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ENGL 4355/5355 20th Century African American Literature: Primary Sources

Primary Source Collections on the Web--Slavery

Africans in America (PBS)--Breaks down the period from 1450 until 1865 in Black American history.  Note in the red section at the bottom that each era has a Resource Bank.  If you click on Resource Bank it is further broken down to People & Events, Historical Documents (***Primary Documents***) and Modern Voices.

American Abolitionism Project (Indiana University--Purdue University at Indianapolis)--includes a brief history of the American Abolitionist Movement, slavery's life cycle, geography of American abolition, biographies, documents (extensive!), bibliography, various societies, and links to additional sites.

American Slave Narratives:  An Online Anthology (University of Virginia)-- 13 slave narratives, one of which has some sound files.  Includes links to related readings and online resources.

Anti-Slavery Manuscript Collection (Boston Public Library)--includes papers of William Lloyd Garrison and the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society.  One of the free collections in Fold3 database.

Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in Americas:  A Visual Record (University of Virginia)--"The 1,280 images in this collection have been selected from a wide range of sources, most of them dating from the period of slavery. This collection is envisioned as a tool and a resource that can be used by teachers, researchers, students, and the general public - in brief, anyone interested in the experiences of Africans who were enslaved and transported to the Americas and the lives of their descendants in the slave societies of the New World."

Beyond Face Value:  Depiction of Slavery in Confederate Currency (U.S. Civil War Center, Louisiana State University)--"Many Southern notes did not feature images of slavery; this exhibit focuses on the ones that did. This collection features notes issued and circulated in the South during the Antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction Eras. Notes were issued by various entities, including the Confederate government, state governments, merchants, and railroad companies."

Black Abolitionist Archive (University of Detroit, Mercy)--"The Black Abolitionist Digital Archive is a collection of over 800 speeches by antebellum blacks and approximately 1,000 editorials from the period. These important documents provide a portrait of black involvement in the anti-slavery movement; scans of these documents are provided as images and PDF files."

Born in Slavery:  Slave Narratives from the Federal Writer's Project, 1936-1938 (Library of Congress)--"contains more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 black-and-white photographs of former slaves. These narratives were collected in the 1930s as part of the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and assembled and microfilmed in 1941 as the seventeen-volume Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves."

Digital Library on American Slavery (University of North Carolina at Greensboro)--" Designed as a tool for scholars, historians, teachers, students, genealogists, and interested citizens, the site provides access to information gathered and analyzed over an eighteen-year period from petitions to southern legislatures and country courts filed between 1775 and 1867 in the fifteen slaveholding states in the United States and the District of Columbia."  There are 282 documents on Texas between 1845 and 1865, 38 between 1861 and 1865.

Frederick Douglass Papers (Library of Congress)--"contains approximately 7,400 items (38,000 images) relating to Douglass' life as an escaped slave, abolitionist, editor, orator, and public servant. The papers span the years 1841 to 1964, with the bulk of the material from 1862 to 1895. The collection consists of correspondence, speeches and articles by Douglass and his contemporaries, a draft of his autobiography, financial and legal papers, scrapbooks, and miscellaneous items."

Friend of Man Anti-Slavery Newspaper, 1836-1842 (Cornell University)--"Friend of Man is one of the most significant and little studied newspapers documenting early anti-slavery and other reform movements. The periodical is of special significance because with the exception of religion, scholars know little about the resources of social movements in rural areas such as Central New York, where Friend of Man was published."

From Slavery to Freedom:  African American Pamphlets, 1822-1909 (Library of Congress)--"From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1822-1909 presents 396 pamphlets from the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, published from 1822 through 1909, by African-American authors and others who wrote about slavery, African colonization, Emancipation, Reconstruction, and related topics. The materials range from personal accounts and public orations to organizational reports and legislative speeches."

Geography of Slavery in Virginia (University of Virginia)--"The Geography of Slavery in Virginia is a digital collection of advertisements for runaway and captured slaves and servants in 18th- and 19th-century Virginia newspapers. Building on the rich descriptions of individual slaves and servants in the ads, the project offers a personal, geographical and documentary context for the study of slavery in Virginia, from colonial times to the Civil War."

Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, & Abolition (Yale University)--"The Gilder Lehrman Center's online document collection contains over 200 individual items, including speeches, letters, cartoons and graphics, interviews, and articles."

North American Slave Narratives (University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill)--"collects books and articles that document the individual and collective story of African Americans struggling for freedom and human rights in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries. This collection includes all the existing autobiographical narratives of fugitive and former slaves published as broadsides, pamphlets, or books in English up to 1920. Also included are many of the biographies of fugitive and former slaves and some significant fictionalized slave narratives published in English before 1920."

