Mapping Columbia's Slave Narratives

View Fullscreen

In the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) paid workers to interview formerly enslaved African Americans as part of its Folklore Project. These interviews resulted in the Slave Narrative Collection, a compilation of autobiographical accounts of formerly enslaved Americans that provide us with critical insight into life during and after slavery. 

Many WPA workers in Columbia, South Carolina recorded the current residence of interviewees as well as where they were born. This project uses this information to trace the movements of the Folklore Project respondents from slavery to freedom. Some moved north, while others simply moved from the country plantations of Fairfield and Richland Counties into the City of Columbia. Once within city limits, freedpeople were increasingly limited to Black-only neighborhoods which are no longer standing, as they were marked as "blight" and slated for demolition as part of the urban renewal process. 

How to navigate this site:

First, select the full screen option.

Click on the name of each respondent to view their paths from slavery to their residences circa 1936. Selecting particular street addresses will generate more information on this place of residence, often accompanying with images of the streets as they looked before marked for "renewal."

Select the layers tab in the top right corner to toggle between today's map and the map of Columbia in 1940. 

Works Referenced

Map of Fairfield Co., South Carolina. Balis Earl Elkin and William Barnes Elkin. Philadelphia: J.L. Smith, 1876. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

Federal Writers' Project: Slave Narrative Project, Vol. 14, South Carolina, Parts 1-4. 1936. Retrieved from the Library of Congress. 

"Joseph E. Winter (1920-1992) Photograph Collection. South Caroliniana Library and Univiersity Libraries Digital Collection, Columbia, South Carolina.

Richland County, 1972. South Carolina Department of Transportation County Road Maps Digital Collection, University of South Carolina Government Information and Maps Department, Columbia, South Carolina.

Map of 239 metropolitan street name duplications.The Columbia Record. 1940. University of South Carolina Libraries Digital Collections and South Caroliniana Library, Columbia, South Carolina.

This project is ongoing and subject to change. For questions, please contact project author Melissa DeVelvis at