Oxford AASC: Photo Essay

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PHOTO ESSAY

Slave Narratives

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Ex-slave Adeline Cunningham, c. 1937. Part of the U.S. Works Progress Administration, Federal Writers' Project slave narratives collections.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

As part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Federal Writers' Project (FWP), thousands of oral histories were recorded through the FWP's Office of Negro Affairs as part of its slave narrative project. In the late 1930s, over seventy years after emancipation, there were still thousands of former enslaved people living in the United States but they were aging rapidly. The slave narrative project came under intense scrutiny for suspect behavior—the oral histories were not recorded correctly, the majority of the interviewers were white, and there were charges that racist interviewers were changing and omitting parts of stories. Despite serious flaws in the project, the material collected (including the photograph above of former slave Adeline Cunningham) has been the major source of material for the study of slavery in the United States.

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