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What Has Been called Our "Peculiar Institution" SLAVERY.

In February, we celebrate African American History Month and think about the achievements and tragedies of a population that was once subjected to the cruelest treatment possible: slavery. In September 1861, Mrs. E.A. Spaulding wrote an impassioned letter to Abraham Lincoln, asking him to abolish slavery forthwith. She concluded her letter by saying, "until the Peculiar Institution is abolished, Civilization is impeded, Humanity languishes and our boasted land of Freedom is a Practical Lie."

In 1936-38, federal workers documented more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and made 500 black-and-white photographs of former slaves. These narratives were collected in the 1930s as part of the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and assembled and microfilmed in 1941 as the 17-volume "Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves." This online collection, Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938, is a joint presentation of the Manuscript Division and the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress and includes more than 200 photographs from the Prints and Photographs Division that are now made available to the public for the first time.

Sarah Gudger, age 121, photographed between 1936 and 1938John W. Fields, age 89, photographed between 1936 and 1938

Writes Norman R. Yetman in his Introduction to the WPA Slave Narratives: "In 1855, John Little, a fugitive slave who had escaped to Canada, uttered this perceptive commentary upon attempts to convey the realities of the existence that he had fled: 'Tisn't he who has stood and looked on, that can tell you what slavery is-'tis he who has endured.' The view that slavery could best be described by those who had themselves experienced it personally has found expression in several thousand commentaries, autobiographies, narratives and interviews with those who 'endured.'"

You can learn more about the history of African Americans in American Memory. Begin your search in the following collections, among others:
- The Frederick Douglass Papers at the Library of Congress
- African American Perspectives: Pamphlets from the Daniel A. P. Murray Collection, 1818-1907
- The African American Experience in Ohio: Selections from the Ohio Historical Society
- From Slavery to Freedom: The African American Pamphlet Collection, 1824-1909
- African American Sheet Music, 1850-1920: Selected from the Collections of Brown University
- African American Odyssey
- By Popular Demand: Jackie Robinson and Other Baseball Highlights, 1860s-1960s

A. Sarah Gudger, age 121, photographed between 1936 and 1938. Reproduction information: Library of Congress Manuscript Division, Digital ID: mesnp 111350

B. John W. Fields, age 89, photographed between 1936 and 1938. Reproduction information: Library of Congress Manuscript Division, Digital ID: mesnp 050077a

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