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June 02, 1996|CHARLES SOLOMON

THE WPA OKLAHOMA SLAVE NARRATIVES edited by T. Lindsay Baker & Julie P. Baker (University of Oklahoma Press: $24.95; 543 pp., illustrated, paperback original). Between 1937 and 1939, participants in the WPA Writers' Project in Oklahoma interviewed dozens of aged African Americans about their memories of slavery. Edited and assembled for the first time, these oral histories document that shameful practice. Although the interviewers transcribed their conversations in thick dialect, the broken English does not weaken the descriptions of men and women being bought and sold like animals, of overseers whipping recaptured runaways, then rubbing salt and pepper into their bleeding welts. Robert H. Burns offers a stinging rebuttal to revisionists who argue that American slavery was an essentially benign practice: "Now dat slavery is over I wish and hope dat God would treat dem slave owners as dey did us when they get in hell."

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