Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves, Arkansas Narratives, Part 4
by Works Projects Administration
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor Person interviewed: Allen Johnson 718 Arch Street, Little Rock, Arkansas Age: About 82

"I was born in Georgia about twelve miles from Cartersville, in Cass County, and about the same distance from Cassville. I was a boy about eight or nine years old when I come from there. But I have a very good memory. Then I have seed the distance and everything in the Geography. My folks were dead long ago now. My oldest brother is dead too. He was just large enough to go to the mills. In them times, they had mills. They would fix him on the horse and he would go ahead.

"My father's name was Clem Johnson, and my mother's name was Mandy. Her madam's name I don't know. I was small. I remember my grandma. She's dead long long ago. Long time ago! I think her name was Rachel. Yes, I'm positive it was Rachel. That is what I believe. I was a little bitty fellow then. I think she was my mother's mother. I know one of my mother's sisters. Her name was Lucinda. I don't know how many she had nor nothin'.

"Johnsons was the name of the masters my mother and father had. They go by the name of Johnson yet. Before that I don't know who they had for masters. The pastor's name was Lindsay Johnson and the old missis was Mary Johnson. People long time ago used to send boys big enough to ride to the mill. My brother used to go. It ran by water-power. They had a big mill pond. They dammed that up. When they'd get ready to run the mill, they'd open that dam and it would turn the wheel. My oldest brother went to the mill and played with old master's son and me.

"They used to throw balls over the house and see which could catch them first. There would be three or four on a side of the house and they would throw the ball over the house to see which side would be quickest and aptest.

"My mother and father both belonged to the same man, Lindsay Johnson. I was a small boy. I can't tell you how he was to his folks. Seems like though he was pretty good to us. Seemed like he was a pretty good master. He didn't overwork his niggers. He didn't beat and 'buse them. He gave them plenty to eat and drink. You see the better a Negro looked and the finer he was the more money he would bring if they wanted to sell them. I have heard my mother and father talk about it plenty of times.

"My father worked in the field during slavery. My mother didn't do much of no kind of work much. She was a woman that had lots of children to take care of. She had four children during slavery and twelve altogether. Her children were all small when freedom was declared. My oldest brother, I don't remember much about slavery except playing 'round with him and with the other little boys, the white boys and the nigger boys. They were very nice to me.

"I was a great big boy when I heard them talking about the pateroles catching them or whipping them. At that time when they would go off they would have to have a pass. When they went off if they didn't have a pass they would whip and report them to their owners. And they would be likely to get another brushing from the owners. The pateroles never bothered the children any. The children couldn't go anywhere without the consent of the mother and father. And there wasn't any danger of them running off. If they caught a little child between plantations, they would probably just run them home. It was all right for a child to go in the different quarters and play with one another during daytime just so they got back before night. I was a small boy but I have very good recollections about these things. I couldn't tell you whether the pateroles ever bothered my father or not. Never heard him say. But he was a careful man and he always knew the best time and way to go and come. Them old fellows had a way to git by as well as we do now.

"They fed the slaves about what they wanted to. They would give them meat and flour and meal. I used to hear my father say the old boss fed him well. Then again they would have hog killln' time 'long about Christmas. The heads, lights, chittlings and fats would be given to the slaves. 'Course I didn't know much about that only what I heard from the old folks talking about it. They lived in the way of eating, I suppose, better than they do now. Had no expense whatever.

"As to amusements, I'll tell you I don't know. They'd have little dances about like they do now. And they give quiltings and they'd have a ring play. My mother never knew anything about dances and fiddling and such things; she was a Christian. They had churches you know. My white folks didn't object to the niggers goin' to meetin'. 'Course they had to have a pass to go anywhere. If they didn't they'd git a brushin' from the pateroles if they got caught and the masters were likely to give them another light brushin' when they got home.

"I think that was a pretty good system. They gave a pass to those that were allowed to be out and the ones that were supposed to be out were protected. Of course, now you are your own free agent and you can go and come as you please. Now the police take the place of the pateroles. If they find you out at the wrong time and place they are likely to ask you about it.

"A slave was supposed to pick a certain amount of cotton I have heard. They had tasks. But we didn't pick cotton. Way back in Georgia that ain't no cotton country. Wheat, corn, potatoes, and things like that. But in Louisiana and Mississippi, there was plenty of cotton. Arkansas wasn't much of a cotton state itself. It was called a 'Hoojer' state when I was a boy. That is a reference to the poor white man. He was a 'Hoojer'. He wasn't rich enough to own no slaves and they called him a 'Hoojer'.

"The owners would hire them to take care of the niggers and as overseers and pateroles. They was hired and paid a little salary jus' like the police is now. If we didn't have killing and murderin', there wouldn't be no need for the police. The scoundrel who robs and kills folks ought to be highly prosecuted.

"I reckon I was along eight or nine years old when freedom came. My oldest brother was twelve, and I was next to him. I must have been eight or nine—or maybe ten.

"My occupation since freedom has been farming and doing a little job work—anything I could git. Work by the day for mechanic and one thing and another. I know nothin' about no trade 'ceptin' what I have picked up. Never took no contracts 'ceptin' for building a fence or somethin' small like that. Mechanic's work I suppose calls for license."

Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor Person interviewed: Annie Johnson 804 Izard Street, Little Rock, Arkansas Age: 78

"I was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi, and I was four years old when the Civil War closed. My parents died when I was a baby and a white lady named Mrs. Mary Peters took me and raised me. They moved from there to Champaign, Illinois when I was about six years old. My mother died when I was born. Them white people only had two slaves, my mother and my father, and my father had run off with the Yankees. Mrs. Peters was their mistress. She died when I was eight years old and then I stayed with her sister. That was when I was up in Champaign.

"The sister's name was Mrs. Mary Smith. She just taught school here and there and around in different places, and I went around with her to take care of her children. That kept up until I was twenty years old. All of her traveling was in Illinois.

"I didn't get much schooling. I went to school a while and taken sore eyes. The doctor said if I continued to go to school, I would strain my eyes. After he told me that I quit. I learned enough to read the Bible and the newspaper and a little something like that, but I can't do much. My eyes is very weak yet.

"When I was twenty years old I married Henry Johnson, who was from Virginia. I met him in Champaign. We stayed in Champaign about two years. Then we came on down to St. Louis. He was just traveling 'round looking for work and staying wherever there was a job. Didn't have no home nor nothing. He was a candy maker by trade, but he did anything he could get to do. He's been dead for forty years now. He came down here, then went back to Champaign and died in Springfield, Illinois while I was here.

"I don't get no pension, don't get nothing. I get along by taking in a little washing now and then.

"My mother's name was Eliza Johnson and my father's name was Joe Johnson. I don't know a thing about none of my grandparents. And I don't know what my mother's name was before she married.

"A gentleman what worked on the place where I lived said that if you didn't have a pass during slave times, that if the pateroles caught you, they would whip you and make you run back home. He said he had to run through the woods every which way once to keep them from catching him.

"I have heard the old folks talk about being put on the block. The colored woman I lived with in Champaign told me that they put her on the block and sold her down into Ripley, Mississippi.

"She said that the way freedom came was this. The boss man told her she was free. Some of the slaves lived with him and some of them picked up and went on off somewhere.

"The Ku Klux never bothered me. I have heard some of the colored people say how they used to come 'round and bother the church services looking for this one and that one.

"I don't know what to say about these young folks. I declare, they have just gone wild. They are almost getting like brutes. A woman come by here the other day without more 'n a spoonful of things on and stopped and struck a match and lit her cigarette. You can't talk to them neither. I don't know what we ought to do about it. They let these white men run around with them. I see 'em doing anything. I think times are bad and getting worse. Just as that shooting they had over in North Little Rock." (Shooting and robbing of Rev. Sherman, an A. M. E. minister, by Negro robbers.)

Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson Person interviewed: Ben Johnson Near Holly Grove and Clarendon, Arkansas Age: 73

"My master was Wort Garland. My papa's master was Steve Johnson. Papa went off to Louisiana and I never seen him since. I guess he got killed. I was born in Madison County, Tennessee. I come to Arkansas 1889. Mother was here. She come on a transient ticket. My papa come wid her to Holly Grove. They both field hands. I worked on the section—railroad section. I cut and hauled timber and farms. I never own no land, no home. I have two boys went off and a grown girl in Phillips County. I don't get no help. I works bout all I able and can get to do.

"I have voted. I votes a Republican ticket. I like this President. If the men don't know how to vote recken the women will show em how.

"The present conditions is very good. The present generation is beyond me.

"I heard my folks set around the fireplace at night and talk about olden times but I couldn't tell it straight and I was too little to know bout it.

