Limitations and Value of the Collection
The Federal Writer's Collection of "Slave Narratives" provides insight into the experience of previously enslaved individuals. However, the interview process which curated this collection created potential limitations in its accuracy. The race of the interviewers, who were mostly white, could play a large impact in what the interviewee chose to say. According to Yetman, a significantly larger number of the individuals transcribed with black interviewers were willing to talk about their experiences of physical violence and mistreatment than with white interviewers. As well, the style of transcripted words themselves vary between interviewers, with some more heavily emphasizing dialect than others and calling into question the accuracy of the transcription as a result. Despite this, the experiences transcribed are extremely valuable in understanding how enslaved individuals coped under the stratifiying institutions they were placed in.
The Interview of Cheney Cross, titled “Gittin’ my Pension”, was conducted in Alabama by a white interviewer, Annie D. Dean. This page particularly shows a significant emphasis from transcriber/interviewer on capturing a specific dialect. As well, the interviewer adds much description of the scene to the interview, as seen in the final sentence of the first paragraph which describes Cheney Cross as “a true reflection of…the southern mammy.” Through the interview embedded spoken words in a paragraph from the interviewers’ perspective, it is clear how racial bias could have impacted the interview process of this collection.
The Interview of Diana Alexander was taken in Arkansas by a white interviewer, Irene Robertson. In recalling her experiences with the man who previously owned her and her family, she recalls that “They said he was good to them.” Her recollection of specific experiences focus mostly on feelings of fear towards the invading Union Soldiers, “Yankees.” The emphasis on this in the experience of being enslaved could have been influenced by the interview process, especially in the context of racist social relations and expectations in southern states.
The Interview of Lucretia Alexander was taken in Arkansas by a black interviewer, Samuel S. Taylor. Unlike the first interview of Cheney Cross, this interview (as well as the interview of Diana Alexander) do not include an extended portion which describes the scene around the actual spoken words of those being interviewed, further showing how the process of interviewing in this collection could have impacted the reliability in their varying portrayals of those being interviewed. In the displayed first page of this interview, Lucretia Alexander recalls her experiences with physical violence under slavery and contempt with her previous overseer.