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This paperback edition of selected Georgia narratives is reprinted in facsimile from the typewritten pages of the interviewers, just as they were originally typed.
Posted November 7, 2009
This is an astonishing book. It could change everything you thought you knew about slavery in the antebellum South. It contains interviews of former slaves in Georgia from the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration. Actually, this is one of a series of Slave Narratives from 15 different states.
I read the Georgia Slave Narratives not just once, but went back over the book a second and third time with pen and paper in hand, taking copious notes. Here are a few of the things I found.
In the 43 interviews there are at least 21 references to how good they were treated by their masters. By contrast, only 5 former slaves said they were treated poorly, and three of those said that although their master was mean, their mistress was kind to them. One said her master was cruel, but he still took good care of the physical needs of his slaves. Another, who said she had a bad slave master, also mentioned that after she gained her freedom and moved away, she didn't move too far, so she could come back and visit her old master and family.
Overseers were different, and one slave said, "The overseers warn't quality white folkses like our marster and mistress." Four of the interviewees, less than 10 percent of the whole, said they had cruel overseers. Another four said they had no overseer, and a couple said that their overseer was another slave just like themselves.
As a minister who was very active in integrating churches during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and early 1970s, I took note that ten of the slaves spoke of attending the same church with their master and family. Not only did they attend, but some were also baptized and joined the white folks church. Even before reading this book my studies had made me aware that it was common for Southern churches to be integrated before the War Between the States. Segregation initially came about by the choice of the blacks themselves, and also because of the abuses of so called "Reconstruction" following the War.
This review would be much too long if I detailed all the former slaves who fondly recalled how they were well fed, well clothed and were given the best health care available at that time. Some talked of being allowed to make money on the side during their free time and others said their masters gave them spending money. Many talked of having time off from work on the weekends, holidays, and for special occasions.
Of the dozen or more interviewees who mentioned encountering Northern soldiers, not one of them had a kind word to say. They told of the Yankees looting, slaughtering livestock, burning houses, and destroying goods and provisions which they could not steal. One slave, Della, said the first white person to ever slap her in the face was a Yankee soldider. A black man told of being captured and imprisoned by the Union soldiers for three months although he was not a Confederate soldier and was not charged with any crime.
Three black Confederate soldiers do appear in the interviews. Two of the men interviewed said they fought with the Confederate army, one for six months and the other for four years. A female slave said that after the War she married a black Confederate veteran.
The most amazing quotes in the Slave Narratives from Georgia are those from a full dozen former slaves who spoke nostalgically about the days before freedom, each saying they were much better off then.
Thought provoking and Highly recommended.