Meet Melinda Parker. Sometime between 1936 and 1940, armies of writers and photographers with the Federal Writers’ Project and the Folklore Project were sent all over the U.S. to collect personal histories. Some are strictly informational while others, like this one, contain recorded narrative. Sometimes the interviewers are identified, but not this one. Melinda Parker’s voice is the only one we hear.
From American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940, housed in the Library of Congress. The collection is vast, containing
“2,900 documents representing the work of over 300 writers from 24 states. Typically 2,000-15,000 words in length, the documents consist of drafts and revisions, varying in form from narrative to dialogue to report to case history. The histories describe the informant’s family education, income, occupation, political views, religion and mores, medical needs, diet and miscellaneous observations. Pseudonyms are often substituted for individuals and places named in the narrative texts.”
Not all of the documents are online. Not all of the states are represented, including Arkansas. I have managed to find a small collection of WPA/Federal Writers’ Project documents house at the University of Arkansas as “WPA: Early Settlers’ Personal Histories of African Americans in Arkansas.” Sadly, most of these are thin on narrative and heavy on “report.”
I’m just thankful Mrs. Parker’s voice was recorded in these anonymously typed pages.