New York Historical Society Manuscript Collections Relating to Slavery (New York Historical Society)--"The fourteen collections on this web site are among the most important of these manuscript collections. They consist of diaries, account books, letter books, ships’ logs, indentures, bills of sale, personal papers, and records of institutions. Some of the highlights of these collections include the records of the New York Manumission Society and the African Free School, the diaries and correspondence of English abolitionists Granville Sharp and John Clarkson, the papers of the Boston anti-slavery activist Lysander Spooner, the records of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, the draft of Charles Sumner’s famous speech The Anti-Slavery Enterprise, and an account book kept by the slave trading firm Bolton, Dickens & Co"

Race Time Place:  Projects on African American History in Virginia (Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities)--Underground Railroad in Virginia, Black Hospitals and Health Care, Mirrored Communities, A Tale of Two Churches, Brown Decision in Norfolk, Student Projects

Samuel J. May Anti-Slavery Collection (Cornell University)--"Numbering over 10,000 titles, May's pamphlets and leaflets document the anti-slavery struggle at the local, regional, and national levels. Much of the May Anti-Slavery Collection was considered ephemeral or fugitive, and today many of these pamphlets are scarce. Sermons, position papers, offprints, local Anti-Slavery Society newsletters, poetry anthologies, freedmen's testimonies, broadsides, and Anti-Slavery Fair keepsakes all document the social and political implications of the abolitionist movement."

Slaveholders' Petitions for Compensation in Civil War era Washington (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)--The District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act, signed on April 16, 1862, allotted an average of $300 per slave to all slaveowners who were loyal to the Union, if slaveowners submitted petitions requesting compensation and identified certain information about the slaves.

Slavery and Justice Exhibition (Brown University)--Documents related to slavery in colonial New England, the slave trade in Rhode Island, and the Brown family.

Slavery in Delaware, the "First State"--Legal documents related to the treatment of slaves living in the State of Delaware (1780-1862)

Texas Slavery Project (University of Virginia)--"The Texas Slavery Project takes a deep look at the expansion of slavery in the borderlands between the United States and Mexico in the years between 1837 and 1845. Based at the Virginia Center for Digital History, the project offers a number of digital tools that allow users to explore the changing face of slavery in early Texas."

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (Emory University)--Database of voyages of documented slaving expeditions, estimates of slave trade, and African names database; information on more than 15,000 slave voyages that forcibly embarked over 12 million Africans for transport to the Americas between the 16th and 19th centuries.

Unknown No Longer:  Virginia Slave Names Database (Virginia Historical Society)--Includes more than 1,500 names found in letters, wills, court records and other sources, along with a digital copy of the original source document. Search by keywords like name, occupation, and plantation.

Visualizing Emancipation (University of Richmond)--"a map of slavery’s end during the American Civil War. It finds patterns in the collapse of southern slavery, mapping the interactions between federal policies, armies in the field, and the actions of enslaved men and women on countless farms and city blocks."

Voices from the Days of Slavery:  Recorded Interviews, 1932-1975 (Library of Congress)--"The almost seven hours of recorded interviews presented here took place between 1932 and 1975 in nine Southern states. Twenty-three interviewees, born between 1823 and the early 1860s, discuss how they felt about slavery, slaveholders, coercion of slaves, their families, and freedom."

Voyage of the Slave Ship Sally (Brown University)--Documents related to the 1764-1765 voyage of the Sally, in which 196 Africans were acquired and at least 109 died, some in a failed insurrection, others by suicide, starvation, and disease.


Finding Primary Sources in the Catalog

“A PRIMARY SOURCE is firsthand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. The nature and value of a source cannot be determined without reference to the topic and questions it is meant to answer. The same document, or other piece of evidence, may be a primary source in one investigation and secondary in another. The search for primary sources does not, therefore, automatically include or exclude any category of records or documents.” (Yale University Library)

Primary sources may include diaries, letters, speeches, interviews, autobiographies, personal narratives, eyewitness accounts, memoirs, or government documents. They may be published or unpublished, printed or handwritten, on microfilm or fiche or online.

Start your search in the UT Tyler catalog with a subject or keyword subject, then enter one of the following words as a separate subject, then click on search.  

   • Correspondence     • Diaries     • Interviews     • Personal narratives               • Sources [will pull up collections of documents]

You may also want to try for certain keywords in the title, usually the subtitle, such as "documentary history," "letters," or "papers." You will almost certainly get some false hits, but you can weed through them.


