Oral Histories

photo John W. Fields in 1937
John W. Fields in 1937

One of the goals of this project is to collect as many source documents as possible that pertain to slavery in Kentucky, the initial focus of our series. Perhaps the most powerful of these are the first-person testimonials of the enslaved themselves.  

Unfortunately, there are no known audio or video recordings of formerly enslaved Kentuckians, but there were numerous print interviews that were done in the 1930s, some by African American scholars affiliated with Fisk University, most by writers and folklorists associated with the WPA Writers’ Project. 

You can browse and access these oral histories in the searchable table below, with links available to complete interview transcripts. 

Interview Context and Dialect

Most of the oral histories featured on the Reckoning website come from the WPA Slave Narratives collection.  Between 1936 and 1938, the Federal Writers’ Project, a part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), collected over 2,300 first-person accounts of enslavement.


Please note that most of the interviewers were white (only about 17% were African American). As a result some interviewees may have depicted slavery in a positive light so as to not offend their white interviewer and/or challenge the racial hierarchy. Additionally, many of the interviewers chose to use Black dialect when transcribing the words of the formerly enslaved (including some African American WPA interviewers). Other interviewers chose to use standard English, rather than dialect, when transcribing the interviews they conducted.


Because of the different ways the interviewers chose to transcribe their interviews, we decided to standardize the transcriptions using standard English (e.g., master instead of massathem instead of dem). We made this choice as many uses of dialect lead to the speaker being perceived as ignorant. We wanted to emphasize the content of these oral histories, rather than have the interviewers’ transcription choices distract readers.


To learn more about the WPA Slave Narratives project, please visit the Library of Congress website.

Read any Oral History by clicking on the linked name. You can browse the interviews, use the search option, or sort the table by column: Name, Sex, County, City of Birth, State of Birth, or Name of Enslaver(s).

