Federal Writer’s Project Collections

By Paula Stuart-Warren Premium

The Historical Records Survey’s sister program, the Federal Writer’s Project (FWP), assigned writers a variety of tasks, including taking oral histories. The Library of Congress has posted two FWP collections on its American Memory Web site.

Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938 contains more than 2,300 first-person accounts, such as 72-year-old Josephine Howell’s. “My mother was Rebecca Jones. She was born in Nashville, Tenn,” she told FWP interviewer Irene Robinson. “Grandma was a cook and a breeding woman she was the mother of twenty-one children … Mama said she was 8 years old when Gabe McAlway come to Nashville and got her. He bought her. He was a young man and a saloon-keeper at Augusta, Ark.”

More than 300 FWP writers interviewed people from all walks of life-including Ella Lea Dow, purportedly the first white baby born in Roswell, NM-and recorded 10,000-plus life stories. Many are part of American Life Histories: Manuscripts From the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940.

You can search the full text of both collections and browse interviewee names of the slave narratives. Both sites also have images and sound recordings for several interviews.