Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States
Work Projects Administration
Part 3 out of 4
Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor
Person interviewed: J.W. Whitfield
3100 W. Seventeenth Street, Little Rock, Arkansas
Age: About 60
"My father's name was Luke Whitfield. He was sixty-three years old when
he died in 1902. He was twenty-six years old when the Civil War ended.
He was a slave. There were three other boys in the family besides him.
"His old mars' name was Bill Carraway. They lived at Nubian [HW: New
Bern], North Carolina.
"My father said that his work in slavery time was blacksmithing. He had
to fix the wagons and the plow too. He said that was his work during the
Civil War too. He worked in the Confederate army too.
"I remember him saying how they whipped him when he ran off. The
overseer got after him to whip him and he and one of his friends ran
off. As they jumped over the fence to go into the woods the old mars hit
my daddy with a cat-o-nine tails. You see, they took a strap of harness
leather and cut it into four thongs and then they took another and cut
it into five thongs, and they tied them together. When you got one blow
you got nine and when you got five blows you got forty-five. As his old
mars hit him, he said. 'I got him one, sir; it was a good one too, sir,
and a go-boy.'[HW: ?] But it was nine.
"My father told me how they married in slavery times. They didn't count
marriage like they do now. If one landowner had a girl and another
wanted that girl for one of his men, they would give him her to wife.
When a boy-child was born out of this marriage they would reserve him
for breeding purposes if he was healthy and robust. But if he was puny
and sickly they were not bothered about him. Many a time if the boy was
desirable, he was put on the stump and auctioned off by the time he was
thirteen years old. They called that putting him on the block. Different
ones would come and bid for him and the highest bidder would get him.
"My father spoke of a pass. That was when they wanted to see the girls
they would have to get a pass from the old mars. My father would speak
to his mars and get a pass. If he didn't have a pass, the other mars
would give him a whipping and sent him back. I told you about how they
whipped them. They used to use those cat-o-nine tails on them when they
didn't have a pass.
"They lived in a log cabin dobbed with dirt and their clothes were woven
on a loom. They got the cotton, spun it on the spinning-wheel, wove it
on the loom on rainy days. The women spun the thread and wove the cloth.
For the boys from five to fifteen years old, they would make long shirts
out of this cloth. The shirts had deep scallops in them. Then they would
take the same cloth and dye it with indigo and make pants out of it. The
boys never wore those pants in the field. No young fellow wore pants
until he began to court.
"My mother was a girl that was sold in Lenoir County, near Kenston, [HW:
Kinston?] North Carolina. My father met her in a place called Buford,
[HW: Beaufort? Carteret Co.] North Carolina. My father was sold several
times. The owner sold her to his owner and they jumped over a broomstick
and were married. My daddy's mars bought my mother for him. Her name was
Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson
Person interviewed: Sarah Whitmore, Clarendon, Arkansas
_Note_--The interviewer found this ex-slave in small quarters. The bed,
the room and the Negro were filthy. A fire burned in an ironing bucket,
mostly papers and trash for fuel. During the visit of the interviewer a
white girl brought a tray with a measuring cup of coffee and two slices
of bread with butter and fruit spread between. When asked where she got
her dinner she said "The best way I can" meaning somebody might bring it
to her. Her hands are too stiff and shaky to cook. Her eye sight is so
bad she cannot clean her room. Two WPA county visitors, girls, bathe her
"I was born between Jackson and Brandon. Sure I was born down in
Mississippi. My mother's name they tole me was Rosie. She died when I
was a baby. My father named Richard Chamber. They called him Dick. He
was killed direckly after the war by a white man. He was a Rebel scout.
The man named Hodge. I seed him. He shot my father. Them questions been
called over to me so much I most forgot 'em. Well some jes' lack 'em. My
father's master was Hal Chambers and his wife Virginia. Recken I do
'member the Ku Klux. They scared me to death. I go under the bed every
time when I see them about. Then was when my father was killed. He went
off with a crowd of white men. They said they was Rebel scouts. All I
know I never seed him no more since that evening. They killed him across
the line, not far from Mississippi. Chambers had two or three farms. I
was on the village farm. I had one brother. Chambers sent him to the
salt works and I never seed him no more. I was a orphant.
"Chambers make you work. I worked in the field. I come wid a crowd to
Helena. I come on a boat. I been a midwife to black and white. I used to
cook some. I am master hand at ironin'. I have no children as I knows
of. I never born none. I help raise some. I come on a fine big steamboat
wid a crowd of people. I married in Arkansas. My husband died ten or
twelve years ago. I forgot which years it was. I been livin' in this
bery house seben years.
"The Government give me $10 a month. I would wash dishes but I can't see
'bout gettin' 'round no more.
"Don't ax me 'bout the young niggers. They too fast fo me. If I see 'em
they talkin' a passel of foolish talk. Whut I knows is times is hard wid
me shows you born.
"You come back to see me. If you don't I wanter meet you all in heaben.
By, by, by."
Interviewer: Watt McKinney
Person interviewed: Dock Wilborn
A mile or so from Marvell, Arkansas
Dock Wilborn was born a slave near Huntsville, Alabama on January 7,
1843, the property of Dan Wilborn who with his three brothers, Elias,
Sam, and Ike, moved to Arkansas and settled near Marvell in Phillips
County about 1855.
According to "Uncle Dock" the four Wilborn brothers each owning more
than one hundred slaves acquired a large body of wild, undeveloped land,
divided this acreage between them and immediately began to erect
numerous log structures for housing themselves, their Negroes, and their
stock, and to deaden the timber and clear the land preparatory to
placing their crops the following season. The Wilborns arrived in
Arkansas in the early fall of the year and for several months they
camped, living in tents until such time that they were able to complete
the erection of their residences. Good, substantial, well constructed
and warm cabins were built in which to house the slaves, much better
buildings "Uncle Dock" says than those in which the average Negro
sharecropper lives today on Southern cotton plantations. And these
Negroes were given an abundance of the same wholesome food as that
prepared for the master's family in the huge kettles and ovens of the
one common kitchen presided over by a well-trained and competent cook
and supervised by the wife of the master.
During the period of slavery the more apt and intelligent among those of
the younger Negroes were singled out and given special training for
those places in which their talents indicated they would be most useful
in the life of the plantation. Girls were trained in housework, cooking,
and in the care of children while boys were taught blacksmithing,
carpentrying, and some were trained for personal servants around the
home. Some were even taught to read and to write when it was thought
that their later positions would require this learning.
According to "Uncle Dock" Wilborn, slaves were allowed to enjoy many
pleasures and liberties thought by many in this day, especially by the
descendants of these slaves, not to have been accorded them, were
entirely free of any responsibility aside from the performance of their
alloted labors and speaking from his own experience received kind and
just treatment at the hands of their masters.
The will of the master was the law of the plantation and prompt
punishment was administered for any violation of established rules and
though a master was kind, he was of necessity invariably firm in the
administration of his government and in the execution of his laws.
Respect and obedience was steadfastly required and sternly demanded,
while indolence and disrespect was neither tolerated or permitted.
In refutation to often repeated expressions and beliefs that slaves were
cruelly treated, provided with insufficient food and apparel and
subjected to inhuman punishment, it is pointed out by ex-slaves
themselves that they were at that time very valuable property, worth on
the market no less than from one thousand to fifteen hundred dollars
each for a healthy, grown Negro and that it is unreasonable to suppose
that these slaveowners did not properly safeguard their investments with
the befitting care and attention such valuable property demanded or that
these masters would by rule or action bring about any condition
adversely effecting the health, efficiency or value of their slaves.
The spiritual and religious needs of the slaves received the attention
of the same minister who attended the like needs of the master and his
family, and services were often conducted on Sunday afternoons
exclusively for them at which times the minister exhorted his
congregation to live lives of righteousness and to be at all times
obedient, respectful and dutiful servants in the cause of both their
earthly and heavenly masters.
In the days of slavery, on occasion of the marriage of a couple in which
the participants were members of slave-owning families, it was the
custom for the father of each to provide the young couple with several
Negroes, the number of course depending on the relative wealth or
affluence of their respective families. It seems, however, that no less
than six or eight grown slaves were given in most instances as well as a
like number of children from two to four years of age. This provision on
the part of the parents of the newly-wedded pair was for the purpose as
"Uncle Dock" expressed it to give them a "start" of Negroes. The
children were not considered of much value at such an age and the young
master and his wife found themselves possessed with the responsibility
attached to their proper care and rearing until such time as they
reached the age at which they could perform some useful labor. These
responsibilities were bravely accepted and such children received the
best of care and attention, being it is said often kept in a room
provided for than in the master's own house where their needs could be
administered to under the watchful eye and supervision of their owners.
The food given these young children according to informants consisted
mainly of a sort of gruel composed of whole milk and bread made of whole
wheat flour which was set before them in a kind of trough and from which
they ate with great relish and grew rapidly.
Slaveowners, as a rule, arranged for their Negroes to have all needed
pleasure and enjoyment, and in the late summer after cultivation of the
crops was complete it was the custom for a number of them to give a
large barbecue for their combined groups of slaves, at which huge
quantities of beef and pork were served and the care-free hours given
over to dancing and general merry-making. "Uncle Dock" recalls that his
master, Dan Wilborn, who was a good-natured man of large stature,
derived much pleasure in playing his "fiddle" and that often in the
early summer evenings he would walk down to the slave quarters with his
violin remarking that he would supply the music and that he wished to
see his "niggers" dance, and dance they would for hours and as much to
the master's own delight and amusement as to theirs.
Dock Wilborn's "pappy" Sam was in some respects disobedient, prompted
mainly so it seems by his complete dislike for any form of labor and
which Dan Wilborn due to their mutual affection appeared to tolerate for
long periods or until such time that his patience was exhausted when he
would then apply his lash to Sam a few times and often after these
periodical punishments Sam would escape to the dense forests that
surrounded the plantation where he would remain for days or until
Wilborn would enlist the aid of Nat Turner and his hounds and chase the
Negro to bay and return him to his home.
"Uncle Dock" Wilborn and his wife "Aunt Becky" are among the oldest
citizens of Phillips County and have been married for sixty-seven years.
