Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

Posted: January 4, 2012 in Bibliography, Frederick Douglass, Pre Blues, Slave Narrative, Slavery period

No matter how detailed and profound a scientific study of the early African-American history is, one can only start to feel the story behind it by reading first hand material from the concerned population. The slave narratives are indispensable and mandatory reading to put flesh on the bones of history.  The autobiography, eloquently written, straight from the heart, by Frederick Douglass, former slave, is one such a source.  The reading of his “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave“, published in 1845, can leave nobody untouched, and starts to give us a hint of the experiences of the African-American populace, the understanding of which is a prerequisite, I believe, to a real understanding of black music in general, and blues in particular.


His 1846 speech “England Should Lead the Cause of Emancipations “, is available here.

Further reading is advised on:

“”North American Slave Narratives” collects books and articles that document the individual and collective story of African Americans struggling for freedom and human rights in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries. This collection includes all the existing autobiographical narratives of fugitive and former slaves published as broadsides, pamphlets, or books in English up to 1920. Also included are many of the biographies of fugitive and former slaves and some significant fictionalized slave narratives published in English before 1920.”

As for the slave narratives that come from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938 ,  full documentation, with query tools, is available at:

It contains more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 black-and-white photographs of former slaves. The narratives were collected in the 1930s as part of the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and assembled and microfilmed in 1941 as the seventeen-volume “Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves”. The online collection is a joint presentation of the Manuscript and Prints and Photographs Divisions of the Library of Congress.  It includes more than 200 photographs from the Prints and Photographs Division that are now made available to the public for the first time.


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