The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 84, July 1980 - April, 1981 Page: 472
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
slaves' memories and because of uncertainty surrounding the inter-
views. The interview procedures were not standardized; there was no
uniform selection process to determine who would be interviewed; and
because most of the interviewers were white, later critics seriously
doubted the candor of the subjects. Lately, however, some historians
have cautiously begun to incorporate the interviews into their re-
search, claiming that, if used with the same kind of care that should
be applied to any primary source, these documents represent a unique
point of view-that of the victims of slavery.
A number of recent studies have resulted from these narratives, in-
cluding my own Slave Narratives of Texas (co-edited with Lawrence R.
Murphy), which Escott fails to cite, but Escott's effort is directed not at
another edition of the narratives (for George P. Rawick published
virtually all of them in 1972) but rather at an assessment of the material
found in the narratives. Do the narratives really add anything to the
familiar but often reinterpreted story of slavery? After a discussion of
the slave's life as shown in the narratives, Escott isolates several hereto-
fore variable factors for which he says the narratives provide "fixed
points on the complicated terrain" (p. 179). First, the master did not
completely control the minds of the slaves. Second, religion provided
protection for the dignity and self-esteem necessary to survive. Third,
their Afro-American culture gave the blacks a sense of belonging, a
special identity. Fourth, racial oppression forced the slaves to band
While these are significant explanations of how the Negro escaped
slavery with his "humanity" (p. 18o) intact, they are hardly debatable
issues. Even in theories so disparate as Elkins and Stampp's, for exam-
ple, it is agreed that the blacks maintained mental independence. It
may seem presumptuous for Escott to agonize over such obvious issues
when he is unable to revise or reinterpret them himself, but his con-
tribution in upholding these conclusions rests on his use of the sources
of the blacks rather than the usual sources from white men.
Escott presents much statistical evidence to support his conclusions.
Tabulations made from the narratives are shown in tables throughout
the text. It is unfortunate that the ex-slaves whose pictures are repro-
duced in the book are not identified when their names are readily
available in volumes of the Federal Writers' Project at the Library of
Amon Carter Museum
RON C. TYLER
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 84, July 1980 - April, 1981, periodical, 1980/1981; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101225/m1/532/: accessed August 17, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.