Dan Wilborn performed their marriage ceremony. The only formality
required in uniting them as man and wife was that each jump over a broom
that had been placed on the floor between them. This old couple are the
parents of four children, the eldest of whom is now sixty-three. They
live alone in a small white-washed cabin only a mile or so from Marvell
being supported only by a small pension they receive each month from the
Social Security Board. They have a garden and a few chickens and a hog
or two and are happy and content as they dip their snuff and recall
those days long past during which they both contend that life was at its
best, "Aunt Becky" is religious and a staunch believer, a long-time
member of Mount Moriah Baptist Church while "Uncle Dock" who has never
been affiliated with any religious organization is yet as he terms
himself "a sinner man" and laughingly remarks that he is going to ride
into Heaven on "Aunt Becky's" ticket to which comment she promptly
replies that her ticket is good for only one passage and that if he
hopes to get there he must arrange for one of his own.
Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson
Person interviewed: Bell Wilks, Holly Grove, Arkansas
"I was raised in Pulaski, Tennessee, Giles County. The post office was
at one end of the town, bout half mile was the church down at the other
end. Yes'm, that way Pulaski looked when I lived there. My father's
master was Peter or Jerry Garn--I don't know which. They brothers?
"My mother's master was John Wilks and Miss Betty. Mama's name was
Callie Wilks and papa's name was Freeman. Mama had seven children. She
was a field hand. She said all on their place could do nearly anything.
They took turns cooking. Seems like it was a week about they took
milkin', doin' house work, field work, and she said sometimes they
"Father told my mother one day he was going to the Yankees. She didn't
want him to go much. He went. They mustered out drilling one day. He had
to squat right smart. He saw some cattle in the distance looked like
army way off. He fell dead. They said it was heart disease. They brought
him home and some of dem stood close to him drillin' told her that was
way it happened.
"The man what owned my mother was sorter of a Yankee hisself. We all
stayed till he wound up the crop. He sold his place and went to Collyoka
on the L. and N. Railway. He give us two and one-half bushels corn,
three bushels wheat, and some meat at the very first of freedom. When it
played out we went and he give us more long as he stayed there.
"When mama left she went to a new sorter mill town and cooked there till
1869. She carried me to a young woman to nurse for her what she nursed
at Mostor Wilks befo freedom. I stayed wid her till 1876. I sure does
remember dem dates. (laughed)
"Yes'm, I was nursin' for Dr. Rothrock when that Ku Klux scare was all
bout. They coma to our house huntin' a boy. They didn't find him. I
cover up my head when they come bout our house. Some folks they scared
nearly to death. I bein' in a strange place don't know much bout what
all I heard they done.
"I don't vote. I don't know who to vote for, let people vote know how.
"I get bout $8 and some commodities. It sure do help me out too. I tell
you it sure do."
Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson
Person interviewed: Bell Williams, Forrest City, Arkansas
"We was owned by Master Rucker. It seems I was about ten years old when
the Civil War started. It seems like a dream to me now. Mother was a
weaver. They said she was a fine weaver. She wove for all on the place
and some special pieces of cloth for outsiders. She wove woolen cloth
too. I don't know whether they paid for the extra weaving or not. People
didn't look on money like they do now. They was free with one another
about eating and visiting and work too when a man got behind with the
work. The fields get gone in the grass. Sometimes they would be sick or
it rained too much. The neighbor would send all his slaves to work till
they caught up and never charge a cent. I don't hear about people doing
that way now.
"My parents was named Clinton and Billy Bell. There was nine of us
"I never seen nobody sold. Mother was darker. Papa was light--half
white. They didn't talk in front of children about things and I never
did know. I've wondered.
"After freedom my folks stayed on at Master Rucker's. I got to be a
midwife. I nursed and was a house girl after the war. Then the doctors
got to sending for me to nurse and I got to be a midwife.
"My father was a good Bible scholar. He preached all around
Murfreesboro, Tennessee. He was a Methodist. He died when he was
seventy-seven years old. He had read the Bible through seventy-seven
times--one time for every year old he was."
Mrs. Mildred Thompson
Mrs. Carol Graham
El Dorado District
Federal Writers Project
Union County, Arkansas
Charley Williams, Ex-slave. "Mawnin' Missy. Yo say wha Aint Fanny Whoolah
live? She live right down de road dar in dat fust house. Yas'm. Dat wha
she live. Yo say whut mah name? Mah name is Charley. Yas'm, Charley
Williams. Did ah live in slavery time? Yas'm sho' did. Mah marster wuz
Dr. Reed Williams and he live at Kew London (SE part of Union County) or
ah speck ah bettuh say near New London caise he live on de Mere-Saline
Road, de way de soldiers went and come. Marster died befo' de Civil Wah.
Does ah membah hit? Yas'm ah say ah does. Ah wuz bo'n in 1856. Mah ole
mutha died befo' de wah too. Huh name wuz Charity. Mah young marster
went tuh de wah an come back. He fit at Vicksburg an his name wuz Bennie
Williams. But he daid now tho. Dere was a hep uv dem white William
Chillun. Dere wuz Miss Narcissi an she am a livin now at Stong. Den
dere's Mr. Charley. Ah wuz named fuh him. He am a livin now too. Den
dere is Mr. Race Williams. He am a livin at Strong too. Dere wuz Miss
Annie, Miss Martha Jane and Miss Madie. Dey is all daid. When young
marster would come by home or any uv de udder soldiers us little niggers
would steal de many balls (bullets or shot) fum dey saddul bags and play
wid em. Ah nevah did see so many soldiers in mah life. Hit looked tuh me
like dey wuz enough uv em to reach clear cross de United States. An ah
nevah saw de like uv cows as they had. Dey wuz nuff uv em to rech clar
Is ah evah been mahried and does ah have any chillun? Yes'm. Yas'm. Ah's
been mahried three times. Me an mah fust wife had seven chillun. When we
had six chillun me and mah wife moved tuh Kansas. We had only been der
23 days when mah wife birthed a chile and her an de chile both died. Dat
left me wid Carey Dee, Lizzie, Arthur, Richmond, Ollie and Lillie to
bring back home. Ah mahried agin an me an dat wife had one chile name
Robert. Me an mah third wife has three: Joe Verna, Lula Mae an Johnnie
Is dey hents? Ah've hearn tell uv em but nevah have seed no hants. One
uv mah friens whut lived on the Hommonds place at Hillsboro could see
em. His name wuz Elliott. One time me an Elliott wuz drivin along an
Elliott said: "Charley, somebody got hole uv mah horse!" Sho nuff dat
horse led right off inter de woods an comminced to buckin so Elliott and
his hoss both saw de haint but ah couldn' see hit. Yo know some people
jes caint see em.
Yas'm right up dere is wha Aint Fannie live. Yas'm. Goodday Missy."
We found Fannie Wheeler at home but not an ex-slave. She was making a
bedspread of tobacco sacks.
"Yas'm chillun ah'm piecing mahsef a bedspraid from dese heah backy
sacks. Yas'm dey sho does make er nice spraid. See dat'n on mah baid.
Aint hit purty. Hit wuz made fum backy sacks. Don yo all think dat
yaller bodah (border) set hit off purty? Ah'm aimin to bodah dis'n wid
pink er blue.
What am dat up dar in dat picture frame? Why dat am plaits of har
(hair). Hits uv mah kin and frien's. When we would move way off dey
would cut off a plait and give hit tuh us tuh membah dem by. Mos' uv dem
is daid now but ah still membahs dem and ah kin name evah plait now."
We were told that Sallie Sims was an old negress and went to see her she
was not an ex-slave either but she told us an interesting little story
HAINTS and BODY MARKS
"No'm, ah'm purty ole but ah wuz bo'n aftuh surrender. Is ah evah seen a
hant? Now ah nevah did but once and mah ma said dat wuz a hant. Ah wuz
out in de woods waukin (walking) an ah saw sumpin dat looked lak a
squirrel start up a tree and de fudder up hit got the bigger hit got an
hit wuz big as a bear when hit got to de top and ma said dat hit was a
haint. Dat is de only time ah evah seed one.
Now mah granchillun can all see hants and mah little great gran' chile
too. An evah one uv dem wuz bo'n wid a veil ovah dey face. Now when a
chile is bo'n wid a veil ovah his face--if de veil is lifted up de sho
can see hants and see evah thing but if'n de veil is pulled down stid up
bein lifted up de won't see em. After de veil is pulled down an taken
off, wrap hit up in a tissue paper and put hit in de trunk and let hit
stay dar till hit disappear and de chile won't nevah see hants. Mah
grandaughter what lives up north in Missouri come down heah to visit mah
son's fambly an me ah an brang huh li'l boy wid huh. Dat chile is bout
seben years ole an dat chile could see hants all in de house an he
wouldn' go tuh baid till his gran'pappy come home an went tuh baid wid
Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson
Person Interviewed: Charlie Williams
"I was born four miles from Holly Springs, Mississippi. My parents was
named Patsy and Tom Williams. They had twenty children. Nat Williams and
Miss Carrie Williams owned them both. They had four children.
"At freedom he was nice as could be--wanted em to stay on with him and
they did. He didn't whip em. They liked that in him. His wife was dead
and he come out to Arkansas with us. He died at Lonoke--Mr. Tom Williams
"I farmed nearly all my life. I worked on a steamboat on White River
five or six years--_The Ralph_.
"I never saw a Ku Klux. Mr. Williams kept us well protected.
"My mother's mother couldn't talk plain. My mother talked tolerably
plain. She was a 'Molly Glaspy' woman. My father had a loud heavy voice;
you could hear him a long ways off.
"I have no home. I am a widower. I have no land. I get a small check and
"I vote. I haven't voted in a long time. I'm not educated to know how
that would serve us best."
Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor
Person interviewed: Columbus Williams
Temporary: 2422 Howard Street, Little Rock, Arkansas
Permanent: Box 12, Route 2, Ouachita County, Stevens, Arkansas
"I was born in Union County, Arkansas, in 1841, in Mount Holly.
"My mother was named Clora Tookes. My father's name is Jordan Tookes.
Bishop Tookes is supposed to be a distant relative of ours. I don't know
my mother and father's folks. My mother and father were both born in
Georgia. They had eight children. All of them are dead now but me. I am
the only one left.