"We looked all year for Christmas to get some good things in our stockings. They was knit at night. Now we has oranges and bananas all the time, peppermint candy—in sticks—best candy I ever et. Folks have more now that sort than we had when I was growing up. We was raised on meat and corn bread, milk, and garden stuff. Had plenty apples, few peaches, sorghum molasses, and peanuts. Times is better now than when I come on far as money goes. Wood is scarce and folks can't have hogs no more. No place to run and feed cost so much. Can't buy it. Feed cost more 'en the hog. Times change what makes the folks change so much I recken."

Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson Person interviewed: Ben Johnson (deaf), Clarendon, Arkansas Age: 84 Black

"Steve Johnson was my owner. Way he come by me was dat he married in the Ward family and heired him and my mother too. Louis Johnson was my father's name. At one time Wort Garland owned my mother, and she was sold. Her name was Mariah.

"My father went to war twice. Once he was gone three weeks and next time three or four months. He come home sound. I stayed on Johnson's farm till I was a big boy."

Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor Person interviewed: Betty Johnson 1920 Dennison Street, Little Rock, Arkansas Age: 83 [Date Stamp: MAY 11 1938]

"I was born in Montgomery, Alabama, within a block of the statehouse. We were the only colored people in the neighborhood. I am eighty-three years old. I was born free. I have never been a slave. I never met any slaves when I was small, and never talked to any. I didn't live near them and didn't have any contacts with them.

"My father carried my mother to Pennsylvania before I was born and set her free. Then he carried her back to Montgomery, Alabama, and all her children were born free there.

"We had everything that life needed. He was one of the biggest planters around in that part of the country and did the shipping for everybody.

"My mother's name was Josephine Hassell. She had nine children. All of them are dead except three. One is in Washington, D. C.; another is in Chicago, Illinois, and then I am here. One of my brothers was a mail clerk for the government for fifty years, and then he went to Washington and worked in the dead letter office.

"My father taken my oldest brother just before the Civil War and entered him in Yale and he stayed there till he finished. Later he became a freight conductor and lost his life when his train was caught in a cyclone. That's been years ago.

"My sisters in Washington and Chicago are the only two living besides myself. All the others are dead. All of them were government workers. My sister in Washington has four boys and five girls. My sister in Chicago has two children—one in Detroit and one in Washington. I am the oldest living.

"We never had any kind of trouble with white people in slave time, and we never had any since. Everybody in town knowed us, and they never bothered us. The editor of the paper in Montgomery got up all our history and sent the paper to my brother in Washington. If I had saved the paper, I would have had it now. I don't know the name of the paper. It was a white paper. I can't even remember the name of the editor.

"We were always supported by my father. My mother did [HW: ?] do nothing at all except stay home and take care of her children. I had a father that cared for us. He didn't leave that part undone. He did his part in every respect. He sent every child away to school. He sent two to Talladega, one to Yale, three to Fiske, and one to Howard University.

"I don't remember much about how freedom came to the slaves. You see, we didn't live near any of them and would not notice, and I was young anyway. All I remember is that when the army came in, everybody had a stick with a white handkerchief on it. The white handkerchief represented peace. I don't know just how they announced that the slaves were free.

"We lived in as good a house as this one here. It had eight rooms in it. I was married sixty years ago. My husband died two years ago. We were married fifty-eight years. Were the only colored people here to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary. (She is mistaken in this; Waters McIntosh has been married for fifty-six years and he and his wife are still making it together in an ideal manner—ed.) I am the mother of eight children; three girls are living and two boys. The rest are dead.

"I married a good man. Guess there was never a better. We lived happily together for a long time and he gave me everything I needed. He gave me and my children whatever we asked for.

"I was sick for three years. Then my husband took down and was sick for seven years before he died.

"I belong to the Holiness Church down on Izard Street, and Brother Jeeter is my pastor."


Betty Johnson's memory is accurate, and she tells whatever she wishes to tell without hesitation and clearly. She leaves out details which she does not wish to mention evidently, and there is a reserve in her manner which makes questioning beyond a certain point impertinent. However, just what she tells presents a picture into which the details may easily be fitted.

Her husband is dead, but he was evidently of the same type she is. She lives in a beautiful and well kept cottage. Her husband left a similar house for each of her three children. The husband, of course, was colored. It is equally evident that the father was white.

Although my questions traveled into corners where they evidently did not wish to follow, the mother and son, who was from time to time with her, answered courteously and showed no irritation.

Interviewer: Mrs. Bernice Bowden Person interviewed: Cinda Johnson 506 E. Twenty, Pine Bluff, Arkansas Age: 83

"Yes ma'm, this is Cinda. Yes'm, I remember seein' the soldiers but I didn't know what they was doin'. You know old folks didn't talk in front of chilluns like they does now—but I been here. I got great grand chillun—boy big enuf to chop cotton. That's my daughter's daughter's chile. Now you know I been here.

"I heered em talkin' bout freedom. My mother emigrated here drectly after freedom. I was born in Alabama. When we come here, I know I was big enuf to clean house and milk cows. My mother died when I was bout fifteen. She called me to the bed and tole me who to stay with. I been treated bad, but I'm still here and I thank the Lord He let me stay.

"I been married twice. My first husband died, but I didn't have no graveyard love. I'm the mother of ten whole chillun. All dead but two and only one of them of any service to me. That's my son. He's good to me and does what he can but he's got a family. My daughter-in-law—all she does is straighten her hair and look cute.

"One of my sons what died belonged to the Odd Fellows and I bought this place with insurance. I lives here alone in peace. Yes, honey, I been here a long time."

Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor Person interviewed: Ella Johnson 913-1/2 Victory Street, Little Rock, Arkansas Age: About 85

"I was born in Helena, Arkansas. Not exactly in the town but in hardly not more than three blocks from the town. Have you heard about the Grissoms down there? Well, them is my white folks. My maiden name was Burke. But we never called ourselves any name 'cept Grissom.

"My mother's name was Sylvia Grissom. Her husband was named Jack Burkes. He went to the Civil War. That was a long time ago. When they got up the war, they sold out a lot of the colored folks. But they didn't get a chance to sell my mother. She left. They tell me one of them Grissom boys has been down here looking for me. He didn't find me and he went on back.

My mother's mistress was named Sylvia Grissom too. All of us was named after the white folks. All the old folks is dead, but the young ones is living. I think my mother's master was named John. They had so many of them that I forgit which is which. But they had all mama's children named after them. My mother had three girls and three boys.

"When the war began and my father went to war, my mother left Helena and came here. She run off from the Grissoms. They whipped her too much, those white folks did. She got tired of all that beating. She took all of us with her. All six of us children were born before the war. I was the fourth.

"There is a place down here where the white folks used to whip and hang the niggers. Baskin Lake they call it. Mother got that far. I don't know how. I think that she came in a wagon. She stayed there a little while and then she went to Churchill's place. Churchill's place and John Addison's place is close together down there. That is old time. Them folks is dead, dead, dead. Churchill's and Addison's places joined near Horse Shoe Lake. They had hung and burnt people—killed 'em and destroyed 'em at Baskin Lake. We stayed there about four days before we went on to Churchill's place. We couldn't stay there long.

"The ha'nts—the spirits—bothered us so we couldn't sleep. All them people that had been killed there used to come back. We could hear them tipping 'round in the house all the night long. They would blow out the light. You would kiver up and they would git on top of the kiver. Mama couldn't stand it; so she come down to General Churchill's place and made arrangements to stay there. Then she came back and got us children. She had an old man to stay there with us until she come back and got us. We couldn't stay there with them ha'nts dancing 'round and carryin' us a merry gait.

"At Churchill's place my mother made cotton and corn. I don't know what they give her for the work, but I know they paid her. She was a hustling old lady. The war was still goin' on. Churchill was a Yankee. He went off and left the plantation in the hands of his oldest son. His son was named Jim Churchill. That is the old war; that is the first war ever got up—the Civil War. Ma stayed at Churchill's long enough to make two or three crops. I don't know just how long. Churchill and them wanted to own her—them and John Addison.

"There was three of us big enough to work and help her in the field. Three—I made four. There was my oldest sister, my brother, and my next to my oldest sister, and myself—Annie, John, Martha, and me. I chopped cotton and corn. I used to tote the leadin' row. Me and my company walked out ahead. I was young then, but my company helped me pick that cotton. That nigger could pick cotton too. None of the res' of them could pick anything for looking at him.

"Mother stayed at Churchill's till plumb after the war. My father died before the war was over. They paid my mother some money and said she would get the balance. That means there was more to come, doesn't it? But they didn't no more come. They all died and none of them got the balance. I ain't never got nothin' either. I gave my papers to Adams and Singfield. I give them to Adams; Adams is a Negro that one-legged Wash Jordan sent to me. They all say he's a big crook, but I didn't know it. Adams kept coming to my house until he got my papers and then when he got the papers he didn't come no more.

