Slavery Remembered: A Record of Twentieth-Century Slave Narratives

By Paul D. Escott | Go to book overview
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Preface

A white man can't give the history of the Negro.
Charlie Moore (?) in The American Slave,
Vol. 18, Unwritten History of Slavery.
If you want Negro history you will have to get [it] from somebody who wore the shoe, and by and by from one to the other you will get a book.
Mr. Reed in The American Slave,
Vol. 18, Unwritten History of Slavery.

As a white historian, I have been painfully aware of the problem described by Charlie Moore. It is indeed presumptuous of a white scholar to attempt to reveal how black men and women felt about their enslavement, but Mr. Reed's words explain why I can feel that I have not strayed too far from the truth. Surely the words of the slaves themselves constitute the best source on the black experience of slavery, and the narratives of former slaves are the basis of this book.

Only in the last few years have historians begun to use the Federal Writers' Project Slave Narratives and similar materials gathered by researchers at Fisk University. Despite an outpouring of new books, the reinterpretation of slavery may be just beginning, for black sources provide entirely different perspectives on critical issues and basic concepts. It is an embarrassing fact that until recently historians have studied slavery almost entirely from white sources. The inevitable omissions and distortions that arise from such an approach should be apparent. How many teachers have an accurate conception of what goes

-xiii-

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