This introductory chapter outlines the goals and challenges of the Federal Writers’ Project’s endeavor during the 1930s to collect the ex-slave narratives, and examines a ghost story one ex-slave told to a white FWP interviewer, as a means of illustrating ex-slaves’ use of the oral tradition of signifying. It contends that the WPA slave narratives are an important source for understanding how debates during the 1930s over African Americans’ civil rights, and competing memories of slavery and emancipation, impacted New Deal cultural projects and employment opportunities for African Americans, and shaped the narratives themselves. The project marked an important moment when the federal government invited African Americans to contribute to the historical record. Complicating this effort was the racial divide of Jim Crow segregation and competing perspectives on Civil War remembrance.
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