Long-lost interviews and the stories of sidelined individuals have come to light in a project designed to unsettle the accepted understanding of one of the most significant chapters of African-American history.In 1929, a young African-American social scientist named Ophelia Settle Egypt began interviewing former slaves in the southern states of the US, recording their harrowing tales of being sold, beaten and torn from their families. Much of what we know today about the slave experience derives from the work of Mrs Egypt and other interviewers who followed her lead. She was part of a wave of oral history efforts that developed during the 1920s and 1930s, and which took on greater momentum in 1936 with the instigation of a mass ethnographic project by the Depression-era Works Project Administration (WPA). Several thousand interviews, mostly by unemployed white people, were conducted with former slaves as part of the WPA project. The resulting documents, collected in 39 volumes commonly referred to as the WPA Slave Narratives, have become a key source of information about slavery, which nearly a century and a half after its abolition continues to play a major role in US race relations.
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