The FWP Slave Narratives
as the corpus for
The term "slave narratives" is frequently used in a more comprehensive sense than is intended here. In its general sense, the term denotes not a particular collection but a text genre that originated in the northern states and is defined as follows by F. Foster:
Slave narratives are the personal accounts by black slaves and exslaves of their experience in slavery and of their efforts to obtain freedom. Written after the physical escape had been accomplished ..., these narratives were retrospective endeavors which helped the narrators define, even create, their identities as they attempted to relate the patterns and implications of their slavery experiences.
( Foster 1979: 3)
These stories and remembrances, which were not always authentic, were quite popular in the North in the period preceding the Civil War, and they were promoted and disseminated especially by abolitionists. After 1865 they lost their topicality and reminded readers of the war and secession--unpleasant past events--and so they soon disappeared almost completely. In the 1920s some social factors, especially a renewed upsurge of racist ideologies, caused a revival of interest in the period of slavery as a part of American history, and particularly in the slave narratives ( Yetman 1967). In addition, some historians began to reject the exclusively white perspective of historiography, and they recognized the value of the personal testimony of ex-slaves as a source of historical and social research. They endeavored to collect such sources active-