"After Adams got the papers, he carried me down to Lawyer Singfield's. He said I had to be sworn in and it would cost me one dollar. Singfield wrote down every child's name and everybody's age. When he got through writing, he said that was all and me and Pearl made up one dollar between us and give it to him. And then we come on away. We left Mr. Adams and Mr. Singfield in Singfield's office and we left the papers there in the office with them. They didn't give me no receipt for the papers and they didn't give me no receipt for the dollar. Singfield's wife has been to see me several times to sell me something. She wanted to git me to buy a grave, but she ain't never said nothin' about those papers. You think she doesn't know 'bout 'em? I have seen Adams once down to Jim Perry's funeral on Arch Street. I asked him about my papers and he said the Government hadn't answered him. He said, 'Who is you?' I said, 'This is Mrs. Johnson.' Then he went on out. He told me when he got a answer, it will come right to my door.

"I never did no work before goin' on Churchill's plantation. Some of the oldest ones did, but I didn't. I learned how to plow at John Addison's place. The war was goin' on then. I milked cows for him and churned and cleaned up. I cooked some for him. Are you acquainted with Blass? I nursed Julian Blass. I didn't nurse him on Addison's place; I nursed him at his father's house up on Main Street, after I come here. I nursed him and Essie both. I nursed her too. I used to have a time with them chillen. They weren't nothin' but babies. The gal was about three months old and Julian was walkin' 'round. That was after I come to Little Rock.

"My mother come to Little Rock right after the war. She brought all of us with her but the oldest. He come later.

"She want to work and cooked and washed and ironed here. I don't remember the names of the people she worked for. They all dead—the old man and the old ladies.

"She sent me to school. I went to school at Philander [HW: (Philander Smith College?)] and down to the end of town and in the country. We had a white man first and then we had a colored woman teacher. The white man was rough. He would fight all the time. I would read and spell without opening my book. They would have them blue-back spellers and McGuffy's reader. They got more education then than they do now. Now they is busy fighting one another and killin' one another. When you see anything in the paper, you don't know whether it is true or not. Florence Lacy's sister was one of my teachers. I went to Union school once. [HW: —— insert from P. 5]

"You remember Reuben White? They tried to bury him and he came to before they got him in the grave. He used to own the First Baptist Church. He used to pastor it too. He sent for J. P. Robinson by me. He told Robinson he wanted him to take the Church and keep it as long as he lived. Robinson said he would keep it. Reuben White went to his brother's and died. They brought him back here and kept his body in the First Baptist Church a whole week. J. P. carried on the meetin', and them sisters was fightin' him. They went on terrible. He started out of the church and me and 'nother woman stopped him. At last they voted twice, and finally they elected J. P. He was a good pastor, but he hurrahed the people and they didn't like that.

"Reuben White didn't come back when they buried him the second time. They were letting the coffin down in the grave when they buried him the first time, and he knocked at it on the inside, knock, knock. (Here the old lady rapped on the doorsill with her knuckles—ed.) They drew that coffin up and opened it. How do I know? I was there. I heard it and seen it. They took him out of the coffin and carried him back to his home in the ambulance. He lived about three or four years after that.

"I had a member to die in my order and they sent for the undertaker and he found that she wasn't dead. They took her down to the undertaker's shop, and found that she wasn't dead. They said she died after they embalmed her. That lodge work ran my nerves down. I was in the Tabernacle then. Goodrich and Dubisson was the undertakers that had the body. Lucy Tucker was the woman. I guess she died when they got her to the shop. They say the undertaker cut on her before he found that she was dead.

"I don't know how many grades I finished in school. I guess it was about three altogether. I had to git up and go to work then. [TR: This paragraph was marked with a line on the right; possibly it is the paragraph to be inserted on the previous page.]

"After I quit school, I nursed mighty nigh all the time. I cooked for Governor Rector part of the time. I cooked for Dr. Lincoln Woodruff. I cooked for a whole lot of white folks. I washed and ironed for them Anthonys down here. She like to had a fit over me the last time she saw me. She wanted me to come back, but my hand couldn't stand it. I cooked for Governor Rose's wife. That's been a long time back. I wouldn't 'low nobody to come in the kitchen when I was working. I would say, 'You goin' to come in this kitchen, I'll have to git out.' The Governor was awful good to me. They say he kicked the res' of them out. I scalded his little grandson once. I picked up the teakettle. Didn't know it had water in it and it slipped and splashed water over the little boy's hand. If'n it had been hot as it ought to have been, it would have burnt him bad. He went out of that kitchen hollerin'. The Governor didn't say nothin' 'cept, 'Ella, please don't do it again.' I said, 'I guess that'll teach him to stay out of that kitchen now.' I was boss of that kitchen when I worked there.

"We took the lock off the door once so the Governor couldn't git in it.

"I dressed up and come out once and somebody called the Governor and said, 'Look at your cook.' And he said, 'That ain't my cook.' That was Governor Rector. I went in and put on my rags and come in the kitchen to cook and he said, 'That is my cook.' He sure wanted me to keep on cookin' for him, but I just got sick and couldn't stay.

"I hurt my hand over three years ago. My arm swelled and folks rubbed it and got all the swelling down in one place in my hand. They told me to put fat meat on it. I put it on and the meat hurt so I had to take it off. Then they said put the white of an egg on it. I did that too and it was a little better. Then they rubbed the place until it busted. But it never did cure up. I poisoned it by goin' out pulling up greens in the garden. They tell me I got dew poisoning.

"I don't git no help from the Welfare or from the Government. My husband works on the relief sometimes. He's on the relief now.

"I married—oh, Lordy, lemme see when I did marry. It's been a long time ago, more 'n thirty years it's been. It's been longer than that. We married up here on Twelfth and State Street, right here in Little Rock. I had a big wedding. I had to go to Thompson's hall. That was on Tenth and State Street. They had to go to git all them people in. They had a big time that night.

"I lived in J. P. Robinson's house twenty-two years. And then I lived in front of Dunbar School. It wasn't Dunbar then. I know all the people that worked at the school. I been living here about six months."

Interviewer's Comment

Ella Johnson is about eighty-five years old. Her father went to war when the War first broke out. Her mother ran away then and went to Churchill's farm not later than 1862. Ella Johnson learned to plow then and she was at least nine years old she says and perhaps older when she learned to plow. So she must be at least eighty-five.

Interviewer: Mary D. Hudgins Person interviewed: Fanny Johnson Aged: 76 Home: Palmetto (lives with daughter who owns a comfortable, well furnished home)

As told by: Mrs. Fanny Johnson

"Yes ma'am. I remembers the days of slavery. I was turned five years old when the war started rushing. No ma'am, I didn't see much of the Yankees. They didn't come thru but twice. Was I afraid? No ma'am. I was too busy to be scared. I was too busy looking at the buttons they wore. Until they went in Master's smoke house. Then I quit looking and started hollering. But, I'll tell you all about that later.

My folks all come from Maryland. They was sold to a man named Woodfork and brought to Nashville. The Woodfork colored folks was always treated good. Master used to buy up lots of plantations. Once he bought one in Virginia with all the slaves on the place. He didn't believe in separating families. He didn't believe in dividing mother from her baby.

But they did take them away from their babies. I remember my grandmother telling about it. The wagon would drive down into the field and pick up a woman. Then somebody would meet her at the gate and she would nurse her baby for the last time. Then she'd have to go on. Leastwise, if they hadn't sold her baby too.

It was pretty awful. But I don't hold no grudge against anybody. White or black, there's good folks in all kinds. I don't hold nothing against nobody. The good Lord knows what he is about. Most of the time it was just fine on any Woodfork place. Master had so many places he couldn't be at 'em all. We lived down on the border, on the Arkansas-Louisiana line sort of joining to Grand Lake. Master was up at Nashville, Tennessee. Most of the time the overseers was good to us.

But it wasn't that way on all the plantations. On the next one they was mean. Why you could hear the sound of the strap for two blocks. No there wasn't any blocks. But you could hear it that far. The "niggah drivah" would stand and hit them with a wide strap. The overseer would stand off and split the blisters with a bull whip. Some they whipped so hard they had to carry them in. Just once did anybody on the Woodfork place get whipped that way.

We never knew quite what happened. But my grandmother thought that the colored man what took down the ages of the children so they'd know when to send them to the field must have wrote Master. Anybody else couldn't have done it. Anyhow, Master wrote back a letter and said, 'I bought my black folks to work, not to be killed.' And the overseer didn't dare do so any more.

