WPA’s ‘slave narratives’

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President Franklin D. Roosevelt about to broadcast one of his famous ‘fireside chats’. As a part of the Second New Deal he approved the establishment of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). (Library of Congress)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt about to broadcast one of his famous ‘fireside chats’. As a part of the Second New Deal he approved the establishment of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). (Library of Congress)

As a part of the Second New Deal, President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved the establishment of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which employed some five million Americans between 1934 and 1943. The Federal Writers’ Project was established in 1935 as part of this to provide employment for teachers, writers, librarians and other unemployed white-collar workers. The aim of the project was to produce local histories and state guidebooks, and to record the recollections of ordinary Americans. This included former slaves. In 1941 the slave narratives were assembled and microfilmed as the seventeen-volume Slave narratives: a folk history of slavery in the United States from interviews with former slaves. In 1972 the entire series was edited by George P. Rawick and published by the Greenwood Press under the title The American slave: a composite autobiography. The WPA slave narratives are available through the Library of Congress at https://memory.loc.gov/ammem/snhtml/snhome.html.

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