Gentle Readers . . . and Maxwell,
I have quite an unusual group of interviews for you today. During The Great Depression (not the one now--the one during the 1930s), the government founded the Works Project Administration as a way of providing employment for a number of people. One aspect of the WPA was the Federal Writers' Project.
Yes, the government actually gave jobs to writers, and one of the most important and interesting outcomes of the project turned out to be two thousand+ transcripts of interviews by the writers with former slaves, who were quite elderly. What a treasure trove of information: slavery in the United States as described by the people who lived it. It's known as the Slave Narrative Collection.
The Collection represents people who worked on large plantations, small plantations, were house slaves, were field slaves, were babies when they were liberated, or were fifty years old and didn't know what to do after emancipation. The finished interviews ended up in The Rare Book Room of The Library of Congress, where they were inaccessible to most people and their very existence was almost unknown.
The interviews were first used as source material in 1945, and then gradually, during the 1970s, were published in their entirety. Information about the collection is available online at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/snhtml/snhome.html, and pages from the collection can even be viewed.
Selections from the collection that feature a wide range of memories can be found in a paperback book called When I Was A Slave: Memoirs from the Slave Narrative Collection, edited by Norman R. Yetman. When I purchased the book, I didn't know the collection was available online, but perhaps it's just as well because reading more than two thousand memoirs online seems a rather daunting task. I bought my book on Amazon at http://goo.gl/QZgKkt.
The former slaves' stories are sadly fascinating. Some describe being treated well and staying with the families who enslaved them after they were free. Many endured appalling conditions. Their stories are told in the vernacular, with corrections for readability.
But for every former slave who says, We had enough to eat; we had clothes; we were treated well––we have to keep in mind that this human being was enslaved. Having a life that's not as bad as another slave's life . . . it's still slavery, and we must beware of becoming "slavery deniers," who think that Marster treated his slaves well because slaves were expensive and necessary.
For every person who was relatively happy as a slave, I wager you'll find far more who abode in misery.
Mary Anderson, age 86 when she was interviewed, describes Marster as having four overseers, but the overseers were not allowed to whip the slaves. If a slave was unruly, then he was sent away and sold, and others would arrive to take the place of the departed. Mary Anderson says nothing about the way this action must have separated families.
Then we have Mary Armstrong, interviewed at age 91. She recalls the mistress who "whipped my little sister what was only nine months old, and just a baby, to death. She come and took the diaper offen my little sister and whipped till the blood just ran––just 'cause she cry like all babies do, and it kilt my sister." This story is not the only one that's horrifying.
These stories are part of our history; they are part of human history; they are part of a world that continues today with modern slavery.
I urge you to familiarize yourself with at least some of these memoirs, whether you buy the book or do so online.
I ask God to help us keep from repeating our mistakes.
Infinities of love,