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"Them Dark Days" - The Arkansas Slave Narratives

The American Slave Narratives were gathered in 1940-1941 - 80 years after the outbreak of the Civil War - by interviewers of the Works Progress Administration, a program of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. In Arkansas, the effort was headed by Bernie Babcock, a local author and founder of the museum that would become the Arkansas Museum of Discovery, and administered out of the WPA's headquarters at the Old State House. The Arkansas interviews are particularly noteworthy for their candor, a testament to the ability of the interviewers to put their subjects at ease.

Over half of the Arkansas interviews recount experiences that actually occurred in other states. For the most part, we have elected not to include these here. We have also edited them for the sake of brevity. Even so, there are hundreds of pages of material available. You may browse the contents either alphabetically or by themes. You may also search using this site's search engine.

Some of the interviews contain racial terminology some might find objectionable. We apologize if this is the case, but we have elected to maintain the actual language used by the interviewees. Regarding the subject of language, in accordance with the ethnographic practices of the time, the interviewers have made an effort to capture the dialect of the speakers. Some interviewers tended to abuse this practice, writing "shure" instead of "sure," for example, or "staid" instead of "stayed." For the most part, however, the interviewers seem to be genuinely trying to capture the sound of the speech they are transcribing from tape. At any rate we have elected to forego political correctness and reproduce the document in its historical form. We do not feel this in any way diminishes the power of what these people have to say.

Buy a copy of Bearing Witness: Memories of Arkansas Slavery, a compilation of Arkansas Slave Narratives edited by George E. Lankford.

Also learn about Arkansas governors at the exhibit titled The Road from Conway to Clinton: Biographies of Arkansas's Governors.

Next: The Road from Conway to Clinton: Biographies of Arkansas's Governors »