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Remembering Slavery

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Two projects begun independently and presented together here provide chilling witness to slavery's persistent legacies. Transcripts of 124 former slaves interviewed in the 1920s and 1930s are accompanied by recently restored recorded interviews that have languished in the Library of Congress since 1941. Historian Berlin, founding director of the Freedmen and Southern Society Project at the University of Maryland, is a master of allowing the natural drama of history to unfold. The tapes particularly are riveting‘perhaps especially for those seeking their roots in Southern slavery. Until the modern civil rights movement, Berlin notes, historians' "struggle over slavery" was considered "too important to be left to the [blacks] who experienced it," but their experience has increasingly been coming to light as more archival material is unearthed and made available. Still, some seams are apparent. The original transcribers of the print interviews (nine appear both in print and on cassette) made numerous and idiosyncratic editorial interventions that at times can read, as Berlin notes, like "minstrel-speak." Actor James Earl Jones and dancer Debbie Allen reading selections from the interviews on portions of the tape are not nearly as credible or moving as the voices of former slaves. Those wonderfully present voices describe family life, work ethic and recreational patterns, religious ethos and resistance in answer to questions posed in often unmistakably condescending terms by white interviewers. This project will enrich every American home and classroom. 40 b&w photos not seen by PW. (Oct.)

This remarkable book-and-tapes collection of slave narratives, drawn from slave narratives and audio recordings of former slaves collected by the Federal Writers' Project (FWP) during the 1930s and 1940s (some of which have been remastered and included in two 60-minute cassettes with the book), brings slavery to life as few recent books have done. Literally, the book is slavery as the ex-slaves remember and choose to tell it, and the result is a powerful evocation of a people subjected to violence and driven hard but hardly bowed. In their folk culture, religion, and families, the slaves recall making lives and identities that gave them the social coherence and emotional strength to resist bondage and the master's intrusion. Graced by Ira Berlin's seminal introductory essay on slavery and informed by a judicious sampling of interviews from the large FWP collection and the rarely heard audio recording, this work supersedes James Mellon's Bullwhip Days (LJ 11/1/88) and other collections as the best way to hear the voices of slavery. A stunning work; essential for academic and public libraries.‘Randall M. Miller, St. Joseph's Univ., Philadelphia

YA-Through remastered recordings of recollections by former slaves and transcribed interviews, this book-and-cassette set presents a powerful and emotional picture of enslavement. It is compelling to hear the actual voices of ex-slaves in these first-person narratives collected in the 1930s as part of the Federal Writers' Project (FWP). Historian Berlin provides background and commentary. The editors explain that the narratives were perhaps influenced by the interviewers' selection of ex-slaves who were polite and compliant in expressing views that were not overly hostile to the institution or the mostly white Southerners with whom they were conversing. Though the speakers recalled horrors, they also expressed sadness for a slave master's death or sympathy for his hardships. YAs will come away from these recollections overwhelmed by the harshness, sadism, and brutality experienced by these former slaves-the separation of family members, food and water deprivation, the unrelenting work, the beatings, the murders. The resilience, survival skills, sense of family and community, and personal perspectives expressed will profoundly affect readers.-Pamela Cooper-Smuzynski, Fairfax County Public Library, VA

"This project will enrich every American home and classroom."
Publishers Weekly

"As vital and necessary a historical document as anyone has ever produced in this country."
The Boston Globe

"Moving recollections fill a void in the slavery literature."
The Washington Post Book World

"Ira Berlin's fifty-page introduction is as good a synthesis of current scholarship as one will find, with fresh insights for any reader."
The San Diego Union-Tribune

Chicago Tribune

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