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Voices from the Days of Slavery

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From: Laura Gottesman (

The Library of Congress's American Folklife Center is pleased to announce the release of a new online collection: Voices from the Days of Slavery: Former Slaves Tell Their Stories, available on the Library's American Memory Web site:

Voices from the Days of Slavery features audio recordings made of people who had experienced slavery first-hand, providing the unique opportunity to listen to them describe their lives in their own voices. These interviews conducted between 1932 and 1975, capture the recollections of twenty-three identifiable ex-slaves, people born between 1823 and the early 1860s. Several of those interviewed were centenarians, the oldest being 130 at the time of the interview. The almost seven hours of recordings were made in nine Southern states and provide an important glimpse of what life was like for slaves and then newly freed persons. The former slaves discuss how they felt about slavery, slaveholders, how slaves were coerced, their families, and, of course, freedom. As part of their testimony, several of the ex-slaves sing songs, many of which were learned during the time of their enslavement.

This presentation complements other American Memory collections, most notably Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938, which contains transcripts of over 2,300 interviews with ex-slaves. However, unlike the written transcripts, which sometimes represented collectors' interpretations rather than verbatim reproductions, these recordings present the actual interview and thereby provide the unique experience of hearing the ex-slaves' voices with their various inflections and regional dialects. In addition to the recordings and transcripts, Voices from the Days of Slavery: Former Slaves Tell Their Stories also includes biographies of many of the interviewers, a special presentation called Faces and Voices from the Collection, and a Related Resources section.

The American Folklife Center was created by Congress in 1976 and placed at the Library of Congress to "preserve and present American folklife" through programs of research, documentation, archival presentation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, public programs, and training. The Center includes the Archive of Folk Culture, which was established in 1928 and is now one of the largest collections of ethnographic material from the United States and around the world.

American Memory is a gateway to rich primary source materials relating to the history and culture of the United States. The site offers more than 8 million digital items from more than 120 historical collections.

Please submit any questions you may have using the American Memory web form at:

Laura Gottesman
Digital Reference Specialist
The Library of Congress