Thank God for documented audio recordings. From 1932 to 1975, 23 interviews of former slaves were conducted by a number of audio engineers, field recordist and writers for the Library of Congress, in what would become known as Voices from the Days of Slavery.
This Juneteenth, we revisit those recordings to get a first hand account from former slaves concerning slavery, memories of becoming free and a post slavery existence.
*Juneteenth: June 19, 1965, two and half years after the the national abolishment of slavery, slaves in Texas finally learned they too were free. General Gordon Granger read aloud “General Order #3″ on a balcony in Galveston, Texas, which carried the message of the Emaniciption Proclamation to those who had been illegally enslaved over the past two plus years. Spontaneous celebrations broke out as news traveled throughout the rest of the state. June 19th, Juneteenth, commemorates this day.
Laura Smalley was a slave on a plantation in Bellville, Texas. In her full interview with John Henry Faulk, she describes being a child and her master coming home from the Civil War, not telling any of his slaves that they were free. She was 10 years old when Juneteenth finally came, listen below.
In Billy McCrea’s interview with John Lomax, he remembers as a child, the union soldiers coming into his town of Jasper, Texas where he and his family were held as slaves.
Fountain Hughes’ grandfather was owned by Thomas Jefferson. Hughes’ father died fighting in the Civil War. Hughes himself was born a slave in Charlottesville, Virginia. In his interview with Hermond Norwood, Hughes recounts how after Emancipation blacks were ‘turned out like cattle in a pasture’ and how to work their way up from nothing. Hughes also goes on to say how life as a person of color was like a jail sentence. ‘You couldn’t cross the street without a note from your master.’
Harriet Smith was 13 years old when Union soldiers came to Hays County, Texas, to tell her family and other slaves of the county that they were finally free. In her interview with John Henry Faulk, Smith recounts her young friend, who had perviously had her arm chopped off while working as slave. When the black union solders came, they asked the girl if she would like to come with them, she said yes and left on horse with the solders. Harriet never saw her friend again.