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Slave Narratives: Slave Narratives Guide

A guide to primary source accounts of life under slavery.

Slave Narratives Research Guide

John Smith, age 108
North Carolina (c. 1936-38)
American Memory Project:
Born in Slavery

Ramsey Library Collections

Use the following Subject Headings in the library catalog to find out what slave narratives are available in the Western North Carolina Library Network:

Slaves' writings, American

Slaves -- United States -- Biography

Slavery -- United States -- Personal narratives

Autobiography -- African American authors

Slave narratives

Primary sources of slaves and ex-slaves may include diaries, letters, interviews, transcribed songs, and even recorded folklore. 

Keyword searches using these words may yield additional books, recordings, and materials. For example: "African Americans and slave and interviews"

Interviews and Audio

WPA Interviews of the 1930s

Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938. A joint presentation of the Manuscript and Prints and Photographs Divisions of the Library of Congress. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, [2000?]
Presents more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 black-and-white photographs of former slaves. Provides links from individual photographs to the corresponding narratives. Collected in the 1930s as part of the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the narratives were assembled and microfilmed in 1941 as the seventeen-volume work entitled Slave narratives: a folk history of slavery in the United States, from interviews with former slaves.

American Slavery: A Composite Autobiography. Ed. George P. Rawick, et al. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000.
(UNCA users only)
Contains the collection of over 2,000 interviews conducted in seventeen states between 1936 and 1938 under the Federal Writers' Project of the Work Progress Administration, as published in 1972 in The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography edited by George P. Rawick. The site contains a links to the narratives and Rawick's analysis of the collection, From Sundown to Sunup: The Making of the Black Community. Each entry links to an Adobe PDF version of the narrative as contained in the Rawick print collection, including any handwritten editorial comments made at the time.

Project Gutenberg: Works Progress Administration.

Museum of the African Diaspora
Dramatized recordings of slave narratives.


Audio Interviews, 1932-1975

Voices from the Days of Slavery: Former Slaves Tell Their Stories. From the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, [2004?]
Provides the opportunity to listen to former slaves describe their lives. These interviews, conducted between 1932 and 1975, capture the recollections of twenty-three identifiable people born between 1823 and the early 1860s and known to have been former slaves. Several of the people interviewed were centenarians, the oldest being 130 at the time of the interview.

Africana Studies Databases



Some key print collections of slave narrative include the following. You can also browse the shelves in the general collection, concentrating on the E441-E453 call number range on the upper floor of the library.

The American slave: a composite autobiography. UNCA GENERAL E441 .R38 (Available in print and online)

Biography of a runaway slave.  UNCA GENERAL  CT518.M6 A3313 1994  

The Cambridge companion to the African American slave narrative.  (online)

A comprehensive name index for the American slave.  (online)

Documents illustrative of the history of the slave trade to America. UNCA GENERAL  E441 .D69

Great slave narratives : selected and introduced by Arna Bontemps.  UNCA GENERAL  E444 .B67

I was born a slave: the story of Harriet Jacobs.  (online)

The life of John Thompson, a fugitive slave : containing his history of 25 years in bondage, and his providential escape, written by himself.  UNCA GENERAL  E444 .T47  

Pioneers of the Black Atlantic: Five Slave Narratives From the Enlightenment, 1772-1815.  UNCA GENERAL  E444 .P56 

Romanticism and slave narratives : transatlantic testimonies.  UNCA GENERAL  PR448.S55 T48 

Runaway slave advertisements : a documentary history from the 1730s to 1790.  UNCA REFERENCE  E446 .W73

Six Women's Slave Narratives.  UNCA GENERAL  E444 .S59

The slave narrative : its place in American history.  UNCA GENERAL  E444 .S8

Slave narratives.  (online)

Slave narratives : a folk history of slavery in the United States, from interviews with former slaves.  UNCA GENERAL  E444 .F27

Slave testimony : two centuries of letters, speeches, interviews, and autobiographies.  UNCA GENERAL  E444 .S57

The slave ship : a human history.  UNCA GENERAL  HT1322 .R42

Twelve years a slave.  UNCA GENERAL  E444 .N87 

Women and the family in a slave society.  UNCA GENERAL  E443 .W66

The WPA Oklahoma slave narratives.  UNCA GENERAL   E444 .W82

See also the following guide: Yale University Library Primary Sources Research

America: History & Life