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Bearing Witness

Memories of Arkansas Slavery Narratives from the 1930s WPA Collections

George E. Lankford

Publication Year: 2006

These oral histories were first published in the 1970s in a thirty-nine-volume series organized by state, and they transformed America's understanding of slavery. They have offered crucial evidence on a variety of other topics as well: the Civil War, Reconstruction, agricultural practices, everyday life, and oral history itself.

Published by: University of Arkansas Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v

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Preface to the 2006 Edition

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pp. xi-xii

The goal of the second edition of Bearing Witness is fairly simple: to provide the reader with a complete collection of the Works Progress Administration’s 1930s interviews. When the first edition of Bearing Witness was published in 2003, I had no great assurance that all the narratives that met the criterion...

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pp. xiii-xxviii

In the relatively brief history of the United States some dark clouds hang over the paths to the present. One of the largest and darkest of them is African American slavery. In attempting to penetrate the darkness, scholars have produced a great deal of words and ink, but the academic insights have had only limited influence, for their...

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p. xxix-xxix

Each narrative is supplied with a published source which may be checked by the reader. In some cases, there were two texts which were left in the records—some duplicates, some re-writes, some alternative interviews. Where they have been published, the references to both have been...

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pp. 1-23

“I was born right here in Arkansas. My father’s name was Moses Briles. My mother’s name was Judy Briles. Her name before she was married I don’t know. They belonged to the Briles. I don’t know their first name either. “My father was under slavery. He chopped cotton and plowed and scraped cotton. That is where...

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Arkansas County

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pp. 23-36

“My master was Captain Baker Jones and his pa was John Jones. Miss Mariah was Baker Jones’ wife. I believe the old man’s wife was dead. “My parents’ name was Henry (“Clay”) Harris and Harriett Harris. They had nine children. We...

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Ashley County

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pp. 37-44

Nelson Densen, 90, was born near Hambirg, Arkansas, a slave of Jim Nelson, who sold Nelsen and his family to Felix Grundy. Nelsen’s memory is poor, but he managed to recall a few incidents. He now lives in Waco, Texas. “I’ll be ninety years old this December (1937). I was born in Arkansas, up in Ashley County, and it was the twenty-second day of December in 1847. My mammy was from Virginny and pappy was from old Kentucky, and I was one of eight chillen. Our...

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Benton County

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pp. 45

“My mammie died when I was a little girl. She had three children and our white folks took us in their house and raised us. Two of us had fever and would have died if they hadn’t got us a good doctor. The doctor they had first was a quack and we were getting worse until they called the other doctor, then we commence to get...

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Bradley County

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pp. 46-48

“My father belonged to Mr. Ben Martin and my mother and me belonged to the Slaughters. I was small then and didn’t know what the war was about, but I remember meetin’ the Yankees and the Ku Klux. “Old master had about fifteen or twenty hands but Mr. Martin had a plenty—he had bout a hundred head. “I member when the...

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Calhoun County

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pp. 49-52

“I was born in slavery times. I ’member runnin’ from the Yankees when they wanted to carry me off. Just devilin’ me, you know. You know how little chillun was ’bout white folks in them days. “I went to school three weeks and my daddy stopped me and put me to work. “Old master was named Jimmie Ricks. They named me after him, I think. “My mother said he was a mighty good...

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Carroll County

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pp. 53-57

Mary Overton, 117 W. Heard St., Cleburne, Texas, was born in Tennessee, but moved when very young to Carroll Co., Arkansas, where her parents belonged to Mr. Kennard. Mary does not know her age. “I’se born in Tennessee but I don’ ’member where, and I don’ know how ole I is. I don’ ’member what de marster’s name was dere. My mother’s name was Liza and my father’s named was Dick....

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Chicot County

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pp. 57-58

“Good morning. Come in. I sure is proud to see you. Yes ma’am, I sure is. “I was born in Chicot County. I heerd Dr. Gaines say I was four years old in slavery times. I know I ain’t no baby. I feels my age, too—in my limbs. “I heerd ’em talk about a war but I wasn’t big enough to know about it. My father went to war on one side but he didn’t stay very long. I don’t know which side he was on. Them...

