Interviewer: Bernice Bowden. Person interviewed: David Whiteman (c) Age: 88 Home: 104 N. Kansas Street, Pine Bluff, Arkansas.
"How de do lady. Oh yes, I was a pretty good sized boy when the war started. My old marster was sponsible Smith. My young marster was his son-in-law. I member 'bout the Yankees and the "Revels". I member when a great big troop of 'em went to war. Some of 'em was cryin' and some was laughin'. I tried to get young marster to let me go with him, but he wouldn't let me. Old marster was too old to go and his son dodged around and didn't go either. I member he caught hisself a wild mustang and tied hisself on it and rode off and they never did see him again.
"I know when they was fightin' we use to hear the balls when they was goin' over. I used to pick up many a ball.
"I wish my recollection was with me like it used to be." (At this point his wife spoke up and said "Seems like since he had the flu, his mind is kinda frazzled.")
"Yes'm, I member the Ku Klux. They used to have the colored folks dodgin' around tryin' to keep out of their way."
Interviewer: Bernice Bowden Person Interviewed: Dolly Whiteside (c) Age: 81 Home: 103 Oregon Street, Pine Bluff, Ark.
"I reckon I did live in slavery times—look at my hair.
"I been down sick—I been right low and they didn't speck me to live.
"Well, I'll tell you. I was old enough to know when they runned us to Texas so the Yankees couldn't overtaken us. We was in Texas when freedom come, I remember I was sittin on the fence when the soldiers in them blue uniforms with gold buttons come. He said, "I come to tell you you is free". I didn't know what it was all about but everybody was sayin' "Thank God". I thought it was the judgment day and I was lookin' for God. I said to myself, I'm goin' have some buttons like that some day.
"Colonel Williams was my marster. My mother was a nurse and took care of the colored folks when they was sick. I remember when people wasn't given nothin' but blue mass, calomel, castor oil and gruel, and every body was healthier than they is now.
"I'm the only one livin' that my mother birthed in this world. I was born here, but I been travelin', I been to Memphis and around.
"No mam, I don't remember nothin' else. I done tole you all I know."
Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor Person interviewed: J.W. Whitfield 3100 W. Seventeenth Street, Little Rock, Arkansas Age: About 60 Occupation: Preacher
"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. No girls.
"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 Penny."
Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson Person interviewed: Sarah Whitmore, Clarendon, Arkansas Age: 100
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 at intervals.
"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 Age: 95
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 Age: 80
"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? Yes'm.
"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 sewed.
"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 Age: 85
"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 children.
"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 to Camden.
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 B.
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 about
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 him."
Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson Person Interviewed: Charlie Williams Brassfield; Ark. Age: 73
"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 at Lonoke.
"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 commodities.
"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 Age: 98
"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 his hand.
"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' like that.
"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 Age: 80
"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 day.
"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 done before.
"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 local congregations.
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 you.'
"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 ground.
"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 Biscoe, Arkansas 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 night.
"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 (when necessary).
"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 greedy."
Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson Person interviewed: James Williams, Brinkley, Arkansas Age: 72
"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 know.
"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 Age: 75
"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 states.
"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 years.
"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 Age: 69
"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 ploughed.
"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 out."
Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson Person interviewed: Mary Williams, Clarendon, Arkansas Age: Born 1872 Light color
"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 while.
"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 Story:—Information
This information given by: Mary Williams Place of residence: Hazen, Arkansas Occupation: Field Worker Age: 69 [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 him.
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 Age: 82
"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 'member 'em.
"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 no better.
"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 peas.
"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 Age: 84 [TR: Apparently a second interview with same person despite age discrepancy.]
"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 yellow nigger.
"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 muslin.
"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 pension.
Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson Person interviewed: Rosena Hunt Williams R.F.D., Brinkley, Arkansas Age: 56
"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 it."
Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson Person interviewed: "Soldier" Williams, Forrest City, Arkansas Age: 98
"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 in Arkansas.
"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 Williamson.
"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 free.
"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 Sociable Welfare.
"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 time.
"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 Age: 60?
"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 daytime.
"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 Age: 63
"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 gatherin'.
"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 Mississippi.
"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 damned slow.
"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 all that.
"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 Age: 101
"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 water.
"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 purpose.
"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 skeered.
"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 wanted. I wouldn't care if that time would come back now.
"'Did you ever vote?' Me? Yes'm I voted. Never had no trouble 'tall. I voted for Garfield. I 'member when Garfield was shot. I was settln' out in the yard. The moon was in the 'clipse. I'll never forget it.
"I think the colored folks should have a legal right to vote, cause if ever they come another war—now listen—them darkies ain't never goin' to France again. The nigger ain't got no country—this is white man's town.