The Library of Virginia

Legacies of the New Deal in Virginia
April 14, 2003 -
December 6, 2003


Recording Our History: Writers and Artists

  • Federal Writers' Project

  • Virginia Writers' Project-Virginia Guide

  • Life Histories

  • Ex-Slave Narratives

  • Virginia Historical Inventory

Art for the People

  • Capturing Virginians on Film

For Teachers


Ex-Slave Narratives

In November 1936, the Virginia Writers' Project formed an all-black unit under the direction of Roscoe E. Lewis. The objectives of the Virginia Negro Studies Project, based at Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) and consisting of sixteen workers, were to provide employment for educated African Americans on relief and to collect and publish material on African American life in Virginia from Jamestown to the present. During the next year more than 300 former slaves were interviewed. The interviews, plus research in libraries and courthouses, resulted in the publication of The Negro in Virginia in 1940.

Recording Spirituals Sung by Ex-Slaves, Petersburg

Recording Spirituals Sung by Ex-Slaves, Petersburg

From 1937 to 1942, Lewis and members of the Negro Studies Project made approximately 200 recordings in and around Hampton, Newport News, and Petersburg. Although many of these were narratives and stories of former slaves, Lewis and his group captured performances of some musicians, including quartets, choirs, blues singers, and former slaves singing in groups and individually. The Virginia Writers' Project collected texts of more than 2,700 songs.