Friday, May 20, 2011

"I was wearing the name of Lewis Smith"

Portrait of Dick Barnett and his wife, date unknown.
(Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, RG 15)
A fascinating article. . .

Winter 2005, Vol. 37, No. 4
Voices of Emancipation:
Union Pension Files Giving Voice to Former Slaves

By Donald R. Shaffer and Elizabeth Regosin
© 2005 by Donald R. Shaffer and Elizabeth Regosin
Civil War pension files have the potential to rival the more famous WPA narratives of ex-slaves in offering evidence on the experiences of 19th-century African Americans from a black point of view. In fact, based on when the information was collected—mainly between the 1880s and 1910s—they are arguably superior. Civil War pension files are much more contemporaneous to the experiences of slavery, the Civil War, and their aftermath than the WPA narratives, which were not gathered until the mid-to-late 1930s. Many pension files include in-depth interviews of former slaves by special examiners for the purpose of clarifying information on such issues as military service, identity, health and disability, marital and family relationships, employment, economic circumstances, and previous ownership. The depositions are often quite effective in giving a voice to former slaves, allowing them the opportunity to talk about their lives and provide important clues about how they saw the world.
 Read the full article here

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