In the 1981 article "The Cakewalk: A Study in Stereotype and Reality" Brooke Baldwin cites "an almost exhaustive compilation of those accounts which have been found so far". This compilation consists of eyewitness accounts by ex-slaves from Virginia and Georgia recorded by WPA researchers in the 1930s, along with second hand accounts from other sources. Baldwin notes that "when the researchers of the Federal Writer's Project of the WPA interviewed aged ex-slaves in the 1930s, there was no longer any need to suppress information about the happier moments of slave life."
Georgia Baker said that she sang a song when she was a child. "Walk light ladies, De cake's all dough" She laughed and added, "Us didn't know it when we was singin' dat tune to us chillun dat when us growed up us would be cakewalkin' to de same song".
Estella Jones: "Cakewalkin' was a lot of fun durin' slavery time. Dey swep yards real clearn and set benches for de party. Banjos wuz used for music makin'. De women's wor long, ruffled dresses wid hoops in 'em and de mens had on high hats, long split-tailed coasts, and some of em used walkin' sticks. De couple dat danced best got a prize. Sometimes de slave owners come to dese parties 'cause dey enjoyed watchin' de dance, and dey 'cided who danced de best. Most parties durin' slavery time, wuz give on Saturday night durin' work sessions, but durin' winter dey wuz give on most any night."
A story told to him by his childhood nanny in 1901 was repeated by 80 year old actor Leigh Whipple, "Us slave watched white folks' parties where the guests danced a minuet and then paraded in a grand march, with the ladies and gentlemen going different ways and then meeting again, arm in arm, and marching down the center together. Then we'd do it too, but we used to mock 'em every step. Sometimes the white folks noticed it, but they seemed to like it; I guess they thought we couldn't dance any better."
Ex-ragtime entertainer Shepard Edmonds told in 1950 of memories related to him by his parents from Tennessee; "...the cake walk was originally a plantation dance, just a happy movement they did to the banjo music because they couldn't stand still. It was generally on Sundays, when there was little work, that the slaves both young and old would dress up in hand-me-down finery to do a high-kicking, prancing walk-around. They did a take-off on the manners of the white folks in the "big house", but their masters, who gathered around to watch the fun, missed the point. It's supposed to be that the custom of a prize started with the master giving a cake to the couple that did the proudest movement."
Baldwin concludes that the Cakewalk was meant "to satirize the competing culture of supposedly 'superior' whites. Slaveholders were able to dismiss its threat in their own minds by considering it as a simple performance which existed for their own pleasure" (p. 211)
Fletcher's grandfather told him, "your grandmother and I, we won all the prizes and were taken from plantation to plantation. The dance became a great fad. It took skill and good nerves...The plantation is where shows like yours first started, son."
Fletcher adds that " The cake walk, in that section and at that time, was known as the chalk line walk. There was no prancing, just a straight walk on a path made by turns and so forth, along which the dancers made their way with a pail of water on their heads. The couple that was the most erect and spilled the least water or no water at all was the winner."
Fletcher also wrote, in another chapter of his book, that, "The old "chalk-line walk was revived with fancy steps by Charlie Johnson a clever eccentric dancer... The "chalk-line walk" then became known as the "Cake Walk."
"Cakewalk King" Charles E. Johnson related his grandmother's recollections of a dance-walk from "the old days". White folks from the big house rode a carriage down to watch their slaves couple off and do a dance-walk that was as elegant and poised as a Mozart minuet, but was flavored with an exaggerated grace that was sometimes comical. The cadenced walking and high stepping was usually supplied by a violin, a drum and a horn of some kind. A towering, extra sweet coconut cake was the prize for the winning couple. The cakewalk was still popular at the dances of ordinary folks after the Civil War.