The Black Voices Collection at Duke University is a group of autobiographical accounts of African Americans who lived during the age of southern segregation. These first person accounts speak to the silences that appear in the history of the segregated South, providing written testimony about the texture of black life during a period of profound repression. The autobiographies of preachers, teachers, evangelists, missionaries, lawyers, physicians, soldiers, politicians, activists, journalists, and entrepreneurs, most of whom were former slaves or children of slaves, provide ample testimony to black survival and resistance to white supremacy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Accounts of their travels, their efforts for literacy and education counter the notion that African Americans placidly accepted second-class citizenship until the era of the civil rights movement. These texts are key sources in an emerging historiography that complicates our understanding of power and politics during the era of Jim Crow.
The Black Voices Collection focuses on published narratives from two distinct periods. The first category is Former Slave/Nadir Narratives, encompassing texts written by three groups: formerly enslaved African Americans who escaped slavery and wrote in the postbellum period; slaves freed by the general emancipation who provide an account of slavery, reconstruction and, perhaps the coming of the age of Jim Crow; and southern African Americans who were born free or freed before the general emancipation. Most of these texts were penned between the 1890s and the early 1930s. Collectively, these texts account for the changes at emancipation and the character of white repression after Reconstruction, as well as the emergence of legal segregation just prior to the turn of the century. The second broad category in the Black Voices Collection contains Jim Crow narratives, texts written by African-Americans born after the end of slavery. Most of the authors in this category were born between 1860 and 1919, and thus many of these autobiographies detail the coming of Jim Crow segregation and the contours of black life in the segregated South.
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