Cornell professor’s book ‘Long Past Slavery’ just released

Cornell College Professor of History Catherine Stewart’s book has just been published by the University of North Carolina Press this month.

Professor Catherine Stewart is the author of "Long Past Slavery"
Professor Catherine Stewart is the author of “Long Past Slavery”

Stewart wrote “Long Past Slavery: Representing Race in the Federal Writers’ Project” based on her research at a number of archives including the National Archives and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Stewart also conducted interviews with historic figures, like the author and folklorist Stetson Kennedy.

Stewart’s book tells the story of the Federal Writers’ Ex-Slave Project, which was a New Deal effort to interview the last generation of ex-slaves during the Great Depression. The start of the Project in 1936 coincided with the nation’s seventy-fifth anniversary of the Civil War. As a result, the Ex-Slave Project was fraught with conflict over which version of the past would be valorized as part of the nation’s official public memory. The interviews themselves became a forum for debating African American identity and citizenship in the 1930s, at a time when racial segregation and lynching still predominated.

The Cornell College professor was inspired to start writing this book while in graduate school at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Stewart recalls one of her professors suggesting that she look at the collection of interviews with former slaves. Stewart wanted to find out what was behind the variety of ex-slave narratives.

“By the 1930s, the last living generation of African Americans who had experienced slavery were in their nineties, and some were over 100-years-old,” Stewart said. “There was a sense of urgency about gathering their testimony before they passed away. If you browse this large collection of ex-slave narratives, which is now available online, one of the things you will notice is how much variety there is in terms of the stories that get told, as some former slaves recall benevolent masters and kind treatment and express nostalgia for slavery, while others provide detailed accounts of the brutality and the inhumane system of slavery.”

Stewart has strong hopes that readers will learn from her work.

“Certainly one message is how difficult it has been historically for African Americans to tell and write their own histories and document their own experiences in the face of persistent racial discrimination that often manifests itself as white skepticism, disbelief, and dismissal of those experiences and history,” Stewart said. “It is still very difficult today for many Americans to converse openly and honestly about the past of slavery and its legacy. I think the history of the ex-slave project has much to tell us about why these conversations about the past of slavery remain so challenging today.”

People can purchase the book on Amazon

Stewart also wrote two guest blogs about the book. One has already been released.

For more information, contact Cornell College Public Relations Director Jill Hawk at 319.895.4232 or email