Slave Voices - WHAT WAS IT LIKE?

WHAT WAS IT LIKE? (Illustration) American History Biographies African American History Civil Rights Famous Historical Events Law and Politics Nineteenth Century Life Social Studies Tragedies and Triumphs Slaves and Slave Owners

Slaves, in the American South, worked with cotton, rice, tobacco and other crops. In this image, we see barefooted slaves weeding a rice field. The illustration appears at page 76 of Charles C. Coffin’s book, Building the Nation (published, in New York, during 1883). Online via Slavery Images, sponsored by Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library. Click on the image for a better view. PD


The voices of slaves, through memoirs and oral histories, can only begin to tell us what it was like to be uprooted from one's own world and forced to serve the needs of others. Stories of people, pulled from families and sold like chattel, defy anyone's comprehension.

Not all scholars, however, think that the Library of Congress' oral history narratives are reliable.

Believing that former slaves had faded memories or applied personal interpretations to their lives (when they were interviewed decades after emancipation), such individuals think there may be better ways to understand a slave's life. As a result, they largely ignore the wealth of oral-history narratives held by America's national archives.

Other scholars disagree.

Who better to tell us what life was like as a slave than the people who lived it - even if their stories were recorded years "after freedom"? Everyone's life experiences are subject to faded memories and personal interpretations.

As we try to merely glimpse what everyday life was like for African-American slaves, who better to ask than the people themselves? Who better to explain what it must have been to have one's childhood stolen and to live one's life surrounded by scenes of subjection?

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5155stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jun 01, 2002

Updated Last Revision: Apr 09, 2014

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