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Ex-Slave Narratives (1937-1938)

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posted on Apr, 8 2015 @ 05:16 PM
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From the Ohio Historical Society, these are the first-person stories of former slaves:


The Federal Writer's Project interviewed former slaves in 1937-1938, depositing the life histories in The Library of Congress. Twenty-seven of those Ohio interviews did not get to LC, and are only available here.


I've only read a few so far, but of the ones I have read, each one is both heart-breaking and heart-warming in its own way. I would have expected more bitterness and condemnation, but no. (They are obviously more forgiving than I am!) They tell of their life as slaves, of being sold, of losing their families forever, of going to fight in the war and of learning they'd been freed... One told the story of a slave owner's daughter falling in love and running off with a former slave, moving to Canada when her father disowned her and forbade her to return... and she never did. It's rather surreal reading them, to think of what these people went through, to think of what one human could do to another human, what was par for the course then but absolutely unfathomable today.

I thought others might find their stories interesting reading as well.




posted on Apr, 8 2015 @ 05:47 PM
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originally posted by: Boadicea
From the Ohio Historical Society, these are the first-person stories of former slaves:


The Federal Writer's Project interviewed former slaves in 1937-1938, depositing the life histories in The Library of Congress. Twenty-seven of those Ohio interviews did not get to LC, and are only available here.


I've only read a few so far, but of the ones I have read, each one is both heart-breaking and heart-warming in its own way. I would have expected more bitterness and condemnation, but no. (They are obviously more forgiving than I am!) They tell of their life as slaves, of being sold, of losing their families forever, of going to fight in the war and of learning they'd been freed... One told the story of a slave owner's daughter falling in love and running off with a former slave, moving to Canada when her father disowned her and forbade her to return... and she never did. It's rather surreal reading them, to think of what these people went through, to think of what one human could do to another human, what was par for the course then but absolutely unfathomable today.

What ! Unfathomable. There is more slavery today than there ever was. It's all sanitised with words like "Trafficking".The only difference is that today it is illegal and back then it wasn't, well wasn't in the US until the mid 19th century although the US did not really shake off it's slavery legacy until the second half of the 20th century.



posted on Apr, 8 2015 @ 05:51 PM
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Wow thank you...amazing testament to human spirit. I need alot longer to absorb, but I wanted to applaud your effort to bring something to the table I sadly had not even considered looking into. reply to: Boadicea



posted on Apr, 8 2015 @ 05:55 PM
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I would like to add some positive words here.
But I am utterly speechless right now.



posted on Apr, 8 2015 @ 06:03 PM
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Hard to imagine somebody owning another human being.



posted on Apr, 8 2015 @ 06:22 PM
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This is a beautiful topic to bring to ATS. Thank you for your post.

An elderly person describing their lives rings of truth and sincerity and these are voices that were never heard in their time.

I hope that statements like these appear all over the internet so that their stories can finally be heard.

People debate about slavery never knowing what this word actually means. Even slaves that were not abused were necessarily mistreated.



posted on Apr, 8 2015 @ 06:39 PM
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a reply to: Boadicea

Thanks so much for the reference! I've read a few of the ladies' stories, and my overall impression is that they were tough women. More than one did the work of a man in the fields. Another left her husband after he beat her.

The thing that strikes me at the moment is that they all said they were owned, as though it was the acceptable term for them to use. Even though they wanted their freedom, they knew their owners had papers to prove ownership. The skills they learned in carpentry, in the kitchen and in the fields helped them to find employment after they got their freedom. Some bought land and built themselves a small home. It's very moving.

I just wish the interviews had been longer and more detailed rather than a summary of their life. Did you read the story of the woman who was buried in the ground with jewelry and when someone began digging in order to steal the jewelry, the woman rose up and chased after the digger? Tall tale or not, that's what I mean when I say the interviews were too short.



posted on Apr, 8 2015 @ 06:50 PM
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Thank you for the responses! It's reassuring that you were touched the same way that I was... after reading these experiences, it's much appreciated. The strength and perseverence and industriousness of these people is amazing. And an inspiration.

