Fifty years ago, as the Civil War centennial got underway, Robert Penn Warren wrote of the struggle as if it were an ancient epic, one that “affords a dazzling array of figures, noble in proportion yet human, caught out of Time as if in a frieze, in stances so profoundly touching or powerfully mythic that they move us in a way no mere consideration of ‘historical importance’ ever could.”
It seems impossible that voices from what Warren calls our “Homeric period” could survive into the age of audio recording, yet a small number have. The perspective on the Civil War that might seem most elusive is in fact the most tangible: that of enslaved children. Thanks to the Work Progress Administration’s Federal Writers’ Project, and the careful stewardship of the Library of Congress, voices of onetime slaves who lived well into the 1930s are now just a few clicks away.
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