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Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States.: Home

Brief History of Slave Narratives

The United States has a long history of slave narratives. Before the American Civil War narratives of fugitive slaves or new freed people writing about the injustices of slavery dominated the genre.  These publications provided the underpinning for abolitionist literature. After the Civil War many noted African Americans established their literary careers writing autobiographies reminiscent of the slave narrative.

The last century saw several important efforts to collect oral history of former slaves. In the late 1920’s two historically African American colleges, Fisk University and Southern University, begin collecting oral histories. During the 1930s the Federal Writers Project set out to interview former slaves. Interviewers, both white and African American, traveled seventeen states interviewing some 2500 individuals, which produced roughly 10,000 pages of text along with photographs. The interviews were organized by states and published in 1941 as the Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States. Today, it is also known as the WPA Slave Narrative Collection or Federal Writers Project Slave Narrative collection. The Fisk Collection was incorporated into Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States in the 1941 publication.

Reference and Research Librarian

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Ed Poston
Contact:
Office: Hutchins Library 216

Berea College
Hutchins Library
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Berea, KY 40404
859.985.3172

Print Slave Narrative

Hutchins Library holds the Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States collection in print, but under a different title. Greenwood Press published the Federal Writers Project Slave Narrative collection under the title American Slave during the 1970s in three series. Volume sixteen from the first series of the American Slave is missing; it covers Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky, and Kansas. We are actively trying to locate a replacement volume.  Until it is replaced, this volume can be accessed online. Below are the titles and call numbers for all three series. There is a print index.

301.451 A512 Copy 2 American Slave: A Composite Autobiography 19 volumes (missing v. 16) includes the Fisk Collection

301.451 A5121 American Slave: A Composite Autobiography: Supplement, Series 1, 12 volumes

301.451 A5122 American Slave: A Composite Autobiography: Supplement, Series 2, 10 volumes

Online Access