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Clark County

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pp. 58-64

“My white folks was as good to me as they could be. I ain’t got no kick to make about my white people. The boys was all brave. I was raised on the farm. I staid with my boss till I was nearly grown. When the war got so hot my boss was afraid the ‘Feds’ would get us. He sent my mammy to Texas and sent me in the army with Col....

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Columbia County

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pp. 65-66

“Railroad Dockery, that’s my name. I belonged to John Dockery and we lived at Lamartine, Arkansas where I was born. My mother’s name was Martha and I am one of quadruplets, three girls and one boy, that’s me. Red River, Ouachita, Mississippi and Railroad were our names. (Mrs. Mary Browning, who is now ninety-eight years of age, told me that her father, John Dockery, was the president...

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Crawford County

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pp. 66-68

I was born in Arkansas under Mr. Abraham Stover, on a big farm about twenty miles north of Van Buren. I was plumb grown when the Civil War come along, but I can remember back when the Cherokee Indians was in all that part of the country. Joe Kye was my pappy’s name what he was born under back in Garrison County, Virginia, and...

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Crittenden County

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pp. 69-71

“I was born down here at Edmonson, Arkansas. My owner was a captain in the Rebel War [Civil War]. He run us off to Texas close to Greenville. He was keeping us from the Yankees. In fact my father had planned to go to the Yankees. My mother died on the way to Texas close to the Arkansas line. She was confined and the...

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Cross County

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pp. 71-90

“Ma was a slave in Arkansas. She said she helped grade a hill and help pile up a road between Wicksburg and Wynne. They couldn’t put the road over the hill, so they put all the slaves about to grade it down. They don’t use the road but it’s still there to show for itself. “She was a tall rawbony....

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Dallas County

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pp. 91-110

“My mother had Indian in her. She would fight. She was the pet of the people. When she was out, the pateroles would whip her because she didn’t have a pass. She has showed me scars that were on her even till the day that she died. She was whipped because she was out without a pass. She could have had a pass any time...

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Desha County

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pp. 111-113

“I was born in 1859 down here at Walnut Lake. The man what owned us was Crum Holmes. “All I can remember was the patrollers and the Ku Klux. I reckon I ought to, I seed ’em. I got skeered and run. I heered ’em talk about how they’d do the folks and we chillun...

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Drew County

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pp. 114-127

“I was born in Monticello. I was raised there. Then I came up to Pine Bluff and stayed there thirty-two years. Then I came up here and been here thirty-two years. That is the reason the white folks so good to me now. I been here so long. I been a hostler all my life. I am the best hostler in this State. I go down to the post...

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Faulkner County

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pp. 127-128

“We lived in Greenbrier, Faulkner County, Arkansas. All staid at home and got along very well. We had enough to eat and wear. Mistress was awful mean to us but we staid with them until after the war. After the war master moved us off to another place he had and my father farmed for his self, master and his pa and ma...

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Greene County

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pp. 128-134

“In de ole’ days we live in Arkansaw, in Greene County. My mammy wuz Mary-Ann Millan, an’ we belong to ‘Massa’ John Nutt, an’ ‘Miss’ Nancy.’ “Our white folks live in a big double house, wid a open hall between. It wuz built of hewed logs an’ had a big po’ch on de wes’ side. De house stood on Cash rivuh, at...

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Hempstead County

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pp. 134-155

“I was born in Hempstead County, between Nashville and Greenville, in Arkansas, on the Military Road. Never been outside the state in my life. I was born ninety years ago. I been here in Pulaski County nearly fifty-seven years. “I was born in a old double log house chinked and dobbed. Nary a window and one door. I had...

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Hot Spring County

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pp. 156-161

The outskirts of eastern Hot Springs resemble a vast checkerboard—patterned in Black and White. Within two blocks of a house made of log-faced siding—painted a spotless white and provided with blue shutters will be a shack which appears to have been made from the discard of a dozen generations of houses...

