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1. A Big Listening Project

1. A Big Listening Project

1. A Big Listening Project

1. A Big Listening Project

2. A New Kind of History

Episode Summary

The Federal Writers’ Project set out to create a series of books that held up a mirror to America, and chronicled communities that had long been ignored. Howard University professor Sterling Brown led the agency’s effort to document African American history in a series of books. In Virginia, chemistry professor Roscoe Lewis led a small team to produce the first book in that national series, titled The Negro in Virginia.  Lewis recruited a dozen Black writers and researchers across the state for a pioneering effort that recorded interviews with nearly 300 formerly enslaved people. They navigated a backlash from state editors and local officials. Against all odds, their book on Black life became a national Book-of-the-Month Club selection, and a milestone on the path to the Civil Rights movement.

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Audrey Davis, historian

Julian Hayter, historian

Gregg Kimball, historian

Kiki Petrosino, poet

Further Reading

The Negro in Virginia (Library of Virginia)

White Blood by Kiki Petrosino

The Dream Is Lost by Julian Hayter

Long Past Slavery by Catherine A. Stewart

To Walk About in Freedom by Carole Emberton


Hosted by: Chris Haley

Director: Andrea Kalin

Producers: Andrea Kalin, David A. Taylor and James Mirabello

Writer: David A. Taylor

Editors: Ethan Oser and Julie Chalhoub

Story Editing: Michael May

Additional voices provided by:

Skip Coblyn, Sherry Carter-Brownell, Robert Mirabello, Danielle Nance and James Mirabello

Featuring music and archival material from:


Library of Congress

National Archives
Library of Virginia


Produced with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and Virginia Humanities

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