Stewart presents book talk at Newberry Library

Professor of History Catherine Stewart will give a talk on her book, “Long Past Slavery: Representing Race in the Federal Writers’ Project,” at the Newberry Library in Chicago at 6 p.m. on March 15. The event is open and free to the public.

Catherine Stewart, professor of history at Cornell College.
Catherine Stewart, professor of history at Cornell College.

From 1936 to 1939, the New Deal’s Federal Writers’ Project collected life stories from more than 2,300 former African American slaves. In examining the project and its legacy, Stewart shows it was the product of competing visions of the past, as ex-slaves’ memories of bondage, emancipation, and life as freedpeople were used to craft arguments for and against full inclusion of African Americans in society.

According to the Newberry Library’s event description:

“Dr. Stewart demonstrates how project administrators, such as the folklorist John Lomax; white and black interviewers, including Zora Neale Hurston; and the ex-slaves themselves fought to shape understandings of black identity. She reveals that some influential project employees were also members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, intent on memorializing the Old South. Dr. Stewart places ex-slaves at the center of debates over black citizenship to illuminate African Americans’ struggle to redefine their past as well as their future in the face of formidable opposition.

“By shedding new light on a critically important episode in the history of race, remembrance, and the legacy of slavery in the United States, Dr. Stewart compels readers to rethink a prominent archive used to construct that history.”