Listening Session and Listener's Guide Part 1
PREVIEW: Before listening to Part One, take some to think and write about the following exercises:
LISTEN TO PART ONE OF Remembering Slavery: Approximate Time Length: 1 Hour. Remember to set aside enough time to listen to the entire tape/broadcast once all the way through, without stopping. You can go back and listen to selections again later. LISTENING GOAL: The first tape/broadcast of Remembering Slavery features several slaves discussing a variety of aspects of slave life and relating specific events and occurrences in which they themselves participated or witnessed. Although these interviews are with several different former slaves, certain themes, issues, and topics recur, such as:
- Take a few minutes to think about an especially interesting or memorable event you recently participated in or witnessed. If possible, describe the event to a friend in as much detail as possible. (If you cannot talk to a friend in person, try writing or tape recording a letter). How much do you think your friend was successfully able to picture or understand about what you saw ? What do you think your friend was unable to get a grasp of, no matter how well you described the event? Next, ask your friend to tell someone else about the event you originally described (or imagine how your friend might describe it). In what ways would your version of the event differ from your friend's? What does this exercise indicate about firsthand versus secondhand accounts of events? How does this relate to sources documenting slavery and how we attempt to get a sense today of what that past experience and period was like?
- At the start of the first tape/broadcast, Tonea Stewart describes a conversation she had with her Papa Dallas -- a former slave brutally scarred by a cruel overseer who punished him for learning to read -- in which he makes her promise to learn to read, go to school, and continue telling his story. What family stories are passed on from one generation to the next in your family? What part do they play in your family history? What do they tell you about your past relations? Why do you think it was important to your relatives to tell these stories? What stories about your life would you like to pass on? Why is it important to hear and remember voices from the past in the present?
OVERVIEW OF PART ONE: On the first tape/broadcast, you'll hear these interviews and narratives (in order):
- Working and Living Conditions
- Relations Between Masters and Slaves
- Ways Masters Maintain Control/Ways Slaves Rebel
- Family Life
- Slave Culture and Folklore
- Tonea Stewart: Tells of learning the origin of her Papa Dallas' scars, and his request she go to school and continue telling his story.
- Fountain Hughes: Recounts his boyhood in slavery and the many ways slaves' lives were restricted.
- Robert Glenn: Remembers how his father, himself a slave, boldly tried to purchase his own son to keep the family together.
- Josephine Smith: Describes slave sales, and remembers witnessing the death of a fellow slave.
- Laura Smalley: Describes the system of daycare on her plantation.
- Caroline Hunter: Talks about her mother being forced to see her own children get beaten, powerless to stop it, and also remembers seeing her mother beaten.
- Frank Bell: Talks of his good fortune to be surrounded by family throughout slavery.
- Joe McDonald: Describes privileges he was given that most of his fellow slaves were denied.
- Bailey Cunningham: Relates what the slaves ate, when allowed to, after the white folks had finished eating.
- Fountain Hughes: Discusses how slaves were forced to walk barefoot, forbidden from riding horses.
- Laura Smalley: Tells of the worst beating she ever saw, and other punishments enforced on the plantation.
- Jordan Johnson: Remembers the anguish of a man forced to watch the beating of his pregnant wife.
- Harriet Smith: Recounts prayer meetings held for slaves in the whites' church.
- Laura Smalley: Relates how some masters tried to forbid slaves from becoming religious and beat a man for praying.
- Caroline Johnson Harris: Describes marriage rituals in the slave communities not sanctioned by the church.
- Matthew Jarrett: Recalls how slave marriages weren't considered binding by the masters.
- Laura Smalley: Remembers hearing talk about the practice of breeding slaves.
- Rose Williams: Relates her efforts to resist her master's command that she couple with a fellow slave.
- Laura Smalley: Tells of slaves running away and hiding in the woods, and some making it to free land.
- Uncle Billy McCrea: Describes the jailing and punishment of runaway slaves.
- Arnold Gragston: Recounts how he used his ability to read and write, risking his life to help others to freedom by crossing the Ohio River, before escaping himself.
- Tom Robinson: Remarks on basic desire of all creatures to be free.
- Fountain Hughes: Talks about being thankful for freedom, and preferring death to slavery.
- Why do you think Papa Dallas wanted to know his story would continue to be told? Why should we listen to former slaves describe their experiences in their own words? Why is it also important for future generations to hear these tapes? Why, as Tonea Stewart's narration says, do former slaves "deserve" to tell their stories?
- How does the experience of hearing the actual voices of former slaves differ from reading transcripts of their interviews? How does it differ from reading or seeing other portrayals of slavery?
