Date of Award

Fall 12-15-2012

Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program




Major Professor

Mary Niall Mitchell

Second Advisor

Andrea Mosterman

Third Advisor

Michael Mizell-Nelson


In 1936, Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) employees began interviewing formerly enslaved men and women, allowing them to speak publicly of their experiences under slavery. Defying racism and the repressions of Jim Crow, ex-slaves discussed intimate details of their lives. Many researchers considered these interviews unreliable, but if viewed through the lens of gender and analyzed using recent scholarship on slavery and sexuality, FWP interviews offer new insights into the lives of enslaved men and women. Using a small number of ex-slave interviews, most of them drawn from Louisiana, this thesis demonstrates the value of these oral histories for understanding the sexual lives of enslaved men and women. These interviews expose what we would otherwise have little access to: the centrality of struggles over enslaved people’s sexuality and reproduction to the experience of enslavement and the long-term effects of these struggles on the attitudes of slavery’s survivors.


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