No ma'am, I never worked in the field. I wasn't old enough. You see I helped my grandmother, she is the one who took care of the babies. All the women from the lower end would bring their babies to the upper end for her to look after while they was in the field. When I got old enough, I used to help rock the cradles. We used to have lots of babies to tend. The women used to slip in and nurse their babies. If the overseer thought they stayed too long he used to come in and whip them out—out to the fields. But they was good to us, just the same. We had plenty to wear and lots to eat and good cabins to live in. All of them wasn't that way though.

I remember the women on the next plantation used to slip over and get somthing to eat from us. The Woodfork colored folks was always well took care of. Our white folks was good to us. During the week there was somebody to cook for us. On Sunday all of them cooked in their cabins and they had plenty. The women on the next plantation, even when they was getting ready to have babies didn't seem to get enough to eat. They used to slip off at night and come over to our place. The Woodfork people never had to go nowhere for food. Our white folks treated us real good.

Didn't make much difference when the war started rushing. We didn't see any fighting. I told you the Yankees come thru twice——let me go back a spell.

We had lots of barrels of Louisiana molasses. We could eat all we wanted. When the barrels was empty, we children was let scrape them. Lawsey, I used to get inside the barrel and scrape and scrape and scrape until there wasn't any sweetness left.

We was allowed to do all sorts of other things too. Like there was lots of pecans down in the swamps. The boys, and girls too for that matter, was allowed to pick them and sell them to the river boats what come along. The men was let cut cord wood and sell it to the boats. Flat boats they was. There was regular stores on them. You could buy gloves and hats and lots of things. They would burn the wood on the boat and carry the nuts up North to sell. But me, I liked the sugar barrel best.

When the Yankees come thru, I wasn't scared. I was too busy looking at the bright buttons on their coats. I edged closer and closer. All they did was laugh. But I kept looking at them. Until they went into the smoke house. Then I turned loose and hollered. I hollored because I thought they was going to take all Master's sirup. I didn't want that to happen. No ma'am they didn't take nothing. Neither time they came.

After the war was over they took us down the river to The Bend. It was near Vicksburg——an all day's ride. There they put us on a plantation and took care of us. It was the most beautifulest place I ever see. All the cabins was whitewashed good. The trees was big and the whole place was just lovely. It was old man Jeff Davis' place.

They fed us good, gave us lots to eat. They sent up north, the Yankees did, and got a young white lady to come down and teach us. I didn't learn nothing. They had our school near what was the grave yard. I didn't learn cause I was too busy looking around at the tombstones. They was beautiful. They looked just like folks to me. Looks like I ought have learned. They was mighty good to send somebody down to learn us that way. I ought have learned, it looks ungrateful, but I didn't.

My mother died on that place. It was a mighty nice place. Later on we come to Arkansas. We farmed. Looked like it was all we knowed how to do. We worked at lots of places. One time we worked for a man named Thomas E. Allen. He was at Rob Roy on the Arkansas near Pine Bluff. Then we worked for a man named Kimbroo. He had a big plantation in Jefferson county. For forty years we worked first one place, then another.

After that I went out to Oklahoma. I went as a cook. Then I got the idea of following the resort towns about. In the summer I'd to [TR: go?] to Eureka.[D] In the winter I'd come down to Hot Springs.[E] That was the way to make the best money. Folks what had money moved about like that. I done cooking at other resorts too. I cooked at the hotel at Winslow.[F] I done that several summers.

Somehow I always come back to Hot Springs. Good people in Eureka. Finest man I ever worked for—for a rich man was Mr. Rigley, [TR: Wrigley] you know. He was the man who made chewing gum. We didn't have no gas in Eureka. Had to cook by wood. I remember lots of times Mr. Wrigley would come out in the yard where I was splitting kindling. He'd laugh and he'd take the ax away from me and split it hisself. Finest man——for a rich man I ever see.

Cooking at the hotel at Winslow was nice. There was lots of fine ladies what wanted to take me home with them when they went home. But I told them, 'No thank you, Hot Springs is my home. I'm going there this winter.'

I'm getting sort of old now. My feet ain't so sure as they used to be. But I can get about. I can get around to cook and I can still see to thread a needle. My daughter has a good home for me." (I was conducted into a large living room, comfortably furnished and with a degree of taste—caught glimpses of a well furnished dining room and a kitchen equipment which appeared thoroughly modern—Interviewer)

"People in Hot Springs is good people. They seem sort of friendly. Folks in Eureka did too, even more so. But maybe it was cause I was younger then and got to see more of them. But the Lord has blessed me with a good daughter. I got nothing to complain about, I don't hold grudges against nobody. The good Lord knows what he is doing."

[Footnote D: Eureka Springs, Ark.]

[Footnote E: Hot Springs National Park]

[Footnote F: rustic hotel on mountain near village of Winslow, Ark.]

Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor Person interviewed: George Johnson 814 W. Ninth Street, Little Rock, Arkansas Age: 75

"I was born in Richmond, Virginia, September 28, 1862, and came to this country in 1869. My father was named Benjamin Johnson and my mother was named Phoebe Johnson. I don't know the names of my grandmother and grandfather. My father's master was named Johnson; I forget his first name. He was a doctor and lived on Charleston and Morgan Streets. I don't know what my mother's name was before she married my father. And I don't know what her master's name was. She died when I was just three years old.

"The way my father happened to bring me out here was, Burton Tyrus came out here in Richmond stump speaking and telling the people that money grew like apples on a tree in Arkansas. They got five or six boat loads of Negroes to come out here with them. Father went to share cropping on the Red River Bottom on the Chickaninny Farm. He put in his crop, but by the time he got ready to gather it, he taken sick and died. He couldn't stand this climate.

"Then me and my sisters was supposed to be bound out to Henry Moore and his wife. I stayed with them about six years and then I ran off. And I been scouting 'round for myself ever since.

"My occupation has been chiefly public work. My first work was rail roading and steam boating. I was on the Iron Mountain when she was burning wood. That was about fifty some years ago. After that I worked on the steamboats Natchez and Jim Lee. I worked on them as roustabout. After that I would just commence working everywhere I could get it. I came here about forty-five years ago because I liked the city. I was in and out of the city but made this place my headquarters.

"I'm not able to do any work now. I put in for the Old Age Pension two years ago. They told me I would have to prove my age but I couldn't do it any way except to produce my marriage license. I produced them. I got the license right out of this county courthouse here. I was married the last time in 1907 and was forty-five years old then. That will make me seventy-six years old this year—the twenty-eighth day of this coming September. My wife died nine years ago.

"I have heard my father talking a little but old folks then didn't allow the young ones to hear much. My daddy sent me to bed at night. When night came you went to bed; you didn't hang around waiting to hear what the old folks would say.

"My daddy got his leg shot in the Civil War. He said he was in that battle there in Richmond. I don't know which side he was on, but I know he got his leg shot off. He was one-legged. He never did get any pension. I don't know even whether he was really enlisted or not. All I know is that he got his leg shot off in the war.

"When the war ended in 1865, the slaves around Richmond were freed. I never heard my father give the details of how he got his freedom. I was too young to remember them myself.

"I don't know how many slaves Dr. Johnson had but I know it was a good many, for he was a tobacco raiser. I don't remember what kind of houses his slaves lived in. [And I never heard the kind of food we et.] [HW: ?]

"I never heered tell of patrols till I came to Arkansas. I never heered much of the Ku Klux either. I guess that was all the same, wasn't it? Peace wasn't declared here till 1866. I never heered of any of my acquaintances being bothered but I heered the colored people was scared. All I know was that you had to come in early. Didn't, they get you.

"What little schooling I got, I got it by going to night school here. That is been a good many years back—forty years back. I forgot now who was teaching night school. It was some kin of Ishes out here I know.


"I think times is tight now. Tighter than I ever knowed 'em to be before. Quite a change in this world now. There is not enough work now for the people and from what I can see, electricity has knocked the laboring man out. It has cut the mules and the men out.

"My opinion of these young people is that they got all the education in the world and no business qualifications. They are too fast for any use."

Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson Person interviewed: John Johnson R.F.D., Clarendon, Arkansas Age: 73

"I was born sixteen miles on the other side of Jackson, Tennessee. The old mistress was Miss Sally, and old master was Mr. Steve Johnson, same name as mine. My papa's name was Louis Johnson but my mama belonged to the Conleys and befo' she married papa her name was Martha Conley. My folks fur as I knowed was field hands. They stayed on at Johnsons and worked a long time after freedom. I was born just befo' freedom. From what I heard all of my folks talkin' the Ku Klux 'fected the colored folks right smart, more than the war. Seemed 'bout like two wars and both of 'em tried their best to draw in the black race. The black race wanted peace all the time. It was Abraham Lincoln whut wanted to free the black race. He was the President. The first war was 'bout freedom and the war right after it was equalization. The Ku Klux muster won it cause they didn't want the colored folks have as much as they have. I heard my folks say they knowed some of the Ku Klux. They would get killed sometimes and then you hear 'bout it. They would be nice as pie in day time and then dress up at night and be mean as they could be. They wanted the colored folks think they was hants and monsters from the bad place. All the Yankees whut wanted to stay after they quit fighting, they run 'em out wid hounds at night. The Ku Klux was awful mean I heard 'em say. Mr. Steve Johnson looked after all his hands. All that stayed on to work for him. He told 'em long as they stayed home at night and behave 'em selves they needn't be scared. They wanter go out at night they had to have him write 'em a pass. Jess like slavery an' they were free.

