In this primary source, Charlie Davenport, an ex-slave fromMississippi, recalled his experience at the end of the Civil War from theperspective of a freed slave.
Charlie’s interview was part of the SlaveNarratives from the Federal Writers’ Project. They were compiled in1936-1938. The Library of Congress now contains more than 2,300first-person accounts of former slaves. New Deal programs to counter the GreatDepression, Columnists and journalists travel throughout the American Southinterviewing former slaves for the Works Progress Administration. As saidbefore more than 2,300 previous slaves were met, furnishing history specialistswith a fortune trove of essential wellsprings of slave encounters in urbanareas, on little ranches, and on plantations.A combination of record keeping, as well as federal aidfrom the U.S government, provided the perfect circumstances for this interviewto be published. In Chapter 7 Davidson and Lytle looks at the some of the challenges in examining the history of peoplewho exist on the fringes or in the lower classes of society.
Becauseof their position in society, slaves did not leave many written records oftheir own. What was written about them at the time of slavery was told from thepoint of view of the southern white society that had enslaved them, or thenorthern white society that was faced with integrating the former slavesthrough reconstruction while at the same time dealing with their own adherentbiases. For example, an interview with an elderly former slave by the nameof Susan Hamlin. Her portrayal of slavery as not being as harsh ofother slaves causes some historians to question the credibility of the source,such as is this woman feeling coerce since the interviewer in question iswhite? I believe that Davidson and Lytle bring up this issuebecause Susan statements could be used by some southerners that slaveowners were not harsh on their slaves. But the matter of fact is slavery as aninstitution causes these issues to be very complex.
Susan’s statements justshow how more complex the dynamic was during that time.