True Life Stories Dictated by Former American Slaves in the 1930s

American Slavery Books, African American Slaves Formerly Enslaved African-Americans Slavery in America United States African Diaspora The Middle Passage Juneteenth Plantations Black History Month Books


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Completely in Their Words


American Slavery

Thousands of former American slaves died
while waiting for their true life stories to be released.

Now everyone can learn their secrets -- in books!


American slavery remembrances were documented by the US federal government during interviews in the 1930s. African Americans who had been American slaves were interviewed in all of the southern states (over to Texas) and in a few northern states. Thousands of formerly enslaved men and women, in their seventies to over one hundred years of age, took part in the project.

At that time, the Great Depression had left many Americans without income. As a way of providing employment, the federal government – under the Roosevelt Administration – hired people who worked in a variety of occupations, including journalism.

Dozens of writers were given the assignment of documenting details about the ex-slaves' lives during and after slavery. Usually the writers went to these elderly citizens' homes (but sometimes elsewhere) and took dictation while these first African Americans spoke for hours, remembering slavery in America.

People who were used as breeders told what happened to them. They spoke of their lives as children who began the work of pulling weeds in the fields when they were only toddlers.

These former American slaves reminisced about past loves who were sold away. They laughed about the jokes and the corn shucking enjoyments. They finally were able to talk about what had once been taboo.

These first African Americans believed that their contributions to American written and oral history would be disseminated throughout the United States during their lifetimes. Instead it was stored in about six archives, unknown to most people not within the academic Africana studies community.

This series presents these incredible true life stories exactly as given, not rewritten.

Donna Wyant Howell has been doing research since 1988. In 1994, she began to compile the narratives into books that were as inexpensive as possible so that they could be within the reach of everyone. (The first editions of I WAS A SLAVE are sought and are valued highly as collector's items.)

In order to do justice to this enormous body of work, she created The I Was A Slave Book Collection that eventually will include 24 books. She emphasizes: "These precious American slave narratives are important for Black History Month, and for every single day of the year."

American slavery was documented in rare photography. The books contain many of these never-before-published poignant photographs that were taken at the times of the interviews during the 1930's and before the Civil War, plus photos of real (not reconstructed) cabins and other items used during American slavery.

To learn more, please go to List of 24 Books

or to Quotes from Six Books

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