A Perspective on Slavery

Historical content: 
Civil War and Reconstruction
Historical skills: 
Sourcing

Assessment

Directions: 

Read the passage below and answer the questions that follow.

Source: 

The following passage is an excerpt from an interview of the son of former slaves by a government employee hired to conduct interviews as part of the Federal Writers’ Project. 

Henry Nelson's interview transcript, 1938.
Source text: 

"It has been so long since I heard my parents tell about slavery I couldn’t tell you straight. [My mother] told till she died, talked about how the Yankees done when they come through. They took axes and busted up good furniture. They ate up and wasted good rations . . . [My parents] wanted freedom but it wasn’t like they thought it would be. They didn’t know how it would be . . . In some ways it was better and some ways it was worse. They had to work or starve is what they told me."

Question 1: How might this interview be useful as evidence of the conditions facing slaves at the end of the Civil War?

Question 2: What about this source might make it less useful as evidence of the conditions facing slaves at the end of the Civil War?

About the Assessment

Like the Slave Quarters assessment, this question requires students to consider the relative strengths and weaknesses of a document as historical evidence.  Students with a sophisticated understanding of how to source a document will be able to explain that Nelson's account is useful in that it was informed by his parents, who were slaves at the end of the Civil War.  They will also point out, however, that Nelson was offering second-hand information, making his interview less useful as specific evidence of the conditions facing slaves at the end of the war.