"The master didn't give 'em nuthin'. He let 'em live in his houses—log houses, and he had 'em fed from the store stead of the smoke house. He give 'em a little money in the fall to pay 'em. 'Bout all the difference they didn't get beat up. If they didn't work he would make 'em leave his place.

"That period—after the Civil War, it sure was hard. It was a de'pression I'll tell you. I never seed a dollar till I was 'bout grown. They called 'em 'wagon wheels.' They was mighty scarce. Great big heavy pieces of silver. I ain't seed one fer years. But they used to be some money.

"Lady, whut you wanter know was fo my days, fo I was born. My folks could answered all dem questions. There was 4 girls and 6 boys in my family.

"Course I did vote. I used to have a heap a fun on election day. They give you a drink. It was plentiful I tell you. I never did drink much. I voted Republican ticket. I know it would sho be too bad if the white folks didn't hunt good canidates. The colored race got too fur behind to be able to run our govmint. Course I mean education. When they git educated they ain't studyin' nuthin' but spendin' all they make and havin' a spreein' time. Lady, that is yo job. The young generation ain't carin' 'bout no govinment.

"The present conditions—that's whut I been tellin' you 'bout. It is hard to get work heap of the time. When the white man got money he sure give the colored man and woman work to do. The white man whut live 'mong us is our best friend. He stand by our color the best. It is a heap my age, I reckon, I can't keep in work. Young folks can pick up work nearly all time.

"I started to pay fer my home when I worked at the mill. I used to work at a shoe and shettle mill. I got holt of a little cash. I still tryin' to pay fer my home. I will make 'bout two bales cotton this year. Yes maam they is my own. I got a hog. I got a garden. I ain't got no cow.

"No maam I don't get no 'sistance from the govmint. No commodities—no nuthin'. I signed up but they ain't give me nuthin'. I think I am due it. I am gettin' so no account I needs it. Lady, I never do waste no money. I went to the show ground and I seed 'em buyin' goobers and popcorn. I seed a whole drove of colored folks pushin' and scrouging in there so feared they wouldn't get the best seat an' miss somepin. Heap of poor white people scrouging in there too all together. They need their money to live on fo cold weather come. Ain't I tellin' you right? I sho never moved outer my tracks. I never been to a show in my life. Them folks come in here wid music and big tent every year. I never been to a show in my life. That what they come here fur, to get the cotton pickin' money. Lady, they get a pile of money fore they leave. Course folks needs it now.

"When I had my mules and rented I made most and next to that when I farmed for a fourth. When I was young I made plenty. I know how cotton an' corn is made now but I ain't able to do much work, much hard work. The Bible say twice a child and once a man. My manhood is gone fur as work concerned.

"I like mighty well if you govmint folks could give me a little 'sistance. I need it pretty bad at times and can't get a bit."

Interviewer: Mrs. Bernice Bowden Person interviewed: Letha Johnson 2203 W. Twelfth Street, Pine Bluff, Arkansas Age: 77

"I heered the people say I was born in time of slavery. I was born durin' of the War.

"And when we went back home they said we had been freed four years.

"My father's last owner was named Crawford. He was a awful large man. That was in Monroe County, Mississippi.

"I know they was good to us 'cause we stayed right there after freedom till my father died in 1889. And mama stayed a year or two, then she come to Arkansas.

"After my husband died in 1919, I went to Memphis. Then this girl I raised—her mother willed her to me—I come here to Arkansas to live with her after I got down with the rheumatism so I couldn't wash and iron.

"In my husband's lifetime I didn't do nothin' but farm. And after I went to Memphis I cooked. Then I worked for a Italian lady, but she did her own cookin'. And oh, I thought she could make the best spaghetti.

"I used to spin and make soap. My last husband and I was married fifteen years and eight months and we never did buy a bar of soap. I used to be a good soap maker. And knit all my own socks and stockin's.

"I used to go to a school-teacher named Thomas Jordan. I remember he used to have us sing a song

'I am a happy bluebird Sober as you see; Pure cold water Is the drink for me.

I'll take a drink here And take a drink there, Make the woods ring With my temperance prayer.'

We'd all sing it; that was our school song. I believe that's the onliest one I can remember.

"'Bout this younger generation—well, I tell you, it's hard for me to say. It just puts me to a wonder. They gone a way back there. Seem like they don't have any 'gard for anything.

"I heard 'em 'fore I left Mississippi singin'

'Everybody's doin' it, doin' it.'

"'Co'se when I was young they was a few that was wild, but seem like now they is all wild. But I feels sorry for 'em."

Interviewer: Mrs. Bernice Bowden Person interviewed: Lewis Johnson 713 Missouri Street, Pine Bluff, Arkansas Age: 87

"I'll be eighty-seven the eighteenth of this month if I live.

"They's a heap of things the human family calls luck. I count myself lucky to be livin' as old as I is.

"Some says it is a good deed I've done but I says it's the power of God.

"I never had but two spells of sickness when I was spectin' to die. Once was in Mississippi. I had a congestis chill. I lay speechless twenty-four hours and when I come to myself they had five doctors in the house with me.

"But my time hadn't come and I'm yet livin' by the help of the good Master.

"I stole off when I was eighteen and got my first marriage license. They was a white fellow was a justice of the peace and he took advantage of my father and he stood for me 'cause he wanted me to work on his place. In them days they'd do most anything to gain labor.

"When they was emigratin' 'em from Georgia to these countries, they told 'em they was hogs runnin' around already barbecued with a knife and fork in their back. Told 'em the cotton growed so tall you had to put little chaps up the stalk to get the top bolls.

"But they tole some things was true. Said in Mississippi the cotton growed so tall and spread so it took two to pick a row, and I found that true.

"Old master always fed his hands good so they could meet the demands when he called on 'em. He worked 'em close but he fed 'em.

"He raised wheat, corn, peas, rye, and oats, and all such like that. Oh, he was a round farmer all right. And he raised feed for his stock too.

"My old boss used to raise sweet potatoes enough to last three years.

"The people of the South was carried through that sweat of freedom. They was compelled to raise cotton and not raise much to eat. They told 'em they could buy it cheaper than raise it, but it was a mistake.

"I used to have a wood yard on the Mississippi and when the steamers come down the river, I used to go aboard and quiz the people from the North. Heap of 'em would get chips of different woods and put it away to carry home to show. And they'd take cotton bolls and some limbs to show the people at home how cotton grows.

"To my idea, the North is wiser than the South. My idea of the North is they is more samissive to higher trades—buildin' wagons and buggies, etc.

"Years ago they wasn't even a factory here to make cloth. Had to send the cotton to the North and then order the cloth from the North, and time they got it the North had all the money.

"In the old days they was only two countries they could depend on to raise tobacco and that was Virginia and South Carolina.

"I can remember a right smart before the War started. Now I can set down and think of every horse's name my old boss had. He had four he kept for Sunday business. Had Prince, Bill, Snap, and Puss. And every Saturday evening he had the boys take 'em in the mill pond and wash 'em off—fix 'em up for Sunday."

Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson Person interviewed: Lizzie Johnson, Biscoe, Arkansas Age: 65

"I was born at Holly Springs, Mississippi. My mother was fifteen years old when the surrender come on. Her name was Alice Airs. Mama said she and grandma was sold in the neighborhood and never seen none of her folks after they was sold. The surrender come on. They quit and went on with some other folks that come by. Mama got away from them and married the second year of the surrender. She said she really got married; she didn't jump the broom. Mama was a cook in war times. Grandma churned and worked in the field. Grandma lived in to herself but mama slept on the kitchen floor. They had a big pantry built inside the kitchen and in both doors was a sawed-out place so the cats could come and go.

"My father was sold during of the War too but he never said much about it. He said some of the slaves would go in the woods and the masters would be afraid to go hunt them out without dogs. They made bows and arrows in the woods.

"I heard my parents tell about the Ku Klux come and made them cook them something to eat. They drunk water while she was cooking. I heard them say they would get whooped if they sot around with a book in their hand. When company would come they would turn the pot down and close the shutters and doors. They had preaching and prayed that way. The pot was to drown out the sound.

"They said one man would sell off his scrawny niggers. He wanted fine looking stock on his place. He couldn't sell real old folks. They kept them taking care of the children and raising chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, and made some of them churn and milk.

