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Prayin' to Be Set Free: Personal Accounts of Slavery in Mississippi

Andrew Waters, editor

John F. Blair, Publisher
$12.95 paperback
5 x 7 ½   
193 pages
Published in 2002

In his introduction to Prayin’ to Be Set Free, Andrew Waters likens the personal accounts of former Mississippi slaves to the music of that state’s legendary blues artists. The pain, the modest eloquence, and even the underlying vitality are much the same.

What is now Mississippi wasn’t acquired by the United States until 1798, at which time it had fewer than 10,000 inhabitants, excluding Native Americans. By the Civil War, it had over 430,000 slaves and 350,000 whites. More than half the whites were members of slave-owning families. The majority of slaves worked in the cotton fields. Mississippi was known as a slave-buying frontier state, in contrast to the eastern states, which sold slaves westward. Indeed, many of the former slaves in this book speak of coming to Mississippi as children.

At the height of the Depression, the out-of-work wordsmiths who comprised the Federal Writers’ Project began interviewing elderly African-Americans about their experiences under slavery. The former slaves were more than 70 years removed from bondage, but the memories of many of them were strikingly clear. The accounts from former Mississippi slaves are considered among the strongest in the entire collection. The 28 narratives presented here are the best of those.


“This is one of the best of these collections of the WPA slave narratives for laymen. The ex-slaves from Mississippi offer a lot of folk wisdom regarding ‘way it was’ and Andrew Waters correctly connects their stories to the lyrics of Mississippi's legendary blues artists. We also get some interesting and important information of the little known uprising of Mississippi whites to end Reconstruction in the 1870s, as well of some memories of the black major players of that period. That makes it a historian's delight. This makes your mouth water for the unedited versions of the Mississippi narratives which are available along with the complete collection on the WPA Slave Narratives website. Look and learn.”

“Reading this book is like sitting down with a group of former slaves and hearing their stories. The testimonies are fascinating. I believe that one cannot fully understand the Civil War or slavery's blight on American history without reading these accounts. Pick up Prayin' to Be Set Free and then thank God that he answered.”

Amazon.com reviewers