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Long Past SlaveryRepresenting Race in the Federal Writers' Project$
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Catherine A. Stewart

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781469626260

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469626260.001.0001

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Rewriting the Master(’s) Narrative

Rewriting the Master(’s) Narrative

Signifying in the Ex-Slave Narratives

(p.197) Chapter Eight Rewriting the Master(’s) Narrative
Long Past Slavery

Catherine A. Stewart

University of North Carolina Press

Turning to the ex-slave narrators,this chapterdemonstrates how they employed African American oral traditions like signifying to create counter-narratives of black history and identity. This chapter compares Georgia’s ex-slave narratives with those from Florida’s Negro Writers’ Unit. Several FWP employees in Georgia were also members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, an organization dedicated to proselytizing the pro-Confederate narrative of slavery as a benevolent institution. Their narratives emphasize white paternalism and black dependency. But former slaves were strategic actors in the exchanges that took place with white interviewers, as they bartered their oral performances for material goods and services, moving between stereotypes of contented slaves and more empowering tales of slave agency, rebellion, and resistance. Using verbal strategies such as tropes, metaphors, indirection, and humor, ex-slaves embedded commentary about segregation in the 1930s, and revised the Confederate narrative of slavery and emancipation using their own life histories.

Keywords:   Federal Writers’ Project, ex-slaves, slave narratives, signifying, slavery, emancipation, Negro Writers’ Unit, Florida, Georgia, United Daughters of the Confederacy

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