Cover image for African American frontiers : slave narratives and oral histories
African American frontiers : slave narratives and oral histories
Govenar, Alan B., 1952-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Santa Barbara, Calif. : ABC-CLIO, [2000]

Physical Description:
xlvii, 551 pages : illustrations, maps ; 27 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E444 .G68 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Black History Non-Circ

On Order



A collection of first hand narratives and oral histories portraying the African American experience from slavery through emancipation and into the 20th century.

âeuro;¢ Includes primary source documents

Author Notes

Alan Govenar , PhD, is founder and president of Documentary Arts and is a writer, folklorist, filmmaker, and photographer.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

When studying the experiences of people caught up in the Americas' slave trade, researchers have traditionally focused on the human and social conditions as set down in the slaves' personal narratives or on the literary genre that developed from the documentation of their experiences. Approaching this large collection of historical material from a different perspective, Govenar "explores the frontier as both place and idea, specifically as it relates to African Americans." As he points out in the introduction to this volume, for the indentured servants and slaves transported from Africa to the New World, "the possibility of freedom represented the first frontier." The informative introduction provides a historical overview of the origins, practice, and progress of slavery in the Americas. Geographical frontiers surface in the details concerning the movement of slaves across the states. Maps giving the percentages of slaves and numbers of freed blacks in the population, state by state, over a 200-year period beginning with the late 1700s, provide not only a source of relevant statistics but also a visual time line. The social, economic, and cultural frontiers that developed as runaway and freed slaves migrated west and north seeking opportunities for a new life emerge in the accounts of their life experiences. These accounts are contained in two narrative sections following the introduction. The first section is composed of 15 significant slave narratives, including those of William and Ellen Craft, Olaudah Equinao, and Harriet Tubman. Most of these narratives have been published elsewhere in collections such as The Civitas Anthology of African Slave Narratives (1999), which examines slave narratives as the foundation of the African American literary tradition. The second section contains seven Works Progress Administration narratives from the Federal Writers' Project of the late 1930s. A third section contains 47 fairly extensive oral histories that Govenar either collected through interviews he conducted or edited from existing materials found in archives. These more recent accounts provide details of life experiences from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and provide a bridge to the present day. A list of contributors of the oral histories gives the occupation or career of each person, including college president, physician, U.S. Air Force colonel, civil-rights activist, minister, cowboy, and more. They further illustrate the array of frontiers encountered and crossed by African Americans. Each narrative or oral history begins with biographical and background details, and many include photographs or other illustrations. Two bibliographies, one of individually published slave narratives and another of secondary sources, provide further material for researchers. Public, community-college, and high-school libraries should find this reference tool a valuable addition to their collections.

School Library Journal Review

Gr 9 Up-Using carefully selected, authentic oral transcriptions, this work successfully portrays what life was like for African Americans from slavery through emancipation and into the 20th century. Govenar includes 67 life stories that illustrate the diverse experiences of the men and women who sought a new life in the expanding West or who opened social and cultural opportunities. There are tales of migration from the Caribbean to St. Louis and from Texas to Los Angeles, as well as stories of success and achievement during the Harlem Renaissance. The primary-source material includes original slave narratives, WPA slave narratives, state historical-society archive documents, and interviews conducted by the author. The histories of such well-known individuals as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Jacob Lawrence are included along with those of a window dresser, civil-rights worker, and rodeo cowboy. This well-organized, attractive volume has a handsome typography and high-quality, black-and-white photographs and maps.-Janet Woodward, Garfield High School, Seattle, WA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

The author of this work of collected memories is a folklorist who has worked diligently to document the African American experience. The heart of the book is slave narratives, including those from the Federal Writers' Project, and oral histories. Many of the latter were recorded by the author, while others were culled from various collections. Although the narratives are divided into three sections as determined by the source from which they originated, they stand by themselves in that each is unique to the narrator. Short headnotes provide context, but the analytical content is light for a reference work. What analysis does exist is found in the introduction, where the author proposes a different way to view the concept of frontier in the African American experience. As he uses the term, the frontier is more than a geographical border location; it includes areas where the individual has struggled to break the shackles of enslavement and racism. All libraries with strong US hist ory research or African American collections should include it in their holdings. J. J. Fox Jr. emeritus, Salem State College