"My stepfather said he knowed a man married a woman after freedom and found out she was his mother. He had been sold from her when he was a baby. They quit and he married ag'in. He had a scar on his thigh she recollected. The scar was right there when he was grown. That brought up more talk and they traced him up to be her own boy.

"Hester Swafford died here in Biscoe about seven years ago. Said she run away from her owners and walked to Memphis. They took her up over there. Her master sent one of the overseers for her. She rode astraddle behind him back. They got back about daylight. They whooped her awful and rubbed salt and pepper in the gashes, and another man stood by handed her a hoe. She had to chop cotton all day long. The women on the place would doctor her sores.

"Grandma said she remembered the stars falling. She said it turned dark and seem like two hours sparkles fell. They said stars fell. She said it was bad times. People was scared half to death. Mules and horses just raced. She said it took place up in the day. They didn't have time-pieces to know the time it come on.

"Young folks will be young the way I see it. They ain't much different. Times is sure 'nough hard for old no 'count folks. Young folks makes their money and spends it. We old folks sets back needing. Times is lots different now. It didn't used to be that way."

Interviewer: Mrs. Bernice Bowden Person interviewed: Louis Johnson 721 Missouri Street, Pine Bluff, Arkansas Age: 86

"My father said I was fifteen when peace was declared. In slavery days they didn't low colored folks to keep their ages and didn't low em to be educated. I was born in Georgia. I went to a little night school but I never learned to read. I never learned to write my own name.

"I never did see no fightin' a tall but I saw em refugeein' goin' through our country night and day. Said they was goin' to the Blue Ridge Mountains to pitch battle. They was Rebels gettin' out of the way of the Yankees.

"Old master was a pretty tough old fellow. He had work done aplenty. He had a right smart of servants. I wasn't old enough to take a record of things and they didn't low grown folks to ask too many questions.

"I can sit and study how the rich used to do. They had poor white folks planted off in the field to raise hounds to run the colored folks. Colored folks used to run off and stay in the woods. They'd kill old master's hogs and eat em. I've known em to stay six months at a time. I've seen the hounds goin' behind niggers in the woods.

"We had as good a time as we expected. My old master fed and clothed very well but we had to keep on the go. Some masters was good to em. Yes, madam, I'd ruther be in times like now than slavery. I like it better now—I like my liberty.

"In slavery days they made you pray that old master and mistress would hold their range forever.

"My old master was Bob Johnson. He lived in Muskoge County where I was born. Then he moved to Harris County and that's where the war ketched him. He become to be a widower there.

"I member when the Yankees come and took old master's horses and mules.

"I had a young boss that went to the war and come home with the rheumatism. He was walkin' on crutches and I know they sent him to a refugee camp to see to things and when he come back he didn't have no crutches. I guess the Yankees got em.

"Childern travels now from one seaport to another but in them days they kept the young folks confined. I got along all right 'cept I didn't have no liberty.

"I believe it was in June when they read the freedom papers. They told us we was free but we could stay if we wanted to. My father left Bob Johnson's and went to work for his son-in-law. I was subject to him cause I was a minor, so I went with him. Before freedom, I chopped cotton, hoed corn and drapped peas, but now I was big enough to follow the plows. I was a cowboy too. I tended to the cows. Since I've been grown I been a farmer—always was a farmer. I never would live in town till I got disabled for farming.

"After we was free we was treated better. They didn't lash us then. We was turned loose with the white folks to work on the shares. We always got our share. They was more liberal along that line than they is now.

"After I come to this country of Arkansas I bought several places but I failed to pay for them and lost them. Now my wife and me are livin' on my daughter.

"I been married three times. I married 'fore I left Georgia but me and her couldn't get along. Then I married in Mississippi and I brought her to Arkansas. She died and now I been married to this woman fifty-three years.

"I been belongin' to the church over forty years. I have to belong to the church to give thanks for my chance here now. I think the people is gettin' weaker and wiser."

Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson Person interviewed: Mag Johnson, Clarendon, Arkansas Age: 65 or 70?

"Pa was born in North Ca'lina. Ma was born in Virginia. Their names George and Liza Fowler.

"Ma's fust owner what I heard her tell 'bout was Master Ed McGehee in Virginia. He's the one what brung her in a crowd of nigger traders to Somerville, Tennessee. The way it was, a cavalry of Yankees got in back of them. The nigger trader gang drive up. They got separated. My ma and her gang hid in a cave two weeks an' not much to eat. The Yankees overtook 'em hid in the cave and passed on. Ma say one day the nigger traders drive up in front McGehee's yard and they main heads and Master Ed had a chat. They hung around till he got ready and took off a gang of his own slaves wid him. They knowed he was after selling them off when he left wid 'em.

"Ben Trotter in Tennessee bought ma and three more nigger girls. The Yankees took and took from 'em. They freed a long time b'fore she knowed of. She said they would git biscuits on Sunday around. Whoop 'em if one be gone.

"Ole miss went out to the cow pen an' ma jus' a gal like stole outen a piece er pie and a biscuit and et it. The cook out the cow pen too but the three gals was doing about in the house and yard. Ma shut polly up in the shed room. Then she let it out when she et up the pie and biscuit. Ole miss come in. Polly say, 'Liza shut me up, Liza shut me up.' She missed the pie. Called all four the girls and ma said, 'I done et it. I was so hungry.' Ole miss said that what polly talking 'bout, but she didn't understand the bird so very well. Ole miss say, 'I'm goiner tell Ben and have him whoop you.' That scared all four the girls case he did whoop her which he seldom done. She say when Master Ben come they stood by the door in a 'joining room. Ma say 'fore God ole miss tole him. Master Ben sont 'em out to pick up apples. He had a pie a piece cooked next day and a pan of hot biscuits and brown gravy, tole 'em to fill up. He tole 'em he knowed they got tired of corn batter cakes, milk and molasses but it was best he had to give them till the War was done.

"Ma said her job got to be milking, raising and feeding the fowls, chickens, ducks, geese, guineas, and turkeys all. The Yankees discouraged her. They come so many times till they cleaned 'em out she said.

"What they done to shut up polly's mouf was sure funny. He kept on next morning saying, 'Liza shut me up, Liza shut me up.' Liza pulled up her dress and underskirt and walked back'ards, bent down at him. He got scared. He screamed and then he hollered 'Ball-head and no eyes' all that day.

"Ma said they had corn shuckings and corn shellings and brush burnings. Had music and square dancing plenty times.

"When they got free they didn't know what it was nor what in the world to do with it. What they said 'minds me of folks now what got education. Seems like they don't know what to do nor where to put it.

"Pa said the nigger men run off to get a rest. They'd take to the woods and canebrakes. Once four of the best nigger fellars on their master's place took to the woods for to git a little rest. The master and paddyrolls took after 'em. They'd been down in there long 'nough they'd spotted a hollow cypress with a long snag of a limb up on it. It was in the water. They got them some vines and fixed up on the snag. They heard the dogs and the horn. They started down in the hollow cypress. One went down, the others coming on. He started hollering. But he thought a big snake in there. He brought up a cub on his nearly bare foot. They clem out and went from limb to limb till they got so away the dogs would loose trail. They seen the mama bear come and nap four her cubs to another place. His foot swole up so. They had to tote my pa about. Next day the dogs bayed them up in the trees. Master took them home, doctored his foot. Ast 'em why they runed off and so much to be doing. They tole 'em they taking a little rest. He whooped them every one.

"Pretty soon the Yankees come along and broke the white folks up. Pa went wid the Yankees. He said he got grown in the War. He fed horses for his general three years. He got arm and shoulder wounded, scalped his head. They mustered him out and he got his bounty. He got sixty dollars every three months.

"He died at Holly Grove, Arkansas about fifty years ago. Them was his favorite stories."

Interviewer: Mrs. Bernice Bowden Person interviewed: Mandy Johnson 607 Cypress Street, Pine Bluff, Arkansas Age: 92

"This is me. I'se old and ain't no 'count. I was done grown when the war started. You know I was grown when I was washin' and ironin'. I stood right there and watched the soldiers goin' to war. I heered the big bell go b-o-n-g, b-o-n-g and everybody sayin' 'There's goin' to be a war, there's goin' to be a war!' They was gettin' up the force to go bless your heart! Said they'd be back by nine tomorrow and some said 'I'm goin' to bring you a Yankee scalp.' And then they come again and want so many. You could hear the old drums go boom—boom. They was drums on this side and drums on that side and them drums was a talkin'! Yes'm, I'se here when it started—milkin' cows, washin' and cookin'. Oh, that was a time. Oh my Lord—them Yankees come in just like blackbirds. They said the war was to free the folks. Lots of 'em got killed on the first battle.

"I was born in Bastrop, Louisiana in February—I was a February colt.

