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Slavery is documented as a condition of extreme deprivation, necessitating increasingly forceful resistance.After a harrowing and suspenseful escape, the slave’s attainment of freedom is signaled not simply by reaching the “free states” of the North but by taking a new name and dedication to antislavery activism.When I recovered a little I found some black people about me.…I asked them if we were not to be eaten by those white men with horrible looks, red faces, and loose hair.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the WPA Federal Writers’ Project gathered oral personal histories from 2,500 former slaves, whose testimony eventually filled 40 volumes.
The first object which saluted my eyes when I arrived on the coast was the sea, and a slave ship, which was then riding at anchor, and waiting for its cargo.
In response, the narratives of Frederick Douglass (1845), William Wells Brown (1847), Henry Bibb (1849), Sojourner Truth (1850), Solomon Northup (1853), and William and Ellen Craft (1860) claimed thousands of readers in England as well as the United States.
Typically, the American slave narrative centres on the narrator’s rite of passage from slavery in the South to freedom in the North.
After slavery was abolished in North America in 1865, at least fifty former slaves wrote or dictated book-length accounts of their lives.
During the Depression of the 1930s, the Federal Writers Project gathered oral personal histories from 2,500 former slaves, whose testimony eventually filled eighteen volumes.
Andrews University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill ©National Humanities Center Historical Overview of an American Tradition Under the general rubric of slave narrative falls any account of the life, or a major portion of the life, of a fugitive or former slave, either written or orally related by the slave himself or herself.
Slave narratives comprise one of the most influential traditions in American literature, shaping the form and themes of some of the most celebrated and controversial writing, in both autobiography and fiction, in the history of the United States.
The narratives of former slaves in the United States continue to be discovered and published, most recently David Blight’s A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation (2007).
(See also "Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs: American Slave Narrators" in Freedom's Story.) The earliest slave narrative to receive international attention was the two-volume Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789), which traces Equiano’s career from West African boyhood, through the dreadful transatlantic Middle Passage, to eventual freedom and economic success as a British citizen.