Abner Jordan, interviewed by Daisy Whaley at his home in Durham County, North Carolina, WPA Slave Narrative Project, North Carolina Narratives, Volume 11 Part 2, Federal Writers' Project, United States Work Projects Administration (USWPA); Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. Accessed via Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936–1938, American Memory, Library of Congress.
What’s remarkable about this narrative is the almost complete absence of personal opinion, emotion, or specific authorial intent in this narrative. Mr. Jordan seems to have been careful, in telling his story, to avoid any pointed statements or personal interpretations of events, sticking to the facts and recalling events in a very value-neutral, straightforward way. This choice can probably be explained by the historical context of the interview. Mr. Jordan, an African American man, was being interviewed by Ms. Whaley, a white woman, in the 1930s South. During this period, racism and discrimination were rampant and Mr. Jordan may not have had a full understanding of the purpose of the interview or the uses to which it might be put. Decades of needing to be careful about what he said to whites may have made him cautious, and concerns that descendents of the Camerons or other locally powerful white people might hear his comments may have further encouraged him to guard his words. Sticking to factual statements may have helped Mr. Jordan avoid saying anything that could be regarded as controversial, disrespectful or negative, thereby protecting him and his family from possible consequences. In many Southern communities, the descendants of slave holders often still wielded considerable power in the early twentieth century, owning large tracts of land where African Americans worked as sharecroppers, hiring African American women as domestic workers, or owning the stores, mills, and other businesses where many people worked. We don’t know whether Ms. Whaley, the interviewer, had any connections to those powerful individuals in Durham County, North Carolina, but Mr. Jordan may have been concerned that she might share his comments with such people, or that they would hear about his remarks in some other way and so was careful to keep his comments factual and inoffensive. Often these kinds of factual narratives are assumed to be more “pure” and free from any effort to twist the story or present it in a particular way than sources that reveal the narrator’s opinions, but the decision to not include personal insights, emotions, and opinions is just as much a choice by the narrator as the choice to include those more bias-laden details might be. In its own way, removing all traces of personal opinion and emotion colors the narrative and reshapes its meaning in just as significant a way as including those details might, revealing the possible fears and concerns of the narrator and providing some insight into the racial politics of the period during which the interview was conducted., Ex-slave, 95 years.
"I wus bawn about 1832 an' I wus bawn at Staggsville, Marse paul Cameron's place. I belonged to Marse Paul. My pappy's name wus Obed an' my mammy wus Ella Jordan an' dey wus thirteen chillun on our family.
I wus de same age of Young Marse Benehan, I played wid him an' wus his body guard. Yes, suh, Where ever young Marse Benehan went I went too. I waited on him. Young Mrse Benny run away an' 'listed in de war, but Marse Paul done went an' brung him back kaze he wus too young to go and fight de Yankees.
Marse Paul had heap if niggahs; he had five thousan'. When he meet dem in de road he wouldn' know dem an' when he ased dem who dey wus an' who dey belonged to, dey' tell him dey belonged to Marse Paul Cameron an' den he would say dat wus all right for dem to go right on.
My pappy wus de blacksmith an' foreman for Marse Paul, an' he blew de horn for de other niggahs to come in from de fiel' at night. Dey couldn' leave de plantation without Marse say dey could.
When de war come de Yankees come to de house an' axed my mammy whare de folks done hid de silver an' gol', an' dey say dey gwine to kill mammy if she didn' tell dem. But mammy say she didn' know whare dey put it, an' dey would jus' have to kill her for she didn' know an' wouldn' lie to keep dem from hurting her.
De sojers stole seven or eight of de ho'ses an' foun' de meat an' stole dat, but dey didn' burn none off de buildin's nor hurt any of us slaves.
My pappy an' his family stayed wid Marse Paul five years after de surrender den we moved to Hillsboro an' I's always lived 'roun' dese parts. I ain' never been out of North Carolina eighteen months in my life. North Carolina is good enough for me."