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During the Civil War, many slaves escaped plantations and sought refuge with the Union army. Once the war ended, African Americans throughout the states that had remained at war after January 1, , were set free.

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Schools for African American children were established, staffed mainly by Northern white teachers. Duncan Gaines recalled reactions to the availability of school:. Duncan was 12 years of age when freedom was declared and remembers the hectic times which followed. Most of the instructors were whites sent to the South for that purpose. All of the children secured enough learning to enable them to read and write, which was regarded as very unusual in those days.

Slaves had been taught that their brain was inferior to the whites who owned them and for this reason, many parents refused to send their children to school, thinking it a waste of time and that too much learning might cause some injury to the brain of their supposedly weak-minded children. Simon Phillips, Age 90 with John Randolph.

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Simon Phillips reported that carpetbaggers directed the freedmen to divide the plantation lands that they had previously worked. Ellis Ken Kannon recalled that many believed that the federal government would soon allot each family 40 acres of land and a mule, but Kannon did not know anyone who actually received this allotment.

A considerable number of interviews refer to the Ku Klux Klan. This elaborate scheme was designed to frighten and intimidate. Use Ku Klux Klan in a full-text search to find references to the activities of the Klan during Reconstruction. Research the activities of the Klan during Reconstruction and the effectiveness of the Ku Klux Klan Acts of and After the war, a number of former slaves stayed on plantations and worked the land under a share crop arrangement.

Isaac Adams recalled that about half of the freedmen on the Sack plantation in Louisiana stayed on after the war, working sections of the land and paying rent out of their shares of the produce. Many of the interviews reveal the difficult times during Reconstruction. Liney Chambers described life in the post-Civil War era as worse than the Depression. Ellis Jefson worked as a nurse in Memphis in during the yellow fever epidemic and described conditions in the city and whites fleeing the city during the crisis. A number of former slaves discussed voting and politics.

I voted ever since I got to be a man grown. That is — as long as I could vote. Conduct a full-text keyword search to locate other recollections of voting. Then consider the following questions:. Their lives were shaped by the times and circumstances in which they lived including laws, customs, and racial attitudes , their own decisions, and historical events occurring on the national and world stages. Read the life story of Mandy Morrow , making notes on some of the important events in her life as you read.


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On a sheet of paper, draw a line down the center of the sheet. Mark the bottom of the line with the date of the interview. Mark off decades between the two dates. The timeline should be to scale: that is, each decade should be represented by the same length on the line. On the right side of the line, write some of the events that you have studied in history class; for example, show the Civil War from You will have to estimate when some events occurred based on information in the interview and your knowledge of history.

How does it reflect the time and circumstances in which she lived? How was her life shaped by her own decisions? To what extent do narratives reflect similar experiences?

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Different experiences? What may account for the differences? From the narratives, what can you infer about how racial attitudes changed or remained the same over time? A number of narratives depict a tranquil life on the plantation in stark contrast with the poverty and suffering during the Great Depression. I think slavery was good because I was treated all right. Dis country is in a bad fix. Phillip Evans, however, disagreed. A proud family, brought low by Mr. Hoover and his crowd. Had to sell our land.

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Thank god, Mr. Oh, how I love dat man; though they do say him got enemies. Consider what you know about the social, political, and economic conditions in the late s. Do you think their views of slavery would have been different in the early s? Around ? During World War I?

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Why or why not? What, if anything, does your analysis of the context in which the interviews were conducted suggest about the questions that should be asked when using oral histories as historical sources? A unique interview in the collection is the Tony Morgan interview conducted on October 1, , by a fellow slave, Jim Thomas. Thomas recounted this conversation to a FWP worker in Morgan stated that he accompanied General Jackson in his excursion to Spanish Pensacola in Uncle Tony explained that he accompanied General Jackson when the war-loving Tennessean marched from Mobile against Pensacola in He said he was serving as a wagoner, and remembered distinctly that the British surrendered on November 6.

He recalled that, during the battle, Jackson was standing talking with a group of officers when an enemy shell exploded near him. The collection includes a number of contradictory stories of reactions to Union forces when they marched onto plantations. Others, such as year-old Katie Rowe , told a different story. Conduct a full-text search using the keywords Yankees or Union army to locate interviews in which people reported on the response to Union soldiers. Read several accounts providing different perspectives.

Look for factors that may have influenced the way in which enslaved people responded to the Union army. What factors may account for the different perspectives expressed in these narratives? An interesting historical source can answer questions, but it can also raise them. Where was the oath sworn? When was it sworn? What did the oath require?

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What inferences might you make from your analysis of this document? What questions does examining the document raise?

For example, looking at the document might raise the question of what benefits Thornton would expect to receive by signing the document. Research the Oath of Amnesty to find the answers to your questions. Near the end of the Civil War, word spread throughout the South that freedmen would receive 40 acres of land and a mule. Read the Casper Rumple interview , in which he describes the reaction of former slaves when they heard the news.

What would be the arguments for and against such a policy? How is this historical question still reflected in issues being discussed today? Slaves had much less control over their own lives than free people. This does not mean, however, that they were unable to make any important decisions. In fact, enslaved peoples were historical decision-makers, just as free people were. Learning to read was an example of such resistance.


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If any slave, negro, or free person of color, or any white person, shall teach any other slave, negro or free person of color, to read or write either written or printed characters, the said free person of color or slave shall be punished by fine and whipping, or fine or whipping, at the direction of the court. According to some interviewees, slaveholders punished slaves who learned to read even more harshly:. Slaves who learned to read and write faced possible punishments, yet some chose learning.

In similar circumstances, would you take the risk to learn to read and write? John Lomax, a Federal Writers Project official in Washington, provided guidelines for interviewers in capturing the speech of the ex-slaves being interviewed:. Simplicity in recording the dialect is to be desired in order to hold the interest and attention of the readers. It seems to me that readers are repelled by pages sprinkled with misspellings, commas and apostrophes. The value of exact phonetic transcription is, of course, a great one.

But few artists attempt this completely.