“Reading between the lines” is very important when reading oral histories from times that we were not alive. We must read these stories and understand that society was different back then, and we cannot compare that time period to what we now accept is illegal and immoral. Slavery was one of the worst parts of our history in America, and the narratives from these former slaves seem tame compared to other stories in history that we have all heard. On the other hand, reading between the lines of these narratives shows us that punishment came in the forms of separating families, starvation, and working the slaves way too much for any one person to endure. They were deprived of having their own lives and their own views. The only sources of religion mostly came from what their masters allowed them access to.
The contradictions presented in the narratives may be a result of age and location. We cannot say that all slave owners treated slaves the same because some were worse than others. The older slave had more memories of slavery than the younger ones because children sometimes had less strenuous tasks than adults. Trauma could also alter memories because some people block out bad times in their life while others remember those times vividly.
Even though former slaves were freed and technically had rights after the Civil War, Jim Crow laws limited them to essentially keep the role as slaves because the only job opportunities to provide for their families was to work on farms or other common tasks that slaves had. The outright exclusion and terrorism that they experienced were horrific, and life didn’t really change for them.
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I agree that reading between the lines is important because we weren’t alive during that time. We must take that into account when reading these oral histories and keep in mind that while a lot of the events in the stories aren’t acceptable now, they were back then. I also think the contradictions in the narratives between the older and younger slaves is because of their age difference. The younger slaves worked in the master’s home, while the older slaves were doing hard, physical labor in the fields and were exposed more to the violence and cruelty of slavery.
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