Mighty Rough Times, I Tell You: Personal Accounts of Slavery in Tennessee
John F. Blair, Publisher
5 x 7 ½
Published in 2000
He come up and said, “Speak to your young mistress.”
And I said, “Where she at?”
He said, “Right there,” and pointed to the baby in my mistress’ arms.
My oldest sister . . . was fooling with the clock and broke it, and my old marster taken her and tied a rope around her neck—just enough to keep it from choking her—and tied her up in the backyard and whipped her I don’t know how long. There stood Mother, there stood Father, and there stood all the children, and none could come to her rescue.
In 1929, the Social Sciences Department at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, began recording the oral histories of former slaves. During the mid-1930s, the Federal Writers’ Project undertook a similar effort, ultimately compiling more than two thousand interviews and ten thousand pages of material in seventeen states.
In this volume, thirty-six former slaves living in Tennessee recount what it was like to live under the yoke. Tennessee was not a large slaveholding state compared with others in the South. On the other hand, it was a leader in the abolition movement prior to 1830 and a powder keg of mixed Union and Confederate sympathies at the time of the Civil War. The voices in this volume thus recall the extreme conditions of slavery in the border country.
“This is probably the best in the series of the interviews with former slaves done in the 1930s—in this case Tennessee. Here we get info on a long-forgotten lynching that took place in Nashville in 1892 and an early look at life at Fisk University. What makes these interviews stand apart from the others is the fact that since black students from Fisk University interviewed these ex-slaves in 1929-30 (not to be confused with the later WPA slave narratives), they felt freer to express themselves than they would have with white interviewers at the time. We get an eyeful as a result and a virtually untarnished view. However, many of these are anonymous since some of the ex-slaves feared retribution for their remarks. All in all, Mighty Rough Times, I Tell You is an excellent read and a treasure chest for historians.” —Amazon.com reviewer