"Old Ben Heard was my master. He come from Mississippi, and brought my
mother and father with him. They were in Mississippi as well as in
Georgia, but they were born in Georgia. Ben Heard was a right mean man.
They was all mean 'long about then. Heard whipped his slaves a lot.
Sometimes he would say they wouldn't obey. Sometimes he would say they
sassed him. Sometimes he would say they wouldn't work. He would tie them
and stake them out and whip them with a leather whip of some kind. He
would put five hundred licks on them before he would quit. He would buy
the whip he whipped them with out of the store. After he whipped them,
they would put their rags on and go on about their business. There
wouldn't be no such thing as medical attention. What did he care. He
would whip the women the same as he would the men.
"Strip 'em to their waist and let their rags hang down from their hips
and tie them down and lash them till the blood ran all down over their
clothes. Yes sir, he'd whip the women the same as he would the men.
"Some of the slaves ran away, but they would catch them and bring them
back, you know. Put the dogs after them. The dogs would just run them up
and bay them just like a coon or 'possum. Sometimes the white people
would make the dogs bite them. You see, when the dogs would run up on
them, they would sometimes fight them, till the white people got there
and then the white folks would make the dogs bite them and make them
quit fighting the dogs.
"One man run off and stayed twelve months once. He come back then, and
they didn't do nothin' to him. 'Fraid he'd run off again, I guess.
"We didn't have no church nor nothing. No Sunday-schools, no nothin'.
Worked from Monday morning till Saturday night. On Sunday we didn't do
nothin' but set right down there on that big plantation. Couldn't go
nowhere. Wouldn't let us go nowhere without a pass. They had the
paterollers out all the time. If they caught you out without a pass,
they would give you twenty-five licks. If you outrun them and got home,
on your master's plantation, you saved yourself the whipping.
"The black people never had no amusement. They would have an old
fiddle--something like that. That was all the music I ever seen.
Sometimes they would ring up and play 'round in the yard. I don't
remember the games. Sing some kind of old reel song. I don't hardly
remember the words of any of them songs.
"Wouldn't allow none of them to have no books nor read nor nothin'.
Nothin' like that. They had corn huskin's in Mississippi and Georgia,
but not in Arkansas. Didn't have no quiltin's. Women might quilt some at
night. Didn't have nothin' to make no quilts out of.
"The very first work I did was to nurse babies. After that when I got a
little bigger they carried me to the field--choppin' cotton. Then I went
to picking cotton. Next thing--pullin' fodder. Then they took me from
that and put me to plowin', clearin' land, splittin' rails. I believe
that is about all I did. You worked from the time you could see till the
time you couldn't see. You worked from before sunrise till after dark.
When that horn blows, you better git out of that house, 'cause the
overseer is comin' down the line, and he ain't comin' with nothin' in
"They weighed the rations out to the slaves. They would give you so many
pounds of meat to each working person in the family. The children didn't
count; they didn't git none. That would have to last till next Sunday.
They would give them three pounds of meat to each workin' person, I
think. They would give 'em a little meal too. That is all they'd give
'em. The slaves had to cook for theirselves after they come home from
the field. They didn't get no flour nor no sugar nor no coffee, nothin'
"They would give the babies a little milk and corn bread or a little
molasses and bread when they didn't have the milk. Some old person who
didn't have to go to the field would give them somethin' to eat so that
they would be out of the way when the folks come out of the field.
"The slaves lived in old log houses--one room, one door, _one window_,
one everything. There were _plenty windows_ though. There were windows
all [HW: ?] around the house. They had cracks that let in more air than
the windows would. They had plank floors. Didn't have no furniture. The
bed would have two legs and would have a hole bored in the side of the
house where the side rail would run through and the two legs would be
out from the wall. Didn't have no springs and they made out with
anything they could git for a mattress. Master wouldn't furnish them
nothin' of that kind.
"The jayhawkers were white folks. They didn't bother we all much. That
was after the surrender. They go 'round here and there and git after
white folks what they thought had some money and jerk them 'round. They
were jus' common men and soldiers.
"I was not in the army in the War. I was right down here in Union County
then. I don't know just when they freed me but it was after the War was
over. The old white man call us up to the house and told us now we was
free as he was; that if we wanted to stay with him it was all right, if
we didn't and wanted to go away anywheres, we could have the privilege
to do it.
"Marriage wasn't like now. You would court a woman and jus' go on and
marry. No license, no nothing. Sometimes you would take up with a woman
and go on with her. Didn't have no ceremony at all. I have heard of them
stepping over a broom but I never saw it. Far as I saw there was no
ceremony at all.
"When the slaves were freed they expected to get forty acres and a mule.
I never did hear of anybody gettin' it.
"Right after the War, I worked on a farm with Ben Heard. I stayed with
him about three years, then I moved off with some other white folks. I
worked on shares. First I worked for half and he furnished a team. Then
I worked on third and fourth and furnished my own team. I gave the owner
a third of the corn and a fourth of the cotton and kept the rest. I kept
that up several years. They cheated us out of our part. If they
furnished anything, they would sure git it back. Had everything so high
you know. I have farmed all my life. Farmed till I got so old I
couldn't. I never did own my own farm. I just continued to rent.
"I never had any trouble about voting. I voted whenever I wanted to. I
reckon it was about three years after the War when I began to vote.
"I never went to school. One of the white boys slipped and learned me a
little about readin' in slave time. Right after freedom come, I was a
grown man; so I had to work. I married about four or five years after
the War. I was just married once. My wife is not living now. She's gone.
She's been dead for about twelve years.
"I belong to the A.M.E. Church and my membership is in the New Home
Church out in the country in Ouachita County."
Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor
Person interviewed: Frank Williams
County Hospital, ward eleven, Little Rock, Arkansas
Age: 100, or more
"I'm a hundred years old. I know I'm a hundred. I know from where they
told me. I don't know when I was born.
"I been took down and whipped many a time because I didn't do my work
good. They took my pants down and whipped me just the same as if I'd
been a dog. Sometimes they would whip the people from Saturday night
till Monday morning.
"I run off with the Yankees. I was young then. I was in the Civil War. I
don't know how long I stayed in the army. I ain't never been back home
since. I wish I was. I wouldn't be in this condition if I was back home.
"Mississippi was my home. I come up here with the Yankees and I ain't
never been back since. Laconia, Mississippi was the place I used to be
down there. I been wanting to go home, but I couldn't git off. I want to
git you to write there for me. I belong to the Baptist church. Write to
the elders of the church. I belong to the Mission Baptist Church on the
other side of Rock Creek here.
"They just lived in log houses in slave time.
"I want to go back home. They made me leave Laconia.
"Pateroles!! Oh, my God!!! I know 'nough 'bout them. Child, I've heard
'em holler, 'Run, nigger, run! The pateroles will catch you.'
"The jayhawkers would catch people and whip them.
"I would be back home yet if they hadn't made me come away.
"They didn't have no church in slavery time. They jus' had to hide
around and worship God any way they could.
"I used to live in Laconia. I ain't been back there since the war. I
want to go back to my folks."
Frank Williams is like a man suffering from amnesia. He is the first old
man that I have interviewed whose memory is so far gone. He remembers
practically nothing. He can't tell you where he was born. He can't tell
you where he lived before he came to Little Rock. Only when his
associates mention some of the things he formerly told them can he
remember that little of his past that he does state in any remote
approach to detail.
There is a strong emotional set which relates to his slave time
experiences. The emotion surges up in his mind at any mention of slave
time matters. But only the emotion remains. The details are gone
forever. Names, times, places, happenings are gone forever. He does not
even recall the name of his father, the name of his mother, or the name
of any of his relatives or masters, or old-time friends. No single
definite thing rises above the horizon of his mind and defines itself
clearly to him.
And always after every sentence he utters, there rises the old refrain:
"I want to go back home. I wouldn't be in this condition if I was back
home. I live in Laconia. They made me come away." And that is the
substance of the story he remembers.
Interviewer: Thomas Elmore Lucy
Person interviewed: Gus Williams, Russellville, Arkansas
"Was you lookin' for me t'oder day? Sure, my name's Williams--Gus
Williams--not Wilson. Dey gits me mixed up wid dat young guy, Wilson.
"Yes, I remembers you--sure--talks to yo' brother sometimes.
"I was born in Chatham County, Georgia--Savannah is de county seat. My
marster's name was Jim Williams. Never seen my daddy cause de Yankees
carried him away durin' de War, took him away to de North. Old marster
was good to his slaves, I was told, but don't ricollect anything about
em. Of course I was too young. Was born on Christmas day, 1857--but I
don't see anything specially interestin' in bein' a Christmas present;
never got me nothin', and never will.
"Was workin' on WPA--this big Tech. buildin'--but got laid off t'other
"My mamma brought us to Arkansas in 1885, but we stopped and lived for
several years in Tennessee. Worked for twelve years out of Memphis on
the old Anchor Line steamboats on de Mississippi, runnin' from St. Louis
to N'Orleans. Plenty work in dem days.
"No, I ain't voted in a long time; can't afford to vote because I never
have the dollar. No dollar--no vote. Depression done fixed my votin'.
"Jest me and my wife, but it takes pluggin' away to get along. We
belongs to the C.M.E. Church since 1915. I was janitor at the West Ward
School for seven years, and sure liked dat job.
"Don't ask me anything about dese boys and gals livin' today. Much
difference in dem and de young folks livin' in my time as between me and
you. No dependence to be put in em. My _estimony_ is dat de black
servants today workin' for de whites learns things from dem white girls
dat dey never knowed before, and den goes home and does things dey never
"Don't ricollect many of de old-time songs, but one was somep'n
like--"Am I Born to Die?" And--oh, yes,--lots of times we sung 'Amazin'
Grace, how sweet de soun' dat saves a _race_ like me.'
"No suh, I ain't got no education--never had a chance to git one."
NOTE: The underscored words are actual quotations. "Estimony" for
"opinion" was a characteristic in Gus' vocabulary; "race" for the
original "wretch" in the song may have been a general error in some
Interviewer: Pernella M. Anderson
Person interviewed: Henrietta Williams
B. Avenue, El Dorado, Arkansas
Age: About 82
"I am about 82 years old. I was born in Georgia down in the cotton
patch. I did not know much about slavery, for I was raised in the white
folks' house, and my old mistress called me her little nigger, and she
didn't allow me to be whipped and drove around. I remember my old master
whipped me one time and old mistress fussed with him so much he never
did whip me any more.
