January 2, 2004 Former Slaves Tell Their Stories in New Library of Congress Audio Presentation

Recordings Offer Firsthand Accounts Online

Contact: Guy Lamolinara (202) 707-9217
Website: memory.loc.gov/ammem/vfshtml

The Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center will soon make available audio recordings of nearly two dozen former slaves who were interviewed between 1932 and 1975.

“Voices from the Days of Slavery: Former Slaves Tell Their Stories” will be available on the American Memory collections Web site on Jan. 16, 2004, at www.loc.gov/memory.

This is the Library’s first online collection featuring audio recordings made of people who experienced slavery firsthand, providing the unique opportunity to listen to them describe their lives in their own voices. These interviews capture the recollections of 23 identifiable ex-slaves born between 1823 and the early 1860s. Several of those interviewed were centenarians.

The nearly seven hours of recordings were made in nine Southern states and provide an important look at what life was like for slaves and newly freed people. The former slaves discuss how they felt about slavery and slaveholders; how they were coerced; their families; and, of course, freedom. As part of their testimony, several of the ex-slaves sing songs, many of which were learned during their enslavement.

This presentation complements other American Memory collections, most notably “Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938,” which contains transcripts of more than 2,300 interviews with ex-slaves. However, unlike the transcripts, which sometimes represent the collectors’ interpretations rather than verbatim reproductions, these recordings present the actual interview and offer the unique experience of hearing the ex-slaves’ voices with their various inflections and regional dialects.

In addition to the recordings and transcripts, “Voices from the Days of Slavery” also includes biographies of many of the interviewers, including such notables and playwright Zora Neale Hurston and folklorists John and Ruby Lomax and their son Alan. A special presentation called “Faces and Voices from the Collection” and a related resources section are also available.

The American Folklife Center was created by Congress in 1976 and placed at the Library of Congress to “preserve and present American folklife” through programs of research, documentation, archival presentation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, public programs and training. The center includes the Archive of Folk Culture, which was established in 1928 and is now one of the largest collections of ethnographic material from the United States and around the world.

American Memory is a project of the National Digital Library Program of the Library of Congress. Its more than 120 collections, which range from papers of the U.S. presidents, Civil War photographs and early films of Thomas Edison to papers documenting the women’s suffrage and civil rights movements, Jazz Age photographs and the first baseball cards, include more than 8.5 million items from the Library of Congress and other major repositories. The latest Web site from the Library is the monthly “Wise Guide” (www.loc.gov/wiseguide) magazine, which demonstrates that “It’s Fun to Know History.”


PR 04-001
ISSN 0731-3527