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In the 1930s, the United States government decided to put people to work. One of the most amazing
things that some of these people did was to travel around the country and interview former slaves.

The WPA (Works Project Administration) slave narratives give us a window into the lives of some of the
last men and women who were alive at the time who still remembered slavery. As you will see in reading
the narratives, they do not always stay focused on slavery, but many times turn to complain about their
lives in the 1930s. You will also notice that some of them say slave days were great. Take this with a
grain of salt when you see it. While some of them may have enjoyed slavery, this was said in front of a
white plantation owner who was usually at the interview. It was also said in the darkest days of the Great



Slavery was an ordinary practice in the United States during the early years. Most of the
slaves originated from African countries and were taken as far as Europe to work on different
plantation sites. Although slave trade has been banned across the world different memories are
evoked especially when the word slave trade is used. Different slaves have different perceptions
surrounding the slavery period.
Slaves were treated differently depending on their levels of loyalty. An old man living in
some parts of Virginia, who was once a slave, narrates how the activities that occurred during
this period. According to the old man, his master would treat their family better compared to
others probably due to the many years that they had lived together with the family (“Born In

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Slavery, 1936-1938″). In fact, they were entitled to go to the drawer and remove some money.
They were allowed to remove some money from the cash drawer. In other words, they were
more of the trusted than employees and therefore received the full benefits wherever they were.
Those who were recognized by their masters played a totally different role altogether. Those who
were never trusted and had not shown their allegiance to the white people were treated badly by
their slave’s masters and therefore did not in any way receive any form of benefits from the
white people (“Born In Slavery: Slave Narratives From The Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-
Slaves were never allowed to be part and parcel of their master’s activity. They dined at
different places and even attended different social gatherings. If the whites had any event, it was
expected that there was no trace of white people in the region they lived. Most of the slaves
present in these parties only served as servants. Very high levels of intolerance were observed
from their masters. Any slight interaction or interferences of the slaves to where their masters
were was met with corporal punishment. The same punishment would apply to any individual
who in one way or another disagreed with their master (“Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from
the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938″). They were mistreated like because they had been
bought at very cheap prices. Immediately an individual was bought they had to state to their
allegiance to their new master. The masters had the right to apply any form of punishment to the
slaves. In other words, slave masters determined the activities of all of these people. They
determined where they would live, what they would eat and all activities they were supposed to
engage in. During this period, all of them were expected to have allegiance to only to their
masters and their families.

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Slave masters and traders perfected the act of selling of traders without informing their
family members. They would essentially wake up one morning and sell the slaves. Some
interviews show that some slave’s children woke up one morning and discovered that their
parents had been sold at cheaper prices (“Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal
Writers’ Project, 1936-1938″). This always caused psychological problems but they had to find
methods of surviving in this society. The complains of the small children would fall into deaf
years. The children would continue to suffer under the hands of these individuals for long
periods without any intervention. The slave masters always believed that the presence of the
parents would prevent young people from working towards to their farms. The parents used to
work with the families from a very young age and as a result, the children were expected at a
certain time to leave the comfort of their parents and stand on their own. In fact, more slave
masters preferred large families since it was a valuable source of unpaid labor. The slaves would
also fetch good prices in the market once they were sold off to different parties. Therefore, high
numbers of slaves were a source of money to different slave masters. As a result, most masters
aimed at increasing the number of slaves because it would increase a number of riches in their
coffers. It would also increase how they were going to be perceived within the community.


Slave traders and masters thrived in the slave business for long period constantly buying
and selling slaves. The perception of the slaves would differ depending on the type of their
masters and how they were treated by their slave trade masters. Those treated much better had in
one way or another shown their allegiance to their employees while those treated badly had in
different ways failed to prove or show their loyalty to their masters and thus the only punishment
was mistreatment.

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Work cited

“Born In Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938.”
Memory.loc.gov. N.P., 2016. Web. 3 May 2016.

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