"I never had to get out and do any real hard work until I was nearly
grown. My mother did not have but one child. My father was sold from my
mother when I was about two years old and he was carried to Texas and I
did not see him any more until I was 35 years old. So my mother married
again when she was set free. I didn't stay with my mother very much. She
stayed off in a little log house with a dirt floor, and she cooked on
the fireplace with a skillet and lid, and the house had one window with
a shutter. She had to cut logs and roll them like a man and split rails
and plow. I would sometimes ask old mistress to let me go out where my
mother was working to see her plow and when I got to be a big girl about
nine years she began learning me how to plow.
"I often told the niggers the white folks raised me. The niggers tell
me, 'Yes, the white folks raise you but the niggers is going to kill
"After freedom my mistress and master moved to Louisiana. They farmed.
They owned a big plantation. I did the housework.
"The biggest snow I remember was the big centennial snow. Oh, that's
been years ago. The snow was so deep you couldn't get out of the house.
The boys had to take the shovel and the hoe and keep the snow raked away
from around the door.
"There was a big old oak tree that stood in the corner of the yard.
People say that tree was a hundred years old. We could not get no wood,
so master had the boys to cut the big old oak tree for wood.
"Rabbits had a scant time. The boys would go out and track six or eight
rabbits at a time. We had rabbits of all descriptions. We had rabbits
for breakfast, rabbits for dinner, rabbits for supper time. We had fried
rabbits, baked rabbits, stewed rabbits, boiled rabbits. Had rabbits,
rabbits, rabbits the whole six or eight weeks the snow stayed on the
"I remember when I was about twelve years old a woman had two small
children. She went away from home and for fear that the children would
get hurt on the outside she put them in the house and locked the door.
In some way they got a match and struck it and the house caught fire.
All the neighbors were a long ways off and by the time they reched the
house it had fallen in. Finally the mother came and looked for her
children and asked the neighbors did they save them. They said no, they
did not know they were in the house. In fact they were too late anyway.
So the fire was still hot and they had to wait for the ashes to cool and
when the ashes got cool they went looking for the children and found the
burned buttons that were on their little clothes, so they began raking
around in the ashes and at last found each of their little hearts that
had not burned, but the little hearts were still jumping and the man who
found the hearts picked them up in his hand and stood speechless. He
became so nervous he could not move. Their little hearts just quivered.
They let their hearts lay out for a couple of days and when they buried
their hearts they was still jumpin'. That was a sad time. From that day
to this day I never lock no one up in the house."
Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson
Person interviewed: Henry Andrew (Tip) Williams
Age: Born in 1854, 86
"I was born three and one-half miles from Jackson, North Carolina. I was
born a slave. I was put to work at six years old. They started me to
cleaning off new ground. I thinned corn on my knees with my hands. We
planted six or seven acres of cotton and got four or five cents a pound.
Balance we planted was something to live on. My master was Jason and
Betsy Williams. He had a small plantation; the smaller the plantation
the better they was to their slaves.
"Jim Johnson's farm joined. He had nine hundred ninety-nine niggers. It
was funny but every time a nigger was born one died. When he bought one
another one would die. He was noted as having nine hundred ninety-nine
niggers. It happened that way. He was rough on his place. He had a jail
on his place. It was wood but close built. Couldn't get out of there.
Put them in there and lock them up with a big padlock. He kept a male
hog in the jail to tramp and walk over them. They said they kept them
tied down in that place. Five hundred lashes and shot 'em up in jail was
light punishment. They said it was light brushing. I lived up in the
Piney Woods. It was big rich bottom plantations from Weldon Bridge to
Halifax down on the river. They was rough on 'em, killed some. No, I
never seen Jim Johnson to know him. He lived at Edenton, North Carolina.
I recollect mighty well the day he died we had a big storm, blowed down
big trees. That jail was standing when I come to Arkansas forty-seven
years ago. It was a 'Bill brew' (stocks) they put men in when they put
them in jail. Turned male hog in there for a blind.
"Part of Jim Johnson's overseers was black and part white. Hatterway was
white and Nat was black. They was the head overseers and both bad men. I
could hear them crying way to our place early in the morning and at
"Lansing Kahart owned grandma when I was a little boy.
"They took hands in droves one hundred fifty miles to Richmond to sell
them. Richmond and New Orleans was the two big selling blocks. My uncle
was sold at Richmond and when I come to Arkansas he was living at
Helena. I never did get to see him but I seen his two boys. They live
down there now. I don't know how my uncle got to Helena but he was
turned loose down in this country at 'mancipation. They told me that.
"When a man wanted a woman he went and axed the master for her and took
her on. That is about all there was to it. No use to want one of the
women on Jim Johnson's, Debrose, Tillery farms. They kept them on their
own and didn't want visitors. They was big farms. Kershy had a big farm.
"The Yankees never went to my master's house a time. The black folks
knowd the Yankees was after freedom. They had a song no niggers ever
made up, 'I wanter be free.'
"My master was too old to go to war but Bill went. I think it was better
times in slavery than now but I'm not in favor of bringing it back on
account of the cruelty and dividing up families. My master was good to
us. He was proud of us. We fared fine. He had a five or six horse farm.
His land wasn't strong but we worked and had plenty. Mother cooked for
white and colored. We had what they et 'cepting when company come. When
they left we got scraps. Then when Christmas come we had cakes and pies
stacked up setting about for us to cut. They cut down through a whole
stack of pies. Cut them in halves and pass them among us. We got hunks
of cake a piece. We had plain eating er plenty all the time. You see I'm
a big man. I wasn't starved out till I was about grown, after the War
was over. Times really was hard. Hard, hard times come on us all.
"Mama got one whooping in her life. I seen that. Jason Williams whipped
only two grown folks in my life, mama and my brother. Mama sassed her
mistress or that what they called it then. Since then I've heard worse
jawing not called sassing, call it arguing now. Sassing was a bad trait
in them days. Brother was whooped in the field. He was seven years older
than me. I didn't see none of that. They talked a right smart about it.
"The Williams was good to us all. Master's wife heired two women and a
girl. Mama cooked, ironed, and worked in the field in time of a push
"I was hauling for the Rebel soldiers one rainy evening. It was dark and
lightning every now and then. General Ransom was at the hotel porch when
Sherman turned the bend one mile to come in the town. It was about four
o'clock in the evening I judge. General Ransom's company was washing at
Boom's Mill three miles. About one thousand men was out there cooking
and in washing, resting. General Ransom went hollering, 'Yankees!' Went
to his men. They got away I reckon. Sherman killed sixty men in that
town I know. General Ransom went on his horse hollering, 'Yankees
coming!' He went to his home eight miles from there. They went on
through rough as could be.
"I hauled when it was so dark the team had to take me in home at night.
My circuit was ten miles a day.
"My young master Bill Williams come in April soon as he got home and
told us we was free but didn't have to leave. We stayed on and worked.
He said he had nothing but the land and we had nothing. At the end of
the year he paid off in corn and a little money. Us boys left then and
mother followed us about. We ain't done no better since then. We didn't
go far off.
"Forty-seven years ago I went to Weldon, North Carolina in a wagon, took
the train to Gettysburg and from there come to Biscoe, Arkansas. I been
about here ever since. Mr. Biscoe paid our way. We worked three years to
pay him back. I cleared good money since I cone out here. I had cattle I
owned and three head of horses all my own. Age crept up on me. I can't
work to do much good now. I gets six dollars--Welfare money.
"Times is a puzzle to me. I don't know what to think. Things is got all
wrong some way but I don't know whether it will get straightened out or
not. Folks is making the times. It's the folks cause of all this good or
bad. People not as good as they was forty years ago. They getting
Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson
Person interviewed: James Williams, Brinkley, Arkansas
"I come from close to Montgomery, Alabama. Man named John G. Elliott
sent and got a number famlees to work his land. He was the richest man
in them parts round Fryers Point, Mississippi. I was born after the
Civil War. They used to say we what was raisin' up havin' so much easier
time an what they had in slavery times. That all old folks could talk
about. Said the onlies time the slaves had to comb their hair was on
Sunday. They would comb and roll each others hair and the men cut each
others hair. That all the time they got. They would roll the childerns
hair or keep it cut short one. Saturday mornin' was the time the men had
to curry and trim up the horses and mules. Clean out the lot and stalls.
The women would sweep and scour the floors for Sunday.
"I haven't voted for a long time. It used to be some fun votin'. Din in
Mississippi the whites vote one way and us the other. My father was a
Republican. I was too.
"I have cataracts growing on my eyes. That hinders my work now. I got a
little garden. It help out. I ain't got no propety no kind.
"The young folks seem happy. I guess they gettin' long fine. Some folks
jes' lucky bout gettin' ahead and stayin' ahead. I can't tell no moren
nothin' how times goiner serve this next generation they changein' all
time seems lack. If the white folks don't know what goiner become of the
next generation, they need not be asking a fellow lack me. I wish I did
"I ain't been on the PWA. I don't git no help ceptin' when I can work a
little for myself."
Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor
Person interviewed: John Williams
County Hospital, ward 11, Little Rock, Arkansas
"I was born in 1863 in Texas right in the city of Dallas right in the
heart of the town. After the War our owners brought us back to Little
Rock. That is where they left from. They left here on account of the
War. They run off their slaves to keep the Yankees from freeing them.
All the old masters were dead. But the young ones were Louis Fletcher,
John Fletcher, Dick Fletcher, Jeff Fletcher, and Len Fletcher. Five
brothers of them. Their home was here in Little Rock. The War was going
on. It went on four years and prior to the end of it I was born.
"My mother's name was Mary Williams. My father's name was John Williams.
I was named after him.
"It is funny how they changed their names. Now, his name was John Scott
before he went into the army. But after he went in, they changed his
name into John Williams.
"His master's name was Scott but I don't know the other part of it. All
five of the brothers was named for their mother's masters. She raised
them. She always called all of them master. 'Cordin' to what I hear from
the old folks, when one of them come 'round, you better call him master.
"In slave time, my father was a field hand, I know that. But I know more
about my mother. I heard her say she was always a cook.
