Private efforts to preserve the life histories of former slaves accounted for only a small portion of the narratives collected during the late 1920s and 1930s. The advent of the New Deal employment programs were created in response to the massive unemployment of the Great Depression and were designed to use unemployed workers on public-works projects such as building roads, dams, bridges, and swimming pools. However, the scourge of unemployment during the Depression was not restricted to blue-collar workers, and thus both the Federal Emergency Relief Agency (FERA) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) included projects for white-collar workers as well. The most notable of these were the WPA Arts Projects and the Slave Narratives. To read more about WPA and the Slave Narrative Project at the Library of Congress click here.
The Slave Narrative Collection, a group of autobiographical accounts of former slaves, today stands as one of the most enduring and noteworthy achievements of the WPA, Compiled in seventeen states during the years 1936-38, the collection consists of more than two thousand interviews with former slaves, most of them first-person accounts of slave life and the respondents’ own reactions to bondage.
An explanation on the Language of the Narratives can be found here
Ex-Slave Nathan Jones
Federal Writers’ Project
of the W. P. A.
- Nathan Jones – Ex-slave – 409 Blake Street
- Anna Pritchett – Federal Writer – 1200 Kentucky Avenue
Nathan Jones was born in Gibson County, Tennessee in 1868, the son of Caroline Powell, one of Parker Crimm’s slaves. (A)
Master Crimm was very abusive and cruel to his slaves. He
would beat them for any little offense. He took pleasure in taking little children away from their mothers and selling them, sending them as far away as possible. (A)
Nathan’s stepfather, Willie Jones, was a very strong man, a very good worker, and knew just enough to be resentful of his master’s cruel treatment, decided to run away, living in the woods for days. His master sent out searchers for him, who always came in without him. The day of the sale, Willie made his appearance and was the first slave to be put upon the block. (A)
His new master, a Mr. Jones of Tipton, Tennessee, was very kind to him. He said it was a real pleasure to work for Mr. Jones, as he had such a kind heart and respected his slaves. (A)
Nathan remembers seeing slaves, bot men and women, with their hands and feet staked to the ground, their faces down, giving them no chance to resist the overseers, whipped with cow hides until the blood gushed from their backs. “A very cruel way to treat humans beings.” (A)
Nathan married very young, worked very hard, started buying a small orchard, but was “figgered” out of it, and lost all he had put into it. He then went to Missouri, stayed there until the death of his wife. He then came to Indiana, bringing his six children with him (A)
Forty-five years ago he married the second time; to that union were four children. He is very proud of his ten children and one stepchild. (A)
His children have all become very helpful to him until times “got bad” with them, and could barely exist themselves. (A)
Mr. and Mrs. Jones room with a family by the name of James’ they have comfortable, clean room and are content. (B)
They are both members of the Free Will Baptist Church; get the old age pension, and “do very well.” (B)
Submitted December 15, 1937
By: ANNA PRITCHETT, Field Writer