Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938 contains more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 black-and-white photographs of former slaves. These narratives were collected in the 1930s as part of the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) of the Works Progress Administration, later renamed Work Projects Administration (WPA). At the conclusion of the Slave Narrative project, a set of edited transcripts was assembled and microfilmed in 1941 as the seventeen-volume Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves. In 2000-2001, with major support from the Citigroup Foundation, the Library digitized the narratives from the microfilm edition and scanned from the originals 500 photographs, including more than 200 that had never been microfilmed or made publicly available. This online collection is a joint presentation of the Manuscript and Prints and Photographs divisions of the Library of Congress.
A Black Confederate Veteran
“I well remember when de war came. Old massa had told his folks befo’ de war began dat it was comin’, so we was ready for it.
“Beforehand the master called all the servants he could trust and told them to get together all of the silver and other things of value. They did that, he explained and afterward they took the big box of treasures and carried it out in the forest and hid it under the trunk of a tree which was marked. None of the Negroes ever told the Yankees where it was so when the war ended the master had his silver back. Of course the war left him without some of the things which he used to have but he never suffered.
“Then de war came and we all went to fight the Yankees. I was a body servant to the master, and once a bullet took off his hat. We all thought he was shot but he wasn’t, and I was standin’ by his side all the time.
“I remember Stonewall Jackson. He was a big man with long whiskers, and very brave. We all fought wid him until his death.
“We wan’t beaten, we was starved out! Sometimes we had parched corn to eat and sometimes we didn’t have a bite o’ nothin’, because the Union mens come and tuck all the food for their selves. I can still remember part of my ninety years.
I remembers we fought all de way from Virginia and winded up in Manassas Gap.
“When time came for freedom most of us was glad. We liked the Yankees. They was good to us. ‘You is all now free. You can stay on the plantation or you can go.’ We all stayed there until old massa died. Den I worked on de Seaboard Airline when it come to Birmingham. I have been here ever since.
“In all de years since de war I cannot forget old massa. He was good and kind. He never believed in slavery but his money was tied up in slaves and he didn’t want to lose all he had.
“I knows I will see him in heaven and even though I have to walk ten miles for a bite of bread I can still be happy to think about the good times we had then. I am a Confederate veteran but my house burned up wid de medals and I don’t get a pension.”
-Interview with Gus Brown, an emancipated black slave
“I loved dem days, I loved dem people. We lived better—we had no money—we had nothing to worry about—just do your task. Spin wheel and reel and reel for the yarn. I filled my arms full of quilt—hand made. Had task; I done all my task, and I help others with their task so they wouldn’t get whipped; if people lazy and wont do, they got to be made to do; if children bad they get whipped—if nigger bad, they get a whipping.
“Old Satan wear a big shoe—he got one club foot. He can disguise himself—he make you think he got power, but he ain’t got any power. He get you in trouble and leave you there. I always pray for wisdom and understanding like Solomon. I pray all the time to our good Father. People say—’Why you call him Good Father?'” (Quoted from the Bible) “I love everybody—’Love thy neighbor as thyself.'”
– Interview with Richard Mack, 104 years old, an emancipated black slave
“Some time I sorry I’s free. I have a hard time now. If it was slavery time, I’d be better off in my body and easy in my mind. I stays wid my daughter, Emily. My old marster, Wateree Jim, is de bestest white man I has ever knowed. My race has never been very good to me.”
– Interview with Ed McCrorey (Mack), 82 years old, an emancipated black slave