"I heard her speak about having cruel treatment from her first masters;
I don't know who they were. But after the Fletchers bought them, they
had a good time. They come all the way out of Louisiana up here. My
mother was sold from her mother and sister-sold some two or three times.
She never did get no trace of her sister, but she found her grandmother
in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and brought her here. Her sister's name was
Fannie and her grandmother's name was Crecie Lander. That is an Indian
name. I couldn't understand nothing she would say hardly. She was
bright. All my folks were bright but me. My mother had hair way down her
shoulders and you couldn't tell my uncle from a dago. My grandmother was
a regular Indian color. She spoke Indian too. You couldn't understand
nothing she said.
"When I woke up, they had these homemade beds. I couldn't hardly
describe them, but they put the sides into the posts with legs. They
were stout things too what I am talkin' 'bout. They made cribs for us
little children and put them under the bed. They would pull the cribs
out at night and run them under the bed during the day. They called them
cribs trundles. They called them trundles because they run them under
the bed. For chairs and tables accordin' to what I heard my mother say,
she was cook and they had everything in the big house and et pretty much
what the white folks et. But we just had boxes in the cabins.
"Them that was in the white folks' house had pretty good meals, but them
that was in the field they would feed just about like they would the
hogs. They had little wooden trays and they would put little fat meat
and pot-liquor and corn bread in the tray, and hominy and such as that.
Biscuits came just on Sunday.
"They had old ladies to cook for the slave children and old ladies to
cook for the hands. What was in the big house stayed in the big house.
All the slave men ate in one place and all the slave women ate in one
place. They weren't supposed to have any food in their homes unless they
would go out foraging. Sometimes they would get it that way. They'd go
out and steal ol' master's sweet potatoes and roast them in the fire.
They'd go out and steal a hog and kill it. All of it was theirn; they
raised it. They wasn't to say stealin' it; they just went out and got
it. If old master caught them, he'd give 'em a little brushin' if he
thought they wouldn't run off. Lots of times they would run off, and if
he thought they'd run off because they got a whippin', he was kinda slow
to catch 'em. If one run off, he'd tell the res', 'If you see so and so,
tell 'im to come on back. I ain't goin' to whip 'im.' If he couldn't do
nothin' with 'em, he'd sell 'em. I guess he would say to hisself, 'I
can't do nothin' with this nigger. If I can't do nothing with 'im, I'll
sell him and git my money outa him.'
"I have heard my mother say that some of the slaves that ran away would
get destroyed by the wild animals and some of them would even be glad to
come back home. Right smart of them got clean away and went to free
"After the War was over, they all was brought back here and the owners
let them know they was free. They had to let them know they were free. I
never heard my mother tell the details. I never heard her say just who
brought her word or how it was told to her when they was freed.
"I never heard her say much about the church because she was a sinner.
After they was freed, I would go many a night and set down in a corner
where they was having a big dance.
"The pateroles and jayhawkers were bad. Many of them got hurt too. They
tried to hurt the niggers and sometimes the niggers hurt them.
"Right after the War, my folks farmed for a living. They farmed on
shares. They didn't have nothing of their own. They never did get
nothing out of their work. I know they didn't get a thing. They farmed
at first about seven miles out from Little Rock, below Fourche Dam on
the Fletcher place. There ain't but one of the Fletchers living now, and
that is Molly Daniels. She is old Louis Fletcher's daughter. All their
brothers is dead. She's owning all the land now we used to till. It's
over a thousand acres. She [HW: mother] stayed down there for about
twenty or thirty years. Then she moved here to town. Here she cooked for
white folks. My mother died about forty years ago--forty-two or three
years; she's been dead sometime. My wife has been dead now for twelve
"I didn't get but a little schooling, for my father used to send me
after the mules. One day the wheelbarrow had a load of bricks on it. It
was upset. They had histed the bricks up on a high platform. It turned
over as I was passing underneath, and one fell on me and struck my head.
It was a long time after that before they would let me go to school
again. After that I never got used to studying any more.
"My first teacher was Lottie Andrews (Charlotte Stephens). I had some
more teachers too. Lemme see--Professor Fish was a white man. We had
colored teachers under him. Then we had R.B. White. He was Reuben
White's brother. R.B. White's wife was a teacher. Professor Fish was the
superintendent. There ain't no truth to the tale that Reuben White was
put in a coffin before he was dead. Reuben White built the First Baptist
Church here and Milton White built a big church in Helena. They were
brothers. Them was two sharp darkies.
"When I first started working, I drove teams. I raised crops a while and
farmed. Then I left the country and come to town and got up to be a
quarry man for years. Then I quit that and went to driving teams for the
Merchant Transfer Company for years. Then I quit that and run on the
road--the Mountain--for four years. Then I taken a coal chute on the
Rock Island and run it for four years. Then I quit and went to working
as an all-'round man in the shop. I stayed with them about nine years.
Then I taken down in the shape that I am now.
"I have been out here to this hospital for twenty-four years going on
twenty-five. Been down so that I couldn't hit a lick of work for
twenty-five years. I have been in this building for eleven years. I get
along tolerable fair. As the old man says, we can just live.
"I think the young people are going wild and if something isn't done to
head them off pretty soon, they'll go too far. They ain't looking at
what's going on up the road; they just call theirselves having a good
time. They ain't looking to have nothing. They ain't looking to be
nothing. They ain't looking to get nothing for the future. Don't know
what they would do if they had to work part of the time for nothing like
we did. I see men working now for ten dollars a month. I could take a
fishing line and go fishing and beat that when I was young. Times is
getting back almost as hard as they used to be.
"I am a Christian. I belong to Shiloh Baptist Church in North Little
Rock. I helped build that church. Brother Hawkins was the pastor."
Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson
Person interviewed: Lillie Williams, Madison, Arkansas
"I was born some place down in Mississippi. My papa's papa come from
Georgia. He had a tar kiln; he cut splinters put them on it. It would
smoke blackest smoke and drip for a week. He used it to grease the hubs
of the wagons. We drunk pine tar tea for coughs. He split rails, made
boards and shingles all winter. He had a draw-knife, a mall and wedges
to use in his work. He learned that where he come from in Georgia. He
sold boards, pailings when I can recollects. Grandma made tallow candles
for everybody on our place in the fall when they killed the first
yearling. They cooked up beeswax when they robbed bees. When I was a
child I picked up pine knots for torches to quilt and knit by. We raised
everything we lived on. I pulled sage grass to cure for brooms. Grandpa
planted some broom corn and we swept the yards and lots with brooms made
out of brush.
"Grandma kept a barrel to make locust and persimmon beer in. We dried
apples and peaches all summer and put chinaberry seed 'mongst them to
keep out worms.
"If we rode to church, it was in a steer wagon (ox wagon). Our oxen
named Buck, Brandy Barley.
"Grandma raised me, two more girls, and a boy. Mama worked out. Our pa
died. Mama worked 'mongst the white folks. Grandma was old-timey. She
made our dresses to pick cotton in every summer. They was hot and
stubby. They looked pretty. We was proud of them. Mama washed and
ironed. She kept us clean, too. Grandma made us card and spin. I never
could learn to spin but I was a good knitter. I could reel. I did love
to hear it crack. That was a cut. We had a winding blade. We would fill
the quills for our grandma to weave. Grandma was mighty quiet and
particular. She come from Kenturkey. We all ploughed. I've ploughed and
"I had three little children to raise and now I have nine grandchildren.
I got five here now to look after when their mother is out at work. I
have worked. We farmed in 1923 up till 1931 and got this house paid out.
(Fairly good square-boxed, unpainted house--ed.)
"My mother-in-law was sold in Aberdeen, Mississippi on a tall stump. She
clem up a ladder. Her ma was at the sale and said she was awful uneasy.
But she was sold to folks close by. She could go to see her.
"Freedom come on. The colored folks slip about from place to place and
whisper, 'We goiner be set free.' I think my mama left at freedom and
come to twenty or twenty-two miles from Oxford, Mississippi. I don't
know where I was born. But in Mississippi somewheres.
"There is something wrong about the way we are doing somehow. It is from
hand to mouth. We buys too many paper sacks. They say work is hard to
get. One thing now didn't used to be, you have to show the money before
you can buy a thing. Seem like we all gone money crazy. Automobiles and
silk stockings done ruined us all. White folks ought to straighten this
Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson
Person interviewed: Mary Williams, Clarendon, Arkansas
Age: Born 1872
"My father was a slavery man two and one-half miles from Somerville,
Tennessee. Colonel Rivers owned him. Argile Rivers was papa's name.
"He went to war. His job was hauling food to the soldiers. He lay out in
the woods getting to his soldiers with provisions. He'd run hide under
the feed wagon from the shot. Him and old master would be together
sometimes. His master died, or was hurt and died after the War a long
"He said his master was good to him all time. They had to work hard. He
raised one boy and me."
Name of Interviewer: Irene Robertson
Subject: Ex-Slave--Herbs "Hant" experiences
This information given by: Mary Williams
Place of residence: Hazen, Arkansas
Occupation: Field Worker
[TR: Information moved from bottom of first page.]
Mary Williams mother's name was Mariah and before she married her master
forced her to go wrong and she had a son by him. They all called him Jim
Rob. He was a mulatta. Then Mariah married Williams on General Garretts
farm. The Rob Roy farm and the Garrett farm joined. Mary was born at Rob
Roy, Arkansas near Humphrey. Mary said the master married her mother and
father after her mother was stood up on a stump and auctioned off. Her
mother was a house girl. Soon there were rumors of freedom but their
family lived on where they were. Her father said when he was a boy he
attended the draw bars and met the old master to get a ride up behind
Once when her father was real small he was eating biscuit with a hole in
it made by a grown person sticking finger down in it, then fill the hole
with molasses. That was a rarity they had just cooked molasses. He was
sitting in front of the fire place. Big White Bobby stuck his nose and
mouth to take a bite of his bread. He picked the cat up and threw it in
the fire. The cat ran out, smutty, just flying. The old mistress came in
there and got after him about throwing the cat in the fire.
One time when my father was going to see my mother. Before they got
married, across the field. He had a bag of potatoes. He felt something,
felt like some one had caught his bag and was pulling him back. He was
much off a man and thought he could whip nearly every body around but he
was too scared to run and couldn't hardly get away.
