The Works Progress Administration became the Work Projects Administration (WPA) and was the largest and most ambitious of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal agencies. It began its official work in Arkansas on July 8, 1935, taking over from the Arkansas Emergency Relief Administration (ERA). Also in 1935 the Arkansas Federal Writer's Project was created to focus on the history of Arkansas as part of the American Guide series. Publications such as these would give points of interest from each state. Topics on agriculture, geography and geology, history, Indians, industry, place names, and transportation were covered. Bernie Babcock became the first director of the Arkansas Federal Writer's Project program; she also served as the first director of the Historical Records Survey in Arkansas until it became a separate program in October 1936. The Work Projects Administration's final report for Arkansas was completed on March 1, 1943. During its operations, it expended more than $116,000,000 on employment programs, paved over 11,000 miles of roads, built over 600 new public schools, and repaired many others.
The programs were scaled down shortly after the United States' entry into World War II and liquidated in 1943. Arkansas’s records were retrieved by Dr. John L. Ferguson from the basement of the State Capitol building with the permission of Kelley Bryant, Secretary of State, Little Rock, Arkansas, about 1963.
One of the avenues of focus for the Federal Writer’s Project was collecting and transcribing oral histories from former slaves living in the southern and border states. From 1937 to 1939 interviewers covered seventeen states in an effort to document as many histories as possible. Working under the direction of Bernie Babcock, twenty interviewers worked to record the lives of former slaves living in Arkansas. The entire ex-slave narrative project generated over 2,300 related documents. Arkansas provided thirty-three percent of the narratives, far exceeding any other state participating in the project. The interviews conducted in Arkansas included representation from every slave state, providing insight not only into the conditions within the state of Arkansas, but also a more complete picture of slavery within the South as a whole.
Interview of ex-slave, Mose Banks, by Pernella M. Anderson with the Work Projects Administration, about Banks' life as a slave.
2 letter-sized pages
slavery; education; living conditions; railroads; religion; treatment; work
El Dorado, Union County (Ark)
MS.000149, Mose Banks
Arkansas History Lesson Plans Supplementary Materials
Pernella M. Anderson
Arkansas State Archives
Work Projects Administration: Federal Writers' Project, Ex-Slave Narratives, MS.000149, Mose Banks, Arkansas State Archives, Little Rock, Arkansas
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