Voices from the Days of Slavery


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Image of Interviewer, Mary Elizabeth Barnicle
descriptive record icon  enlarge image icon Mary Elizabeth Barnicle and other unidentified people, probably from the Georgia, Florida and Bahamas expedition, 1935. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division - Lomax Collection. Photograph. Call Number: LOT 7414-G, no. N315

Mary Elizabeth Barnicle

Mary Elizabeth Barnicle was born on April 17, 1891, in Natick, Massachusetts. She attended Pembroke College and after receiving a degree in 1911, went on to earn a master's degree in English from Bryn Mawr College.

Barnicle began her long teaching career before 1920. She taught at the University of Minnesota, Connecticut College for Women, Antioch College, New York University (NYU), and finally at the University of Tennessee from which she retired in 1949.

Barnicle was an activist who supported several causes, including women's rights, suffrage, labor unions, and rights for African Americans. Around 1936 she married a union organizer and coal miner named Tillman Cadle. Cadle supported Barnicle's activites and went with her to record folk artists in Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Barnicle also made many recordings in New York of musicians including Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter, "Aunt Molly" Jackson, Jim Garland, Sarah Ogan Gunning, Dick Maitland, Si Burton, Sonny Terry, and Brownie McGhee.

Barnicle died on November 26, 1978.


Image of Interviewer, John Henry Faulk
John H. Faulk, 1948. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division - New York World Telegram and Sun Newspaper Collection. Photograph by the Columbia Broadcasting Company.

John Henry Faulk

John Henry Faulk was born in Austin, Texas, on August 21, 1913. He entered the University of Texas in 1932. Under the guidance of J. Frank Dobie, Walter P. Webb, and Roy Bedichek, he developed his considerable abilities as a collector of folklore. For his master's degree thesis, Faulk recorded and analyzed ten African-American sermons from churches in Travis and Bexar Counties.

Between 1940 and 1942, Faulk taught English at the University of Texas. In 1942, he joined the U.S. Merchant Marine for a year of trans-Atlantic duty, followed by a year with the Red Cross in Cairo, Egypt. In 1944, he entered the U.S. Army but did not go overseas. Through Alan Lomax, Faulk became acquainted with radio industry officials, and during Christmas 1945, Lomax gave a series of parties to showcase Faulk's yarn-spinning abilities.

After the war, Faulk hosted a number of radio shows on different stations as a storyteller. Faulk's radio career ended in 1957, a victim of the Cold War and the blacklisting of the 1950s. Faulk fought his blacklisting in the courts for many years and published a book about his experiences, Fear on Trial (1964).

From 1975 to 1980, he appeared as a homespun character on the television program Hee-Haw. During the 1980s, he wrote and produced two one-man plays, Deep in the Heart and Pear Orchard, Texas. During this time, he also traveled the nation urging university students to be vigilant about their constitutional rights and to take advantage of the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. Faulk ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1983. The Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin sponsors the John Henry Faulk Conference on the First Amendment.

Faulk died in Austin on April 9, 1990. The city of Austin named the downtown branch of its public library in his honor.


Elizabeth Lyttleton Harold

Elizabeth Lyttleton Harold was born in Dallas, Texas. In the early 1930s she attended the University of Texas, where she met Alan Lomax, whom she subsequently married. She accompanied Lomax on several recording expeditions to such places as the Bahamas, Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio.

Ms. Harold lives in New York City. She is a published writer and poet and is currently working on a novel.


Image of Interviewer, Archibald A. Hill
Archibald A. Hill, date unknown. From "How Many Revolutions Can a Linguist Live Through"; Studies in the History of Linguistics, Vol. 21; 1980; pg. 68. With kind permission by John Benjamins Publishing Company, Amsterdam/Philadelphia.

Archibald A. Hill

Archibald A. Hill was born in New York City, July 5, 1902. He received his Ph.D. in literature from Yale University in 1929, although his first academic appointment had been at the University of Michigan in 1926. In 1930 he became associate professor of English at the University of Virginia, where he remained until 1952. After serving as vice director of the Institute of Languages at Georgetown University from 1952 to 1955, he joined the faculty of the University of Texas, where he worked until his retirement in 1972. From 1950 to 1968 Hill served as secretary treasurer of the Linguistic Society of America.

