Listen: A Freed Slave Describes Slavery in Her Own Words

Sep 21, 2015

From Texas Standard:

Despite a war, changes to the Constitution and to state and federal laws, slavery continues to be very much a part of the American story. We've seen it echoed in the controversies around the use of police power and the consistent iconography of the confederacy.

But much of what we know about the first-hand experiences of slaves themselves comes from written accounts – transcribed interviews done in the 1930s using stereotyped misspellings.

Limits of technology and foresight, however, means there's very little audio evidence of it. In fact, there's only just over four hours of recorded interviews from ex-slaves from the '30s and '40s.  The actual voices of former slaves themselves are seldom heard. But now, there’s been an astonishing discovery.

A journalist discovered one of these narratives after coming across her own family's slave-owning history. She found 17 minutes of recorded audio, speaking to us from history. It’s the unadulterated voice of Harriet Smith, a freed Texas slave.

Debbie Nathan is a journalist and native Texan. She found the audio in the University of Texas at Austin's Briscoe Center – a history research center focusing on Texas and key moments in the U.S.

Hear more at Texas Standard.