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Slave Narratives – Supplementary Instructions
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Works Progress Administration
Federal Writers’ Project
1500 Eye St. N.W.
Supplementary Instructions #9-E To The American Guide Manual
Folklore Stories From Ex-Slaves
Note: In some states it may be possible to locate only a very few ex-slaves, but an attempt should be made in every state. Interesting ex-slave data has recently been reported from Rhode Island, for instance.
April 22, 1937
Stories From Ex-Slaves
The main purpose of these detailed and homely questions is to get the Negro interested in talking about the days of slavery. If he will talk freely, he should be encouraged to say what he pleases without reference to the questions. It should be remembered that the Federal Writers’ Project is not interested in taking sides on any question. The worker should not censor any material collected, regardless of its nature.
It will not be necessary, indeed it will probably be a mistake, to ask every person all of the questions. Any incidents or facts he can recall should be written down as nearly as possible just as he says them, but do not use dialect spelling so complicated that it may confuse the reader.
A second visit, a few days after the first one, is important, so that the worker may gather all the worthwhile recollections that the first talk has aroused.
The details of the interview should be reported as accurately as possible in the language of the original statements. An example of material collected through one of the interviews with ex-slaves is attached herewith. Although this material was collected before the standard questionnaire had been prepared, it represents an excellent method of reporting an interview. More information might have been obtained however, if a comprehensive questionnaire had been used.
Sample Interview From Georgia
Ex-slave, 78 years.
“Dey says I wuz jes fo’ years ole when de war wuz over, but I sho’ does member dat day dem Yankee sojers come down de road. Mary and Willie Durham wuz my mammy and pappy, en dey belong ter Marse Spence Durham at Watkinsville in slav’ry times.”
“When word cum dat de Yankee sojers wuz on de way, Marse Spence en his sons wuz ‘way at de war. Miss Betsey tole my pappy ter take en hide de hosses down in de swamp. My mammy help Miss Betsey sew up de silver in de cotton bed ticks. Dem Yankee sojers nebber did find our whitefolks’ hosses and deir silver.”
“Miss Marzee, she wuz Marse Spence en Miss Betsey’s daughter. She wuz playin’ on de pianny when de Yankee sojers come down de road. Two sojers cum in de house en ax her fer ter play er tune dat dey liked. I fergits de name er dey tune. Miss Marzee gits up fum de pianny en she low dat she ain’ gwine play no tune for’ no Yankee mens. Den de sojers takes her out en set her up on top er de high gate post in front er de big house, en mek her set dar twel de whole regiment pass by. She set dar en cry, but she sho’ ain’ nebber played no tune for dem Yankee mens!”
“De Yankee sojers tuk all de blankets offen de beds. Dey stole all de meat dey want fum de smokehouse. Dey bash in de top er de syrup barrels en den turn de barrels upside down.”
“Marse Spence gave me ter Miss Marzee fer ter be her own maid, but slav’ry time ended fo’ I wuz big ‘nough ter be much good ter ‘er.”
“Us had lots better times dem days dan now. Whatter dese niggers know ’bout corn shuckin’s, en log rollin’s, en house raisin’s? Marse Spence used ter let his niggers have candy pullin’s in syrup mekkin’ time, en de way us wud dance in de moonlight wuz sompin’ dese niggers nowadays doan know nuffin’ ’bout.”
“All de white folks love ter see plenty er healthy, strong black chillun comin’ long, en dey wuz watchful ter see dat ‘omans had good keer when dey chilluns vuz bawned. Dey let dese ‘omans do easy, light wuk towards de last ‘fo’ de chilluns is bawned, en den atterwuds dey doan do nuffin much twel dey is well en strong ergin. Folks tell ’bout some plantations whar de ‘omans ud run back home fum de fiel’ en hev day baby, en den be back in do fiel’ swingin’ er hoe fo’ right dat same day, but dey woan nuffin lak dat ’round Watkinsville.”
“When er scritch owl holler et night us put en iron in de fire quick, en den us turn all de shoes up side down on de flo’, en turn de pockets wrong side out on call de close, kaze effan we diden’ do dem things quick, sompin’ moughty bad wuz sho’ ter happen. Mos’ en lakly, somebuddy gwint’er be daid in dat house fo’ long, if us woan quick ’bout fixin’. Whut us do in summer time, ’bout fire at night fer de scritch owl? Us jes’ onkivver de coals in de fire place. Us diden’ hev no matches en us bank de fire wid ashes evvy night all de year ‘roun’. Effen de fire go out, kaze some nigger git keerless ’bout it, den somebuddy gotter go off ter de next plantation sometime ter git live coals. Some er de mens could wuk de flints right good, but dat wuz er hard job. Dey jes rub dem flint rocks tergedder right fas’ en let de sparks day makes drap down on er piece er punk wood, en dey gits er fire dat way effen dey is lucky.”
“Dem days nobuddy bring er axe in de house on his shoulder. Dat was er sho’ sign er bad luck. En nebber lay no broom crost de bed. One time er likely pair er black folks git married, en somebuddy give ‘em er new broom. De ‘oman she proud uv her nice, spankin’ new broom en she lay hit on de bed fer de weddin’ crowd ter see it, wid de udder things been give ‘em. Fo’ thee years go by her man wuz beatin’ ‘er, en not long atter dat she go plum stark crazy. She oughter ter know better’n ter lay dat broom on her bed. It sho’ done brung her bad luck. Dey sent her off ter de crazy folks place, en she died dar.”
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