A noted linguist, Hill published many essays and books including: "Phonetic and Phonemic Change," Language (1936); Introduction to Linguistic Structures: From Sound to Sentence in English (1958); Linguistics Today (1969); Constituent and Pattern in Poetry (1976); and "The Linguistic Society of America and North American Linguistics," in Historiographia Linguistica (1991).

Hill also owned the copyright to the song "Happy Birthday," which he inherited in 1935 from his two aunts who wrote the piece.

Archibald Hill died March 29, 1992, in Austin, Texas.


Image of Interviewer, Zora Neale Hurston
descriptive record icon  enlarge image icon Zora Neale Hurston, 1937. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division - Photograph. Reproduction number: LC-USZ62-126945 (b&w film copy neg.).

Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston, born in Eatonville, Florida, was a writer, anthropologist, and folklorist who received her training at Morgan Academy, Howard University, Barnard College, and Columbia University. Included among Hurston's many writings are three novels, Jonah's Gourd Vine (1934), Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), and Moses, Man of the Mountain (1939), and an autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road (1942). Some of the materials Hurston collected as a folklorist are included in the Library's motion picture, photographic, manuscript, and folklore divisions. For more about Hurston, see American Memory's Today in History and The Zora Neale Hurston Plays.


Image of Interviewer, Charles S. Johnson
descriptive record icon  enlarger image icon Portrait of Dr. Charles Johnson, date unknown. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division - Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection. Reproduction Number: LC-USW3-019352-C

Charles S. Johnson

Charles S. Johnson was born in Bristol, Virginia, on July 24, 1893. He attended Wayland Academy and received his undergraduate degree from Virginia Union University. Johnson completed his doctoral degree in 1917 at the University of Chicago. While a student in Chicago, Johnson assumed responsibility as director of research and investigation for the Chicago Urban League.

During World War I, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in France. Johnson returned to Chicago after the war, one week before the race riot of 1919. He completed a study and analysis of the race riot and a plan to study its causes. The governor of Illinois accepted his plan and appointed Johnson associate executive secretary of Chicago's Commission on Race Relations. In 1921, Johnson became the director of research for the National Urban League in New York, where he founded and edited Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life.

Johnson went to Fisk University in 1927 to head the Department of Research. His scholarly ability was recognized by awards and appointments, including the 1930 William E. Harmon Gold Medal for distinguished achievement among African Americans in the field of science. He served on the National Housing Commission under Herbert Hoover and on the U. S. Committee on Farm Tenancy under Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1934, he was elected the first African-American trustee of the Julius Rosenwald Fund and in 1937, he became the first African American elected vice president of the American Sociological Society.

When Fisk University created the Institute of Race Relations in 1944, Johnson was chosen to head it. In October 1946, the board of trustees chose Charles S. Johnson as the university's first African-American president. Johnson died in 1956.


Lewis Jones

Lewis Wade Jones was born in Cuero, Texas, on March 13, 1910. He received his A.B. degree from Fisk University in 1931 and followed it with postgraduate study as a Social Science Research Council Fellow at the University of Chicago in 1931-32. Jones then returned to Fisk, where he worked closely with Charles S. Johnson as a research assistant, supervisor of field studies, and instructor in the Department of Social Sciences from 1932 to 1942. During this period Jones was also a Julius Rosenwald Foundation Fund Fellow at Columbia University, where he was awarded an M.A. degree in 1939 and his Ph.D. in 1955. Jones, Johnson, and John Wesley Work III collaborated with the Library of Congress's Archive of American Folk Song on the Library of Congress/Fisk University Mississippi Delta Collection (AFC 1941/002).

In the spring of 1943, Jones, Work, and Willis Laurence James documented the folk festival at Fort Valley State College (now Fort Valley State University) in Fort Valley, Georgia (see the online collection Blues, Gospel, and the Fort Valley Music Festivals, 1938-1943). Almost immediately afterwards, Jones served three years in the U.S. Army and became a reports analyst for the domestic branch of the Bureau of Special Services, Office of War Information.

