The 13th amendment abolishing slavery was passed 150 years ago. Thanks to the Library of Congress, the voices of some of those who were emancipated can now be heard







By David Millward, US Correspondent, video by Keely Lockhart
3:00PM BST 02 Jul 2015

Around four million slaves were freed at the end of the American Civil War in 1865. Over the generations their stories have been passed on and now they have been digitised.
These first-person accounts are all more significant in the wake of the recent racially-motivated massacre in Charleston, which as President Barack Obama noted, shows that slavery continues to cast a long shadow over American life:
"We are not cured of it (racism). And it's not just a matter of it not being polite to say n----- in public… That's not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It's not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don't, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior."
Some former slaves lived to a ripe old age, long enough for their voices to be heard and now digitally preserved for the next generation.
In many cases interviews were recorded by Alan Lomax an oral historian best known for his work with blues and folk pioneers including Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie.
In many cases the recordings, which have been collated and published online by the Library of Congress, are scratchy because they were made using battery powered direct to disc recorders.
The recordings were stored on discs made from aluminium, acetate-coated aluminium or acetate coated glass.
However the 1949 recording with 101-year-old Fountain Hughes, made in Maryland, was taped and is crystal clear and opens a fascinating window on life in the south prior to abolition.
Until now only 26 recordings of slaves have been found and of those, only six were also photographed. Here are their testimonies.

1. Isom Moseley, 85

Recorded: Gee's Bend, Alabama, 1941
external image 0107_Moseley_LOC__3360451b.jpgIsom Moseley, May 1939. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division - Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection
“My mother was a house woman, and uh, after she died, my father was a field hand, and white folks kept me around the house to tote cool water. Houseboy like.
He recalls carrying water to the soap maker, who made soap for the entire plantation. He also describes what happened after the Confederacy surrendered.
“We had mighty good white folks, my memory, far as I can remember, you know, mighty good, mighty good. You know they must have been good. After the country surrendered, didn't none move, more move there after surrender. More moved on the place.”
Listen to the full interview with Isom Moseley here.

2. Fountain Hughes, 101

Recorded: Maryland, 11 June, 1949
external image FountainHughes_3360584a.jpg
Fountain Hughes, circa 1952 Picture: Courtesy of The Jeffersonian newspaper, Maryland/ Library of Congress
“I was born in Charlottesville, Virginia. My grandfather belong to Thomas Jefferson. My grandfather was a hundred and fifteen years old when he died. And now I am one hundred and, and one year old.”
He recalled not wearing trousers as a small boy, but dresses. “Boys wore dresses. Now only women's wearing the dresses and the boys is going with the, with the women's wearing the pants now and the boys wearing the dresses.”
His secret to happiness was never to borrow money.
Listen to the full interview with Fountain Hughes here.

3. George Johnson, age unknown

Recorded: Mound Bayou Mississippi, September 1941
external image GeorgeJohnson_3360578a.jpg
George Johnson, circa 1935 Picture: Library of Congress Manuscripts Division - Montgomery Family Papers
“I got my name from President Jeff Davis. He was president of the southern Confederacy. He owned my grandfather and my father.”
He recalls the Davis family opening a school which meant they fared better than other freed slaves on emancipation.
“When they all got free, they could take care theyself.”
Listen to the full interview with George Johnson here.

4. Uncle Bob Ledbetter, 72 or 73

Recorded: Oil City, Louisiana, 1940


external image 0107_UncleBob_LOC__3360553b.jpgUncle Bob Ledbetter, October, 1940 Picture: Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division - Lomax Collection
“They say I'm seventy something, two or three. My daddy told me I was uh, nineteen years old on eight, on the eighteenth, of, uh, December. And that's all I can go by.”
Uncle Bob is persuaded to sing by his interviewer, John Lomax, Alan’s father. He does so perhaps slightly reluctantly.
He was said to have worked for the meanest man in the county. But Uncle Bob had few complaints. “Nary a one of them never did cuss at me the whole twelve year. And didn't care what I went to them for.”
Listen to the full interview with Uncle Bob Ledbetter here.

5. Uncle Billy McCrea, Age 89

Recorded: Jasper, Texas 1940
external image 0107_Billy_McCrae__3360580b.jpgBilly McCrea, October, 1940 Picture: Ruby T. Lomax/ Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division - Lomax Collection
“Now I, I don't rightly know my age. But I can tell you what I go for. The fifteenth of this, of October, I be eighty-nine. Eighty-nine-years-old.
“And on the second time, the way they've got my age fixed there on the fifteenth I will be a hundred-and-seventeen-years-old. But I register in the courthouse, of my age be ninety-eight, ah eight, no eighty-nine, this coming, the fifteenth of this month.
Uncle Billy, who says he fathered 36 children, sings and also recalls the day the Union troops arrived.
“Remember and the Yankees stop here, and the Yankees stop right here on the courthouse square. I was a good size boy then. And then what they call Freedman Bureau, you hear tell of it ain't you? And they prosecuting people you know, what they do, you know, and all like that, and I mean just as hard as they could. I've seen two mens they had they were punishing for what they do.”
Listen to the full interview with Uncle Billy McCrea here.

6. Wallace Quarterman, 87

Recorded: Fort Frederica, St. Simons Island, Georgia, June 1935
external image 0107_wallace_quart_3360572b.jpgWallace Quarterman, 1935. Picture: Alan Lomax/ Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division - Lomax Collection
Against a background of a dog barking, Wallace Quarterman sings spirituals.
He also recalls the end of the Civil War. “And he call me and told me to run down in the field and tell Peter to turn the people loose, that the Yankee coming. And so I run down in the field and, and whooped and holler.”
Listen to the full interview with Wallace Quarterman here.



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