Slavery and the Making of AmericaPhoto of African-American children reading
Time and Place Slave Memories Resources The Slave Experience

The Slave Experience: Education, Arts, & Culture
Intro Historical Overview Character Spotlight Music in Slave Life Personal Narratives Original Docs
Personal Narratives Education, Arts, & Culture
Photo of Bob Ledbetter
Photo of Bob Ledbetter
Credit: Library of Congress
I never went to school a hour in my life ... Quoted from Bob Ledbetter
to the audio recording of this interview.
Personal Narratives

Interviewee: Bob Ledbetter
Interviewer: John A. Lomax

BL: I, I say, he can tell you, I never went to school a hour in my life.

JAL: Uh huh.

BL: Not a hour.

JAL: Well, you, you, then could you read and write?

BL: I could read and write too. I do, I can send a letter all over this world if I just knowed where to send it. Course I can't write it pretty like people do do, but anywhere I know where to send it, I can send it.

JAL: Well, uh, how did you learn to write?

BL: Well my daddy just taught me how to spell a little at night. Well after that then he kept, uh, copies, and I take copies and just learn myself.

JAL: And how you learn to read?

BL: Well he learn me at night. He said he, he wasn't no educated man. He could just read printing. And he set up at night and teach his children. That's the way we learned.

JAL: I heard a story about, uh, a judge asking a colored boy on the witness stand, he said, uh, "Jim, can you read writing?" He said, "No sir, Judge. I can't even read reading." [all laugh] But you can read reading and writing both.

In the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) sponsored a federal project dedicated to chronicling the experience of slavery as remembered by former slaves and their descendants. Their stories were recorded and transcribed, and this site presents dozens of select sound recordings and hundreds of transcriptions from the interviews. Beyond the content of the interviews, little to no biographical information is available on the individuals whose interviews appear here.

printer-friendly formatemail this page to a friend
About the Series K-12 Learning Feedback Support PBS