Two ‘Slave Narratives’

December 5, 2007

Today on Fresh Air Terry Gross interviews Ruth Washington the 89 year old Grand Daughter of John Washington.

Teri asked Ruth, “What is the moment in the narrative that most stands out in your mind?”

Ruth said, “The first impression that I received and was in wonderment of was how he obtain ink, pen, and paper to write all of his manuscripts…that he did not now it…any part of his going along with the slavery and his ambition to one day be free…”

It’s a powerful listening experience. The podcast is available for download. I’ll have to download it and listen to it again. The NPR media player has the audio interview.

The other thing which surprised me was that John was an urbane and educated slave working at a hotel. John’s mother taught him to read and write. Some fragments of John’s diary exists and it tell about his love and courtship with a free black woman.

The story of how David Blight, a professor at Yale, came into these two first hand ‘slave narrative’ account is astonishing. One woman inherit the document from a friend and kept it with her for some 18 years before calling the archive centers. Professor Blight was giving a lecture on the first John Washington narrative, and he was promptly contacted to inherit the second narrative.

Terry asked the professor what stood out in his mind as he read these documents and David replied that he could see the writer’s struggle to tell their stories. It’s very inspiring.

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