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The South: Culture and History: African-Americans

This library guide is designed for researchers studying any topics related to the South's culture and history.


You can use the Libraries' Catalog to find books at UA.  However, you can also use WorldCat and Google Books to search for books outside of UA.

Scout--Use the online catalog to locate book and journal holdings for all of the University Libraries.  Please note the Hoole Special Collection contains many materials that are not cataloged.

Other book finders:

WorldCat--searches the catalogs of thousands of Libraries across the United States.  You can use Interlibrary Loan to order many books that are not available at UA. 

Google Books--find citations to thousands of online books.  Some charge a fee, but others are fully available online for free.

Journal Articles

Academic Search Premier -Very useful for starting an article search.  Contain citations and full-text entries from hundreds of scholarly and popular periodicals.

America: History and Life-the premier database for secondary sources in American history. 

ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials—useful for studying African-American churches.

Black Studies Center-a "one-stop shop" offering primary and secondary sources on African-American history.

Google Scholar--University of Alabama's portal for Google Scholar.  Google Scholar is a special part of Google that only finds scholarly articles.  As a UA student, you can access the texts of many of these articles by clicking the links that say "Full-Text @ UAlabama".

JSTOR-contains thousands of articles from key journals in history, political science, sociology, women's studies, and African studies.

Plantation Records

Many owners kept records on their plantations that described the lives of the slaves.  Plantation records included Day Journals (a log of each day's activities), rules of the plantation, Wills, Bibles (owners often kept track of slave births, marriages, and deaths in their Bibles), inventories of slaves, accounts of doctor visits, letters, and Master's Records (diaries).  Here are a few resources:

Rules for overseers on southern plantations--one plantation owner's rules for managing slaves.

Slave Data Collection--learn about the treatment and status of slaves by reading some of these wills and inventories.

The UA Libraries also have a massive collection of plantation records stored in the Annex along with some guides.  Please ask a librarian about these!

The Papers of Martin Luther King Jr.

You can listen to or read many of Martin Luther King Jr.'s sermons, speeches, letters, and other materials through the King Papers Project site.

General Collections

African-American Mosaic-a Library of Congress resource guide for the study of African-American history and culture. Documents on colonization, abolition, migration, and civil rights.

American Slave Narratives: An Online Anthology--this database offers interviews conducted with thousands of former slaves in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration. Read primary accounts of slave family life, religion, music, art, and work.  Another site offering WPA interviews is Born in Slavery.  However, Gorgas Library also offers many, many more of the WPA slave interviews in print.  The title of the collection is The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography (please note there is an index vcolume at the end of the set that will help you pinpoint narratives on your topic).

The Black Past: An Online Reference Guide to African American History--3000 pages of material on the history of Africans.  Offers a lot on the Americas, but it also has a global perspective.  Offers many full-text primary sources (as well as secondary sources).

Documenting the American South--A collection of primary sources on Southern history, literature and culture from the colonial period through the first decades of the 20th century. It is organized into the projects listed above. The Academic Affairs Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill sponsors DAS, and the texts come primarily from its Southern holdings.

Early English Books Online--(EEBO) "contains copies of virtually every book printed in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and British North America and works in English printed elsewhere from 1473-1700" - useful for studying slavery in the colonial South.

Eighteenth Century Collections Online--(ECCO) a digitized library of approximately 138,000 books published in Great Britain in the eighteenth century, useful resource for studying slavery in the early days of the South.

Evans Digital Edition--(Early American Imprints, Series I)--excellent collection of primary sources for Southern history topics from 1639-1800.   "Serves as the foundation for research on every aspect of 17th and 18th century American life".  Find sermons, books, letters, pamphlets discussing slavery.

Freedmen and Southern Society Project--a variety of slave interviews, petitions, letters, military documents, testimonies, and other materials related to slavery in America.

 Google Books--find thousands of online books.  Please be sure to set the "Publication Date" appropriately.  Also, you may wish to set "Full view only" to limit your search to noyl free, full-text works. 

In Motion: The African American Migration Experience--database dedicated to the African Diaspora.  Focuses on voluntary African migrations from Africa to the Americas, and between different parts of the Americas. 

Museum of the African Diaspora--a treasure trove of online exhibits, photographs, and slave narratives.

Primary Sources in African American History--"Sources include scholarly and reference articles, contemporary accounts, manuscripts, laws, court cases, speeches, photographs, and political cartoons."

Sabin Americana, 1500-1926--"contains works about the Americas published throughout the world from 1500 to the early 1900's. Included are books, pamphlets, serials and other documents that provide original accounts of exploration, trade, colonialism, slavery and abolition."

Slavery & Anti-Slavery:  A Transnational Archive--"varied sources shed light on the: Abolitionist movement and conflicts within it; Anti- and pro-slavery arguments of the period; Debates on the subject of colonization; And more. The resource strongly supports research with a U.S. focus, but also includes resources from Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean – allowing for comparative research. Developed under the guidance of a board of scholars, this new digital archive explores all facets of the controversy with a focus on economic, gender, legal, religious and government issues."