He was associate editor of the Negro Yearbook in 1952 and contributed articles to several journals. Jones spent much of the remainder of his career at Tuskegee Institute School of Education as assistant professor of sociology, director of research for the Rural Life Council, research coordinator, and professor. He was a consultant to a variety of organizations, including the Opportunities Industrialization Center, the Bureau of Social Science Research, and the U.S. Department of Labor.

At the time of his death in September 1979, Jones was a professor of sociology and director of the Tuskegee Institute Rural Development Center.


Roscoe E. Lewis

Roscoe E. Lewis was born in Washington, D.C., in 1904. In 1925, he received a bachelor's degree from Brown University. Two years later he was awarded a master's degree from Howard University. He taught chemistry at Hampton Institute from 1927 to 1942. In 1943 he joined the Social Sciences department at Hampton Institute and served as associate professor and department chairman until 1953. He remained a member of the faculty until 1961.

In 1936 Mr. Lewis became affiliated with the Works Progress Administration and the Virginia Writers' Project, directing a team of sixteen African-American workers who conducted more than 300 interviews of ex-slaves and compiled more than 1,300 "life histories." These materials formed the basis of The Negro in Virginia, which was published in 1940. Roscoe Lewis authored numerous articles in Phylon and other educational journals and contributed to The Negro Caravan, Lay My Burden Down, and A Treasury of Southern Folklore.

Mr. Lewis was a member of the Virginia Council of Social Work and the American Sociological Society, and was a fellow of the Southern Regional Council. He died in Hampton, Virginia, in 1961.


Image of Interviewer, Alan Lomax
descriptive record icon  enlarge image icon Alan Lomax, circa 1940. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Photomechanical print. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-121915

Alan Lomax

Alan Lomax, son of John A. Lomax, was born in Austin, Texas, on January 31, 1915. He was still a teenager when he began making field expeditions with his folksong-collecting father. Together they published American Ballads and Folk Songs (1934) and Our Singing Country (1941). On his own, Alan published The Folk Songs of North America (1960) and many other books.

In 1933, the Lomaxes began a mutually beneficial ten-year association with the Library of Congress. Alan became the first federally funded staff member of the Library's Archive of American Folk Song (1936), serving as "assistant in charge" from 1937 to 1942. He made collecting expeditions for the Library, produced a seminal series of documentary folk music albums entitled Folk Music of the United States, conducted interviews with performers such as Jelly Roll Morton, and over the years introduced Washington audiences to an array of folk musicians.

In the 1940s, Lomax hosted and produced a series of Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) radio broadcasts in New York for Columbia's School of the Air, on which he sang and presented performers such as Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and the Golden Gate Quartet. After leaving the Library of Congress, Lomax continued his career as an ethnomusicologist, author, radio broadcaster, filmmaker, concert and record producer, and television host. He traveled in the United States and abroad making documentary recordings, began a database of thousands of songs and dances that he called the "Global Jukebox," and founded the Association for Cultural Equity at Hunter College in New York City.

In 1986, he received the National Medal of Arts from the National Endowment for the Arts, and in 1993, he received the National Book Critics Circle award for nonfiction for his book The Land Where the Blues Began. Lomax retired in 1996 and died on July 19, 2002, in Sarasota, Florida.


Image of Interviewer, John Avery Lomax
descriptive record icon  enlarge image iconJohn Avery Lomax, Jasper, Texas, 1940. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division - Lomax Collection. Photograph. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-120994

John Avery Lomax

John Avery Lomax was born in Goodman, Mississippi, on September 23, 1867. He grew up on the Texas frontier, just north of Meridian in rural Bosque County. After teaching in rural schools for a few years, Lomax entered the University of Texas in 1895, specializing in English literature. After graduation, he worked at the University of Texas as registrar, manager of a men's dormitory, and personal secretary to the president of the university. In 1903, he accepted an offer to teach English at Texas A&M University.

