During the Great Depression many government programs were made to create jobs for the large amounts of unemployed Americans. The Work Projects Administration, or WPA, was the largest of these projects. The WPA had the goal of using the many jobless in America to create many public works projects. Among these was the Federal Writers Project, or FWP, that sought to provide jobs for writers left unemployed by the Depression.
Among its many projects the FWP endeavored to record the experience of slavery in America. This project would be different than those before it though. The stories collected would be from the lives and views of the slaves themselves, rather than the viewpoints of whites. This gave Americans a new viewpoint of slavery from the inside, rather than as distant onlookers.
It was very important to gather these narratives as soon as possible, because many ex-slaves had never before shared their stories, and many were growing old, which meant that their tales might soon be lost forever. In order to gather these slave narratives programs were set up in 17 states to interview those who had lived under slavery and learn their stories. Eventually, over 2000 interviews of former slaves were gathered. These became the WPA Slave Narrative Collection, which is a very important historical tool for seeing the experiences of slavery firsthand by those who lived it.
Below are the WPA interview transcripts from Memory.loc.gov. As well as an artistic interpretation of Abner Jordan by Maurice Hines.
Want more? Listen to this dramatic reading of Abner Jordan’s interview that can be found here.