Slavery and the Making of AmericaDrawing of a sermon at the First African Church in Richmond, Virginia
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The Slave Experience: Religion
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to the audio recording of this interview.
Personal Narratives

Interviewee: Laura Smalley
Interviewer: John Henry Faulk

JHF: Well, what about getting married? How did they go about marrying the slaves?

LS: Well, they told me they jumped over a broom backward. [laughter from all]

LS: I don't know. Said, they told me they step over a broom backwards. I don't know.

JHF: Well, did they have a church? Did the slaves have a church?

LS: Oh, oh, I, I never remember no church. Momma said, we're all in church, I didn't remember that part of it. All in church. And would have be a tub, tub of water, sitting just like this think is, you know, and that would catch your voice. And they would, they would have church around there tell them all to get around the tub. Get around that tub.

JHF: Old master didn't want them in the church.

LS: We don't have no church. No. We didn't have no church because. And um, old master come along in one of them, one was ah, was there, having church around the tub and we was down praying. And say he's down and he prayed and just a prayed and old master come in and just a prayed and he come in and he gave me all of them, "Get up from there." We didn't get up, we just a praised him. And old master couldn't ???. We [kept (?)] prayed in him and asking "Lord have mercy on my master. Lord have mercy on old master. Lord have mercy on old master." Say, "I sure is getting my butt whupped."

JHF: Hmm.

LS: That's how you have mercy on old master. I'm dealing with master. Folk didn't even care for them wouldn't get up, you know. Just flinch, you know, flinch. Got a person, you know, when person hit you, you know, you flinch. You just pray for old master. Old master step back and fell dead in line and [kick you (?)] naked. Dead in line and [kick you (?)] naked. When ever you stop praying, you know, he, he [said (?)}, "Go on [head (?)] and pray."

JHF: Hmm.

LS: Said, "Go on head and pray." Because we wouldn't stop. And ??? that was for the Lors, you know, that because of that.

JHF: Yeah, the Lord works a lot of things.

LS: Yeah, sir. Because the Lord will suffer him stay down there get that whupping where he prayed. You know, just keep up praying. You know, I think I jumped up. I didn't know. S-no way for me I jumped up. Because a whupping was-

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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