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Amanda Smith  Booker T. Washington  Title Page from A Narrative of Events Since the First of August, 1834, by James Williams  Hallie Q. Brown  Portrait of Omar ibn Said 
About North American Slave Narratives

"North American Slave Narratives" documents the individual and collective story of the African American struggle for freedom and human rights in the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It is the goal of the University Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to digitize all known extant narratives written by fugitive and former slaves and published as broadsides, pamphlets, or books in English up to 1920, as well as many of the biographies of fugitive and former slaves published in English before 1920. This collection was largely funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, which awarded the University Library a two-year grant and a one-year extension grant. Further funding was provided by The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation and the University Library continues to fund further expansion of this collection. The extensive offerings within this collection are made possible through the collaboration of the over seventy repositories throughout the country that loanedoriginal editions or provided photocopies of rare narratives.

A crucial resource for historians of the American South and its "peculiar institution," slavery, the slave narrative is also an important foundation of African American literature and culture and has had a profound impact on the development of American literature. From its beginnings in the late eighteenth century, the slave narrative aimed to inform a largely white readership of the harsh realities of slave life. By the mid-nineteenth century slave narrators, among them internationally famous fugitives such as Frederick Douglass, expanded the form to engage whites in a dialogue on the meaning of the American ideal of freedom. After Emancipation, former slaves continued to write of their experience in bondage and in freedom in order to call attention to the progress of African Americans and to remind an increasingly neglectful nation of its moral and political responsibilities to the freed people.

Yet, despite their importance, most slave narratives remain inaccessible to scholars, students, and general readers. The originals are scattered among many repositories, often surviving only in fragile copies that circulate heavily. This project makes these texts widely available by digitizing them, encoding them, and publishing them on the Internet, where they are available world-wide at no charge to anyone with Internet access.

William L. Andrews, E. Maynard Adams Professor of English, is Series Editor of this collection. Author of the most complete bibliography of slave narratives ever compiled, Professor Andrews selects texts for "North American Slave Narratives" from the University Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, North Carolina Central University, and from other repositories around the country. An Editorial Board composed of University faculty, librarians, and UNC Press staff guides this development of this collection and all phases of Documenting the American South.


Learn more about this collection