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Slavery and the Making of AmericaPicture of the first black U.S. Senator and representatives
Time and Place Slave Memories Resources The Slave Experience

The Slave Experience: Freedom & Emancipation
Intro Historical Overview Character Spotlight Imagining Freedom Personal Narratives Original Docs
Personal Narratives Freedom & Emancipation
'Mama and them didn't know where to go ...' - Laura Smalley
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Personal Narratives
Laura Smalley
Interviewee: Laura Smalley
Interviewer: Unidentified Woman [with John Henry Faulk]

INT: You were born right there and never did leave? You were?

LS: Born right there and stayed until I was about nine, ten years old, maybe more. Stayed right there. We didn't know where to go.

INT: Uhmm.

LS: Mama and them didn't know where to go, you see after freedom broke. Just turned, just like you turn something out, you know. Didn't know where to go. That's just, where they stayed.

INT: Uh huh. That's right.

LS: Hmm. Didn't know where to go. Turned us out just like, you know, you turn out cattle. [laugh] I say. Didn't know where ta go.

JHF: You remember when the Civil War was being fought?

LS: Well I, I can't remember much about it, but I remember this much: When uh, Mr. Bethany, was gone a long time. Look like a long, long time. And I remember all the next morning, it when he, he got up. Now don't get, don't knock with that back there, Well, ah, he, he ah, we all got up and all of them went to the house. Went to the house to see old master. And I thought old master was dead, but he wasn't. He had been off to the war, and ah, come back. But then I didn't know, you know, until the war. I just know he was gone a long time. All the niggas gathered around to see the old master again. You know, and old master didn't tell you know, they was free.

JHF: He didn't tell you that?

LS: Uh-huh. No he didn't tell. They worked there, I think now they say they worked them, six months after that. Six months. And turn them loose on the nineteenth of June. That's why, you know, we celebrate that day. Colored folks-celebrates that day. [repeats end of sentence]

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.


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