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Publisher's Summary

The WPA Slave Narrative Collection was a massive compilation of histories by former slaves undertaken by the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration from 1936 to 1938. It was the simultaneous effort of state-level branches of FWP in 17 states, working largely separately from each other.  

These narratives depict the physical and mental atrocities visited upon black people in a way no other method, save that of witnessing the barbarities firsthand, could. The narratives that disclosed the meanness and depravity of evil "masters" graphically illustrate the abject wrongness of slavery. Lest we be inclined to consider the reports depicting benignant generosity among slave owners as exonerating slavery, consider the aftermath of emancipation. Hundreds of thousands of black people who were taught to depend on the largess of their white masters as the only way to live were plunged into contemptible, humiliating poverty; swept under the feet of the vanquished foe who once enslaved them.  

When I Was a Slave is a collection of the expression of these former slaves. Having described the slavery from which they were emancipated, they then speak of a new slavery of exclusion and hatred.

©2018 BN Publishing (P)2018 BN Publishing

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  • MrTallyMane
  • I hear it's fun to stay at the YMCA
  • 11-06-18

Excellent Resource. Mediocre Narration

It is a great privilege to be able to learn of the experiences of the African and African American slaves from the victims' (first-person) perspective. However, as with many (most?) accountings of slave tales, in the telling, the narrator assumes a singular, stereotypical "slave" dialect that is so over dramatized that it distracts from delivery of the writer's intended message. Such information would be best delivered with as little dialect and accent, as introduced by the narrator, as possible, even when the text which he reads is written in broken English, lest he take away from the accuracy of the information being related or corrupt the message of the writer. It would be best read exactly as it was written and without added affectations. The grammar alone would suffice to convey the extent of the subject's literacy which is only one part of the extremely complicated slave's story.

In addition to the slave owner's cruel sadism and the slave's lack of eloquence due to denial of education by slave owners, arguably the two most widely known, accepted, told and retold aspects of the slave plight, it is important to also focus on the humanity of those who were in bondage in order to properly empathize and come to a fuller understanding of this part of US history. No matter what anyone says about the darker or tougher skin of the African, they were no better equipped for and no more deserving of the abuses they suffered or the labor they were forced to perform than are the readers of the book. They were regular human beings with the same capacity for complex emotion and deep thought, pride, fear, individuality, love, hate, joy, grief, dread, humiliation, physical pain, natural aversion to captivity, and mental anguish from prolonged torture as all other human beings. The narrator's telling of the story in slave speak is a distraction from that fact and an unnecessary oversimplification of the experience.