- Many of the slaves compare their treatment to that of animals. (At the conclusion of the first tape, for example, Fountain Hughes says that being a slave means, "You're nothing but a dog.") What aspects of their lives as slaves do the interviewees specifically compare to animal-like treatment? What does this say about how owners thought about and treated their slaves?
- In what ways did owners try to dehumanize their slaves (by treating them like animals or objects; forcing them to go naked; etc.)? Why would they do this? How did it help them to maintain their authority?
- The image of scars comes up several times in the interviews. What are the many kinds of scars -- physical and psychological -- created by slavery?
- Why did most masters forbid slaves from learning to read and write? Why do some slaves risk their lives to do it? Why is it so important to Papa Dallas that Tonea read every book she can?
- When the Interviewer asks Fountain Hughes who he "worked for," Hughes answers, "I belonged to Burneys." What is the difference between "working for" someone and "belonging to" someone?
- Why did masters separate slave families? Why did many masters try to completely deny any sense of family or parental control within the slave community? How did some slaves find ways to stay in contact with or close to family members? Why do you think this was so important to them?
- When Robert Glenn's father tries to buy his own son on the auction block, the speculator curses him, saying, "You think you are white." In what ways do the narratives tie slavery and the dynamic between slaves and owners to racist beliefs about differences between whites and blacks?
- Many of the interviewees refer to themselves and other slaves as "colored" and "niggers." What is different about when the former slaves use these words about themselves, and when the white owners and overseers use these terms in reference to them? What does this indicate about the power of language and who gets to control the words used to label others?
- When Josephine Smith sees a woman die from exhaustion and lack of food and water, the slave traders complain about "losing money on her." In what ways do economic concerns dictate many of the actions and practices of white owners, overseers, and traders throughout the narratives?
- In what ways do the narratives depict slaves seizing whatever is given to them and turning it into something more valuable? How did slaves create their own unique community and culture in these conditions?
- Why did some masters leave the punishment of slaves to their overseers and foremen? Why did some specifically hire black foremen?
- What part did spirituality and organized religion play in slaves' lives? Why did some masters try to control or deny the slaves' participation in the church? Why would they beat a slave for praying, as Laura Smalley describes?
- Why would some masters try to control slaves' marriages or deny slaves from marrying one another? How did the slaves find ways around this?
- Why does Rose Williams, after refusing to be coupled with the slave she thinks of as a bully, eventually yield to her master's wishes? What does this indicate about the various ways in which masters exert control, without necessarily using force?
- What did the masters gain by forcing certain slaves to try to have children with one another? What effects do you think this practice had on the slave community and on individual slaves?
- In what ways did various slaves find to help their fellow slaves? How did these actions contribute to the formation of community?
- Arnold Gragston says that many he helped escape to freedom in Canada went even though they had no prospects for making a living. Why do you think, as Gragston says, they "seem[ed] like they rather starve up there in the cold than be back in slavery"? Why does Fountain Hughes say he would rather take a gun to his head than be a slave again?
- Why is it important, as Tonea Stewart's closing narration suggests, to remember both those who "fought or escaped the horrors of slavery" and those who "silently endured and taught their children how to survive"?
- Tonea Stewart's memories of her Papa Dallas indicate how much our own family members have to teach us about the past--and lessons to impart about our present and future. What stories do your family members have to share? Try creating your own tape-recorded history of your family. Create a list of interview questions, and interview your family members about their lives and experiences. You might then create a more formal presentation to play for others, complete with introduction and background notes.
- Select one of the narratives you heard on tape and try to re-write it as: a diary entry by the person involved in it; written account of the event by an outside observer; a newspaper article (one from a Northern Paper, one from a Southern paper); and a fictionalized short story. When you are finished, give all these versions to someone else to read, then interview them about their impressions. How does each version affect the person who reads it? What parts of the original interview are omitted or altered in your re-written accounts? How accurate would each one be as a historical source about slavery?
- Examine various sources that address or depict some aspect of slavery and slave life (such as textbooks, novels, movies, TV series). Write a review of each source, identifying on what levels the material is a success and in what ways it fails. How do these sources compare to the descriptions of slavery you've heard on the tapes? What is included on the tapes you don't find addressed in the other sources? What do these other sources discuss or portray you didn't hear on the tapes? How does the experience of listening to actual former slaves in their own words compare to reading or watching these other depictions of slavery?
TOPICS FOR FURTHER STUDY:
- Slave Narratives (Fictional and Non-Fictional)
- Family Trees
- The Federal Writer's Project
- The History of Sound Recording
- Taped Ethnography as a Research Tool
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