Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Lest We Forget from Whence We Have Come

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Lest We Forget from Whence We Have Come

Article excerpt

For African Americans, remembering our collective and personal histories is crucial. Folk tales and true tales of our struggles and perseverance provide courage, perspective, and insight for generations of children to continue carrying the proverbial torch.

So as a member of a generation that can't even claim remembering the Civil Rights movement, hearing from people who experienced our people's bonded enslavement more than a century ago is absolutely amazing.

"Remembering Slavery," a two-hour audio tape documentary based on the stories of ex-slaves, is a moving auditory adventure. The product of producers Kathie Farnell and Jacquie Gales Webb, the recordings are the result of a Works Projects Administration (WPA) endeavor under Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal in the late '30s and early '40s. The documentary features former slaves telling stories in their own voices and is a remarkably authentic contribution to the volume of slave narratives on record today.

Hosted by Alabama State University professor Dr. Tonea Stewart, each hour-long episode presents restored recordings of interviews with Fountain Hughes, Laura Smalley, Harriet Smith, and several others who were born slaves, survived the Civil War, and lived through reconstruction. Their narratives are supplemented by dramatic readings of written interview transcripts read by noted actors such as James Earl Jones, Debbie Allen, Clifton Davis, Lou Gossett Jr., Melba Moore, and the late Esther Rolle.

Part one includes narratives of life before the Civil War. Caroline Hunter recalls the agony her mother went through watching the master beat her children until they bled. Hughes -- 101 years old at the time he was interviewed in Baltimore -- recounts being unable to simply walk across the street without a note from his master, calling slavery a jail sentence.

"We were slaves," recalls Hughes. "We belonged to people. They'd sell us like they sell horses and cows and hogs."

Part two takes listeners through former slaves' experiences during the Civil War and their first days of freedom. For Smith, the end of the war meant sitting on a picket fence in Texas, watching with awe and pride as "colored soldiers in droves" marched by. Another woman remembers not wanting to leave the master's house, crying as her mother tore her away from the White mistress who simply didn't understand why the young girl couldn't stay. …

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