River of Blood: American Slavery from the People Who Lived It

CityFiles. Jan. 2020. 240p. ed. by ed. by Richard Cahan & Michael Williams. ISBN 9780991541850. $39.95. HIST
Drawing on more than 2,000 interviews of formerly enslaved people conducted by the Federal Writers Project in the 1930s, and housed in the Library of Congress, photo historians Cahan and Williams (coauthors, Un-American) present excerpts that focus on the memory of slavery and the horrors of bondage, and of witnessing the Civil War and seeking freedom during Reconstruction. The power of these selections comes through not only in the well-chosen, if sometimes too brief accounts, but also the photographs of the former slaves taken at the time of their interview, and various images of plantation houses and slave cabins. Most of the entries come from Texas, but they tell a larger story of how the formerly enslaved remembered the travails of bondage and defined the possibilities of freedom. Although the interviews are well known, much used, and fully available in several formats, this resource gives them a special poignancy by publishing the photographs of the interviewees for the first time.
VERDICT This important collection documents the experiences of formerly enslaved people and exposes readers to the difficult truths of American history. An eye-opening record and exploration of how the past informs our present.

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