Songs From The Slave Narratives

We know something of the experiences of American slaves primarily because of a vast federal project that took place early in the 20th century. Between 1936 and 1938, federal workers spread across the United States to interview former slaves. The priceless collection of interviews they amassed allows us to hear, nearly unmediated, the voices of once enslaved African Americans. The spellbinding stories we hear in these narratives—stories of life on the plantation, and life after—help us understand what these lullabies meant to those who heard and sang them.

The words to three songs from the Library of Congress Slave Narratives appear here, along with some information about their singers, links to other songs in the narratives, links to the full narratives, links to a handful of sound recordings and sources for further research. One song appears here in several versions, and you may know other versions of these lullabies as well. The words and tunes of folk songs do not stagnate; they change with the time, with the place and with the singer.

Compiled by

Judith Tick
Senior Research Analyst, Feminist Sexual Ethics Project

Melissa J. de Graaf
Research Analyst, Feminist Sexual Ethics Project