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introductionp. xi
Section I Slave Narratives
Henry Bibbp. 3
Jacob Blocksonp. 8
Henry Box Brownp. 9
William Wells Brownp. 16
Lewis Clarkep. 28
Ellen and William Craftp. 35
Frederick Douglassp. 40
Olaudah Equianop. 46
Daniel Fisherp. 57
Frances Hendersonp. 59
John Jacksonp. 63
Jarmain Wesley Loguenp. 65
James Marsp. 67
Venture Smithp. 70
Harriet Tubmanp. 88
Section II WPA Slave Narratives
Phoebe Banksp. 97
David A. Hallp. 101
Felix Haywoodp. 103
Silas Jacksonp. 106
James Calhart Jamesp. 110
Bill Simmsp. 112
Milton Starrp. 116
Section III Oral Histories
Charles James Bate, Physicianp. 121
Ollie Hunter Boyd, Dry Cleanerp. 123
Charles Brown, Rhythm and Blues Pianistp. 126
Anna Mae Conley, Nanny and Domestic Workerp. 139
Madge E. Copeland, Beauty Shop Operatorp. 152
Herbert Cowens, Jazz Drummer and USO Bandleaderp. 167
Leon Davis, Policeman's Son, U.S. Air Force Colonelp. 171
LaVerne Cooksey Davis, Licensed Practical Nursep. 173
Virginia Clark Gayton, Power Machine Operator and Descendant of Lewis E. Clarkep. 175
Anita Hairston, NAACP Volunteerp. 183
Erma Hadrey Hayman, Window Dresserp. 186
Minnie Lee Haynes, Housekeeper and Descendant of Samuel D. Chambersp. 191
Fannie Ezelle Hill, Civil Rights Activistp. 209
Hugh Hollins, Barberp. 212
Eunice Jackson, Funeral Directorp. 215
Herb Jeffries, Actor and Entertainerp. 217
Irene McClellan King, Teacherp. 240
Gwendolyn Knight, Artistp. 246
Jacob Lawrence, Artistp. 252
Bruce Lee, Biologistp. 258
Tony Lott, Ranch Cowboyp. 280
John McLendon, Basketball Coachp. 291
Brownie McGhee, Blues Musicianp. 308
Jay McShann, Jazz Bandleaderp. 329
Martha Nash, Community Worker and Doctor's Widowp. 340
Earl W. Rand, Educator and College Presidentp. 348
Clarence Ray, Gamblerp. 356
Archie Reynolds, Gospel Singerp. 377
Herman Simmons, Pullman Porterp. 387
Charles Earl Simms, Attorneyp. 407
Katie Simms, Homemaker and Domestic Workerp. 415
Wesley Sims, Ministerp. 418
Roebuck "Pops" Staples, Gospel and Pop Singerp. 430
Clara Terrell, Cloakroom Attendantp. 435
Jesse Thomas, Blues Musicianp. 439
William Waddell, Veterinarianp. 448
A. J. Walker, Cowboy and Rodeo Organizerp. 466
Alice Mae Williams, Homemaker and Motherp. 471
Arbie Williams, Quilterp. 472
Francis Williams, Civil Rights Attorneyp. 481
Mack Williams, Cowboy and Ministerp. 494
Marvin Williams, Baseball Playerp. 499
Liola McClean Cravens Woffort, Miner's Descendantp. 508
Barbara Wood, Teacherp. 512
Wesley Young, Rodeo Cowboyp. 515
Bibliography I Individually Published Slave Narrativesp. 519
Bibliography II Secondary Sourcesp. 531
Indexp. 539