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Howard County

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pp. 161-171

I was bo’n in Centerpoint, Howard County, Arkansas, October 5, 1853, so dey tell me; dat’s all I know’d ’cep’ what dey tell me for the truth. Well, it’s kinda surprise for someone to come around to talk to me. I never gits to talk to anybody much; folks don’t care nothing bout me; dey all calls me de drunkard, gambler, horse thief and murderer. I’se been practically all dem things too...

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Independence County

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pp. 171-180

A remarkable character seen daily on the streets of Batesville is Uncle Harve Osborne, negroe ex-slave, who is 101 years old, he has the distinction of being the oldest inhabitant of Independence County. “Uncle Harve” is a valued employee of the street cleaning department of...

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Jefferson County

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pp. 181-221

“Uncle” William Baltimore. Twenty Eight Years in Slavery, Never was bought, Never was sold, Threatened once but never was whipped. Living on Route 1 Pine Bluff, there is a remarkable old negroe called Uncle William Baltimore, who is nearing his one hundred and fourth birthday, he has been totally blind for about twenty three years, blindness in his case occured as the result of...

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Johnson County

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pp. 221-228

“Yes’m I was a slave. I been here. I heard the bugles blowing, the fife beat, the drums beat, and the cannons roar. We started to Texas but never got across the river. I don’t know what town it was but it was just across the river from Texas. My white folks was good to me. I staid with them till they died. Missy died first, then master...

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Lee County

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pp. 228-231

“I was born in Marianna, Lee County, in Arkansas. I wasn’t born right in the town but out a piece from the town in the old Bouden place, in 1875. My father kept a record of all births and deaths in his Bible. He never forgot whenever a new baby would come to get down his glasses and pen and ink and Bible. My daddy learned to...

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Little River County

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pp. 232-234

As the interviewer walked down Silver Street a saddle colored girl came out on a porch for a load of wood. “I beg your pardon,” she began, pausing, “can you tell me where I will find Emma Sanderson?” “I sure can.” The girl left the porch and came out to the street. “I’ll walk down with you and show...

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Lonoke County

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pp. 235-237

“I was born in Lonoke County right here in Arkansas. My father’s name—I don’t know it. I don’t know nothin’ ’bout my father. My mother’s name was Mary Davis. “My daddy died when I was five weeks old. I don’t know nothin’ ’bout ’im. Just did manage to git here before he left. I don’t know the date of my birth. I don’t know...

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Marion County

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pp. 237-240

Tempe Elgin, seventy-five, was born a slave on November 25, 1862, on the cotton plantation of Charley Primm, in Marion County, Arkansas. William 237 Tyson, Primm’s son-in-law, became the owner of Tempe, her mother, Harriet King, and her sister, Julia. They were brought to a cotton plantation in Burleson County, Texas. Tempe’s father, John King, belonged to a man by the name of King, and he was not brought to Texas. John followed his wife on horseback for sixty miles, pleading with her to...

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Miller County

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pp. 241-243

An humble cottage, sheltered by four magnificent oak trees, houses an interesting old negro, Albert Cummins. Texarkana people, old and young, reverence this character, and obtain from him much valuable information concerning the early life of this country. This ex-slave was freed...

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Monroe County

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pp. 243-256

“I was born in Granville, Texas. My master was Strathers Burgess and mistress Polly Burgess. My master died ’fore I was born. He died on the way to Texas, trying to save his slaves. Keep them from leaving him and from going into the war. They didn’t want to fight. His son was killed in the war. My folks didn’t know...

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Ouachita County

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pp. 257-259

“My father’s name was Peter Junell, Peter W. Junell. I don’t know what the W. was for. He was born in Ouachita County near Bearden, Arkansas. Bearden is an old town. It is fourteen miles from Camden. My dad was seventy-five years old when he died. He died in 1924. He was very young in the time of slavery. He never did do very much work. “His master was...

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Phillips County

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pp. 260-298

Two year before de War broke out I was born, four mile north of Helena, Arkansas, on de old plantation of Nat Turner who was stomped to death by a bull ’bout 15-year ago—I read about it in de Arkansas papers. My father was Reuben Turner; before dat he was a Slade and maybe some other names too, for he was sold lots of times. When de War come ’long he went off to de North...

