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First Person Narratives
Social Life in Old Virginia Before the War  Laura Battle  Frank Montgomery  My Southern Home by William Wells Brown  Austin Steward 
About The First-Person Narratives
"First-Person Narratives of the American South" is a collection of diaries, autobiographies, memoirs, travel accounts, and ex-slave narratives written by Southerners. The majority of materials in this collection are written by those Southerners whose voices were less prominent in their time, including African Americans, women, enlisted men, laborers, and Native Americans. "First-Person Narratives of the American South, 1860-1920" was a 1996/97 Award Winner in The Library of Congress/Ameritech National Digital Library Competition. This award funded the digitization of 101 texts.
The narratives available in this collection offer personal accounts of Southern life between 1860 and 1920, a period of enormous change. At the end of the Civil War, the South faced the enormous challenge of re-creating their society after their land had been ravaged by war, many of their men were dead or injured, and the economic and social system of slavery had been abolished. Many farmers, confronted by periodic depressions and market turmoil, joined political and social protest movements. For African Americans, the end of slavery brought hope for unprecedented control of their own lives, but whether they stayed in the South or moved north or west, they continued to face social and political oppression. Most African Americans in the South were pulled into a Darwinistic sharecropper system and saw their lives circumscribed by the rise of segregation. As conservative views faced a growing challenge from Modernist thought, Southern arts, sciences, and religion also reflected the considerable tensions manifested throughout Southern society. Admidst these dramatic changes, Southerners who had lived in the antebellum South and soldiers who had fought for the Confederacy wrote memoirs that and strived to preserve a memory of many different experiences.
Southerners recorded their stories of these tumultuous times in print and in diaries and letters, but few first-person narratives, other than those written by the social and economic elite found their way into the national print culture. In this online collection, accounts of life on the farm or in the servants' quarters or in the cotton mill have priority over accounts of public lives and leading military battles. Each narrative offers a unique perspective on life in the South, and serves as an important primary resource for the study of the American South.
The original texts for "First-Person Narratives of the American South" come from the University Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which includes the Southern Historical Collection, one of the largest collections of Southern manuscripts in the country and the North Carolina Collection, the most complete printed documentation of a single state anywhere. The DocSouth Editorial Board, composed of faculty and librarians at UNC and staff from the UNC Press, oversees this collection and all other collections on Documenting the American South.
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