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Slave Testimony

Two Centuries of Letters, Speeches, Interviews, and Autobiographies

777 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / no illustrations

Literature - African American

  Paperback / 9780807102732 / June 1977

How did it feel to be the property of another man? Though we have a great number of books on the subject of slavery, only a few of them are written from the point of view of the slave himself.

Says John Blassingame, editor of Slave Testimony: “If scholars want to know the hearts and secret thoughts of slaves, they must study the testimony of blacks. Neither the whites nor the blacks has a monopoly on truth, had rended the veil cloaking the life of the other, or had seen clearly the pain and joy bounded by color and caste. Consequently, whether we focus on the slave or the master, we must systematically examine both black and white testimony. But, just as there are some topics on which only the masters can provide reliable information, there are some questions which only the slave can answer.”

Readers of Slave Testimony will see, for the first time, the largest collection of annotated and authenticated accounts of slaves ever published in one volume. In them, the slaves of Thomas Jefferson, Robert E. Lee, Henry Clay, and others speak for themselves about their culture, plantation life, and the adequacy of their food, clothing, and shelter, the sexual exploitation of black women, and the psychological response to bondage. Given are the views of house servants and field hands, docile slaves and rebels, urban slaves and rural slaves, slaves with kind masters and those with cruel ones. Their ages range from eleven to one hundred twelve.

Slave Testimony is divided into seven parts: Letters, 1736–1864; Speeches, 1837–1862; Newspaper and Magazine Interviews, 1827–1863; American Freedmen's Inquiry Commission Interviews, 1863; Newspaper and Magazine Interviews, 1864–1938; Interviews by Scholars, 1872–1938; and Autobiographies Published in Periodicals and Books, 1828–1878. The introduction points out the strengths and weaknesses of such materials as fugitive slave narratives and WPA interviews and suggests ways that these and other sources can be used effectively.

These wide-ranging documents, together with annotations, notes, an index, dozens of illustrations, and an incisive introduction, form a volume of unusual scope and character. 

John W. Blassingame (1940–2000) was a professor of history at Yale University, the author of The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South and Black New Orleans, 1860–1880,and the editor of six volumes of The Papers of Frederick Douglass.

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