Saturday, January 4, 2020

"Before Freedom: When I Just Can Remember" edited by Belinda Hurmence

This slim volume is subtitled Twenty-seven Oral Histories of Former South Carolina Slaves.  It's a selection of remembrances collected up during the Great Depression -- part of the Federal Writers' Project that provided work for writers in need.  They interviewed former slaves and made detailed notes about their memories.  All their interviews are preserved at the Library of Congress, but those are inaccessible for most people, so Hurmence put a selection of them in this book so people like you and I can read them.

And they're fascinating.  Everyone in this was at least 10 when the Civil War ended, so they had clear memories of slavery.  But that's about all they have in common -- every story is different.  Some sadder than others, some clearer than others, some more bitter or more angry or even more wistful than others.

If you're at all interested in American history, this book presents some really wonderful first-hand accounts.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for discussions of violence, such as whipping, terror at the hands of the KKK, and so on.


  1. I had my daughter read this for history. She struggled comprehending some of the stories bc of the poor English, but other than that, it was a real eye-opener. I love finding primary sources from history.

    1. Ruth, that's awesome! Yeah, even with editorial smoothing out, some of the vernacular can be tricky to wade through. But so good.

  2. Oooh! I remember reading some of these Federal Writer's Project slave narratives in my grad school classes. They were indeed eye-opening.

    1. Katie, that's great! I wish I'd read these back in college too.


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