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Pope County

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pp. 299-303

I was born on the plantation of Dr. Andrew Scott, but my old ma’ster was Col. Ben T. Embry. The 14th of March, in the year 1855, was my birthday. Yes suh, I was born right here at old Galla Rock! My old Ma’ster Embry had a good many slaves. He went to Texas and stayed about three years. Took a lot of us along, and...

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Prairie County

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pp. 304-313

George Braddox was born a slave but his mother being freed when he was eight years old they went to themselves—George had one sister and one brother. He doesn’t know anything about them but thinks they are dead as he is the youngest of the three. His father’s name was Peter Calloway. He went with Gus Taylor and...

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Pulaski County

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pp. 314-352

“I was born in Little Rock along about Seventeenth and Arch Streets. There was a big plantation there then. Dr. Wright owned the plantation. He owned my mother and father. My father and mother told me that I was born in 1862. They didn’t know the date exactly, so I put it the last day in the year and call it December...

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Randolph County

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pp. 352-355

Note. Aunt Hannah, to date, is by far the oldest ex-slave that this writer has interviewed. She claims to be 107 years old, having been born on December 24th, 1830. When she made application for a marriage license in Fredericktown in 1912, she gave her age then as 82, according to the Madison County Recorder of Deeds....

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Sebastian County

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pp. 355-356

“I just can’t tell you when I was born cause I don’t know. My mother said I was born on Christmas Eve morning. I’m a old woman. I was big enough to work in slave times. “Yes ma’am, I member when the war started. I was born in Arkansas. I’m a Arkansas Hoosier. You know I had to have some age on me to...

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Sevier County

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pp. 357

“Lady, I’ll tell you what I know but it won’t nigh fill your book. “I was born in 1862 south of Lockesburg, Arkansas. My parents was Marther and Burl Miller. “They told me their owners come here from North Carolina in 1820. They owned lots of slaves and lots of land. Mother was medium light—about my color. See, I’m mixed...

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Union County

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pp. 358-377

Ah wuz bo’n de first year niggers wuz free. Wuz born in Caledonia at de Primm place. Mah ma belonged tuh George Thompson. After mah ma died ah stayed wid de Wommacks, a while. Aftuh dat mah pa taken me home. Pa’s name wuz Jesse Flueur. Ah worked lak er slave. Ah cut wood, sawed logs, picked 400 pounds uv...

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Washington County

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pp. 378-396

“I was born a slave about 1848, in Hickmon County, Tennessee,” said Aunt Adeline, who lives as care taker in a house at 101 Rock Street, Fayetteville, Arkansas, which is owned by the Blakely-Hudgens estate. Aunt Adeline has been a slave and a servant in five generations of the Parks family. Her mother...

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Woodruff County

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pp. 397-400

“My father’s name was Arthur Boone and my mother’s name was Eliza Boone. I am goin’ to tell you about my father. Now be sure you put down there that this is Arthur Boone’s son. I am J. F. Boone, and I am goin’ to tell you about my father, Arthur Boone. “My father’s old master was Henry Boone. My mother came from Virginia—north Virginia...

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Yell County

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pp. 401-406

“I was born right here in Arkansas about nine miles from Dardanelles (Dardanelle) in Sevier County. I think it’s Sevier. No, it was Yell County. Yell County, that’s it. You put the Dardanelles there and if they get that they’ll get the Yell part. Can’t miss Yell if you get Dardanelles. “I wish I could get holt...

Addendum to Bearing Witness

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pp. 407-438

Appendix: Interviewers and Their Informants

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pp. 439-442

Index: Alphabetical by Name of Informant

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pp. 443-448

General Index

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pp. 449-461

Back Cover

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p. 515-515

E-ISBN-13: 9781610750608
E-ISBN-10: 1610750608
Print-ISBN-13: 9781557288172
Print-ISBN-10: 1557288178

Page Count: 350
Publication Year: 2006

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Slaves -- Arkansas -- Biography.
  • African Americans -- Arkansas -- Interviews.
  • Arkansas -- Biography.
  • African Americans -- Arkansas -- History -- Sources.
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