Slave Narratives

African slaves brought a tradition of oral narratives to the U.S., a tradition that persisted after the abolition of slavery.
8 |
9 |
10 |
Updated on: August 30, 2006
Page 1 of 2

Slave Narratives

The oral tradition that captives brought with them from Africa persisted in their communities in the American colonies. Stories and song generally revolved around African themes and subjects. However, the mid-to-late eighteenth century saw the birth of a new genre, the slave narrative.

Briton Hammon's 1760 autobiography was the first. With it, attention shifted to what would become, and remain, a central theme in African-American writing: the social condition of the African-American people.

The 20-year period between 1840 and 1860 saw the publication of the narratives of William W. Brown, A Fugitive Slave; Henry Bibb, An American Slave; Solomon Northtrup, Twelve Years a Slave; Austin Steward, Twenty-Two Years a Slave; and two individuals who would become household names, Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth.

On the March

Frederick Douglass's writings emphasized autonomy, self-sufficiency, and education, and his writings show a firm moral sense that is unafraid to challenge social conventions. He once wrote of his time as a slave, “I prayed for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”

To learn more about Frederick Douglass, visit the website “American Visionaries: Frederick Douglass,” maintained by the Museum Management Program and the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site:

Frederick Douglass's narrative appeared in 1845 with a preface by New England abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, editor of The Liberator. Garrison had noticed the escaped slave, who had managed to make his way to an anti-slavery meeting in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Garrison spotted the young man's verbal gifts early on and recruited him as a speaker for the cause.

Douglass went on to become a stirring orator, an important leader in the abolitionist movement, an adviser to presidents, and one of the great figures in American letters. After the Civil War, he focused his efforts on the struggle for equal opportunity and education for African-Americans.

Frederick Douglass was, for most of his public life, a prominent and outspoken supporter of women's rights. He attended the historic Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848.

Excerpted from

The Complete Idiot's Guide to African-American History
Melba J. Duncan
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to African-American History © 2003 by Melba J. Duncan. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

Join TeacherVision today

Spend more time teaching and less time searching.
Get full, ad-free access to all our learning resources—curated and vetted by teachers
and curriculum specialists—for one-low price.

Sign Up Sign Up

Special Offer: Get 50% off unlimited, ad-free access

Use special offer code 2020 at checkout to get half off a premium membership of full access and unlimited downloads.

Get Started

Select from a monthly, annual, or 2-year membership plan. All plans include a 7-day trial. Cancel anytime.
Learn more about Premium