The Federal Writers’ Project at NSU: A Window Into Our Past

Cammie G. Henry Research Center


NSU’s Cammie G. Henry Research Center is a rich resource for scholars and researchers of almost any subject. Their holdings touch upon everything from family history to items of local, state and national interest. The archive, located on the 3rd floor of NSU’s Watson Memorial Library, has many items that simply cannot be found anywhere else. There are items in NSU Cammie G. Henry Research Center that do not exist in the Library of Congress. It is an amazing place.

One such collection is a compilation of papers from the Federal Writers’ Project of the Depression era Works Progress Administration. The Cammie G. Henry Research Center has the project’s documents that are specific to Louisiana from 1935 to 1943. The items, in 26 boxes, document life in a far different Louisiana than we live in and provide a fascinating window into our past. While the parts of the project that were published are widely available, the collection also has the authors’ notes and documents that were not published. These items are unique to the Research Center and can be found nowhere else. The project documented the ordinary life of Louisianans in hundreds of interviews over a period of 8 years from a wide variety of viewpoints, not just that of the wealthy and powerful. Cane cutters, farmers, sharecroppers and even hobos and prostitutes were interviewed about their lives and jobs.

In one of their greatest services to future historians, the writers also documented oral histories before time took the subjects away. The Cammie G. Henry archives hold an extensive set of interviews with former slaves on various plantations throughout the state. These interviews give a first hand look at a grim period of our history from the people who survived it. The oral histories gave a voice to a group of men and women who never had one and kept time and death from erasing their memory.

Louisiana writer Lyle Saxon was the Director of the Federal Writer’s Project for Louisiana and brought file cabinets of material to Melrose Plantation in the early 1940’s as the nation undertook WWII and the Depression era Federal Writers’ project wound down. The papers stayed at Melrose until the early 1970’s when they were donated to NSU. A combination of foresight and serendipity resulted in a truly unique and rich historical resource being bequeathed to us and to future generations.

The following is the url for the Cammie G. Henry Research Center’s Federal Writers’ Project collection.



It is well worth a visit!

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