Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938 contains more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 black-and-white photographs of former slaves.
The Thirteenth Amendment, passed in January of 1865, abolished slavery in the United States technically freeing four million slaves. Two generations later—from 1936 to 1938—more than 2,000 interviews with one-time slaves were conducted for the Federal Writers' Project, with the transcripts (written in the vernacular of the time) forming a unique firsthand record of slave life.
These first-person anecdotes were the basis for the 2003 documentary with narration by Oprah Winfrey, Ossie Davis, Samuel L. Jackson, Whoopi Goldberg, Robert Guillaume, Ruby Dee, Angela Bassett, and Don Cheadle among other well-known black Americans.
With the end of the Civil War, men and women—black and white and in the North and South—now began the work of rebuilding the shattered union and of creating a new social order. This period would be called Reconstruction. It would hold many promises and many tragic disappointments. It was the beginning of a long, painful struggle, far longer and more difficult than anyone could realize. It was the beginning of a struggle that is not yet finished.
As part of Reconstruction, two new amendments were added to the Constitution. The Fourteenth Amendment, passed in June 1865, granted citizenship to all people born or naturalized in the United States. The Fifteenth Amendment, passed in February of 1869, guaranteed that no American would be denied the right to vote on the basis of race. For many African Americans, however, this right would be short lived. Following Reconstruction, African Americans would be denied their legal right to vote in many states until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (PBS).
The scars and wounds of slavery are not healed. Not yet. And yet, in parallel, other forms of social bondage have strengthened: poverty, food insecurity, inequality, ignorance. Our nation of abundance has arms strong enough to properly care for each one of its citizens, ensuring that everyone is educated and no one is hungry; that everyone is housed and no one is overexposed to the elements; that everyone knows dignity and no one is forgotten.
As a nation, we will not be great until everyone feels the foundation of equity beneath their feet.