"My old master was John Lovett and he was good to us. If anybody put their hands on any of his folks they'd have him to whip tomorrow. They called us old John's free niggers. Yes ma'm I had a good master. I ain't got a scratch on me. I stayed right in the house and nussed till I'se grown. We had a good time but some of 'em seed sights. I stayed there a year after we was free.

"I married durin' the war and my husband went to war with my uncle. He didn't come back and I waited three years and then I married again.

"You know they used to give the soldiers furloughs. One time one young man come home and he wouldn't go back, just hid out in the cane brake. Then the men come that was lookin' for them that 'exerted' durin' the war and they waited till he come out for somethin' to eat and they caught him and took him out in the bayou and shot him. That was the onliest dead man I ever seen. I seen a heap of live ones.

"The war was gettin' hot then and old master was in debt. Old mistress had a brother named Big Marse Lewis. He wanted to take all us folks and sell us in New Orleans and said he'd get 'em out of debt. But old master wouldn't do it. I know Marse Lewis got us in the jail house in Bastrop and Mars John come to get us out and Marse Lewis shot him down. I went to my master's burial—yes'm, I did! Old mistress didn't let us go to New Orleans either. Oh Lordy, I was young them days and I wasn't afraid of nothin'.

"Oh ho! What you talkin' 'bout? Ku Klux? They come out here just like blackbirds. They tried to scare the people and some of 'em they killed.

"Yes Lord, I seen a heap. I been through a lot and I seen a heap, but I'm here yet. But I hope I never live to see another war.

"When peace was declared, old mistress say 'You goin' to miss me' and I sho did. They's good to us. I ain't got nothin' to do now but sit here and praise the Lord cause I gwine to go home some day."

Interviewer: Mrs. Carol Graham Person interviewed: Marion Johnson

"Howdy, Missy, glad to see you again. As you sees I'm 'bout wound up on my cotton baskets and now I got these chairs to put bottoms in but I can talk while I does this work cause it's not zacting like making baskets.

"'Pears like you got a cold. Now let me tell you what to do for it. Make a tea out of pine straw and mullein leaves an' when you gets ready for bed tonight take a big drink of it an' take some tallow and mix snuff with it an' grease the bottom of your feets and under your arms an' behind your ears and you'll be well in the mornin'.

"Yes'm hits right in the middle of cotton picking time now. Always makes me think of when I was a boy. I picked cotton some but I got lots of whippins 'cause I played too much. They was some chinquapin trees in the fiel' and I jest natchally couldn' help stopping to pick up some 'chanks' now an' then. I likes the fall time. It brings back the old times on the plantation. After frost had done fell we would go possum huntin' on bright moonlight nights and we would mostly find Mr. Possum settin' in the 'simmon tree just helpin' hisself to them good old ripe juicy 'simmons. We'd catch the possum an' then we'd help ourselves to the 'simmons. Mentionin' 'simmons, my mammy sure could make good pies with them. I can most taste them yet and 'simmon bread too.

"He! he! he! jes' look at that boy goin' by with that stockin' on his head. Niggers used to wear stockings on they legs but now they wear them on they heads to make they hair lay down.

"Since this rain we had lately my rheumatism been botherin' me some. I is gone to cutting my fingernails on Wednesday now so's I'll have health; an' I got me a brand new remedy too an' it's a good one. Take live earth worms an' drop them in hot grease an' let them cook till there's no 'semblance of a worm then let the grease cool an' grease the rheumatic parts. You know that rheumatism done come back cause I got out of herbs. I just got to git some High John the Conqueror root an' fix a red flannel sack an' put it in the sack along with five finger grass, van van oil, controllin' powder, magnetic loadstone an' drawin' powder. Now, missy, the way I fixes that sure will ward off evil an' bring heaps of good luck. And I just got to fix myself that. You better let me fix you one too. If you and me had one of them wouldn't neither one of us be ailing. You needs some lucky hand root too to carry round with you all the time. Better let Uncle Marion fix you up.

"Did I ever tell you I used to tell fortunes with cards? But I stopped that cause I got my jack now and it's so much truthfuler than cards. You 'members when I answered that question for you and missy last year and how what I told you come true. Yes'm I never misses now. Uncle Marion can sure help you.

"There goes sister Melissy late with her washin' ergin. You know, Missy, niggers is always slow and late. They'll be wantin' God to wait on them when they start to heaven. White folks is always on time and they sings 'When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder I'll Be There', and niggers sing 'Don't Call The Roll Till I Get There.' You know I hates for it to get so cool. I'll have to move in off the gallery to work. When I sits on the gallery I sees everybody pass an' changes the time of day with them. 'Howdy, Sister Melissy. Late ergin I see.' Yes, I sees everything that goes on from my gallery. I hates for cool weather to come so's I have to move in.

"Ain't that a cute little feller in long pants? Lawsy me! chillun surely dresses diffunt now from when I was a chap. I didn' know nothin' 'bout no britches; I went in my shirt tail—didn' wear nothin' but a big old long shirt till I was 'bout twelve. You know that little fellow's mama had me treat him for worms. I made him a medicine of jimson weed an' lasses for his mama to give him every morning before breakfast an' that sure will kill 'em. Yes'm, that little fellow is all dressed up. 'Minds me of when I used to dress up to go courtin' my gal. I felt 'bout as dressed up as that little fellow does. I'd take soot out of the chimney and black my shoes then take a biscuit and rub over them to shine 'em. You know biscuits have grease in them and my shoes looked just like they done been shined by the bootblack.

"Law, missy, I don' know nothin' to tell you this time. Maybe if you come back I can think of something 'bout when niggers was in politics after the war but now I just can't 'member nothin'."

Interviewer: Carol Graham (Add.) Person interviewed: Marion Johnson El Dorado, Ark. Age: ?

"Dar's golden streets and a pearly gate somewhars, Dar's golden streets and a pearly gate somewhars, I gwian ter keep on searchin' till I finds hit, Dar's golden streets and a pearly gate somewhars.

"Dar's perfect peace somewhars, Dar's perfect peace somewhars, I gwian ter keep on searchin' till I finds hit, Dar's perfect peace somewhars.

"Good mornin', Missie! Glad to see you again. I is workin' on chairs again. Got these five to bottom for Mr. Brown and I sho can talk while I does this work.

"Ain't the sunshine pretty this mornin'? I prayed last night that the Lord would let today be sunny. I 'clare, Missie, hits rained so much lately till I bout decided me and all my things was goin' to mildew. Yes'm, me and all-l-l my things. And I done told you I likes to set on my gallery to work. I likes to watch the folks go by. It seems so natchel like to set here and howdy with em.

"I been in this old world a long time, but just can recollect bein' a slave. Since Christmas ain't long past it sets me to thinkin' bout the last time old Sandy Claus come to see us. He brought us each one a stick of candy, a apple and a orange, and he never did come to see us no more after that time cause we peeped. That was the last time he ever filt our stockin'. But you knows how chaps is. We just had to peep.

"You knows I was born and raised in Louisiana. I done told you that many times. And I just wish you could see the vituals on old marster's table at Christmas time. Lawdy, but his table jes groaned with good things. Old Mistress had the cook cookin' for weeks before time it seemed to me. There was hams and turkeys and chickens and cakes of all kinds. They sho was plenty to eat. And they was a present for all the niggers on the place besides the heaps of pretty things that Marster's family got off the tree in the parlor.

"When I first began to work on the farm old master put me to cuttin' sprouts, then when I got big enough to make a field hand, I went to the field then. I done lots of kinds of work—worked in the field, split rails, built fences, cleared new ground and just anything old marster wanted me to do. I members one time I got a long old splinter in my foot and couldn't get it out, so my mammy bound a piece of fat meat round my foot and let it stay bout a couple days, then the splinter come out real easy like. And I was always cutting myself too when I was a chap. You know how careless chaps is. An soot was our main standby for cuts. It would close the gash and heal it. And soot and sugar is extra good to stop bleeding. Sometime, if I would be in the field too far away from the house or anyplace where we could get soot, we would get cobwebbs from the cotton house and different places to stop the bleeding. One time we wasn't close to neither and one the men scraped some felt off from a old black hat and put it on to stop the bleedin'.

"My feets was tough. Didn't wear shoes much till I was grown. Went barefooted. My feets was so tough I could step on stickers and not feel em. Just to show how tough I was I used to take a blackberry limb and take my toes and skin the briers off and it wouldn't hurt my feets.

"Did I ever tell you bout my first pair of breeches? I was bout twelve then and before that I went in my shirt tail. I thought I was goin' to be so proud of my first breeches but I didn't like them. They was too tight and didn't have no pockets. They come just below my knees and I felt so uncomfortable-like that I tore em off me. And did I get a lickin? I got such a lickin' that when my next ones was made I was glad to put em on and wear em.

