For decades, the most cutting-edge monographs about enslavement have relied on a rich but controversial archive to tell the story of slavery from the bottom up. Comprised of interviews that were gathered in the late 1930s as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, the archive, known as the “WPA (Works Progress Administration) Ex-Slave Interviews,” includes more than 2,300 interviews of formerly enslaved African Americans across sixteen states. The debates surrounding the Ex-Slave Interviews stem from the fact that most of the interviewers were white workers for the Federal Writers’ Project (fwp) and their interviewees African Americans in the Jim Crow South during the Great Depression. Moreover, the African-American subjects were mostly poor, elderly, and disabled, many of them hoping that compliance and agreeability would give them access to government funds. Although these factors have made old-guard scholars doubt the authenticity of the archive, others view such...

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