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Selections from the WPA American Slave Narratives

"Grandpa took giant steps forward in time. As a boy not quite old enough to be much help in the fields, his job was looking out for Charlie Rackett, his ancient, crippled grandfather, an African, a former slave. Grandpa listened to Charley Rackett's African stories and African words, then lived to see white men on the moon."

John Edgar Wideman
Brothers and Keepers

The following are seventeen of the approximately 2,300 American Slave Narratives collected by the Federal Writers Project. Students should be encouraged to consider the process through which these narratives were created, and the accompanying Lesson Plans have been formulated to raise issues of authorship and credibility.

These narratives are not the direct transciptions of the interviews, and the forms they take differ from narrative to narrative. According to Rawick, Scott Bond's narrative appears to have been dictated rather than a simple response to questions. Charles Williams' autobiography is his own work, originally written in pencil in a series of notebooks. Both the Bond and Williams narratives are of much greater length than the rest.

In addition to these seventeen narratives, there are another thirteen available online at the American Slave Narratives: An Online Anthology Web site. There are many collections of the Slave Narratives available in print. For a brief bibliography, see Bruce Fort's

Selected Readings on American Slavery and Slave Narratives.

We have also created a Topical Index for these seventeen narratives for use with the Lesson Three Questions.

NarratorStateSample Quotation
Alice AlexanderOklahoma"We lived in a one room log hut, and slept on homemade rail bed steads wid cotton, an' sum times straw, mos'ly straw summers an' cotton winners." [source]
Andy J. AndersonTexas"De Marster finished his statement asayin', 'All yous niggers can stay wid me'. I's says to myse'f, not loud 'nough fo' anyone to heah, I's thinks, but de Marster heahs me w'en I's says, 'Lak hell I's will'." [source]
Scott BondArkansas"I proceeded: 'Ann gave birth to a child while she was your servant. It is said that Mr. Rutledge, who was your nephew and manager of your farm at that time, was the father of this child. It is further said that Mrs. Goodlow dressed the child and called it Scott Winfield.' " [source]
Betty Foreman ChessierOklahoma"I doesn't remembah any play songs, 'cause I was almost in prison chile. I couldn't play with any of the darkies. I doesn't remembah playin' in my life when I was a little girl en' when I got grown I diden wanta." [source]
Betty CoferNorth Carolina"Yes'm, I saw some slaves sold away from the plantation, four men and two women, both of 'em with little babies. The traders got 'em. Sold 'em down to Mobile, Alabama. One was my pappy's sister. We never heard from her again." [source]
Holt CollierMississippiHaving killed 2212 bear, after which he says, "I just quit counting", Holt and the famous pack of dogs, which he had trained, were known by hunters and sportsmen, not only in the Delta but in other states. [source]
George FlemingSouth Carolina"Slaves started to work by de time dey was old enough to tote water and pick up chips to start fires wid. Some of dem started to work in de fields when dey about ten, but most of 'em was older." [source]
Hector GodboldSouth Carolina"Wha' yuh gwinna do wid me? I sho' been heah in slavery time. Talk to dem sodjurs when dey wuz 'treatin' dey way back home. My ole Missus wuz Miss Mary Godbold en den she marry uh Haselden. Dey buy my mamma from da ole man Frank Miles right o'er yonner." [source]
James GreenTexas"I never knew my age until after de Civil War when I was set free for de second time. Then my marster gets out a great big book and it showed dat I was twenty-five years old. It shows more too: It shows I was twelve when I was bought and $800 was paid for me. Dat $800 was stolen money, cose I was kidnapped. Dis is about how it come." [source]
Lancy HarrisNorth Carolina"Ma bed had fo' posts and a cord running from pos' to pos' to make spring. We sleep in a room wid pot racks near the fire place, a barrel of soap up in a corner, but the floors wus white like a bread tray. Everything wus in one room." [source]
John HarrisonOklahoma"All of the Nations of the Five Tribes suffered extensively account of the war. The Choctaw, and Chickasaw Nation suffered because it was in their territory that the Confederate Army was quartered and lived during the life of the War and it was naturally a drain on the citizenship of those tribes." [source]
Matilda HatchettArkansas"Didn't git no chance to learn nothin' in slavery. Sometimes the children would teach the darkies 'round the house their ABC's. I've heard of folks teachin' their slaves to read the Bible. They didn't teach us to read nothin'. I've heard of it, but I've never seen it, that some folks would cut off the first finger of a nigger that could write." [source]
James MartinTexas"I helped bring the first railroad here. The S.P. in them days only ran near Seguin and I was a spiker and worked the whole distance. Then I helped build the old railroad from Indianola to Cuero and then from Cuero to Corpus.... That was in 1873 and 1874." [source]
Jerry MooreTexas"I rec'lect the time the cullud folks registered here after the war. They outnumbered the whites a long way. Davis was governor and all the white folks had to take the Iron Clad oath to vote. Carpetbaggers and Negroes run the government." [source]
Henry TurnerArkansasNo Negro slave was allowed to go beyond the confines of his owner's plantation without written permission. This was described by "Uncle" Henry Turner as a "pass"; and on this "pass" was written the name of the Negro, the place he was permitted to visit, and the time beyond which he must not fail to return. [source]
Hettie WatkinsIndianaMiss Watkins, while giving the sketch of her father to this writer, related a story of one of her uncles which I regarded as a reflection of that courage with which the colored ex-slave was called upon, on various occasions, to defend his newly acquired rights as an American citizen. [source]
Charles WilliamsLouisiana"I knows one Beauty thing erbout myself. I cin ackomplush anything I lays my mits apond." [source]

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