A Comprehensive Name Index for the American Slave

A Comprehensive Name Index for the American Slave

A Comprehensive Name Index for the American Slave

A Comprehensive Name Index for the American Slave

Synopsis

In the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration began interviewing former slaves for their side of history, a project that would become one of the largest oral research projects on slavery. Forty years later, George P. Rawick compiled the thousands of interviews into the multi-volume series The American Slave. Published by Greenwood Press in the 1970s, the slave narratives have provided a valuable resource for historians and researchers, but they lacked a comprehensive name index. This volume indexes the slaves according to where they lived (as opposed to where they were interviewed), enabling researchers to locate slaves by state, county, or region, as well as by their master's name, their age, and the interviewer.

Excerpt

Nineteen seventy-two was a banner year in the study of American slavery. The publication of George Rawick From Sundown to Sunup and John Blassingame The Slave Community in that year inaugurated a new era, marking a decisive change in emphasis from a concentration on the slaveholders to an effort to understand the experience of the slaves.

Perhaps even more significant was Rawick's publication that year of The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography. It made widely available for the first time more than 10,000 pages of typescripts of interviews with more than 2,000 former slaves by interviewers for the Federal Writers Project of the Works Progress Administration conducted in seventeen states between 1936 and 1938 and deposited in the Library of Congress. Despite difficulties, it is perhaps the most important source ever for the study of slavery in the United States.

While slavery left what Rawick terms "an indelible mark on American life" during the century following emancipation, the slaves themselves were "virtually absent from the written history other than as the victim of white aggression or the recipient of white paternalism." Most studies of slavery in the United States have been derived from investigation of the records kept by the slaveholders. It is not surprising that this should be so. One of the characteristics of American slavery was the enforced illiteracy of the slave. As former slave Elijah Green expressed it, "And, for God's sake don't let a slave be cotch with pencil and paper. That was a major crime. You might as well had killed your master or missus." A people systematically kept illiterate were not likely to leave written records of the kind that historians normally study. The slaves had in fact left behind a distinctive oral literature, often in song and story, that constitutes evidence directly or indirectly expressing their personal perspectives on the institution that bound them and the people who claimed to own them. It must be acknowledged that this evidence offers special hazards to those who would attempt to understand the slaves'

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.