* * * * *
Mary's mother, Mariah two children had been gone off. They were coming
in on the boat some time in the night. The master sent two of the big
boys down to build a fire and wait at the landing till they came. They
went in the wagon. There was an old empty house up on the hill. So they
went up there and built a fire and put their quilts down for pallets by
the fire place. They heard hants outside, they peeped out the log
cracks. They saw something white out there all the doors were buttoned
and propped. When the boat came it blew and blew. The master wondered
what in the world was the matter down there. The captian said he hated
to put them out and nobody to meet them. It was after midnight. So some
of the boat crew built them a fire and next morning when they got up on
the hill they noticed somebody asleep as they peeped through the cracks
and called them. Saw their wagon and knew it too. They said they was
afraid of them hants around the house, too afraid to go down to the boat
landing if they did hear the boat. Hants can't be seen in daytime only
by people "what born with veils over their faces."
Her father was going to mill to have corn ground. It was before day
light. He was driving an ox wagon.
In front of him he saw a sweet maple limb moving up and down over the
road in front of him. He went on and the ox butted and kicked at it and
it followed them nearly to the mill. It sounded like somebody crying. It
turned and went back still crying. Her father said there were hants up
in the tree and cut the limb off and followed him carrying it between
themselves so he couldn't see what they looked like.
* * * * *
It is a sign of death for a hoot owl to come hollow in your yard.
* * * * *
Interviewer: Mrs. Bernice Bowden
Person interviewed: Mary Williams
409 North Hickory, Pine Bluff, Arkansas
"Yes mam, I sure would be glad to talk to you 'bout slavery times. I can
sure tell about it--I certainly can, lady.
"I am so proud 'bout my white folks 'cause they learned me how to work
and tell the truth. I had a good master and mistress. Yes'm, I sure did.
"I was borned in middle Georgia and I just love the name of Georgia. I
was the second born of 'leven children and they is all dead 'cept
me--I'm the only one left to tell the tale.
"When the ginnin' started I was always glad 'cause I could ride the
crank they had the mules hitched to. And then after the cotton was
ginned they took it to the press and you could hear that screw go
z-m-m-m and dreckly that 'block and tickle' come down. Yes mam, I sure
did have good times.
"You ain't never seen a spinnin' wheel has you? Well, I used to card and
spin. I never did weave but I hope dye the hanks. They weaved it into
cloth and called it muslin.
"I can 'member all I want to 'bout the war. I 'member when the Yankees
come through Georgia. I walked out in the yard with 'em and my white
people just as scared of 'em as they could be. I heered the horses feet,
then the drums, and then 'bout twenty-five or thirty bugles. I was so
amazed when the Yankees come. I heered their songs but I couldn't
"One thing I 'member jest as well as if 'twas this mornin'. That was the
day young master Henry Lee went off to war. Elisha Pearman hired him to
go and told him that when the war ceasted he would give him two or three
darkies and let him marry his daughter. Young master Henry (he was just
eighteen) he say he goin' to take old Lincoln the first thing and swing
him to a limb and let him play around awhile and then shoot his head
off. But I 'member the morning old mistress got a letter that told how
young master Henry was in a pit with the soldiers and they begged him
not to stick his head up but he did anyway and they shot it off. Old
mistress jest cry so.
"One thing I know, the Yankees took a lot of things. I 'member they took
Mrs. Fuller to the well and said they goin' hang her by the thumbs--but
they just done it for mischievous you know. They didn't take nothin'
from my white people 'cept some chickens and a hog, and cut down the
hams. They put the old rooster in the sack and he went to squawkin' so
they took him out and wrung his neck.
"My white people used to carry me with 'em anywhere they go. That's how
come I learn so much. I sure did learn a heap when I was small. I
'member the first time my old mistress and my young mistress carried me
to church. When the preacher got through preachin' (he was a big fine
lookin' man with white gray hair) he come down from the pulpit and say
'Come to me, you sinners, poor and needy.' And he told what Jesus said
to Nicodemus how he must be born again. I wanted to go to the mourners'
bench so bad, but old mistress wouldn't let me. When I got home I told
my mother to borned me again. You see I was jest little and didn't know
"I never seen no Ku Klux but I could have. They never bothered us but
they whipped the shirttails off some of 'em. Some darkies is the meanest
things God ever put breath in.
"Most generally the white folks was good to their darkies. My young
master used to sneak out his Blue Back Speller and learned my father how
to read, and after the war he taught school. He started me off and then
a teacher from the North come down and taught us.
"I've done pitty near every kind a work there is to do. There is some
few white people here can identify me. I most always work for
'ristocratic people. It seems that was just my luck.
"I don't think nothin' of this here younger generation. They ain't
nothin' to 'em. They say to me 'Why don't you have your hair
straightened' but I say 'I've got along this far without painted jaws
and straight hair.' And I ain't goin' wear my dresses up to my knees or
trail 'em in the mud, either.
"I been married four times and every one of 'em is dead and buried. My
las' husband was in the Spanish-American War and now I gets a pension.
Yes'm it sure does help.
"I only had two children is all I is had. They is both dead and when God
took my last one, I thought he wasn't jest but I see now God knows
what's best cause if I had my grandchildren now I'd sure beat 'em. I'd
love 'em, but I sure wouldn't let 'em run around.
"The biggest part of these niggers puts their mistakes on the white
folks. It's easier to do right than wrong cause right whips wrong every
time into a frazzle.
"I don't read much now since my eyes ain't so good but tell me whatever
become of Teddy Roosevelt?
"I'm sorry I can't offer you no dinner but I'm just cookin' myself some
"Well, lady, I sure am glad you come. I jest knew the Lord was goin'
send somebody for me to talk to. I loves to talk so well. Good bye and
come back again sometime."
Interviewer: Mrs. Bernice Bowden
Person interviewed: Mary Williams
409 Hickory, Pine Bluff, Arkansas
[TR: Apparently a second interview with same person despite age
"Yes ma'am, I know all about slavery. I'll be eighty-four the
twenty-fifth of this month. I was born in 1855.
"My mother had eleven children and they all said I could remember the
best of all. I'm the second oldest. And they all dead but me.
"I used to spin and on Friday I'd set aside my wheel and on Saturday
morning we'd sweep yards. And Saturday evening was our holiday.
"I belonged to the Lees and my white folks was good to me. I was the
aptest one among 'em, so they'd give me a basket and a ginger cake and
I'd go to the Presly's after squabs. They'd be just nine days old 'cause
they said if they was any older they'd be tough.
"Now, when the Yankees come through ever'body was up in the house 'cept
me. I was out in the yard with the Yankees. No, I wasn't scared of
'em--I had better sense.
"This is all the 'joyment I have now is to think back in slavery times.
"In slavery times white folks used to carry me to church. They'd carry
me to church in preference to anybody else. When they'd sing I'd be so
happy I'd hop and skip. I'm one of the stewardess sisters of St. John's
Methodist Church. We takes care of the sacrament table.
"I believe in visions. I'm a great revisionist. I don't have to be
asleep either. Now if I see a vision of a black snake, it's a sign I got
a black enemy. And if it's a light colored snake, it's a sign I got a
white enemy. And if it's a kinda of a yellow snake, I got a enemy is a
"Now, here's a true sign of death. If you dream of seen' nakedness,
somebody sure goin' to die in your family or maybe your neighbors'.
"In slavery times they mostly wove their own dresses. Wove goods called
"And they wore bonnets in slavery times made out of bull rush grass.
Called 'em bull rush bonnets. I knowed how to weave but they had me
spinnin' all the time.
"I've always worked for the 'ristocrat white people--lawyers, doctors,
and bankers. Mr. Frank Head was cashier of that old Merchant and
Planters Bank. He was a northern man. Oh, from away up North.
"When I cooked, the greatest trouble I had was gettin' away. Nobody
wanted me to leave. And I tell you those northern ladies wanted to call
me Mrs. Williams. I'd say, 'Don't do that. You know these southern
people don't like that--don't believe in that.' But you know she would
call me Miss Mary. But I said, 'Don't do that.'
"I'm just an old darky and can't 'spress myself but I try to do what's
right and I think that's the reason the Lord has let me live so long."
Husband was a soldier in the Spanish-American War and she receives a
Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson
Person interviewed: Rosena Hunt Williams
R.F.D., Brinkley, Arkansas
"My mother was Amanda McVey. She was born two years, six months after
freedom in Corinth, Mississippi. My father was born in slavery. Grandma
lived with us at her death. Her name was Emily McVey. She was sold in
her girlhood days. Uncle George was sold to a man in the settlement
named Lee. His name was Joe Lee (Lea?). Another of my uncles was sold to
a man named Washington. His name was George Washington. They were sold
at different times. Being sold was their biggest dread. Some of them
wanted to be sold trusting to be treated better.
"Mother and grandma didn't have a hard time like my father said he come
up under. He said he was brought up hard. He was raised (reared) at
Jackson, Tennessee. He was never sold. Master Alf Hunt owned him and his
young master, Willie Hunt, inherited him. He said they never put him in
the field till he was twelve years old. He started ploughing a third
part of a day. A girl about grown and another boy a little older took
turns to do a 'buck's' (a grown man) work. They was lotted of a certain
tract and if it stay clear a certain time to get it all done. He said
they got whooped and half fed. When the War was on, his white folks had
to half feed their own selves. He talked like if the War had lasted much
longer it would been a famine in the land. He hit this world in time to
have a hard time of it. After freedom was worse time in his life.
"In August when the crops was laid by Master Hunt called them to the
house at one o'clock by so many taps of the farm bell. It hung in a
great big tree. He read a paper from his side porch telling them they
free. They been free several months then and didn't a one of them know
Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson
Person interviewed: "Soldier" Williams, Forrest City, Arkansas
"My name is William Ball Williams III. I was born in Greensburg. My
owners was Robert and Mary Ball. They had four children I knowd. Old man
Ball bought ma and two children for one thousand five hundred dollars. I
never was sold. I want to live to be a hundred years old. I'm
ninety-eight years old now.
"Ma was Margarett Ball. Pa was William Anderson. Ma was a cook and pa a
field hand. They whooped a plenty on the place where I come up. Some of
'em run off. Some they tied to a tree. Bob Ball didn't use no dogs. When
they got starved out they'd come outen the woods. Of course they would.
