September 25, 2009
Elizabeth Blevins, Director, Office of Communications
Office: (740) 351-3810; FAX: (740) 351-3179; Cell: (740) 464-4854
940 Second Street – Portsmouth, Ohio 45662
Web site: www.shawnee.edu
Slave Narratives presented at
Shawnee State University’s Kahl Theatre
In the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA)
launched numerous projects to bring relief to the
unemployed. In addition to the thousands of construction
projects, the WPA’s Federal Writers Project provided
employment to authors, editors and folklorists to record the
life histories of everyday Americans who were living through
the Great Depression. More than 10,000 oral history
interviews were collected. Among those stories were
interviews of former slaves.
Dr. Andrew Lee Feight, associate professor in Social
Sciences at Shawnee State University and lead scholar with
the “Soul of a People” project at Shawnee State University,
wrote and directed a program with four people representing
the people interviewed in the project on Thursday, Sept. 17
at Shawnee State University’s Kahl Theatre. Feight played
the part of the interviewer.
“These interviews have proven to be invaluable historical
resources for the study of slavery and emancipation,” Feight
said. “The WPA interviews with former slaves and other
Americans captured the “voice of a people’s history” in a
time of economic struggle and they provide us a means of
better understanding who we are as Americans. They remind us
that we too, no matter how low or what little status we may
have in today’s world, we are nonetheless living lives
worthy of notice and full of value.”
James Childers, played by Eric O’Neil, was born in
Chambersburg, Ky., spent most of his life on a cattle ranch.
He described his log cabin home and his childhood – from the
homespun clothes to farming to the kinds of foods his family
Matt Mathews portrayed Charles Anderson who was born in 1845
in Richmond, Va. He and his mother, father and 13 brothers
and sisters were slaves. He was over 90 years old when he
Aundrea “Drea” Perkins portrayed Tempie Cummins, of Jasper,
Texas, did not know how old she was but she did remember
when the slaves were freed. She talked about her life as a
slave – deprived of food and clothing and brutal whippings.
Her mother escaped with her when the slaves were freed but
the slave owner did not want to let them free and shot at
them as they ran away.
The last interview was with a man who would not reveal his
name portrayed by Brian Richards. He was described as a
“high-strung sidewalk intellectual” with a mouth “twisted
between self-pity and bitter contempt.”
“Voices of a People’s History: Readings from the WPA Oral
Histories” was produced with grant of the National Endowment
for the Humanities and the American Library Association.
SSU’s library was one of only 30 libraries across the
country to receive the grant.
In the photo from left, are Brian Richards who played a part
of a “sidewalk intellectual” whose name was not revealed,
Matt Matthews who played the part of Charles Anderson, Eric
O’Neil who played the part of James Childers, Aundrea “Drea”
Perkins who played the part of Temple Cummins, and the
interviewer, Andrew Feight.