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‘Dere never wuz a war like dis war’: The WPA Narratives and the Emotional Echoes of the Civil War

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Susan-Mary Grant



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0).


The value of the interviews conducted with the formerly enslaved of America’s South by the Federal Writers’ Project in the 1930s can tell us much not just about the antebellum enslavement but about the long-term emotional impact, for families and individuals, of the Civil War. They can provide a different perspective from the immediate responses to the war experience that scholars whose focus is on the refugee experience, the refugee camps, and the health crises that often accompanied freedom have relied on. Although the reliability of childhood memories has been questioned, for this article the extent to which accurate recall of enslavement in older age is compromised by chronological distance or neurological condition is less important than the ways in which in the Civil War is located within the autobiographical memory of the interviewee. What it finds is that the emotional echoes of that conflict are more complicated than we might suppose, evincing a combination of pride in personal as well as familial involvement in support of the Union, veiled critiques of enslaver behaviour during the war, and accounts of active involvement in escaping enslavement that together constructed an emancipatory narrative without the trauma and terror of an enslaved past.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Grant S-M

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Slavery and Abolition

Year: 2021

Volume: 43

Issue: 1

Pages: 160-184

Online publication date: 19/07/2021

Acceptance date: 13/07/2021

Date deposited: 13/07/2021

ISSN (print): 0144-039X

ISSN (electronic): 1743-9523

Publisher: Taylor and Francis


DOI: 10.1080/0144039X.2021.1956193


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