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Gelatin-silver photographic print and narrative of Martin Jackson, San Antonio, Texas, 1937

Born in bondage on a Texas ranch in 1847, Martin Jackson constantly thought about escaping, but heeded his father’s advice to not run away. He recalled accompanying his master in the Confederacy’s First Texas Cavalry (though hoping the Yankees would win the Civil War) and enlisting as a cook in World War I.

Lots of old slaves closes the door before they tell the truth about their days of slavery. When the door is open, they tell how kind their masters was and how rosy it all was…However, I can tell you the life of the average slave was not rosy. They were dealt out plenty of cruel suffering.

Prints and Photographs Division and Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Gelatin-silver photographic print of Martin Jackson, San Antonio, Texas, 1937 Narrative of Martin Jackson, San Antonio, Texas, 1937 Lots of old slaves closes the door before they tell the truth about their days of slavery. When the door is open, they tell how kind their masters was and how rosy it all was…However, I can tell you the life of the average slave was not rosy. They were dealt out plenty of cruel suffering.

Voices of Slavery - 2

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.