Established on July 27, 1935 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Federal Writers' Project (FWP) operated under journalist and theatrical producer Henry Alsberg, and later John D. Newsome, compiling local histories, oral histories, ethnographies, children's books and other works.
FWP was charged with employing writers, editors, historians, researchers, art critics, archaeologists, geologists and cartographers. Some 6,600 individuals were employed by the FWP. In each state a Writer's Project non-relief staff of editors was formed, along with a much larger group of field workers drawn from local unemployment rolls. Many of these had never graduated high school, but most had formerly held white collar jobs of some sort. Most of the Writer's Project employees were relatively young in age, and many came from working-class backgrounds.
In the early 1930s, members of the Federal Writers' Project interviewed former slaves, and also made recordings of the talks, the only such records made.