The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography (plus Supplements)



The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography (plus Supplements)

This edition

"The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography." Ed. George P. Rawick. 19 vols. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1972.
"Supplement, Series 1." Gen. ed. George P. Rawick; ed. Jan Hillegas and Ken Lawrence. 12 vols. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1977.
"Supplement, Series 2." Ed. George P. Rawick. 10 vols. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1979.

Online access

Internet Archive: Vol. 1, From Sundown to Sunup: The Making of the Black Community.

Table of contents

Original series (1972):
v. 1. From sundown to sunup: the making of the Black community -- v. 2. South Carolina narratives, parts 1-2 -- v. 3. South Carolina narratives, parts 3-4 -- v. 4. Texas narratives, parts 1-2 -- v. 5. Texas narratives, parts 3-4 -- v. 6. Alabama and Indiana narratives -- v. 7. Oklahoma and Mississippi narratives -- SERIES 2 : -- v. 8. Arkansas narratives, parts 1-2 -- v. 9. Arkansas narratives, parts 3-4 -- v. 10. Arkansas narratives, parts 5-6 -- v. 11. Arkansas narratives, part 7, and Missouri narratives -- v. 12. Georgia narratives, parts 1-2 -- v. 13. Georgia narratives, parts 3-4 -- v. 14. North Carolina narratives, part 1 -- v. 15. North Carolina narratives, part 2 -- v. 16. Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia, and Tennessee narratives -- v. 17. Florida narratives -- v. 18. Unwritten history of slavery (Fisk University) -- v. 19. God struck me dead (Fisk University).

Vol. 1, From Sundown to Sunup: The Making of the Black Community:
I. The sociology of slavery in the United States : 1. Master and slave -- 2. The role of Africa in the making of the American black people -- 3. The religion of the slaves -- 4. Master and slave: treatment -- 5. The black family under slavery -- 6. Master and slave: resistance -- II. The sociology of European and American racism : 7. Racism and slavery -- 8. Racism and the making of American society.

Supplement, Series 1 (1977):
v. 1. Alabama narratives -- v. 2. Arkansas, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri, and Oregon and Washington narratives -- v. 3. Georgia narratives, part 1 -- v. 4. Georgia narratives, part 2 -- v. 5. Indiana and Ohio narratives -- v. 6. Mississippi narratives, part 1 -- v. 7. Mississippi narratives, part 2 -- v. 8. Mississippi narratives, part 3 -- v. 9. Mississippi narratives, part 4 -- v. 10. Mississippi narratives, part 5 -- v. 11. North Carolina and South Carolina narratives -- v. 12. Oklahoma narratives.

Supplement, Series 2 (1979):
v. 1. Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Washington narratives -- v. 2. Texas narratives, part 1 -- v. 3. Texas narratives, part 2 -- v. 4. Texas narratives, part 3 -- v. 5. Texas narratives, part 4 -- v. 6. Texas narratives, part 5 -- v. 7. Texas narratives, part 6 -- v. 8. Texas narratives, part 7 -- v. 9. Texas narratives, part 8 -- v. 10. Texas narratives, part 9.

About the anthology

● The original series (19 vols.) and the two supplementary series (12 vols. and 10 vols, respectively), comprise a set of 41 vols.

● "Vol. 2-17 [of the original series] consist of transcriptions of narratives prepared by the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-38, and deposited in the Library of Congress, where they were assembled under title: Slave narratives, a folk history of slavery in the United States from interviews with former slaves./ Includes bibliographical references (v. 1, pages 179-200)" (WorldCat).

● “Although at first Rawick believed that [the 16 volumes of narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project Slave Narrative collection published in 1972] represented all the existing FWP narratives, he and his assistants have since discovered hundreds more that for one reason or another never reached the Library of Congress, where the original collection was deposited. (As Professor Rawick explains, there was evidently a conscious effort to suppress the narratives in Mississippi and Texas, but in most states the villain ‘was simply some administrative looseness and confusion . . .’ [p. xvii].) The result of these new discoveries is a supplementary series of narratives, consisting of twelve volumes, with more planned for the near future” (Peter Kolchin. American Historical Review 84.2 [1979]: 558-59, at 559).

● See also the indexes to these volumes published in 1981 and 1997. [Noted below.]

