Celebrating Black History Month at the VCU Libraries
Reviewed by Lillian M. Redd, Library Specialist I
Two hundred and fifty years of internal combustion miasma. Two hundred and fifty years of ingrained forced acceptance of a life of hard labor, broken family ties, lost identity and servitude. Four million enslaved people. Generations upon hopeless generations grievously passing on a culture that flaunted their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
During the Great Depression (1936-1938), the federal government decided to record the remembrances of these older former slaves. As part of the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), this project became the seventeen-volume Slave Narratives, of which this title depicts the lives of those persons living on plantations in South Carolina.
Before Freedom... is about real people; not just numbers, not just statistics, but true-to-life stories that give us a peek into their everyday lives. Here are day-to-day occurrences and descriptions; some written in dialect, others interpreted by the federal worker to provide clarity.
It’s all here:
- Sunrise to sunset labor
Branding of slaves by judiciously tacking on the owner’s surname as their own
Acceptance of physical abuse
Abomination of family separations
Hint of wide-spread slave breeding
Yet, for all those generations who endured the destruction and corruption that was placed upon them, we see a people who were inventive and creative. Their hard scrabble lives showcased their ingenuity while belying a system that was not theirs for gain.
Cabell Library E445.S7 B44 1989