Black Ancestors : American Slave Narratives - An Online Anthology

Discussion in 'Honoring Black Ancestors' started by Zulile, Dec 6, 2007.

  1. Zulile

    Zulile Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/wpa/wpahome.html

    Reading the narratives
    The narratives in this online anthology are transcribed verbatim from the interview transcripts collected by writers of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the late 1930s. The narratives can be quite challenging to read. The dialect can be difficult to understand; the interviewers usually made an effort to transcribe what they heard the narrators saying, but there is little consistency from interview to interview. One solution is to try to imagine what the language might have sounded like, perhaps by reading the narratives out loud.

    It is worthwhile to read the narratives closely, watching and listening for unexpected details, unspoken feelings, and hidden meanings. Often the full meanings of the narratives will remain unclear, but the ambiguities themselves bear careful consideration. When Emma Crockett spoke about whippings, she said that "All I knowed, 'twas bad times and folks got whupped, but I kain't say who was to blame; some was good and some was bad." We might discern a number of reasons for her inability or unwillingness to name names, to be more specific about brutalities suffered under slavery. She admitted that her memory was failing her, not unreasonable for an eighty-year-old. She also told her interviewer that under slavery she lived on the "plantation right over yander,"and it is likely that the children or grandchildren of her former masters, or her former overseers, still lived nearby; the threat of retribution could have made her hold her tongue. Or, perhaps in her old age she had come to view her life as a slave with equanimity and forgiveness. It is impossible to know why she reserved judgment, but it is worth considering the possibilities.

    Readers will notice lapses, inconsistencies, and repetitions in these narratives. The interviewers were assigned to ask a series of questions about labor, diet, marriage, punishment, and relations with masters. Some interviewers followed this list of questions more faithfully than others. Most of those interviewed were in their eighties and nineties; their recollection of childhood is often remarkably detailed, but readers will detect the difficulty of remembering exact chronologies over a period of seventy or eighty years.

    Modern readers will also note in some narratives the patronizing tone of the interviewers and the seeming deference of the subjects. While the racial language can be offensive to modern readers, it is important to remember that these narratives were conducted sixty years ago in the Jim Crow South; just as these former slaves had survived into the twentieth century, so had the ideology of white supremacy that underpinned the slave society of the American South.


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    Walter Calloway was born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1848. Calloway and his mother and brother were purchased by John Calloway, who owned a plantation ten miles south of Montgomery, Alabama. By the time he was ten years old, Walter Calloway was doing a grown man's work. The white overseer used a black hand to administer the whippings; Calloway recalls seeing one thirteen-year-old girl whipped almost to death. Calloway also tells of worshipping in a brush arbor, the outbreak of the Civil War, and federal troops ransacking the plantation at war's end. He is pictured sitting on the front steps of his home in Birmingham, Alabama, where he worked for the city street department for twenty-five years.

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    Mary Reynolds, blind and over one hundred years old at the time of her interview, was born into slavery in Black River, Louisiana. Her master, a physician and planter, was a shrewd speculator who frequently traded his older slaves for younger, more fit hands. Reynolds witnessed brutal beatings, and tells of working in weather so cold that her hands bled. Her master had a number of children with a mulatto slave, and his wife threatened to leave him. After the war, Mary Reynolds moved to Texas, where she remained for the rest of her life.

    Read their narratives - and narratives of others:
    http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/wpa/index.html
     
  2. truetothecause

    truetothecause Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Hotep Sis Zulile.

    Thanks for posting. I had plans on starting a similiar thread by posting some of the stories from "Bullwhip Days: "The Slaves Remember"
    I wonder if this site was developed from the narratives provided here.


    I'd like to still post some of the stories and if is ok to do so here in this thread, that would be great. Or, should I start a new thread with narratives from this source:?:

    What do you think:?:

    :hearts2:
     
  3. Zulile

    Zulile Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Truetothecause :heart:

    Yes, please! Post some of their stories here (if you prefer) - that is a wonderful link you provided. I think these narratives are incredible, and hope they are read and passed on to many more - to help dispel the belief that "slavery was so long ago" when in fact it is yesterday, today, and could easily be tomorrow.
     
  4. truetothecause

    truetothecause Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    I suppose after this information was gathered, it was available for some to publish as they saw fit.

    Thanks SiS. Zulile!

    Here is some more about Mary Reynolds...

    "My Paw's name was Tom Vaughn and he was from the North, born free man and lived and died free to the end of his days. He wasn't no eddicated man, but he was what he calls himself, a piano man. He told me once he lived in New York and Chicago, and he built the insides of pianos and Iknew how to make them play in tune. He said some white folks from the South told him if he'd come with them to the South he'd find a lot of work to do with pianos in them parts, and he come with them.
    He saw my maw on the Kilpatrick place and her man was dead. He told Dr. Kilpatrick, my massa, he'd buy my maw and her three chillun with all the money he had, iffen he'd sell her. But Dr. Kilpatrick was never one to sell any but the old ******* who was only part workin' in the fields and past their breedin' times. So my paw marries my maw and works the fields, same as any other ******. They had six gals: Martha and Pamela and Josephine and Ellen and Katherine and me." (Mellon, 1988, pg. 15)

    :hearts2:



