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In the 1930's in all of the southern states and a few northern ones, these elderly men and women were interviewed by representatives of the US federal government. Their dictated words were typed by the interviewers and housed in archives.

Except for a terminology section and some other explanations, these six books are composed entirely of the unedited words of thousands of former American slaves, along with their photographs taken during the interviews and circa the Civil War. Each book contains 64 pages that are primarily in southern dialect, such as the examples below. The first part of each book contains up to a hundred excerpts from many formerly enslaved individuals and the second part includes several full life stories about the subject matter of each book's subtitle.

SAMPLE QUOTES

I WAS A SLAVE: Book 1: Descriptions of Plantation Life

I WAS A SLAVE
Book 1:
Descriptions of Plantation Life

BETTY POWERS: ’Twas lak [It was like] a town wid de diffe’nt businesses. Thar am de blacksmith shop, shoe shop, carpenter shop, de milk house, de marster had ’bout 100 milk cows, de weavin’ room, de gin, an’ de feed mill. ... De cullud fo’ks lives in de cabins. ’Twas called de quatahs [quarters]. Now, in each cabin lives one fam’ly. ’Twas de father, mother an’ de chilluns. Thar am ’bout as many chilluns as thar am grown-ups. Ise can shut my eyes now, an’ see dem rows of cabins. Thar am three rows, an’ de rows am ’bout ha’f a mile long. Ever’ fam’ly does its own cookin’. Mammy, Pappy, an’ their 12 chilluns lives in our cabin, so Mammy have to cook fo’ 14 people, ’sides her field work. ... De marster am a sweet, fine man. ’Twas his wife an’ de overseer dat am tough. Dat womens had no mercy. She am a devil. Gosh fo’ Mighty!, how Ise hates her. Yous see dem long ears Ise have? Well, dat’s f’om de pullin’ dey gits f’om her. Ise am wo’kin’ ’round de house, keepin’ flies off de fo’ks, gittin’ wautah [water] and sich [such]. Fo’ ever’thin’ she don’t lak [like], ’twas a ear-pullin’ Ise gits. ’Twas pull, pull, an’ some mo’ pull ever’ time she comes neah me.
I WAS A SLAVE: Book 2: Slave Men

I WAS A SLAVE
Book
2:
The Lives of Slave Men

WES BRADY: We lived in log houses and slep’ on hay mattress with lowell covers, and et [ate] fat pork and cornbread and ’lasses [molasses] and all kinds garden stuff. If we et flour bread, our women folks had to slip the flour siftin’s from Missy’s kitchen and darsn’t [dare not] let the white folks know it. We wore one riggin’ lowell clothes a year. I never had shoes on ’til after surrender come. ... The overseer was ’straddle his big horse at three o’clock in the mornin’, roustin’ the hands off to the field. He got them all lined up and then [he] come back to the house for breakfas’. The rows was a mile long and no matter how much grass was in them, if you leaves one sprig on your row, they beats you nearly to death. Lots of times they weighed the cotton by candlelight. All the hands took dinner to the field in buckets and the overseer give them fifteen minutes to git dinner. He’d start cuffin’ some of them over the head when it was time to stop eatin’ and go back to work.
I WAS A SLAVE: Book 3: The Lives of Slave Women

I WAS A SLAVE
Book
3:
The Lives of Slave Women

CHENEY CROSS: I was brung up right in de house wid my white folks. Yessum, I slep’ on de little trundler bed what pushed up under de big bed, in durinst de day. I watched over dem chillun day an’ night. I washed ’em an’ fed ’em an’ played wid ’em. Gran’mammy an’ Mammy wove de cloth for de hands’ [field hands = field slaves] clothes. ... I was allus [always] dressed in white clothes all frill’ up wid starch an’ ribbon an’ sich [such]. Us had our shoes store bought... Field hands gone barefoot, ’ceptin’ in de winter, an’ den dey had to prepare dey own shoes. Dat was de way it went. You had to prepare for youself an’ if you ain’t hab de head to do dat, den you went widout. Dey had a hard time. I don’t see how dey manage, but I allus say de Lawd [Lord] was wid ’em.
I WAS A SLAVE: Book 4: The Breeding of Slaves

I WAS A SLAVE
Book
4:
The Breeding of Slaves

MARY INGRAM: ’Twarn’t any mai’iage ’lowed on de plantation ’twix’ some. De marster, he tell who can git mai’ied an’ who can’t. Him select de po’tly [portly = large] and p’lific womens, an’ de po’tly man, an’ use sich fo’ de breeder an’ de father of de women’s chilluns. De womens dat am selected am not ’lowed to mai’y [marry]. De chilluns dat am bo’n dat way don’t know any father. De womens have nothin’ to says ’bout de ’rangement. If she am po’tly an’ well-formed, deys fo’ced her wid de breeder. ... W’y don’ weuns refuse? Shucks, man, yous don’ know w’at yous says. De rawhide whup [whip] keeps you f’om refusin’. Ise know ’cause Ise see de young girls cryin’, an’ dey gits whupped ’cause deys stubbo’n. De ol’ women ’vise de girls dat ’twarn’t no use to refuse. Dat it jus’ makes it wo’se fo’ dem.
I WAS A SLAVE: Book 5: Slave Children

I WAS A SLAVE
Book
5:
The Lives of Slave Children

HENRY KIRK MILLER:  The children that weren’t big enough to work were fed at the white people’s house.  We got milk and mush for breakfast.  When they boiled cabbage, we got bread and potliquor [the liquid remaining after cabbage was cooked].  For supper, we got milk and [corn]bread. ... As fast as us children got big enough to hire out, she [the mistress] leased us to anybody who would pay for our hire.  I was put out with another widow woman who lived about 20 miles.  She worked me on her cotton plantation.  Old Mistress sold one of my sisters and took cotton for pay.  I remember hearing them tell about the big price she brought because cotton was so high [expensive].
I WAS A SLAVE: Book 6: Slave Auctions

I WAS A SLAVE
Book
6:
Slave Auctions

JENNY PROCTOR: When he goes to sell a slave, he feed dat one good for a few days. Den when he goes to put ’em up on de auction block, he takes a meat skin and greases all ’round deir mouths to make ’em look like dey been eatin’ plenty meat and sich like, and wuz good and strong and able to work. Sometimes he sell de babes from de breas’, and den again he sell de mothers from de babes, and de husbands and de wives, and so on. He wouldn’t let ’em holler [scream or cry loudly] much when de folks be sold away. He say, “I have you whooped if you don’t hush.” Dey [The slaveowners] sho’ loved deir six chillun, though [loved their own six white children, though]. Dey wouldn’ want nobody buyin’ dem.

 

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