Bob Ball raised fine tobacco, fine Negroes, fine horses. He made us go
to church. Four or five of us would walk to the white folks' Baptist
church. The master and his family rode. It was a good piece. We had
dances in the cabins every once in a while. We dance more in winter time
so we could turn a pot down in the door to drown out the noise. We had
plenty plain grub to eat.
"I run away to Louisville to j'ine the Yankees one day. I was scared to
death all the time. They put us in front to shield themselves. They said
they was fighting for us--for our freedom. Piles of them was killed. I
got a flesh wound. I'm scarred up some. We got plenty to eat. I was in
two or three hot battles. I wanted to quit but they would catch them and
shoot them if they left. I didn't know how to get out and get away. I
mustered out at Jacksonville, Florida and walked every step of the way
back. When I got back it was fall of the year. My folks still at my
master's. I was on picket guard at Jacksonville, Florida. We fought a
little at Pensacola, Florida.
"At the end of the War provisions got mighty scarce. If we didn't have
enough to eat we took it. They hadn't raised nothing to eat the last two
years. Before I got back to Kentucky the Ku Klux was about and it was
hard to get enough to eat to keep traveling on. I was scared nearly to
death all the time. I'm not in favor of war. I didn't stay on with the
master but my folks lived on. They didn't want to hire Negro soldiers. I
traveled about hunting a good place and got to Osceola, Arkansas. I been
here in Forrest City twenty ard years. The best people in the world live
"I'm going to try to go to the Yankee Reunion. They sent me a big letter
(invitation). They going to send me a ticket and pay all my expenses. It
is at Gettysburg. It is from June 29th to July 6th. My grandson is going
to take care of me.
"I get one hundred dollars a month pension. It keeps us mighty well. I
want to live to be a hundred years old."
Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson
Person interviewed: Anna Williamson, Holly Grove, Arkansas
Age: Between 75 and 80
"Grandma come from North Carolina. Her master was Rodes Herndon, then
Cager Booker. He owned my mama. My name is Anna Booker. I married Wes
"My papa's master was Calvin Winfree. He come from Virginia. Me and Bert
Winfree (white) raised together close to Somerville, Tennessee.
"Grandma and grandpa was named Maria and Allen. Her master was Rodes
Herndon. I was fourth to the oldest of mama's children. She give me to
grandma. That who raised me. Mama took to the field after freedom. Mama
had seven or eight children.
"Mama muster been a pretty big sorter woman when she young. A ridin'
boss went to whoopin' her once and she tore every rag clothes he had on
offen him. I heard em say he went home strip start naked. I think they
said he got turned off or quit, one.
"When mama was in slavery she had three girl babies and long wid them
she nursed some of the white babies. She cooked some but wasn't the
regular white folks' cook. Another black woman was the regular cook. I
heard her say she was a field hand mostly durin' slavery.
"Folks was free two or three years fore they knowed it. Nobody told em.
"I used to have to go up the road to get milk for the old mistress. She
boxed my ears. That when I was a child reckly after the war.
"They had a latch and a hart bar cross the door. I never was out but
once after dark. I never seen no Ku Klux. My folks didn't know they was
"Dr. Washington lived in Somerville, Tennessee and brought us to
Arkansas to farm. He owned acres and acres of land here. I was grown and
had a house full of children. I got five living now.
"I don't vote. I don't know who to vote for. I would vote for the worst
kinder officers maybe and I wouldn't wanter make times harder on us all
'an they is.
"I been cookin' and farmin' all my life. Now I get $10 a month from the
"I used to pick up chips at Mrs. Willforms--pick up a big cotton basket
piled up fore I quit. I seen the Yankees, they camped at the fair
grounds. I thought they wore the prettiest clothes and the brass buttons
so pretty on the blue suits. I hear em beat the drum. I go peep out when
they come by.
"My old mistress slapped me till my eye was red cause one day I says
'Ain't them men pretty?' They camped at what is now the Fair Grounds at
Somerville, Tennessee, at sorter right of town. My papa was a ox driver.
That is all he done bout. Seem like there was haulin' to be done all the
"The folks used to be heap better than they is now. Some of the masters
was mean to the slaves but they mortally had plenty to eat and wear and
a house to live in. Some of the houses was sorry and the snow come in
the cracks but we had big fire places and plenty wood to cook and keep
warm by. The children all wore flannel clothes then to keep em warm.
They raised sheep.
"It is a shame what folks do now. These young darky girls marries a boy
and they get tired each other. They quit. They ain't got no sign of
divorce! Course they ain't never been married! They jes' take up and
live together, then they both go on livin' with some other man an'
woman. It ain't right! Folks ain't good like they used to be. We old
folks ain't got no use for such doin's. They done too smart to be told
by us old folks. I do best I can an' be good as I knows how to be.
"The times is fine as I ever seen in my life. I wish I was young and
strong. I wouldn't ask nobody for sistance. Tey ain't nuthin' wrong wid
this year's crop as I sees. Times is fine."
Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson
Person interviewed: Callie Halsey Williamson, Biscoe, Arkansas
"Mother was born in Alabama during slavery. Her name was Levisa Halsey.
Neither of my parents were sold. Mother was tranferred (transferred) to
her young mistress. She had no children and still lived in the home with
her people. Her mother, Emaline, was the cook. Master Bradford owned
grandmother and grandfather both and my own father all. Mother was the
oldest and only child.
"I don't know whether they was mean to all the slaves or not. Seems they
were not to my folks. The old man died sometime before freedom. The
young master went to get a overseer. He brought a new man to take his
own place. He whooped grandma and auntie and cut grandma's long hair off
with his pocket-knife.
"During that time grandpa slip up on the house top and take some boards
off. Grandma would sit up in her bed and knit by moonlight through the
hole. He had to put the boards back. She had to work in the field in
"During the War they were scared nearly to death of the soldiers and
would run down in their master's big orchard and hide in the tall broom
sage. They rode her young master on a rail and killed him. A drove of
soldiers come by and stopped. They said, 'Young man, can you ride a
young horse?' They gathered him and took him out and brought him in the
yard. He died. They hurt him and scared him to death.
"Another train come and loaded up all the slaves and somehow when
freedom come on, my folks was here at Arkadelphia. They said they lived
in fear of the soldiers all the time.
"Mother said a woman come first and stuck a flag out a upstairs window
and the Yankees shot the guns off and some of them made talks on freedom
to the Negroes and white folks. They seen that at Arkadelphia.
"Mama, grandma, and grandpa started on their way back home following
soldier camps. They never got back to their homes. They never did like
the Yankees and grieved about the way they done their young master. He
was like one of my father's own children. They seen hard times after
freedom. It was hard to live and they was used to work but they had a
good living. They had to die in Arkansas. How come I'm here now."
Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson
Person interviewed: Charlotte Willis, Madison, Arkansas
"Grandpa said he walked every step of the way from old Virginia to
Mississippi. They camped at night, cooked and fed them. They didn't eat
no more till they camped next night. They was walked in a peart pace and
the guards and traders rode. They stop every now and then for to be
cried off and some more be took on.
"Grandpa said he didn't wanter be sold but they never ax 'em no
diffurence. Sold 'em and took 'em right along. They better keep their
feelings hid, for them traders was same kind er stock these cattle men
is today judging from the way he say it was then. Grandpa loved Virginia
long as he have breath in him.
"We used to sing
'Old Virginia nigger say he love hot mush;
Alabama nigger say, good God, nigger, hush.'
(She sang it very fast and in a fashion Negroes only can do--ed.) He
wore a big straw hat and he'd get up and fan us out the way.
"Grandma was brought from South Carolina by the Willises to Mississippi.
I heard her say her and him was made to jump over the broom. Called that
getting 'em married. Grandpa said that was the way white folks had of
showing off the couples. Then it would be 'nounced from the big house
steps they was man and wife. Sometimes more than two be 'nounced at the
"They had good times sometimes. They talked 'bout corn shuckings, corn
shellings, cotton traumpin's, (packing cotton in wagon beds by walking
on it over and over, she said--ed.) and dances.
"Mother said she never was sold. She b'long to the Willises in
"I reckon I sure do 'members my grandpa and grandma bof. Seventeen of us
all lived at Grandpa Wash Hollivy's home. He was paying on it and died.
The house have three rooms in it. In the fall of the year grandma took
all the rancid grease and skins and get the drippings from the ash
hopper and make soap 'nough to do 'er till sometime next year. She made
it in the iron washpot. He raised meat to do us till sometime next year.
We never run short on nothing to eat.
"We never had but 'bout two dresses at the same time. When I come on,
dresses was scarce. If we tore our dresses, we wore patches. We was
sorter 'shamed to have our dresses patched up.
"I heard 'em say grandpa's house was guarded to keep off the Ku Kluck
one night. They come all right 'nough but went to another house. They
started whooping. The guards left grandpa's house and went down there
and shot into them. Some of them was killed and the horses run off. Some
run off quick and got out the way. I never caught on to what they
guarded grandpa for.
"I had one girl baby what died. I been married once in my life. We rents
our house. I never 'plied to the Welfare yit. We been farming my
enduring life. Still farming; I says we is.
"Old folks give out and can't run on wid the work. Young folks no 'count
and works to sorter git by their own selfs. Way I see it. We got so far
off the track and can't git back. Starve 'fore we git back like we used
to be. We used to git credit. Now there ain't no place to git it. We
down and can't git up. Way I sees it. Young generation is so uneasy,
ain't still a minute. They wanter be going all the time. They don't
marry; they goes lives together. Then they quits and take up wid
somebody else. I don't know what make 'em do thater way. That the way
the right young ones doing now.
"My pa looked on me when I was three days old and left us. I ain't never
seen him since."
Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor
Person interviewed: Ella Wilson
1611 McGowan Street, Little Rock, Arkansas
Age: Claims 100
"I was born in Atlanta, Georgia. I don't remember the month. But when
the Civil War ceased I was here then and sixteen years old. I'm a
hundred years old. Some folks tries to make out like it ain't so. But I
reckon I oughter know.