In 1907, Lomax attended Harvard University as a graduate student, where he studied under Barrett Wendell and George Lyman Kittredge, two renowned scholars who actively encouraged his interest in cowboy songs. He published Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads in 1910. At around the same time, he co-founded the Texas Folklore Society with Professor Leonidas Payne of the University of Texas. From 1910 to 1917, Lomax taught at the University of Texas, but was one of several professors caught up in a political battle and subsequently fired. For the next fifteen years, he worked in a bank in Chicago.

Lomax revived his interest in American folksong in 1932, and began contributing field recordings to the Library of Congress (see The John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip). Over the next ten years, Lomax and his son Alan recorded some of the most important traditional performers in the history of American folklore, including the African-American singer and musician Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter. In 1934, Lomax was named honorary consultant and curator of the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library and later became an advisor in several capacities to the Works Progress Administration.

After retiring to Texas in the early 1940s, Lomax continued his collecting activities and his contacts with the Library of Congress. He died in 1948 in Dallas, Texas.


Image of Interviewer, Ruby Lomax
Ruby T. Lomax, date unknown. Photograph courtesy of The Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, Austin, Texas.

Ruby Lomax

Born in 1886 and raised in Denton, Texas, Ruby Terrill earned degrees at state colleges and the University of Texas at Austin, where she earned the highest grade average achieved by a woman at the university. She taught in rural and urban high schools and colleges in her home state, supporting herself while continuing her own studies. She worked toward a doctorate in classical languages by garnering a fellowship in Latin at the University of Texas for the academic year 1914-15 and taking summer courses for four years at the University of Chicago and two years at Columbia University.

In 1925, Terrill received an M.A. in classical languages from Columbia University, with a major in Latin and a minor in Greek, and soon after accepted the position of dean of women and associate professor of classical languages at the University of Texas at Austin.

In 1929, she joined with eleven other Texas women educators to found the Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, an honorary society dedicated to advancing the professional interests and position of women in education. She was nominated parliamentarian, guiding the society procedurally for its first four years, and eventually held a number of other positions, including first vice president (1933).

In 1934 Ruby married John A. Lomax, who was honorary consultant and curator of the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress. In 1937, she made her first recording trip, accompanying John on a tour of the Southern states and serving in several capacities including "chauffeur, valet, buffer, machine operator, disk-jockey, body-guard, doctor and nurse, wife and companion"-a combination of roles she would also assume on later occasions, including the 1939 Southern States Recording Trip

After John Lomax's death in 1948, Ruby Lomax remained in Texas until her own death in 1961.


Image of Interviewer, Guy Sumner Lowman

Guy S. Lowman, date unknown. Photograph courtesy of the Wisconsin State Journal, Madison, Wisconsin.

Guy Sumner Lowman

Guy Sumner Lowman was born in Columbia, Missouri, in 1909. He received a bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1929 and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of London in 1931. From 1931 to 1933 he was a Sterling Fellow at Yale University. He worked as chief field investigator for the Linguistic Atlas of the United States and Canada from 1931 to 1941, interviewing more than a thousand informants along the eastern seaboard of the United States and Canada. He was a member of the Modern Language Association and served as chairman of the phonetics section.

After his death in 1941, the University of Wisconsin established the Guy S. Lowman Scholarship to further research in linguistics.


Image of Interviewer, Robert Sonkin
descriptive record icon  large image icon Detail of Robert Sonkin from Will Neal playing fiddle being recorded by Todd and Sonkin, 1940. Library of Congress, American Folklife Center- The Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Worker Collection. Call Number: AFC 1985/001:P8-p1

Robert Sonkin

Robert Sonkin was born into an Orthodox Jewish family in the Bronx, New York, in 1911. He held degrees from both the City College of New York and Columbia University. Along with Charles L. Todd, he conducted ethnographic research among the migrant workers of California in 1940-41 for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) (see The Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Worker Collection, 1940-1941). Sonkin also documented the African-American community of Gee's Bend, Alabama, for the FSA. Drafted into the military during World War II, Sonkin served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps. At the end of the war, he returned to the City College of New York, where he founded the college's speech clinic. He retired in 1976, becoming professor emeritus of speech. Sonkin once again undertook a collaborative project with Todd during this period, resulting in the book Alexander Bryan Johnson: Philosophical Banker (1977). Robert Sonkin died in 1980.


