Unchained Memories: Readings From The Slave Narratives Memories: Readings from the Slave Narratives. ... Readings from the Slave Narratives, ... about five years old and my new
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READINGS FROM THE SLAVE NARRATIVESWhat was it like to be enslaved in the United States?
More than 2,000 African Americans answered that question in interviews conducted during the 1930s. Their voices come to life inside the
pages of this magazine and in the extraordinary new documentary Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narratives.
Premiering Monday, February 10, 2003, at 8PM/7C.
can constitute a state. I think wemust get rid of slavery or we mustget rid of freedom.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, poet, 1856
Democratic liberty exists solelybecause we have slaves freedomis not possible without slavery.
Richmond Enquirer, 1856
Whenever I hear anyone arguingfor slavery, I feel a strong impulse tosee it tried on him personally.
President Abraham Lincoln, 1865
I had crossed the line. I was free;but there was no one to welcomeme to the land of freedom. I was astranger in a strange land.
Harriet Tubman, who escaped from slavery in 1849 and went on
to lead 300 slaves to freedom
If I had my life to live over, I woulddie fighting rather than be a slaveagain.
Robert Falls, former slave, in WPAinterview conducted in the 1930s
12,000,000 Approximatenumber of Africans shipped acrossthe Atlantic Ocean between 1450and 1850, primarily to colonies inNorth America, South America andthe West Indies.
3,953,760 Total number ofenslaved people in the southernstates in 1860.
0 Total number of enslaved peoplein the free states of the Northas of 1860.
100,000 Number of ex-slavesstill alive in the late 1930s.
2,300 Ex-slaves interviewed inthe 1930s for the Slave Narrativesnow housed at Library of Congress.
S L AV E R Y B Y T H EN U M B E R S
HUMAN CARGO: Flyerslike this one, distributedin Charleston, South Carolina in 1769, advertised the sale ofenslaved Africans.
From Africa to America:Enslaved Africans Countries of Origin
No man can put a chain around theankle of his fellow man without atlast finding the other end fastenedabout his own neck.
Frederick Douglass, liberated slaveand civil rights activist, 1883
I do not see how a barbarous com-munity and a civilized community
A NATION DIVIDED: This 1856 mapshows the division between slave and freestates. The numbers in white indicate the per-centage of families in each southern state thatowned slaves. Under the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, the question of slaveryin the territories was supposed to be decided by a vote of settlers. But insteadof providing a peaceful solution, the Kansas-Nebraska Act led to fierce andbloody conflict, propelling the U.S. toward civil war.
Y OF C
AMERICAN ANTIQUARIAN SOCIETY
DDuring the Great Depressionof the 1930s, the FederalGovernment came up witha creative new way to putunemployed writers backto work. Armed with tape
recorders and lists of questions, mem-bers of the Federal Writers Project setout to record the experiences andopinions of everyday people. As partof this project, thousands of formerslaves in 17 states were interviewed.One result of these oral history inter-views was the Slave Narrative Col-lection, an extraordinary set of 2,300autobiographical documents nowhoused at the Library of Congress.These interviews, all of which wereconducted between 1936 and 1938,gave former slaves an unparalleledchance to share their memories oflife in bondage. For contemporaryAmericans, these narratives provide ariveting chronicle of what it was liketo be enslaved in the United States.
About the Language of the Slave NarrativesIn his instructions to interviewers, thedirector of the Federal Writers Projectnoted that details of the interviewshould be reported as accurately aspossible in the language of the original
statements. In response, the inter-viewersmost of whom were whitemade an effort to capture in writingthe speech patterns of the men andwomen with whom they spoke. (Someinterviewers tape-recorded the con-versations, while many relied solely
on written notes.) In some cases, theresulting transcripts contain clear exaggerations or racist notions ofAfrican Americans. As one historianhas noted, the transcripts are a mix of accuracy and fantasy, of sensitivityand stereotype, of empathy and racism.
