During the 1930s, the Federal Writers’ Project undertook the task of locating former slaves and recording their oral histories. The more than ten thousand pages of interviews with over two thousand former slaves were filed in the Library of Congress, where they were known to scholars and historians but few others. From this storehouse of information, Belinda Hurmence has chosen twenty-seven narratives from the twelve hundred typewritten pages of interviews with 284 former South Carolina slaves. The result is a moving, eloquent, and often surprising firsthand account of the last years of slavery and first years of freedom. The former slaves describe the clothes they wore, the food they ate, the houses they lived in, the work they did, and the treatment they received. They give their impressions of Yankee soldiers, the Klan, their masters, and their newfound freedom.
About the Author
Belinda Hurmence was born in Oklahoma, raised in Texas, and educated at the University of Texas and Columbia University. She is the author of award-winning books for young people.
Table of Contents
|Rebecca Jane Grant||57|
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I wish everyone could read this little book. It shows Southern Slavery in many differnt lights. Everything in it is first hand accounts by former slaves.
These stories were compiled by the Federal Writers Project in the 1930s from memories of ex-slaves then in their 80s and 90s. As the introduction comments, many of te memories are surprisingly benign (especially compared with accounts written during the slavery era by escaped or freed slaves). It may be in part because they were told to white writers, or because events "since Freedom" had been so unpleasant that the slavery period looked good by comparison. It is especially striking that the coming of Yankee soldiers is generally remembered as destroying food and housing and leaving the slaves to starve.
This little book brings together 27 oral histories collected by the Federal Writer's Project in the 1930s. All of the interviewees were in their 80s or older at the time, and were at least 10 years of age at the end of the Civil War. The editor includes a thoughtful introduction in which she considers possible reasons the ex-slaves, almost to a person, remembered their days in servitude as "the good old days", when they were happier and certainly more secure than at any time since. Each person talks randomly about his or her memories, rather than being guided by a list of questions. The stories are, individually and collectively, incredibly depressing in their solicitude for ex-owners and their matter-of-fact descriptions of treatment and living standards. There is little outrage, almost a lassitude regarding slavery vs. freedom as a concept, perhaps a result of these people having been raised in slavery and being ill-prepared to make their own way during Reconstruction and after. Yankees, the KKK, and slave patrollers are viewed with equal negativity. An interesting and disturbing detour around the intervening 80 years of political correctness.
Each chapter of the book was recalled by a child of a slave or a very old person who was a slave. After visiting the south this year, I found the book very enlightning. As much as slavery was bad and wrong, there were positives for some. It gives you a different viewpoint that not all slave owners were bad people. The book lets you witness that it wasn't so much the "masters" as it was other white men who used their strength and power to control people. The book gives a much greater appreciation of the other viewpoints of what it was like on the other side of this practice.
When writing history it is so important not to disturb it's content when editing and Ms. Hurmence has done just that. For that I am most greatful. It allows the reader to injest the whole work without any bias. Thanks!