Abraham Lincoln's Secret Visits to Slaves

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Bee

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In the mid-1930s, the Federal Writers’ Project interviewed thousands of former slaves, some of whom claimed the president came to their plantations disguised as a beggar or a peddler, telling them they’d soon be free.


Shortly before the election of 1860, a man came upon a plantation near Marlin, Texas, some 20 miles southeast of Waco. Though nobody knew who he was, the plantation owner took him in as a guest. The stranger paid close attention to how the enslaved people working on the plantation were treated—how they subsisted on a weekly ration of “four pounds of meat and a peck of meal,” how they were whipped and sometimes sold, resulting in the tearing apart of families. Eventually, the stranger said goodbye and went on his way, but a little while later he wrote a letter to the plantation owner, informing him he would soon have to free his slaves—“that everybody was going to have to, that the North was going to see to it.” The stranger told the owner to go into the room where he’d slept, and see where he’d carved his name into the headrest. And when the slaveholder went and looked, he saw the name: “A. Lincoln.”

At least that’s what happened according to Bob Maynard, who was born a slave and recounted the story as an old man in an interview with an employee of the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP), a New Deal program created to put writers to work and enrich American culture. In 1936, the FWP began collecting interviews with former slaves, amassing thousands of pages of oral histories which, though often filtered through the racism of white interviewers and their supervisors, provide an invaluable snapshot of how more than 2,000 survivors of slavery lived and thought.

More here: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/02/former-slaves-stories-abraham-lincoln/552917/

 

WJC

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In the mid-1930s, the Federal Writers’ Project interviewed thousands of former slaves, some of whom claimed the president came to their plantations disguised as a beggar or a peddler, telling them they’d soon be free.


Shortly before the election of 1860, a man came upon a plantation near Marlin, Texas, some 20 miles southeast of Waco. Though nobody knew who he was, the plantation owner took him in as a guest. The stranger paid close attention to how the enslaved people working on the plantation were treated—how they subsisted on a weekly ration of “four pounds of meat and a peck of meal,” how they were whipped and sometimes sold, resulting in the tearing apart of families. Eventually, the stranger said goodbye and went on his way, but a little while later he wrote a letter to the plantation owner, informing him he would soon have to free his slaves—“that everybody was going to have to, that the North was going to see to it.” The stranger told the owner to go into the room where he’d slept, and see where he’d carved his name into the headrest. And when the slaveholder went and looked, he saw the name: “A. Lincoln.”

At least that’s what happened according to Bob Maynard, who was born a slave and recounted the story as an old man in an interview with an employee of the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP), a New Deal program created to put writers to work and enrich American culture. In 1936, the FWP began collecting interviews with former slaves, amassing thousands of pages of oral histories which, though often filtered through the racism of white interviewers and their supervisors, provide an invaluable snapshot of how more than 2,000 survivors of slavery lived and thought.

More here: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/02/former-slaves-stories-abraham-lincoln/552917/
Thanks for sharing this anecdote,
I am very skeptical.
 
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Drew

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In 1936, the FWP began collecting interviews with former slaves, amassing thousands of pages of oral histories which, though often filtered through the racism of white interviewers and their supervisors, provide an invaluable snapshot of how more than 2,000 survivors of slavery lived and thought.
Of course this is a silly story. There's no evidence whatsoever that Honest Abe was travelling in Texas in 1860.

With respect to the quote I've bolded, Alan Lomax ran the FWP slave narrative project and issued very clear guidance that no one was to "filter" anything, they were to write down exactly what they were told. In fact, many of the interviewers were themselves African American.

This was not an exercise in "interpretation," but a recordation of verbatim conversation. I'll agree that some of it is problematic, but not because anyone or his supervisor "filtered" anything through racism. Not that I'm surprised at the assertion, given the source provided.
 

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In the mid-1930s, the Federal Writers’ Project interviewed thousands of former slaves, some of whom claimed the president came to their plantations disguised as a beggar or a peddler, telling them they’d soon be free.


Shortly before the election of 1860, a man came upon a plantation near Marlin, Texas, some 20 miles southeast of Waco. Though nobody knew who he was, the plantation owner took him in as a guest. The stranger paid close attention to how the enslaved people working on the plantation were treated—how they subsisted on a weekly ration of “four pounds of meat and a peck of meal,” how they were whipped and sometimes sold, resulting in the tearing apart of families. Eventually, the stranger said goodbye and went on his way, but a little while later he wrote a letter to the plantation owner, informing him he would soon have to free his slaves—“that everybody was going to have to, that the North was going to see to it.” The stranger told the owner to go into the room where he’d slept, and see where he’d carved his name into the headrest. And when the slaveholder went and looked, he saw the name: “A. Lincoln.”

At least that’s what happened according to Bob Maynard, who was born a slave and recounted the story as an old man in an interview with an employee of the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP), a New Deal program created to put writers to work and enrich American culture. In 1936, the FWP began collecting interviews with former slaves, amassing thousands of pages of oral histories which, though often filtered through the racism of white interviewers and their supervisors, provide an invaluable snapshot of how more than 2,000 survivors of slavery lived and thought.

More here: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/02/former-slaves-stories-abraham-lincoln/552917/
Excellent article showing how sources need to be placed into context and interpreted instead of being simply accepted verbatim.
 
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RobertP

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Of course this is a silly story. There's no evidence whatsoever that Honest Abe was travelling in Texas in 1860.

With respect to the quote I've bolded, Alan Lomax ran the FWP slave narrative project and issued very clear guidance that no one was to "filter" anything, they were to write down exactly what they were told. In fact, many of the interviewers were themselves African American.

This was not an exercise in "interpretation," but a recordation of verbatim conversation. I'll agree that some of it is problematic, but not because anyone or his supervisor "filtered" anything through racism. Not that I'm surprised at the assertion, given the source provided.
Exactly. The writer is putting his own interpretation on the narratives. No surprise there. The article states that less than 40 former slaves out of more than 2,000 interviewed tell some version of the tale, which hardly makes the author’s take on them convincing. Personally I see a lot of Christian overtones from the life of Jesus among the stories but that’s just me. Bottom line is that we believe what we want to about the narratives; we swear by them when we want them to support our position, we excuse them when they don’t. Another flash, the sky is blue.
 
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