While I am sadly aware that people are still being trafficked and abused, they must hide in the shadows to do their dirty deeds. It is no longer legal and standard operating procedure. For us, here and now and forevermore, it is unfathomable and unconscionable -- and for that I'm also grateful!



posted on Apr, 8 2015 @ 06:58 PM
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Thank you so much. I recently did a "slave history" tour in the south, and it led me to go on a bit of a bender reading about it all.
The slavery issue in the US leads me to believe that the Constitution is not as steadfast article of the people as people flash in your face today. "All men are created equal" Such a contradiction, I'm not sure how anyone was ever OK with it being in there, and living with slavery and then heavy discrimination against African Americans. Written in 1789, in the constitutions 250 odd history about 200 years of it was blatantly ignored.
Same goes for womens' rights really.
Anyhoo, an observation not an indictment.



posted on Apr, 8 2015 @ 07:16 PM
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This is perhaps the right place to add another reference for those interested The Book of Negroes is an actual document. There was a book, a television series and a movie based on it.
edit on 8-4-2015 by aboutface because: (no reason given)


Another story to follow here

More narratives here
edit on 8-4-2015 by aboutface because: added references



posted on Apr, 8 2015 @ 07:24 PM
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These stories are fascinating. Notice that the writers tried to capture the exact speech used by the former slaves, rather than recording the information using then-current grammar and spelling. I think this is frowned-upon now, but in these cases it was effective in actually capturing the grammar of a unique people with some very unique experiences.

I remember talking to a conservative friend of mine who questioned whether anything worthwhile actually came out of the New Deal's WPA, the parent of the Federal Writers' Project. I gave him some food for thought when I told him about the various slave narratives that were recorded during those days. Some of the information recorded during this project is also very useful in genealogical research, since there wasn't a lot of information recorded about slaves in the antebellum south.

It's interesting that these former slaves, for all of their hardships, didn't bear much hatred toward their former owners. In my interviews of some of the "old folk" who lived through the Jim Crow days, their vitriol is quite palpable. In some respects the post-slavery period was actually worse than the time of slavery.

-dex



posted on Apr, 9 2015 @ 05:31 AM
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originally posted by: BlueJacket
...amazing testament to human spirit. I need alot longer to absorb...



Yes, that's a good way to put it -- there is so much to absorb and process. I've read most of them now... but I find myself getting lost in thought as I read, so it's taking me a while. Just trying to imagine what they've been through and where they've been.



posted on Apr, 9 2015 @ 05:36 AM
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originally posted by: Siddharta
I would like to add some positive words here.
But I am utterly speechless right now.


I know exactly what you mean! I had a difficult time writing the OP... somehow I didn't think, "Wow. Just wow," would cut it... but there really are no words... I thought if I read some more I would find more to say, but no... just more to think about.



posted on Apr, 9 2015 @ 05:38 AM
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a reply to: yorkshirelad

Don't forget about corporate slavery. I'm not saying it is ANYTHING like what the negroe and irish slaves went through or the "human trafficking" of today. It's just another form of slavery, and the lesser of two evils is still evil.

OP:: Thank you very much for bringing this to our attention.



posted on Apr, 9 2015 @ 05:48 AM
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originally posted by: aboutface
a reply to: Boadicea

Thanks so much for the reference! I've read a few of the ladies' stories, and my overall impression is that they were tough women.


Yes indeed! It puts so many of our first world problems in a whole new perspective.


The thing that strikes me at the moment is that they all said they were owned, as though it was the acceptable term for them to use. Even though they wanted their freedom, they knew their owners had papers to prove ownership.


That was most surreal to me -- and disturbing. It was stated so matter-of-factly again and again... and yet, that was in fact their reality.


The skills they learned in carpentry, in the kitchen and in the fields helped them to find employment after they got their freedom. Some bought land and built themselves a small home. It's very moving.


And they accomplished this with virtually no education -- no reading or writing or arithmetic -- just their learned skills. Good for them!


I just wish the interviews had been longer and more detailed rather than a summary of their life. Did you read the story of the woman who was buried in the ground with jewelry and when someone began digging in order to steal the jewelry, the woman rose up and chased after the digger? Tall tale or not, that's what I mean when I say the interviews were too short.


I haven't gotten to that one yet -- but I'm looking forward to it! I find my thoughts wandering as I read, so it's taking me a while to get through them all.

ETA: Thank you for the links! I will read those as soon as I get through these!
edit on 9-4-2015 by Boadicea because: (no reason given)



posted on Apr, 9 2015 @ 05:53 AM
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originally posted by: zazzafrazz
Thank you so much. I recently did a "slave history" tour in the south, and it led me to go on a bit of a bender reading about it all.
The slavery issue in the US leads me to believe that the Constitution is not as steadfast article of the people as people flash in your face today. "All men are created equal" Such a contradiction, I'm not sure how anyone was ever OK with it being in there, and living with slavery and then heavy discrimination against African Americans. Written in 1789, in the constitutions 250 odd history about 200 years of it was blatantly ignored.
Same goes for womens' rights really.
Anyhoo, an observation not an indictment.