When reading or listening to thenarratives, it is important to rememberthe process by which the intervieweeswords were recorded on paper. It isalso important to remember the his-torical context in which the narrativeswere produced. Certain words thatthe former slaves used may be offen-sive or disturbing. But the narrativesare a reflection of the time and place atwhich they were created. As such, theyilluminate a world that is importantfor all Americans to explore.
The Slave Narratives on the Web
WHAT ARE THE SLAVE NARRATIVES?
More than 2,000 slave narrativesalong with 500 photosare available online at the
Library of Congress Born in Slavery website at
more information about the new HBO documentary Unchained Memories:
Readings from the Slave Narratives, visit www.hbo.com/unchained. And
for teaching materials and additional resources related to the slave
narratives, go to www.timeclassroom.com/unchained.BRUTAL CONDITIONS: Devices such asthis one were used to restrain slaves.
FROM SLAVERY TO FREEDOM: This rare photograph shows a group of ex-slaves in Cumberland Landing, Virginia in 1862, the year after the Civil War began.
None of us was allowed to see a book or try to learn.
Mush and BeansI remember quite well howthose poor little children used
to have to eat. They were fed inboxes and troughs, under the house.They were fed cornmeal mush andbeans. When this was poured intotheir box, they would gather aroundit the same as we see pigs, horses andcattle gather around troughs today.
Octavia George, Oklahoma
Studying the Spelling Book
None of us was lowed to seea book or try to learn. Dey say
we git smarter den dey was if welearn anything, but we slips aroundand gits hold of dat Websters oldblue-back speller and we hides it tilway in de night and den we lights alittle pine torch and studies datspellin book. We learn it, too.
Jenny Proctor, Texas
ENSLAVED PEOPLE STARTED WORKING ATa very early age: many began theirlabors in the masters house, wherethey served as playmates for whitechildren. Despite this closeness,black and white children could notattend school together. In fact, inmost states it was against the lawfor slaves to be educated.
My New Master Was Only Two
My earliest recollection is theday my old boss presented me
to his son, Joe, as his property. I wasabout five years old and my newmaster was only two No, sir, Inever went into books. I used tohandle a big dictionary three timesa day, but it was only to put it on achair so my young master could situp higher at the table. I never wentto school. I learned to talk prettygood by associating with my mastersin their big house.
Martin Jackson, Texas
Born in 1847 in Victoria County, Texas,MARTIN JACKSON was 90 when this1937 photo was taken.
PLANTATION LIFE: This group ofslaves, photographed in 1862,worked on Smiths Plantation inBeaufort, South Carolina.
JENNY PROCTOR began working in thecotton fields when she was 10. Shewas 87 when she shared her memoriesof slavery.
The children were fed inboxes and troughs same aswe see pigs, horses and cattle.APPROXIMATELY ONE IN THREE SLAVEfamilies was split apart. One-fifth ofall enslaved children were separatedfrom their parents.
The Last Time I Heard Her Speak
I never knowed my age tilla f ter de war and then
marster gits out a big book an itshows Is 25 year old. It shows Is 12when I is bought and $800 is paidfor me My mammy was owned byJohn Williams in Petersburg, in Vir-ginia, and I come born to her on datplantation Then, one day alongcome a Friday and that a unlucky starday, and I playin round de houseand Marster Williams come up andsay, Delis, will you low Jim walkdown de street with me? My mammysay, All right, Jim, you be a good boy,and dat de las time I ever heard herspeak, or ever see her.
James Green, Texas
BY AGE 12, MOST CHILDREN WORKEDin the fields, where they grew cropslike tobacco, rice and cotton. Slavesgenerally worked six days a week,from sunrise to sundown.
Bells and HornsBells and horns! Bells for disand horns for dat! All we
knowed was go and come by de bellsand horns! Old ram horn blow tosend us all to de field. We all line up,
about 75 field niggers, and go by