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[Detail] Bill and Ellen Thomas, Ages 88 and 81

Chronological Thinking: Making and Interpreting Timelines of Narrators' Lives

Walter Rimm began his interview by saying, “You wants to know ‘bout slavery? Well I’s had a deal happen ‘sides dat…” Because the people interviewed by the FWP workers had all lived long lives, spanning the years from the mid-nineteenth century to the 1930s, they had all experienced a great deal more than just their years in slavery.  Their lives were shaped by the times and circumstances in which they lived (including laws, customs, and racial attitudes), their own decisions, and historical events occurring on the national and world stages. Read the life story of Mandy Morrow, making notes on some of the important events in her life as you read.

On a sheet of paper, draw a line down the center of the sheet. Mark the top of the line with Morrow’s birthdate (you may have to estimate this date from information in the interview). Mark the bottom of the line with the date of the interview. Mark off decades between the two dates. The timeline should be to scale: that is, each decade should be represented by the same length on the line.

On the right side of the line, write some of the events that you have studied in history class; for example, show the Civil War from 1861-1865. Next, add the important events in Morrow’s life on the left side of the line. You will have to estimate when some events occurred based on information in the interview and your knowledge of history.

How does the timeline of Mandy Morrow’s life show the impact of world or national events on the individual’s life?  How does it reflect the time and circumstances in which she lived? How was her life shaped by her own decisions?

Read one or more additional narratives and make timelines of the narrators’ lives. To what extent do narratives reflect similar experiences? Different experiences? What may account for the differences? From the narratives, what can you infer about how racial attitudes changed or remained the same over time?