    :hearts2:
     
  5. truetothecause

    truetothecause Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Voices from the Margins..telling the tales of Forced Breeding

    "When a girl became a woman, she was required to go to a man and become a mother. There was generally a from of marriage. The master read a paper to them telling them they were man an'wife. Some were married by the master laying down a broom and the two slaves, man and woman, would jump over it. The master would then tell them they were a man and wife, and they could go to bed together. Master would sometimes fo and get a large, hale, hearty Negro man from some other plantation to go to his Negro woman. He would ask the other master to let this man come over to his place to go to his slave girls. A slave girl was expected to have children as soon as she became a woman. Som of them had children at the age of twelve and thirteen years old. Negro men six feet tall went to some of these children."
    - Hilliard Yellerday (pg. 147)


    "It took a smart ****** to know who his father was, in slavery time. I just can remember my mother"
    `Elias Thomas (pg. 149)


    "Ise gwine to tell youse how a ****** couple fools Marster Buckham, once. 'Twas a cullud gal-her name was Nancy- 'bout seventeen yeahs old, an' her marster tole her to live wid a cetain ******, name' Tip. Dat gal, Nancy, detested dat fellow, Tip. She won't 'low him to come neah her. Tip tole his marster 'bout it, an' de marster gives de gal a whuppin' an' tole her dat him owned her an' dat she must do as him wants. De cullud fellow feels sorry 'bout de gal gettin' de whuppin', so Tip says to Nancy, "Ise don't want to see youse whupped, so Ise sleep on de floah an' youse use de bunk. But youse must promise never to tell de marster." "Ise sho' promise, hope to die," she says.
    'Twas 'bout three months aftah, de marster see thar am no chilluns gwine to be to bo'n, so he tuks her f'om dat fellow an' lows her to stay wid de one she laks. Dat am 'bout five yeahs befo' Surrendah, an' every yeah thar am a chile bo'n to Nancy while she am a slave. De marster never did learn how come thar warn't any chilluns bo'n wid de first man.
    -Virginia Yarbrough (pg. 148)

    "My marster owned three planations and thre hundred slaves. He started out wid two 'oman slaves and raised three hundred slaves. One wuz called "Short Peggy," and the udder wuz called "Long Peggy." Long Peggy had twenty-five chilluns. Long Peggy, a black 'oman, wuz boss ob de plantation. Marster freed her atter she had twenty-five chilluns. Just think o' dat - raisin' three hundred slaves wid tow 'omans. It sho' is de trufe, do'."
    - John Smith (pg. 148)

    :hearts2:
     
  6. truetothecause

    truetothecause Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Voices...Ghost and Conjuring

    "I wuz put in de fields whin I wuz big 'nuf to ***. I's hoed wid de field plumb full ob slaves. Hit wuz wuk, but us got some enjaiment outen hit, too. De slaves would tell tales an' ghos' stories an' all 'bout conjurin' an' hoodooin'. Den, dey would git to singin', prayin', an' a -shoutin'. When de overseer her'em, he alwa's go make 'em be quiet lak. You see, de white folks don't git in de spirit. Dey don't shout, pray, hum, an' sing all through de services, lak us do. Dey don't believe in a heap o' things us ******* knows 'bout. Dey tells us dey ain't no ghos', but us knows better'n dat. I's seed ghos' an' haints[haunts] all my life. I's seed'em right here of dis gallery wher I's a-setting
    - Minerva Grubbs (pg. 85)

    "Does I believe in witches? Sa-a-ay, I knows more 'bout 'em dan to jes' believe. I been rid by'em. Right here in dis house. You ain' never been rid by a witch? Well, you mighty lucky. Dey come in de night, ginnerly soon after you drop off to sleep. Dey put a bridle on your head an'a bit in your mouth an' a saddle on your back. den dey take off deir skin an' hang it up on de wall. Den dey git on you, an' some nights dey like to ride you to death. You try to holler, but you kain't counta de iron bit in your mouth, an' you feel like somebody holdin' you down. Den dey ride you back home an' into your bed. When you hit de bed, you jump an' grab de kivver, an' de witch be gone, like dat. But you know you been rid mighty har, 'cause you all wet wid sweat, an' you fel plumb tired out.
    Shen mean folks dies, de old Debil sometimes doan want 'em down dere in de bad place, so he makes witches out of 'em an' sends 'em back. One thing 'bout witches: dey gotta count ever'thing 'for dey can git acrost it. You put a broom acrost your door at night an' de old witch's gotta count ever' straw in dat broom 'for she can come in."
    -Josephine Anderson (pg 90)


    "The old folks told us stories about spirits walking at night - jack-o-lanterns and all them spooky things that almost scared out groth out of us. All that ain't nothing but foolishness. When a soul once departs this life, it won't never be seen no more. That I can guarantee.
    There ain't nothing to none of them hoodoo doctors, neither. They is just highway robbers and should be run out of the country.
    -Sqire Irvin (pg. 93)


    :hearts2:
     
  7. cherryblossom

    cherryblossom Banned MEMBER

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  8. cherryblossom

    cherryblossom Banned MEMBER

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  9. cherryblossom

    cherryblossom Banned MEMBER

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    Every slave's story is awful.
     
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