● These volumes consist of interviews or oral history narratives based on accounts offered by African American informants or interviewees, but the accounts themselves are the work of the interviewers (overwhelmingly consisting of whites of the Jim Crow South): as a result, these are hybrid works, representing African American voices, but as presented by their (mostly white) interviewers. Not only are the transcriptions and summaries of the discourse of the informants in the hands of the interviewers, but there is also reason to think that some of the interviewees, at least, will have shaped their responses with their interviewers in mind, either through self-censorship (suppressing certain observations) or by characterizing the experience of slavery and their white masters in more benign terms.

Reviews and notices of anthology

● Kolchin, Peter. Review of "The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography. Supplement, Series 1" in twelve volumes. Volume 1, "Alabama Narratives." Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1977. "American Historical Review" 84.2 (1979): 558-59.
"The book under review, the first volume of the supplementary series, consists of one hundred and fifteen Alabama narratives, preceded by a useful fifty-one page general introduction to the series. Evidently Rawick is unaware that many of these accounts are somewhat different versions of interviews he published in the first Alabama volume (volume six of the original series). Despite his assertion that the newly published narratives 'are all interviews with people not interviewed in the collection in the Rare Book Room' of the Library of Congress (p. lvii), comparison of the two volumes reveals that forty-five of the hundred and fifteen narratives represent interviews of the same ex-slaves, conducted by the same interviewers. In many cases someone has changed the wording of the narratives--quotations are paraphrased and events appear in different order--but the interviews are clearly recognizable as reworked versions of those already published" (559).
"On the whole, the newly published narratives have the same strengths and limitations as those historians have recognized in the earlier volumes and, when used with proper caution, will be of considerable benefit to historians of slavery. The supplementary Alabama volume, however, does have some distinctive characteristics that deserve mention. Most of the interviews, unlike those of some other states, are descriptive accounts , narrated by the interviewers, almost all of whom were white and most of whom seem to have been remarkably insensitive--at least by today's standards--to black feelings and attitudes. (In one case an interviewer appended a note urging the omission of a slave's 'pre-posterous' reference to being whipped for praying and singing [p. 434]). While previously published slave narratives contain sharply varying appraisals of life under the peculiar institution, the great majority of blacks in this volume describe their treatment as good and speak fondly of their owners. There are also fewer descriptions of slave resistance and less information on internal slave culture than those familiar with other narratives might expect. It should be noted, however, that these comments refer only to the Alabama volume which, by Rawick's own judgment, is far from the best. . . . The publication of these volumes, nonetheless, is an event of importance to students of slavery. Despite inherent problems with the narratives as souces, they constitute the largest body of information on slavery reflecting--at least in part--the perspective of the slaves themselves. As such, they are documents that no historian of slavery can ignore and will serve as fertile fields of research for generations of scholars. Rawick and his associates are engaged in a task of great significance, for which they have earned our gratitude" (559).

See also

● Jacobs, Donald M. "Index to the American Slave." Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1981.

● Potts, Howard E., comp. "A Comprehensive Name Index for the American Slave." Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997.
● George P. Rawick (1929-1990) was active in socialist politics, including co-authoring a pamphlet with C. L. R. James, Martin Glaberman, and William Gorman for Facing Reality in the 1960s. His introductory study in "The American Slave"--"From Sundown to Sunup: The Making of the Black Community" (1972)--was "one of the first books to take American slaves seriously as actors in their own history" (Wikipedia, sv "George Rawick").
● Rawick also published an essay on "The American Negro Movement" ("International Socialism" no. 16 [Spring 1964]), which cites, among other sources, the following anthologies: "The Negro Caravan," ed. Sterling Brown (1941), "Lay My Burden Down: A Folk History of Slavery," ed. B. A. Botkin (1945), and "The Poetry of the Negro, 1746-1949," ed. Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps (1949).
● Rawick's "Toward a New History of Slavery in the U.S." ("Speak Out" [Jan. 1967]) discusses the shortcomings of the existing historiography on slavery in the U.S. up to that time.
● Rawick's "The Historical Roots of Black Liberation" ("Radical America" 2.4 [July-Aug. 1968]: 1-13)
● Rawick's papers are held at the Western Historical Manuscripts Collection at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
● Several of Rawick's writings can be found in the Marxists' Internet Archive

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