African-American Newspapers

African American Newspapers, 1827-1998 --includes the full text of more than 270 historically significant African American newspapers, published in 36 states.

African American Newspapers: The 19th Century --includes Freedom’s Journal, 1827-1829 (New York, NY); Provincial Freeman, 1854-1857 (Chatham, Canada West); The Colored American Weekly Advocate, 1837-1841 (New York, NY); The North Star, 1847-1851 (Rochester, NY); Frederick Douglass Paper, 1851-1859 (Rochester, NY); The Christian Recorder, 1861-1902; The National Era, 1847-1860 (Washington, D.C.); South Carolina Gazette (1732-1751); Virginia Gazette (1736-1780).

Black Studies Center-offers articles from leading African-American newspapers from the 1900s.

Ethnic NewsWatch--limit your search to "African-American" using the "Ethnic Group" feature in the center of the screen.  You will then be able to search African-American newspapers from 1985-present.

Many years of the Birmingham World  (the leading African-American paper of Alabama) are available on microfilm on the second floor of Gorgas Library at Z1 .W65.  Please ask at the Circulation Desk for assistance.


You can use images as primary sources just like textual documents.  For great ideas on interpreting images that you find, please see this History Matters page, and this page from Library of Congress.  In addition to searching in Google Images and newspapers from a historical period, here are some excellent online collections that you can help you find images to interpret:

American Memory  Project--Gateway to rich primary source materials relating to the history and culture of the United States. Particularly noted for its images and multimedia.

ARTstor--over a million historical images, including propaganda posters, artwork, newspaper illustrations, cartoons, photographs, maps, pictures of artifacts and historical costumes. Picutres of the civil rights movement, the Civil War, famous Southerners, and more.

Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas--over a thousand images from the slave era.

CAMIO: Catalog of Art Museum Images Online--premier resource of high-quality art images from around the world contributed and described by leading museums, all rights-cleared for educational use. Every work in CAMIO is represented by at least one high-resolution image and a description. Many have additional views of the work, sound, video and curatorial notes.

Images of the American Civil War: Photographs, Posters and Ephemera--"presents the dramatic imagery of nineteenth-century Americana as experienced from the social, political, and military perspectives…At completion, Images of the American Civil War will contain 75,000 images."

Life Photo Archive--millions of photos from a popular magazine that documented many events of the American South and the rest of the world during the twentieth century.

Natural Museum of American History--examine artifacts without having to travel to the museum!

New York Public Library Digital Gallery--"vast collections, including historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints, photographs and more"

Smithsonian Research Images--over 400,000 images or multimedia clips from the Smithsonian.

Laws and Government Documents

Congressional--provides U.S. federal laws, bills, agency reports, and other government documents from 1789--1969. 

Congressional Serial Set--includes Congressional reports and documents as well as executive agency and departmental reports related to slavery.

Freedmen's Bureau Records--created by Congress in 1865, the Freedmen's Bureau aimed to improved the lives of former slaves. 

HeinOnline--provides access to the Congressional Record, the official record of debates in Congress, that lets you read the actual debates over slavery.  Also includes the full-text of legal periodical articles, Supreme Court opinions, U.S. Attorney General opinions, treaties and international agreements, and the Federal Register. You can track how American and British laws on slavery changed over time.

Virginia Statutes on Slaves and Servants--read the laws regarding slavery from the 1600s.

African-American Museums

You can uncover the history and literature of African-Americans by visiting museums.  You don't always have to travel in person; you can visit many museums online to find sources. 

The Murphy-Collins House here in Tuscaloosa is the site of an African-American museum.

The Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery celebrates the accomplishments of Ms. Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

The Museum of the African Diaspora is a treasure trove of online exhibits, photographs, and slave narratives.

Birmingham, AL was a center for the civil rights movement in the South.  Visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, online or in person, to learn more.

Ship Manifests

Manifests were documents listing information about the slaves being transported on ships.

Transatlantic Slave Trade Database--offers information on 35,000 slaving voyages.  Find information about particular slaving ships, statistics about the slave trade, and names of individual Africans.

Inward Slave Manifests 1818-1860--manifests pulled from the records of the U.S. Customs Services in New Orleans.

Selected Print Reference Sources

The following titles are located in the Gorgas Library Reference Room on the second floor.

The African American National Biography,ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Evelyn Brooks-Higginbotham. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History: The Black Experience in the Americas, ed. Colin A. Palmer. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2006

Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, ed. Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Encyclopedia of African American Society, ed. Gerald D. Jaynes. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2005.

The Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Civil Rights: From Emancipation to the Twenty-First Century, ed. Charles D. Lowery and John F. Marszalek. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2003.