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WPA Slave Narratives, Slavery in America, African-American Slaves

Howell's Present Careers

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In the beginning...

While doing research in government archives, Ms. Howell began reading some of the slave testimonies that were stored in about six archives throughout America. The passion grew until she was studying almost daily for hours.

Soon, she began research on a full-time basis. She spent five days each week in research facilities from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. for almost a year before she decided exactly which path her self-appointed mission would take.

Then, the work time really increased. The result is an on-going series of 24 books entitled I WAS A SLAVE.

“I put everything that I had learned about project management, book publication, and national publicity during the previous decades to good use. All of my career experiences had prepared me for this worthwhile mission and I happily worked in research rooms and my office for 12-18 hours per day for six days per week. Soon, my books became well-known nationally and were established as international great-sellers by the time that the sixth book was published.”

Donna Wyant Howell


Donna Wyant Howell is a widely recognized historian in the testimonies of thousands of former slaves who were interviewed by the US government in the 1930s. She is proclaimed as a primary expert by chief archivists of the US Library of Congress, a commended historian for PBS, and enthusiastic keynote speaker. After extensive study, Howell began publishing the only series of books in which the former slaves’ words are categorized by subject matter. The text of the books remains virtually in their unedited words. Included are their photographs that were taken during the interviews and others that were taken during slavery.

Each book is entitled I WAS A SLAVE. The subtitles of the first six books of the series are Descriptions of Plantation Life, The Lives of Slave Men, The Lives of Slave Women, The Breeding of Slaves, The Lives of Slave Children, and Slave Auctions. The book series is being used as supplemental textbooks in libraries, special history classes, and seminars in high schools and universities, including Howard, Georgetown, Cornell, Vanderbilt, Notre Dame, and many more. They are available in hundreds of bookstores throughout America and abroad.


Ms. Howell is:

  • a specialized historian with in-depth research experience in the slave testimonies due to researching this collection since 1988
        She the only person who has categorized the entire collection line by line by subject matter and is considered by archivist of the US Library of Congress to be a primary expert in this field.
  • the compiler of The I WAS A SLAVE Book Collection, which began after many, many years of her research. They are available in hundreds of bookstores throughout the United States and also in Canada, Great Britain, Germany, The Netherlands, Bermuda, Africa, Austria, Japan, as well as other countries through foreign importers

    The series is being used as reference books in grade schools, junior and high schools, colleges and universities (such as Notre Dame, Howard University, Georgetown, Vanderbilt, Notre Dame, Cornell University, among others), and public and school libraries.
    The books consist of portions of autobiographies of thousands of former slaves, many full autobiographies, and archival photographs. Six books of the 24-book series have been published. They have not been rewritten and remain virtually unedited in the former slaves' own words.
    See: iwasaslave.com
    She and the nationally acclaimed book series have been featured on NBC, CBS, FOX, ABC, CNN, C-SPAN, Voice of America, PBS, NPR, The Washington Post, The New York Times, hundreds of newspapers, magazines, radio broadcasts, and other national and international venues.
  • a keynote speaker for programs about her specialized expertise in American history for many federal government agencies, universities, civic and religious organizations, genealogical societies, conventions, and special functions (More details and photos: See "Keynote Speaker" tab at the top.)
  • an editor for almost three decades and a newspaper columnist who uses the words of the former slaves to write articles distributed to approximately 210 newspapers nationwide
  • a special instructor of supplemental American history classes (sponsored by the US federal government and universities)
    She has conducted these student-participation classes from the junior high school level (ages 11-13 years) through the college level.
  • an expert consultant and narrator for television programs about slavery, including PBS and the Oprah Winfrey show
  • the National Director of the American Slaves Foundation, which has chapters in 28 states and the District of Columbia and has over 340 volunteer area coordinators throughout the United States
    See: AmericanSlavesFoundation.org
  • an honoree and recipient of special awards:
  • Women of Washington honoree (other honorees include Mrs. Sadat, former First Lady of Egypt; Dorothy Height; Helen Thomas, the highest ranking member of the White House press; Patti LaBelle; and others)
  • US Postal Service Special Award for Black History Month
  • Blacks in Government honoree
  • California State Assembly honoree
  • California State Senate honoree
  • Premier (President) of Bermuda's special guest honoree and speaker at the international diaspora conference in Bermuda
  • many plaques and appreciation certificates from genealogical associations, Afrocentric groups, American history organizations

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