Samuel Shinkle Taylor

Photo courtesy of Phyllis C Beatty-Yasutake

African American, Ethnography, Activism

Samuel Shinkle Taylor


Samuel S. Taylor has been widely acclaimed as one of the most effective interviewers of ex-slaves in the Federal Writers Project of the 1930s. Born in 1886 in Cincinnati, Ohio, to Reverend Marshall W. Taylor and Catherine Hester Taylor, Samuel Taylor and his mother moved to Indianapolis, Indiana in 1887, after his father died.  Raised in Indiana, he attended Depauw University for 1.5 years until his mother died in 1907, after which he quit school, and moved to Louisiana. There he attended Strait College (now Dillard University) in New Orleans, where he earned a BA and MA in Education in the 1910s.  He later continued with advanced studies at Columbia University and University of Chicago. He also entered the ministry in 1920 and was ordained in the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1936.    

After being drafted into the military in 1917 and marrying in 1920, Taylor taught high school for a few years in New Orleans before becoming the city’s first supervisor of Negro Public Schools in 1923. In 1927, Taylor moved his family to Little Rock, Arkansas, to become head of the Department of Education at Philander Smith College for two years. He then taught mathematics at Little Rock’s Dunbar High School in the early 1930s.  

Respected as a scholar and educator, Taylor was hired in 1937 by the Federal Writers Project to write and edit the Urban League Project, Survey of Negroes in Little Rock and North Little Rock (1941), a social scientific demographic study of living conditions of the urban Black communities in these cities. Subsequently, Taylor was hired as one of two African American interviewers of formerly enslaved persons for the Arkansas Federal Writers Project (FWP). Out of 2300 ex slave interviews collected nationwide, Arkansas contributed nearly 33% (approximately 770) of the interviews, despite having only 4% of the enslaved population.  Taylor collected and documented at least 125 interviews of ex-slaves living in Arkansas from 1937 to 1938. His skillful interviews have been recognized as exemplars of accuracy and realism, illustrating the complexities and truths of Black people’s past and current lives.

In 1946, Taylor became registrar and Dean of Education at Shorter College in North Little Rock. From 1949-1956, he was associate editor of the Arkansas State Press. Later in life, he served as a Methodist minister of St. James Methodist Episcopal Church and worked with both the Urban League and NAACP for improvements in education and civil rights in Arkansas throughout his career.

Among his publications are:

Greater Urban League of Little Rock. Survey of Negroes in Little Rock and North Little Rock (1941)

Samuel S. Taylor in Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers Project, 1936-1938. Library of Congress, American Memory Project.

Phyllis M. May-Machunda

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