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Slavery and the Making of AmericaDrawing of a sermon at the First African Church in Richmond, Virginia
Time and Place Slave Memories Resources The Slave Experience

The Slave Experience: Religion
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Interviewee: Harriet Smith
Interviewer: John Henry Faulk

JHF: Well I declare. Did you go to meetings? Did you ever go to church?

HS: We would go to the big house, prayer meetings you know. We children would put us in the comer you know. We was dared to cut up too.

JHF: Is that right?

HS: Yes, they'd carry us to prayer meetings.

JHF: Well did you go to the white folks' church any?

HS: Yes. I went to Mountain City to the white folks' church many a time. You see the white folks would have church in the morning, then they'd let the colored people have church at their church in the evening.

JHF: That was during slavery time.

HS: During slavery time, yes. During slavery time. I can remember that just as well as [JHF interrupts]

JHF: Well what would the preacher preach about in them days?

HS: I don't know. I didn't go. He'd preach about you know, maybe something or another.

JHF: They didn't preach like they do today?

HS: No. They wasn't educated, you know, and they uh, uh, would, would tell you how to do, and how to get along, you know, and how to treat the white people and so on. And they'd read the Bible then, you know, [mumbles]. Yeah, I remember all about in slavery time. Ma and them used to go to dances with the white folks.

JHF: Well did they treat, did the white folks treat you good? Did you [HS interrupts]

HS: Why, the B.'s?

JHF: Uh huh.

HS: They was good to us. Good. They never whipped none of their colored people, our colored people. They'd take big saddle horse, Mrs. B's saddle horse, big gray animal, and she'd have them riding. Grandma would ride to Mountain City to church. They had white preachers there. Mr. P., he was one of the preachers that lived across from us.

JHF: Well would the white preacher tell you to behave yourselves and be [HS interrupts]

HS: Oh yes, they [JHF interrupts]

JHF: Be good to your master and mistress?

HS: Oh yes. That's what they preach. We, sure, didn't know there was any such thing as God and, and, and God, you know. We thought that was a, a different man, but he was our master. Uh, our white folks, you know, preachers would refer to the white folks, master, and so on that way. Preach that way. Didn't know no better. All of them, all of them would go up there to church. Then after we come to be free, you know, they begin to, preach us, you know. They, we begin to know, you know, there was a God and so on.

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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