"The white folks moved out from Georgia and went to Louisiana. I was
raised in Louisiana, but I was born in Georgia. I have had several
people countin' up my age and they all say I is a hundred years old. I
had eight children. All of them are free born. Four of them died when
they were babies. I lost one just a few days ago.
"I had such a hard time in slavery. Them white folks was slashing me and
whipping me and putting me in the buck, till I don't want to hear
nothin' about it.
"An old man named Dr. Polk got a dime from me and said it was for the
Old Age Pension. He lived in Magnolia, Arkansas. They ran him out of
Magnolia for ruining a colored girl and I don't know where he is now. I
know he got ten cents from me.
"The first work I ever did was nursing the white children. My old mis'
called me in the house and told me that she wanted me to take care of
her children and from then till freedom came, I stayed in the house
nursing. I had to get up every morning at five when the cook got up and
make the coffee and then I had to go in the dining-room and set the
table. Then I served breakfast. Then I went into the house and cleaned
it up. Then I 'tended to the white children and served the other meals
during the day. I never did work in the fields much. My old mars said I
was too damned slow.
"They carried me out to the field one evening. He never did show me nor
tell me how to handle it and when I found myself, he had knocked me
down. When I got up, he didn't tell me what to do, but when I picked up
my things and started droppin' the seeds ag'in, he picked up a pine root
and killed me off with it. When I come to, he took me up to the house
and told his wife he didn't want me into the fields because I was too
"My mars used to throw me in a buck and whip me. He would put my hands
together and tie them. Then he would strip me naked. Then he would make
me squat down. Then he would run a stick through behind my knees and in
front of my elbows. My knees was up against my chest. My hands was tied
together just in front of my shins. The stick between my arms and my
knees held me in a squat. That's what they called a buck. You could [TR:
sic: couldn't] stand up an' you couldn't git your feet out. You couldn't
do nothin' but just squat there and take what he put on you. You
couldn't move no way at all. Just try to. You jus' fall over on one side
and have to stay there till you turned over by him.
"He would whip me on one side till that was sore and full of blood and
then he would whip me on the other side till that was all tore up. I got
a scar big as the place my old mis' hit me. She took a bull whip
once--the bull whip had a piece of iron in the handle of it--and she got
mad. She was so mad she took the whip and hit me over the head with the
butt end of it, and the blood flew. It ran all down my back and dripped
off my heels. But I wasn't dassent to stop to do nothin' about it. Old
ugly thing! The devil's got her right now!! They never rubbed no salt
nor nothin' in your back. They didn't need to.
"When the war come, they made him serve. He would go there and run away
and come back home. One day after he had been took away and had come
back, he was settin' down talkin' to old mis', and I was huddled up in
the corner listenin', and I heered him tell her, 'Tain't no use to do
all them things. The niggers'll soon be free.' And she said, 'I'll be
dead before that happens, I hope.' And she died just one year before the
slaves was freed. They was a mean couple.
"Old mars used to strip my sister naked and make her lay down, and he
would lift up a fence rail and lay it down on her neck. Then he'd whip
her till she was bloody. She wouldn't get away because the rail held her
head down. If she squirmed and tried to git loose, the rail would choke
her. Her hands was tied behind her. And there wasn't nothin' to do but
jus' lay there and take it.
"I am almost a stranger here in Little Rock. My father was named Lewis
Hogan and I had one sister named Tina and one named Harriet. His white
folks what he lived with was Mrs. Thomas. He was a carriage driver for
her. Pleas Collier bought him from her and took him to Louisiana. All
the people on my mother's side was left in Georgia. My grandmother's
name was Rachel. Her white folks she lived with was named Dardens. They
all lived in Atlanta, Georgia. I remember the train we got on when we
left Georgia. Grandma Rachel had one daughter named Siney. Siney had a
son named Billie and a sister named Louise. And my grandmother was free
when I first got big enough to know myself. I don't know how come she
was free. That was a long time before the war. The part of Georgia we
lived in was where chestnuts grow, but they wasn't no chinkapins. All my
grandmother's people stayed in Atlanta, and they were living at the time
I left there.
"My mother's name was Dinah Hogans and my father's name was Lewis
Hogans. I don't know where they were borned. But when I knowed him, they
was in Georgia. My mother's mars bought my father 'cause my mother heard
that Collier was goin' to break up and go to Louisiana. My father told
his mars that if he (Collier) broke up and left, he never would be no
more good to him. Then my mother found out what he said to Collier, so
she told her old mis' if Collier left, she never would do her no more
good. You see, my mother was give to Mrs. Collier when old Darden who
was Mrs. Collier's father died. So Collier bought my father. Collier
kept us all till we all got free. White folks come to me sometimes about
"You jus' oughter hear me answer them. I tells them about it just like I
would colored folks.
"'Them your teeth in your mouth?'
"'Whose you think they is? Suttinly they're my teeth.'
"'Ain't you sorry you free?'
"'What I'm goin' to be sorry for? I ain't no fool.'
"'How old is you?'
"I tells them. Some of 'em want to argue with me and say I ain't that
old. Some of 'em say, 'Well, the Lawd sure has blessed you.' Sure he's
blessed me. Don't I know that?
"I've seen 'em run away from slavery. There was a white man that lived
close to us who had just one slave and he couldn't keep him out the
woods to save his soul. The white man was named Jim Sales and the
colored boy was named--shucks, I can't remember his name. But I know Jim
Sales couldn't keep that nigger out the woods nohow.
"I was freed endurin' the Civil War. We was in at dinner and my old mars
had been to town. Old man Pleas Collier, our mean mars, called my daddy
out and then he said, 'All you come out here.' I said to myself, 'I
wonder what he's a goin' to do to my daddy,' and I slipped into the
front room and listened. And he said, 'All of you come.' Then I went out
too. And he unrolled the Government paper he had in his hand and read it
and told us it meant that all of us was free. Didn't tell us we was free
as he was. Then he said the Government's going to send you some money to
live on. But the Government never did do it. I never did see nobody that
got it. Did you? They didn't give me nothin' and they didn't give my
father nothin'. They just sot us free and turned us loose naked.
"Right after they got through reading the papers and told us we was
free, my daddy took me to the field and put me to work. I'd been workin'
in the house before that.
"Then they wasn't payin' nobody nothin'. They just hired people to work
on halves. That was the first year. But we didn't get no half. We didn't
git nothin'. Just time we got our crop laid by, the white man run us off
and we didn't get nothin'. We had a fine crop too. We hadn't done
nothin' to him. He just wanted all the crop for hisself and he run us
off. That's all.
"Well, after that my daddy took and hired me out up here in Arkansas. He
hired me out with some old poor white trash. We was livin' then in
Louisiana with a old white man named Mr. Smith. I couldn't tell what
part of Louisiana it was no more than it was down there close to Homer,
about a mile from Homer. My mother died and my father come and got me
and took me home to take care of the chillen.
"I have been married twice. I married first time down there within four
miles of Homer. I was married to my first husband a number of years. His
name was Wesley Wilson. We had eight children. My second husband was
named Lee somepin or other. I married him on Thursday night and he left
on Monday morning. I guess he must have been taking the white folks'
things and had to clear out. His name was Lee Hardy. That is what his
name was. I didn't figure he stayed with me long enough for me to take
his name. That nigger didn't look right to me nohow. He just married me
'cause he thought I was a working woman and would give him money. He
asked me for money once but I didn't give 'im none. What I'm goin' to
give 'im money for? That's what I'd like to know.
"After my first husband died, I cooked and went on for them white folks.
That was the only thing I could do. I was cooking before he died. I
can't do no work now. I ain't worked for more than twenty years. I ain't
done no work since I left Magnolia.
"I belong to the Collins Street Baptist Church--Nichols' church.
"I don't git no pension. I don't git nothin'. I been down to see if I
could git it but they ain't give me nothin' yit. I'm goin' down ag'in
when I can git somebody to carry me."
Ella Wilson insists that she is one hundred years old and that she was
born sixteen years before freedom. The two statements conflict. From her
appearance and manner, either might be true.
Interviewer: Mrs. Bernice Bowden
Person interviewed: Robert Wilson
811 West Pullen Street, Pine Bluff, Arkansas
"My name is Robert Wilson. I was born in Halifax County, Virginia. How
old am I? Accordin' to my recollection I was twenty-three years old
befo' the war started. Old master tole me how old I was. I'm a hundred
and one now. Yes'm I _knows_ I am.
"Yes'm I been sold. They put us up on the auction block jest like we was
a hoss. They put me up and white man ax 'Who want to buy this boy?' One
man say 'ten dollars' and then they run it up to a hundred. And they buy
a girl to match you and raise you up together. When you want to get
married you jump over the broomstick. I used to weigh one hundred and
fifty-six pounds and a half, standin' weight. I could pick four and five
hundred pounds of cotton in a day.
"When the Yankees come, old master make us boys take the sack of money
and hide it in the big pond. Yes'm, we drove the buggy right in the
"Durin' the time of the war I used to ride 'long side of the Yankees.
They give me a blue coat with brass buttons and a blue cap and
brass-toed boots. I used to saddle and curry the bosses. I member
Company Fifth and Sixth.
"They tole us the war was to make things better. We didn't know we was
free till 'bout six months after the war was over. I didn't care whether
I was free or not.
"'Bout slavery--well, I thinks like this. I think they fared better
then. They didn't have to worry 'bout spenses. We had plenty chicken and
everything. Nowdays when you pay the rent you ain't got nothin' left to
buy somethin' to eat.
"Yes'm, I been to school. I'se a preacher (showing me his certificate of
ordination). I lives close to the Lord. The Lord done left me here for a
"When we used to pray we put our heads under the wash pot to keep old
master from hearin' us. Old master make us put the chillun to bed fo'
dark. I 'member one song he make us sing--
'Down in Mobile, down in Mobile
How I love dat pretty yellow gal,
She rock to suit me--
Down in Mobile, down in Mobile.'
"You 'member when Grant took the fort at Vicksburg? I 'member he and
that general on the white hoss--yes'm, General Lee, they eat dinner
together and then after dinner they go to fightin'.
"Oh lord! Don't talk about them Ku Klux.
"Cose I believes in spirits. Don't you? Well you ain't never been
"After freedom my folks refugeed from Virginia to Tennessee so I went to
Memphis. We got things from the Bureau. Yes, Lord! I had everything I
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