Prayin' to Be Set Free
In his introduction to Prayin’ to Be Set Free, Andrew Waters likens the personal accounts of former Mississippi slaves to the music of that state’s legendary blues artists. The pain, the modest eloquence, and even the underlying vitality are much the same.
What is now Mississippi wasn’t acquired by the United States until 1798, at which time it had fewer than 10,000 inhabitants, excluding Native Americans. By the Civil War, it had over 430,000 slaves and 350,000 whites. More than half the whites were members of slave-owning families. The majority of slaves worked in the cotton fields. Mississippi was known as a slave-buying frontier state, in contrast to the eastern states, which sold slaves westward. Indeed, many of the former slaves in this book speak of coming to Mississippi as children.
At the height of the Depression, the out-of-work wordsmiths who comprised the Federal Writers’ Project began interviewing elderly African-Americans about their experiences under slavery. The former slaves were more than 70 years removed from bondage, but the memories of many of them were strikingly clear. The accounts from former Mississippi slaves are considered among the strongest in the entire collection. The 28 narratives presented here are the best of those.
Edited by Andrew Waters
2002 John F. Blair, Publisher
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