Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938

Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938 – http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/snhtml/snhome.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What was it like to live as a slave?
  • What’s an example of slave dialect?
  • Why did some slaves view their former masters in a positive light?


During the Great Depression, the federal government created a lot of jobs under the Works Progress Administration (WPA). In addition to many bridges, building and other infrastructure, the WPA hired writers. This site represents one of the writing projects, which produced about a third of the US slave narratives known to exist.

Before using this collection of over 2000 ex-slave accounts, it would be good to read over the collection’s introductory essay and the “Note on the Language of the Narratives.” The short version is that memory of the ex-slaves may have faded somewhat after 60 plus years and the writers were used to thinking in stereotypes. But it is is still an unprecedented collection that is deemed by many to be at least somewhat useful in understanding what life was like under slavery.

The collection may be searched by keyword or browsed by narrator or volume. When browsing by volume, one notices the slave narratives organized into states. The states refer to the residence of the former slave at the time of his interview.

There are no known copyright restrictions on this material, so parts of it could potentially be used for dialog or dramatization.


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