Image of Interviewer, Elmer E. Sparks
Elmer E. Sparks, March, 1975. Photograph courtesy of Elmer E. Sparks and Family, San Antonio, Texas.

Elmer E. Sparks

Elmer E. Sparks was born near Princeton, Missouri, on August 21, 1898. He grew up in Boone County, Nebraska, and married in 1935. At that time, he was a farmer as well as a hunter and trapper.

In 1941, Sparks earned a civil-service appointment with the War Department in Washington, D.C. In 1943 he worked as a planner at Beech Aircraft Company, remaining there until the war ended. In 1946, Mr. Sparks moved to Canadian, Texas, where he ranched for the next twenty years.

Sparks was appointed to the Hemphill County, Texas, Historical Survey Committee in 1961 and became its chairman in 1966. A large-scale county map he prepared, marking 131 historical sites, currently hangs in the county courthouse.

After retiring in1966, Sparks continued his lifelong study of history. He died on August 26, 1985, in Canadian, Texas.


Image of Interviewer, Lorenzo Dow Turner
Lorenzo Dow Turner, date unknown. Photograph courtesy of Roosevelt University Library, Chicago, Illinois.

Lorenzo Dow Turner

Lorenzo Dow Turner was born in 1895 in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. He received his A.B (cum laude) from Howard University and an A.M. in English from Harvard in 1917. While a professor at Howard University, he earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of Chicago in 1926. In 1929 Turner became head of the Department of English at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. Shortly afterwards, at the Linguistic Society of America Summer Institute, he met Hans Kurath, director of the Linguistic Atlas of the United States and Canada project. Kurath later asked Turner to interview Gullah speakers in South Carolina and Georgia for the Atlas in 1932 and 1933, an assignment that led to Turner's ongoing interest in the language and culture of the Gullah region.

Turner left Fisk in 1946 to become professor of English at Roosevelt College in Chicago. Three years later he published Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect, the product of almost twenty years of research. In 1950 he received a Fulbright award to make recordings of thousands of proverbs, folk tales, riddles, and drumming from Nigeria and Sierra Leone. A selection of other published works include: The Krio Language of the Sierra Leone (1963); "The Interdisciplinary Aspects of Negro Studies" (1941); American Council of Learned Societies Bulletin 32; Anti-slavery Sentiment in American Literature Prior to 1865 (1966); and An Anthology of Krio Folklore and Literature: with Notes and Interlinear Translation in English (1963).

Turner was one of the pioneers in establishing African Culture Studies programs at universities in the United States. His studies of the Creole and Gullah dialects in the United States and their relationship to African languages have been recognized around the world.

Turner retired in 1970 and remained professor emeritus at Roosevelt University until his death in 1972.


Image of Interviewer, John W. Work
descriptive record icon enlarge image icon  John W. Work, The Peachite Vol. II, No. 2, Folk Festival Number, March 1944.

John Wesley Work III

John Wesley Work III was born in 1901 in Tullahoma, Tennessee. He was an educator, composer, and historian who came from a family of professional musicians. Work was educated at Fisk University, the Institute of Musical Art in New York City (now the Julliard School of Music), Columbia University and Yale University. He began working at Fisk University in 1927 and remained there until his retirement in 1966.

Work composed over 100 songs including The Singers (1946) and My Lord What a Morning (1956). He wrote the book American Negro Songs and Spirituals (1960) as well as "Plantation Meistersingers" in The Musical Quarterly (Jan. 1940), and "Changing Patterns in Negro Folksongs" in the Journal of American Folklore (Oct. 1940). In addition he served as director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers from 1947 to 1956. Work died in 1967. More information about John Wesley Work III is available in American Memory's "Now What a Time": Blues, Gospel, and the Fort Valley Music Festivals, 1938-1943.