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
They didn't know nothing about reading and writing... Quoted from Harriet Smith
to the audio recording of this interview.
Personal Narratives

Interviewee: Harriet Smith
Interviewer: John Henry Faulk

JHF: Well, well, while you all were slaves did they teach you to read and write?

HS: Nuh huh.

JHF: Did you all go to school any?

HS: Nuh huh. Uh, uh, they didn't know nothing about reading and writing. All that I knowed they teach you is mind your master and your mistress.

JHF: They sure didn't teach you any reading and writing?

HS: No, they didn't. No. When I picked cotton, I remember then picking cotton, farming [JHF interrupts]

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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