NameSexKY CountyCity of BirthState of BirthName of Enslaver(s)
Adah Isabelle SuggsFHendersonHendersonKYCol. Jackson McClain, Louisa McClain
Albert ToddMLoganRussellvilleKYCapt. Hudson
Alex SmithMKYRobert Stubblefield
Alex WoodsonMHartWoodsonvilleKYSterrett, Tom Williams
Amanda Elizabeth SamuelsFRobinson CountyTNRobert McMurry, Rev. Carter Plaster
Amelia JonesFClayManchesterKYDaw White
America MorganFBallardKYClark Rudd, Meda Rudd, Utterback
Amy Elizabeth PattersonFTriggCadizKYJohn Street
Angie BoyceFAdairKYJames Breeding
Ann GudgelFAnderson CountyBall
Anna Toll SmithFHendersonHendersonKYJudge Toll
Annie B BoydFChristianGordonsvilleKYCharles Cammack, Newton Catlett
Annie MorganFPayne
Armstead BarrettMHuntsvilleTXStafford Barrett
Arnold GragstonMMasonKYJack Tabb
Barney StoneMSpencerKYLemuel Stone
Belle RobinsonFGarrardLancasterKYNancy Graham, Harrison and Mrs. Brady
Bert MayfieldMGarrardBryantsvilleKYSmith Stone
Betty GuwnFTriggCantonKY
Betty JonesFHendersonHendersonKYJohn Alvis
Billy Slaughter MLarueHodgenvilleKYLincoln
Callie WilliamsFHiram McLemore
Carl BooneMMarionKYMiley Boone
Carolyn WrightFJones CreekLAHays White, Miss Muriel, Dr. Warren, Annien Wortham
Celia HendersonFHardinKYGrohagen
Charles AndersonMNelsonBloomfieldKYIsaac and Davis Stone
Charles GreenMMasonKYWallingsford
Charlie RichmondMJudge Richmond
Clay ReavesMEdmond Reaves
Dan BogieMGarrardCrockery TownshipKYBob Wheeler, Arch Wheeler
Dulcina Baker MartinFClarkWinchesterKYJack Rutledge
Easter Sudie CampbellFCaldwellPrincetonKYWill Grooms
Edd ShirleyMWalden
Eli ColemanMKYGeorge Brady
Elizabeth AlexanderF
Elizabeth SmithFKYPeter Stubblefield
Ellen CaveFTaylorKY
Frank CooperMLincolnKYGood, Burton, Cooper
George Conrad, Jr.MHarrisonConnersvilleKYJoe Conrad
George DorseyMOwenOwentonKYSammy Duvall
George FordmanMTriggAlabamaKYFord George
George HendersonMWoodfordVersaillesKYMilford Twiman
George MorrisonMUnionMorganfieldKYRay
George ScruggsMCallowayMurrayKYVol Scruggs
George ThompsonMMonroeKYManfred Furgeson
George Washington BucknerMGreenKYStanton Buckner, Dickie Buckner
Hannah DavidsonFBallardKYEmmett Meriwether
Harriet MasonFGarrardBryantsvilleKYBriar M Jones, Gano
Henry LongMLoganRussellvilleKYGabe Long
Jane SimpsonFCumberlandBurkesvilleKYChris Ellis, John Emerson, Jessie Cook, Dr. Hart
Jenny McKeeFTXMartha Tillet
Joana OwensFHancockHawesvilleKYNolan Barr
Joe MayesMKYFrank Mayes, Isaac Trimble
Joe RobinsonMMasonKYGus Hargill
John EubanksMBarronGlasgowKYEverrett, Tony Eubanks
John GravesMDr. Jim Gibbs
John PattersonMMcCrackenPaducahKYArthur Patterson
John R CoxMDr. David Cox
John RuddMWashingtonSpringfieldKYBenjamin Simms , Henry & Jane Moore
John W FieldsMOwensburgINDavid Hill
Joseph AllenMCumberlandKYMatt Allen, Eliza Allen, Mett Allen
Joseph MosleyMChristianHopkinsvilleKYTim Mosley
Joseph RingoMMasonKYJohn French
Julia BowmanFWoodfordKYJoel W Twyman
Julia King Julia WardFJeffersonLouisvilleKY
Kate BillingsbyFChristianKYFrank Buckner, Sarah Buckner
Kate Dudley BaumontFBathKYMr. Preston
Kisey McKimmFBourbonKYJacob Sandusky
Lucy Ann WarfieldFJessamineKYScott, Perry
Lucy DavisFFultonHickmanKYJoe Mott
Lula ChambersFGallatinKYDave Lillard
Lulu WilsonFMammoth CaveKYWashington Hodges
M. S. FaymanFSaint-NazaireLAPierce Buckran Haynes
Madison BruinMFayetteJack and Addie Curtis
Mary CraneFLarueKYWattie Williams
Mary Jane MooremanFHartfordKYCharles Wickliffe Mooreman
Mary WooldridgeFWashingtonKYBob Eaglin, Thomas McElroy
Mary WrightFChristianGraceyKYJames Coleman
Matthew HumeMTrimbleKYDaniel Payne
Mrs PrestonFFranklinFrankfortBrown
Mrs. Sam DuncanFKY
Nannie EavesFMcClainKYWilliam Eaves
Parthena RollinsFScottKYEd Duvalle
Patsy Jane BlandFShelbyKY
Peter BrunerMClarkWinchesterKYJohn Bell Bruner
Rachel GainesFToddKYDr. Bainbridge Dickerson
Richard MillerMBoyleDanvilleKY
Robert GlennMOrangeHillsboroNCBob Hall, William Moore
Robert HowardMClarkClareKYChelton Howard
Samuel Bell MKYJohn Bell
Samuel LyonsMBourbonSawhill StationKYEvall
Samuel SuttonMFloydGarrettKYBallinger
Samuel WatsonMWebsterClayKYThomas Watson
Sarah Frances Shaw GravesFJeffersonLouisvilleKYJimmie Shaw
Sarah H LockeFWoodfordKYJacob Keephart
Sarah WaggonerFGraysonKYJim Howard
Scott MitchellMChristianKYCaptain Hester
Sebert DouglasMMarionLebanonKYGover Hood
Sophia WordFWilliam Reid
Susan Dale SandersFSpencerTaylorsvilleKYRueben Dale, Susan Lovell
Thomas AshMAndersonKYCharles Ash
Thomas LewisMSpencerKY
Thomas McIntireMBathKYJim Lane
Tony MorganMBoyleDanvilleKYH Toulmin
Walter RimmMTX
Watt JordanMFlemingKYDick Spencer, Jordan
Wes WoodsMGarrardCartersvilleEliza Kennedy
Will OatsMWayneKYLewis Oats
William Ball WIlliams IIIMGreenGreensburgKYRobert Ball
William EmmonsMNicholasKYRoy Emmons, Riggs
William M QuinnMHardinKYSteve Stone