Voices from Slavery

‘It was more than a year before folks known they was free’  — Isom Moseley, former slave.

These are the audio recordings of former enslaved people in America who were mostly interviewed in the 1930s and 1940s, more than 70 years after slavery ended.  The recordings are from the Library of Congress website, Voices Remembering Slavery: Freed People tell their stories. Some of the dialect is a challenge to understand, and some of the recording tools used at the time provide an additional challenge.  That said, the 10 recordings that follow will reveal what they said about slavery, slave holders, whippings and other elements of slave life they saw or experienced, from church to family, kind masters and mean masters.  Most did not know or were unsure of their age. Many were in their 70s or 80swhen interviewed, though some were older, as was the case of Charlie Smith, who was said to be 133 year-olds when he was interviewed in 1975. The New York Times would feature an obituary about Smith when he died four years later in 1979. 

Isom Moseley, 88, Oct0ber 1939/Library of Congress

 Interviewed in their homes with the sounds of train whistles, kids playing, dogs barking in the background, some sing songs and are encouraged to do so by their interviewees, who were mostly white.  Zora Neale Hurston, who would achieve fame with books such as Their Eyes were Watching God, was one black fieldworker who took part in the interviews and her voice can be heard on one of the recordings.  She would later have an interview with what is considered one of the last living enslaved Africans to arrive in America, which became her 2018 book (published posthumously) Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo.  Following are 10 of the 23 audio recordings.  There are also over 2,000 non-audio interviews from the Library of Congress collection Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936 to 1938

 

To access audio, click a box; when it opens, click the link.

‘If I thought that … I’d ever be a slave again I’d take a gun and just end it all right away — because you are nothin’ but a dog.’  — Fountain Hughes, former slave.

Frank Harris III

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