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Federal Writers Project

The Federal Writers’ Project was established in 1935 under the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and was designed to provide employment for unemployed historians and writers. One of the assignments for the Writers’ Project was to collect American life histories from people of all backgrounds. One type of narrative that was of great interest to John Lomax, the Writers’ Project director, was the interviews with an ex-slave. In 1937 the official Slave Narratives Project was created.

The Writers’ Project recorded 3,500 narratives from ex-slaves in the 1930s. Of these 1,010 of the narratives describe the house they lived in during slavery. These narratives have been exhaustively analyzed and the key variables that can be used in the personalized interpretation of life within the slave house have been identified. There are over 100 variables that are applicable to the interpretation of the slave house. The Slave House Database organizes these variables in a logical and user-friendly way.

Fountain Hughes

Excerpt from WPA interview with Fountain Hughes, Baltimore, Maryland, June 11, 1949.

Fountain Hughes Full Interview

Research Links

Library of Congress: Digital Collections, Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1938
Southern University: John B. Cade Library, Louisiana Works Progress Administration (LWPA) Collection
Library of Congress: Prints and Photographs Online Collection, Portraits of African American ex-slaves from the U.S. Works Progress Administration, Federal Writers’ Project slave narratives collections