Other Online Resources for African-American History"AfricaBib is a collection of Africana social science titles, presented in one easily accessible location on the internet. It is the culmination of over forty years of Africana research.  The site consists of two bibliographic databases covering Africana periodical literature (Africana Periodical Literature) and African Women's literature (African Women). You will also find a comprehensive bibliography on women travelers and explorers to Africa (Women Travelers, Explorers and Missionaries to Africa). In June 2012 two bibliographies were added, one on Islam in Africa, compiled by Paul Schrijver, the other on the Kenya Coast, compiled by Jan Hoorweg. In July 2014 Water and Africa was added."

African Activist Archive (Michigan State University)--"The African Activist Archive is preserving and making available online the records of activism in the United States to support the struggles of African peoples against colonialism, apartheid, and social injustice from the 1950s through the 1990s. The website includes: growing online archive of historical materials - pamphlets, newsletters, leaflets, buttons, posters, T-shirts, photographs, and audio and video recordings; personal remembrances and interviews with activists;an international directory of collections deposited in libraries and archives."

African-American Mosaic (Library of Congress)--"This exhibit marks the publication of The African-American Mosaic: A Library of Congress Resource Guide for the Study of Black History and Culture. A noteworthy and singular publication, the Mosaic is the first Library-wide resource guide to the institution's African- American collections. Covering the nearly 500 years of the black experience in the Western hemisphere, the Mosaic surveys the full range size, and variety of the Library's collections, including books, periodicals, prints, photographs, music, film, and recorded sound."

African American Women Letters and Memoirs (Duke University)--one memoir, slave letters from Virginia (1847-1850), and one slave letter from North Carolina.

Black History Documents from most of Fold3 is a private subscription database, key documents on Black History are open access, from slavery to the Civil Rights Movement. Quintard Taylor, University of Washington, president--"This 13,000 page reference center is dedicated to providing information to the general public on African American history and on the history of the more than one billion people of African ancestry around the world."

The Church in the Southern Black Community (University of North Carolina)--"The collection of documents brought together in this project begins to tell the story of the growth of Protestant religion among African Americans during the nineteenth century, and of the birth of what came to be known as the "Black Church" in the United States. This development continues to have enormous political, spiritual, and economic consequences."

Crisis Magazine of the NAACP, April 1911 to 2011 (NAACP via Google Books)--appears volume by volume, most current year first.  If you click on a volume you will be able to search within that volume.

In Motion:  The African-American Migration Experience (Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture)--"presents a new interpretation of African-American history, one that focuses on the self-motivated activities of peoples of African descent to remake themselves and their worlds."  The website goes from the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade to current African immigration.  Each migration includes references and links.

National Museum of African American History and Culture (Smithsonian Institute)--Includes exhibitions, programs, events, and education.  See especially the Freedmen's Bureau Project, an ongoing project to crowd source indexing the names in Freedmen's Bureau records to create an online searchable database!

Negro Travelers' Green Book (Spring 1956) (University of South Carolina)--"The Negro Travelers’ Green Book was a travel guide series published from 1936 to 1964 by Victor H. Green. It was intended to provide African American motorists and tourists with the information necessary to board, dine, and sightsee comfortably and safely during the era of segregation."  Includes Tyler!!

Roll of Emigrants to Liberia, 1820-1843; and Liberian Census Data, 1843 (University of Wisconsin--Madison)--"This site carries data and documentation from the Roll of Emigrants to Liberia between 1820 and 1843, representing individuals who were brought to the colony by the American Colonization Society. Also included are data and documentation for the 1843 Liberian Census."

Rosenwald School Database (Fisk University)--"In 1912, Booker T. Washington approached philanthropist Julius Rosenwald about his concept to build rural schools desperately needed for African American children across the segregated south. That partnership sparked an initiative that eventually created more than 5300 schools, vocational shops and teacher’s homes across 15 states in the South and Southwest from 1912-1932."  Use this database to discover photos and information on schools in particular states and counties--18 in Smith County, Texas.

Tulsa Race Riot (Tulsa Historical Society and Museum)--"n the early morning hours of June 1, 1921, Black Tulsa was looted and burned by white rioters. Governor Robertson declared martial law, and National Guard troops arrived in Tulsa. Guardsmen assisted firemen in putting out fires, took imprisoned blacks out of the hands of vigilantes and imprisoned all black Tulsans not already interned. Over 6,000 people were held at the Convention Hall and the Fairgrounds, some for as long as eight days.  Twenty-four hours after the violence erupted, it ceased. In the wake of the violence, 35 city blocks lay in charred ruins, over 800 people were treated for injuries and estimated reports of deaths began at 36*."








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