Reading Slavery

Writing Freedom

"In most of us was the great desire to read and write. We took advantage of every opportunity to educate ourselves."

These are the words of John W. Fields, one of the last Americans to be enslaved. Mr. Fields' account comes from one of the nearly 2,300 interviews and 500 photographs collected by the Federal Writers’ Project in 17 states from 1936 to 1938. Recorded more than 70 years after the abolition of slavery, the interviews provide information from the last generation of Americans to be enslaved. The interviews reveal the brutality of the slave economy, its impact on family life, the role of religious practice, and education. Together these accounts reveal the power attributed to literacy and the persistence of those who had been denied literacy to attain it. “Reading Slavery/Writing Freedom” reveals the range of experiences with literacy through the words of the speakers themselves.

Photos: Walter Calloway, Birmingham, AL(left); Charley Williams & granddaughter, Tulsa, OK (center); Anne Maddox, Opelika, AL (right).