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Friday, September 30, 2016

Slave Narratives from Williamson County - In their own words . . .

Writers and researchers have long been interested in capturing the stories of people who had been enslaved.  Below, I have compiled some of the published interviews I have identified with people from Williamson County, Tennessee.  

The following video includes some audio of narratives of enslaved people collected around the United States.  Unfortunately, none are from people who lived in Williamson County, but they provide some insight into what their lives may have been like. 


Between 1928-1933, two historically African American colleges, Fisk University and Southern University began collecting oral histories of formerly enslaved people. 

The Fisk interviews were transcribed on manual typewriters in the 1930s and then published in The Unwritten History of Slavery (1968).  A few additional narratives are contained in another Fisk publication, God Struck Me Dead (1945). The Southern University narratives have been digitized and are available on their website

In the 1930s the federal government as part of the WPA's Federal Writers Project hired writers to interview former slaves. Interviewers, both white and African American, traveled seventeen states interviewing about 2,500 people and took 500 photographs. The interviews were organized by state and published in 1941 as the Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States

The Fisk Unwritten History of Slavery and WPA interviews were compiled into a multi-volume set that was republished in the 1970s. The Fisk Unwritten History of Slavery Narratives are published as Volume 18 of this collection and are available digitally via Google Books

Of all these interviews I have found a few people who identify themselves as having been enslaved in Williamson County, or with some other tie to the area. In some cases, I have been able to identify the subjects and piece together a fuller picture of their lives.

These interviews contain remarkable details about life here as enslaved people - what people in bondage ate, the work they were forced to do, family relationships, their treatment by enslavers and overseers, and other descriptions that help paint a fuller picture of the lives of enslaved people lived in Williamson County in the period before the Civil War.

I have combed through these interviews and attempted to map them out to show geographically where they were living when they were interviewed.  This map contains hyperlinks to each of the Middle Tennessee interviews that I have been able to locate thus far.

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