratives than I.

hiplainsyank
07-29-2004, 12:52 PM
Ghost-

I found the answer to your question more quickly than I thought. I was wrong on the issue of being interviewed twice, but here is the issue of race and the interviews from the LOC website:

The WPA project to interview former slaves assumed a form and a scope that bore Lomax's imprint and reflected his experience and zeal as a collector of folklore. His sense of urgency inspired the efforts in several states. And his prestige and personal influence enlisted the support of many project officials, particularly in the deep South, who might otherwise have been unresponsive to requests for materials of this type.

One might question the wisdom of selecting Lomax, a white Southerner, to direct a project involving the collection of data from black former slaves. Yet whatever racial preconceptions Lomax may have held do not appear to have had an appreciable effect upon the Slave Narrative Collection. Lomax's instructions to interviewers emphasized the necessity of obtaining a faithful account of the ex-slave's version of his or her experience. "It should be remembered that the Federal Writers' Project is not interested in taking sides on any question. The worker should not censor any materials collected regardless of its [sic] nature."15 Lomax constantly reiterated his insistence that the interviews be recorded verbatim, with no holds barred. In his editorial capacity he closely adhered to this dictum, making only minor grammatical corrections, never altering the substance of the narratives. Narratives were never rejected or revised because of questions about their authenticity.

On the other hand, while Lomax was keenly sensitive to the importance of establishing adequate rapport with the aged informants, it does not appear that he seriously considered the possibility that black interviewers might accomplish this more effectively than white. Earlier evaluations of the Georgia narratives had reported that black interviewers appeared "able to gain better insight" than whites and that the interviews obtained by blacks were "less tinged with glamour." Nevertheless, no special attempt was made to assign African Americans to this task, as had previously been done in Georgia, Florida, and several other states. Indeed, after the national office of the FWP began directing the project, the writers employed as interviewers were almost exclusively white--and it is probable that in many instances caste etiquette led ex-slaves to tell white interviewers "what they wanted to hear." Lomax's personal success in obtaining African-American folklore may have blinded him to the effects of the interviewer's race on the interview situation.

Yet Lomax should not be held solely responsible for the paucity of black interviewers, for his duties were editorial rather than administrative. And as noted above, African Americans were underrepresented among the writers in the Writers' Project primarily because Washington officials were unable to ensure that black personnel be included in local and state FWP units, especially in the South.

Also included in the introduction articles provided on the website, is an appendix listing the race of the interviewers (those that could be determined). White interviewers outnumbered black interviewers by maybe 2-1.

Hope this answers your question.