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Gelatin-silver Photographic Print and Narrative of Adeline Cunningham, Texas, ca. 1937–1938

Adeline Cunningham was born in 1852 and held in bondage by Washington Greenlee Foley on his vast Texas corn and cotton plantation. She described to the interviewer the horrendous, inhumane conditions of life on Foley’s large farm, where slaves were treated as if they were animals and brutally punished for trying to escape.

Prints and Photographs Division; Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

dey’s afraid iffen de slaves learns to read dey learns how to run away. One of de slaves runs away and dey ketches him and puts his eyes out.

Gelatin-silver Photographic Print of Adeline Cunningham Narrative of Adeline Cunningham dey’s afraid iffen de slaves learns to read dey learns how to run away. One of de slaves runs away and dey ketches him and puts his eyes out.

Voices of Slavery - 1

More than 2,000 African Americans who were enslaved before the Civil War shared their memories with interviewers from the Slave Narratives Project, a New Deal-era initiative that employed journalists and scholars during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The interviewers for this oral history project were largely white Southerners, and their biases and perspectives—as well as the speakers’ own caution—influenced the edited transcripts. Despite these limiting factors, the narratives preserve vivid memories of enslavement and emancipation.

Learn more about the Slave Narratives Project on the Library of Congress’s website by clicking here.