Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Mary Clarke, Kenneth Clarke, Lowell Harrison

Degree Program

Department of Folk Studies and Anthropology

Degree Type

Master of Arts


This study is an analysis and interpretation of oral folk history preserved in the Florida Narratives, one state collection of ex-slave narratives from the larger Federal Writers' Project collection compiled in the 1930s. Fifty-four tales were extracted from this state collection and used as a basis for this study. These personal reminiscences, called memorates by folklorists, fell into two categories: slavery and the Civil war. The tales about slavery were compared to the theses and conclusions regarding slavery held by sociologists and The tales about the Civil War and emancipation were gathered by historians.

The comparison revealed that there are many reasons these ex-slaves remembered and recounted these tales to collectors. The recording of history was not the primary purpose of these tales. The overriding factor in what was remembered and told about slavery and the Civil War appears to be how the tales functioned to contribute to the self-esteem of the narrators. Emphasis on the following subjects contributed to the dignity of the tale tellers: endurance of cruelty, punishment for excelling in and Indian Civil war, areas supposedly closed to slaves, identification with white ancestors, interpretation of slavery as the only issue of the identification with famous persons and regiments involved in the Civil War, participation in the Civil War effort, emancipation of slaves, administration of revenge or justice to former masters, and personalizing the narratives. Because of their function as ego-builders, the tales in the Florida Narratives cannot be viewed as an accurate or complete picture of slave life and the Civil War.

It is evident that in many cases these personal reminiscences, or memorates, were fictionalized and distorted. The folk memory which distorts and fictionalizes, however, is also capable of amazing accuracy. Oral traditions, therefore, must be examined and interpreted individually to arrive at their accuracy and usefulness.


African American Studies | Anthropology | Arts and Humanities | History | Oral History | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Social History | United States History