I’ve never been able to pay close enough attention to other talks given during one of my panels, so I hope Susan Brandt and Gabriel Loiacono will forgive me for not attempting to encapsulate their papers.
Joanne Pope Melish offered the comments on the panel. Regarding my paper, she answered one of the questions that I asked: Why aren’t there more accounts of former slaves giving interviews like Hannah did? Melish noted that many former slaves were too busy working or avoiding the Klan to give interviews. (An audience member observed that Hannah had a connection to a president, which made her an unusual interview subject.) Melish also suggested that there was no market or impulse for slave memories during the Reconstruction or immediate post-Reconstruction periods. She went on to say that these types of interviews were subject to the same caveats as the WPA slave narratives. Melish made two final observations: 1) The late Robert Remini probably has much to do with historians’ inability or unwillingness to engage with Jackson’s slave ownership; and 2) Hannah was used as a vehicle to recall Jackson’s policies and nation.
Audience members asked a number of good questions and asked several good comments. One member asked about John Tyler’s alleged son, John William Dungy. I had never heard of him or the claimed connection to Tyler, but you can read more about him here (pp. 10-11). (Dungy is also the ancestor of former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy.) Another attendee asked about the motivation of the interviewers (James Parton, W.G. Terrell, and the unknown interviewer in the 1894 article). Parton’s motivation was clear-cut: he had a Jackson biography to write and publish. I don’t know enough about Terrell to know why he conducted the 1880 interview.
One question that I still don’t have an answer for is why there isn’t more historical scholarship on the 1865-1920s slave interviews and recorded memories. The sources exist–there are several former Hermitage slaves who are interviewed in Nashville newspapers during the period. It seems like a fairly significant historiographical gap that needs addressing. Our chair, Katrina Thompson, mentioned afterwards that there is some scholarship in the fields of literature and African-American studies.