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Bearing Witness
Memories of Arkansas Slavery
Narratives from the 1930s WPA Collections

Second Edition
Edited by George E. Lankford

A new edition of this glimpse of slavery from the perspectives of the slaves themselves

The first edition of Bearing Witness brought together for the first time 176 slave narratives from the state of Arkansas. Now, this new edition adds ten previously undiscovered accounts.

No one knew the truths of slavery better than the slaves themselves, but no one consulted them until the 1930s. Then, recognizing that this generation of unique witnesses would soon be lost to history, the Works Progress Administration's Federal Writers' Project acted to interview as many former slaves as possible. In a continuation of the project's interest in the life histories of ordinary people, writers interviewed over two thousand former slaves, more than a third of them in Arkansas. These oral histories were first published in the 1970s in a thirty-nine-volume series organized by state, and they transformed America's understanding of slavery. They have offered crucial evidence on a variety of other topics as well: the Civil War, Reconstruction, agricultural practices, everyday life, and oral history itself.

But some former Arkansas slaves were interviewed in Texas, Oklahoma, and other states, so their narratives were published in those other collections. And more than half of the testimonies in the Arkansas volume were interviews with people who had moved to Arkansas after freedom. Folklorist George Lankford combed all of the state collections for the testimonies properly belonging to Arkansas and deleted from this state's collection the testimony of later migrants.

Comments on the first edition of Bearing Witness:

Bearing Witness provides scholars and general readers with a concise, one-volume entry into these fascinating and complex documents and will be a useful tool for further studies.”
—Benjamin E. Wise, Journal of Southern History

“A worthwhile and useful project. . . . These interviews have not been used as much as they could or should be and Lankford's success in isolating and reorganizing those of Arkansas ex-slaves will accelerate their use.”
—Daniel C. Littlefield, author of Rice and Slaves: Ethnicity and the Slave Trade in Colonial South Carolina

“Lankford has done what no researcher before has accomplished. He has brought together for the first time in one volume all of the known WPA interviews with Arkansas ex-slaves.”
—T. Lindsay Baker, editor of The WPA Oklahoma Slave Narratives and Till Freedom Cried Out: Memories of Texas Slave Life

George Lankford is an emeritus professor of folklore at Lyon College. He is the author of numerous articles on southern folklore.

 

First published 2003
March 2006
350 pages
6" x 9"
$34.95 (s) Paper
ISBN-10: 1-55728-817-8
ISBN-13: 978-1-55728-817-2