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Encyclopedia Of Arkansas Minute: Pernella Anderson

A Black teacher from Camden recorded the memories of former slaves during the Great Depression.

Pernella Center was born in Camden in 1903 and after marrying William Anderson was teaching school in Lockesburg by 1935. The Federal Writers Project hired her a year later to interview Black people in El Dorado; she was one of only two African American Arkansans who worked for the project.

Twenty-six of her interviews were published in the seventeen-volume Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves. In addition, she focused on folklore and documented readings, stories, sayings, riddles and superstitions, speaking with people aged nineteen to ninety-two between 1936 and 1938.

Following her work with the Writers Project, Anderson earned a degree at Grambling College and taught in El Dorado until 1955, after which she moved to Detroit to teach. She died there on March 5, 1980.

You can read the full Encyclopedia of Arkansas entry about Pernella Anderson at

Mark Christ produces and hosts Encyclopedia of Arkansas Minute on KUAR. He is head of adult programming for the Central Arkansas Library System. He previously served as community outreach director for the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, which he joined in 1990 after eight years as a journalist.