Update: This is a timely post, as my student, Kimberley Davis, reminded me with this letter purportedly written by an emancipated slave to his former owner. 

I am currently looking at post-Civil War interviews and memoirs of African American men and women who were enslaved at The Hermitage. The interviews are rendered in the stereotypical black dialect of the era, and they are (mostly) cloyingly nostalgic and sentimental about life under Andrew Jackson.

To get a handle on why these African American rememberances looked fondly at slavery, I’ve looked at the usual suspects on memory studies and African American/southern stereotypes (David Blight, Fitz Brundage, Catherine Clinton, Micki McElya, and Tara McPherson) and have come up empty on this particular topic. I know that the rememberances were filtered through white interviewers, but I have failed even to find scholarship on their role.

So, dear readers, I need some help. Jog my memory with the article(s) or book(s) that should be staring me in the face. Should I look at scholarship on the WPA narratives to get a grasp on this topic, or is there research specifically on the 1865-1900 era?

8 thoughts on “Post-Civil War Slave Nostalgia

  1. A few suggestions on the topic:

    Shaw, Stephanie J. “Using the WPA Ex-Slave Narratives to Study the Impact of the Great Depression.” Journal of Southern History 69 (August 2003): 623-58.

    Spindel, Donna J. “Assisting Memory: Twentieth-Century Slave Narratives Reconsidered.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 27 (autumn 1996): 247-61.

    Fair, John D. “The Georgia Slave Narratives: A Historical Conundrum.” Journal of the Historical Society 10 (September 2010): 235-81.


    1. Aaron,

      I was aware of the Shaw article, but the other two look promising as well. Still, I wonder if rhetoric and language in 1930s slave narratives/memoirs was different from that of the 1870s and 1880s.

  2. Hey Mark – this is a little sidebar to your question – but I thought you might have a look at modern interpretation of slavery at The Hermitage…perhaps as an epilogue to your work on slave narratives. When I last visited, the grounds guide seemed somewhat apologetic when it came to Jackson and slave ownership. She was keen on pointing out that Jackson’s most beloved and faithful servant was buried in close proximity to Jackson himself, implying familial ties.

  3. I think these might be useful to you

    Race Relations in the Urban South, 1865-1890 by Howard Rabinowitz
    Law, Society, and Identity in the Making of the Jim Crow South by Kenneth Mack (Law and Social Inquiry 24, no.2 Spring 1999) and
    Telling Memories Among Southern Women: Domestic Workers and Their Employers in the Segregated South by Susan Tucker

  4. I’m not too familiar with the book, but perhaps Paul Escott’s _Slavery Remembered: A Record of Twentieth Century Slave Narratives_ might be useful.

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