I cannot argue your points -- all valid! I've thought about this as well, and I wonder if some of the founding fathers knew better, but did the best they could with what (who) they had to work with. I doubt they could have gotten the overall support at that time if they addressed slavery or women's suffrage... and yet, they managed to provide documents that allowed for us to make the necessary and proper changes in time. I'm not sure if they pulled a fast one... or if it was a serendipitous error. But I am thankful that the principles stood and future generations could build on that foundation.

ETA: That history tour must have been fascinating. I'd love to hear more about it... especially anything about the Underground Railroad. As a girl, I read everything I could find about it, and it was never enough. The courage and determination of both the slaves and the "conductors" has always been awe-inspiring to me.
edit on 9-4-2015 by Boadicea because: (no reason given)



posted on Apr, 9 2015 @ 06:00 AM
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originally posted by: 3n19m470
a reply to: yorkshirelad

Don't forget about corporate slavery. I'm not saying it is ANYTHING like what the negroe and irish slaves went through or the "human trafficking" of today. It's just another form of slavery, and the lesser of two evils is still evil.


Your point is well taken... and no doubt there are those in the corporate world who would enslave us all -- if they could get away with it. Another reason to never forget our past or it can and will repeat itself.



posted on Apr, 9 2015 @ 06:14 AM
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originally posted by: DexterRiley
These stories are fascinating. Notice that the writers tried to capture the exact speech used by the former slaves, rather than recording the information using then-current grammar and spelling. I think this is frowned-upon now, but in these cases it was effective in actually capturing the grammar of a unique people with some very unique experiences.


I had the same thought. It seemed a little... I don't know... patronizing? Condescending? And yet it made the accounts that much more poignant... that much more real and authentic... from the heart so to speak.


I remember talking to a conservative friend of mine who questioned whether anything worthwhile actually came out of the New Deal's WPA, the parent of the Federal Writers' Project. I gave him some food for thought when I told him about the various slave narratives that were recorded during those days. Some of the information recorded during this project is also very useful in genealogical research, since there wasn't a lot of information recorded about slaves in the antebellum south.


What an invaluable project this was!!! I was unaware of these narratives prior to seeing these. They immediately caught my interest, to hear their experiences first hand. I had not even considered how it would help genealogical research...


It's interesting that these former slaves, for all of their hardships, didn't bear much hatred toward their former owners. In my interviews of some of the "old folk" who lived through the Jim Crow days, their vitriol is quite palpable. In some respects the post-slavery period was actually worse than the time of slavery.

-dex



I was also struck by their lack of bitterness and vitriol. I'm not sure I could be so forgiving -- in fact, I seriously doubt I could be! So I understand the anger of those who were subject to the Jim Crow laws. Why do you think that is? What impressions did you get from those you interviewed?



posted on Apr, 9 2015 @ 07:15 AM
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a reply to: zazzafrazz

I've thought a lot about what you wrote and it sent me back to searching my own youth. I think you have to consider that not that long ago in terms of history, my own fourth grade Canadian history book referred to North American aboriginal peoples as 'savages' throughout the book, almost as non-people. The reinforcement of the lessons pointed to their being wild and unpredictable, different from the norm, almost as a different species.

I would venture to say that those people born into slavery such as these people in the OP were, lived in a different reality. They were not considered as equal under the Constitution because society did not consider them as quite human. Hard to believe, but I do think that the attitude of the times really reflects that. Slavery does go back into biblical times, and to think that society ever considered slaves as equals is to do everyone a disservice. To those who owned slaves, they were commodities to do with as one wished, even making them eunuchs.

How we ever overcame the attitudes that separated us all took a heck of a lot of doing. It doesn't feel as though society has graduated from that quite yet though. Attitudes and prejudices are learned and taught. We still have a long way to go, and let's hope we get there soon. We must not let the progress we have achieved be undone.



posted on Apr, 9 2015 @ 09:34 AM
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originally posted by: Boadicea

ETA: That history tour must have been fascinating. I'd love to hear more about it... especially anything about the Underground Railroad. As a girl, I read everything I could find about it, and it was never enough. The courage and determination of both the slaves and the "conductors" has always been awe-inspiring to me.


Another tidbit for you, Boadicea, about the Underground Railroad: Slaves fought in the 1812 war and this little forgotten church is being restored and will be preserved as part of history. Link

There are links on that page that will relate it to the railroad.
edit on 9-4-2015 by aboutface because: (no reason given)




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