"I stayed round with marster's boys a lot, and them white boys was as good to me as if I had been their brother. And I stayed up to the big house lots of nights so as to be handy for runnin' for old master and mistress. The big house was fine but the log cabin where my mammy lived had so many cracks in it that when I would sleep down there I could lie in bed and count the stars through the cracks. Mammy's beds was ticks stuffed with dried grass and put on bunks built on the wall, but they did sleep so good. I can most smell that clean dry grass now. Mammy made her brooms from broom sage, and she cooked on a fireplace. They used a oven and a fireplace up at the big house too. I never saw no cookstove till I was grown.

"I members one time when I was a little shaver I et too many green apples. And did I have the bellie ache, whoo-ee! And mammy poured cold water over hot ashes and let it cool and made me drink it and it sure cured me too. I members seein' her make holly bush tea, and parched corn tea too for sickness. Nother time I had the toothache and mammy put some axle grease in the hollow of the tooth and let it stay there. The pain stopped and the tooth rotted out and we didn't have to pull it.

"Whee! Did you see how that car whizzed round the corner? There warn't no cars in my young days. They had mostly two-wheeled carts with shafts for the horse to be hitched in, and lots of us drove oxen to them carts. I plowed oxen many-a-day and rode em to and from the field. Let me tell you, Missy, if you don't know nothin' bout oxen—they surely does sull on you—you beat them and the more you beat the more they sulls. Yes'm, they sure sulls in hot weather, but it never gets too cold for em.

"Howdy, Parson. That sho was good preachin' Sunday. Yes suh, it was fine.

"That's the pastor of our church, an he sho preached two good sermons last Sunday. Sunday mornin' he preached 'Every kind of fish is caught in a net' and that night he preached 'Marvel not you must be born again.' But that mornin' sermon, it capped the climax. Parson sho told em bout it. He say, 'First, they catch the crawfish, and that fish ain't worth much; anybody that gets back from duty or one which says I will and then won't is a crawfish Christian.' Then he say, 'The next is a mudcat; this kind of a fish likes dark trashy places. When you catch em you won't do it in front water; it likes back water and wants to stay in mud. That's the way with some people in church. You can't never get them to the front for nothin'. You has to fish deep for them. The next one is the jellyfish. It ain't got no backbone to face the right thing. That the trouble with our churches today. Too many jellyfishes in em.' Next, he say is the gold fish—good for nothin' but to look at. They is pretty. That the way folks is. Some of them go to church just to sit up and look pretty to everybody. Too pretty to sing; too pretty to say Amen! That what the parson preached Sunday. Well, I'm a full-grown man and a full-grown Christian, praise the Lord. Yes,'m, parson is a real preacher."


"Yes young missey ah'll sho tell yo-all whut yo wants ter know. Yes'm ole Uncle Marion sho kin. Mah price is fo' bits fer one question. No'm, not fo' bits fo th' two uv yo but fo' bits each. Yo say yo all ain't got much money and yo all both wants ter know th' same thing. Well ah reckon since yo all is been comin' roun' and tawkin' to ole Uncle Marion ah cud make hit answer th' one question fuh both uv yo fuh fo' bits 'tween yo. No'm ah caint bring hit out heah. Yo all will haft tuh come inside th' house."

"[TR: " should be (]We went inside the house and Uncle Marion unwrapped his voodoo instrument which proved to be a small glass bottle about 2-1/2 inches tall wrapped to the neck in pink washable adhesive tape and suspended from a dirty twine about six inches long. At the top of the twine was a slip knot and in a sly way Uncle Marion would twist the cord before asking the question. If the cord was twisted in one direction the bottle would swing in a certain direction and if the cord was twisted in the other direction the bottle would swing in the opposite direction. Uncle Marion thought that we did not observe this and of course we played dumb. By twisting the cord and slyly working the muscles of his arm Uncle Marion made his instrument answer his questions in the way that he wished them answered.)

"Now ifn the answer to huh question is yais swing towards huh and ifn taint be still. (The bottle slowly swung toward me.) Now missy see hit have done answered yo question and yo done seed hit say yes. Yes'm hit sho am yes and yo' jes wait and see ifn ole Uncle Marion aint right. Now yo jes answer the same question fuh tother young missy heah. Now ifn the answer is yais yo turn toward huh which am the opposite to which yo jes turnt and ifn the answer is no sta' still. (The bottle then slowly turned around and went in Mrs. Thompson's direction.)

"Yo say whut do ah call dis heah? Ah calls hit a "jack". Yas'm hits a jack an' hit sho will answer any question yo wants ter ask hit. No'm yo cuden ask hit yo-self. Ah would haft ter ask hit fer yo. An' let me tell yo' ole Uncle Marion sho kin help youall chillun. Ah kin help yo all ward off evil and jinx; ah kin help yo all git a job; ah kin help yo all ovah come the ruination uv yo home. Uncle Marion sho cain give yo a helpin good luck hand. Ah cain help yo ovah come yo enemies.

"Now since ah knows yo young misses am in'erested an ah knows yo will sen' othah fokes tuh me what am in trouble ah am gointer tell yo all whut some uv mah magic remidies is so yo all kin tell fokes that ah have them yarbs (herbs) fuh sale. Yes'm ah has them yarbs right hea fuh sale and hit sho will work too.

"Now thar is High John the Conquerer Root. If'n yo totes one o' them roots in yo pocket yo will nevah be widout money. No mam. And you'll always conquer yo troubles an yo enemies. An fokes can sho git them yarbs thru me. Efn Uncle Marion don' have non on han' he sho kin git em for em.

"Den dar is five finger grass, ah kin git dat fuh yo too. Ifn dat is hung up ovah th' bedstid hit brings restful sleep and keeps off evil. Each one uv dem five fingahs stans for sumpin too. One stans fuh good luck, two fuh money, thee fuh wisdom, fo' fuh power an five fuh love.

"Yas'm an ah kin buil' a unseen wall aroun' yo so as ter keep evil, jinx and enemies way fum yo and hit'll bring heaps uv good luck too. The way ah does hit is this way: Ah takes High John the Conqueror Root and fixes apiece of red flannel so as ter make a sack and puts hit in the sack along wid magnetic loadstone, five finger grass, van van oil, controllin' powdah and drawin powdah and the seal uv powah. This heah mus be worn aroun the neck and sprinkle hit ever mornin fuh seven mornins wid three drops uv holy oil. Then theah is lucky han' root. Hit looks jes like a human han'. If yo carries hit on yo person hit will shake yo jinx and make yo a winnah in all kinds o games and hit'll help yo choose winnin numbers."

Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson Person interviewed: Martha Johnson, West Memphis Age: 71

"I was born at Lake Providence, Louisiana second year after the War. Mother's mother was left in Jackson, Tennessee. Mother was sold at Vicksburg, Mississippi. Father's mother was left at Pittsburg, Virginia. Father was brought to Lake Providence and sold to Master Ross and Mr. Coleman was his overseer. He was stripped stark naked and put up on the block. That was Nigger Traders Rule, he said. He was black as men get to be. Mother was three-fourths white. Her master was her father. He had two families. They was raised up in the same house with his white family. Master's white wife raised her and kept her till her death. He was dead I think.

"Then her young white master sold her. He sold his half-sister. She met my father at Vicksburg, Mississippi where he mustered out. She was chambermaid when the surrender came on, on the Gray Eagle boat from Vicksburg to Memphis. Mother died when I was nine years old. Papa had no boys, only three girls. I was his 'Tom Boy.' I did the milking and out-of-door turns. Papa was a small man. He weighed 150 pounds. He carpentered, made and mended shoes, and was a blacksmith. We farmed and farmed. I was chambermaid in Haynes, Arkansas hotel three years. I washed and ironed. I'm not much cook. I never was fond of cooking.

"I never voted. I'm not starting now. I'm too old.

"Times is hard. You can't get ahead no way. It keeps you hustling all the time to live. Times is going pretty fast. In some ways times is better for some people and harder for other people.

"These young folks don't want to be advised and I don't advise them except my own children. I tell them all they listen to. They listen now better than they did when they was younger. They are all grown.

"I don't get no help from nowhere but my children a little. I own my home."

Interviewer: Pernella M. Anderson Person interviewed: Millie Johnson (Old Bill) El Dorado, Arkansas Age: ?

"I was born in Caledonia, Arkansas but I don't know when. I just can't tell you nothing hardly about when I was a child because my mind goes and comes. I was a slave and my white folks were good to me. They let me play and have a good time just like their children did.

"After I got grown I run around terrible. My husband quit me a long time ago. The white folks let me have my way. They said I was mean and if my husband fooled with me, told me to shoot him. I am going back home to Caledonia when I get a chance. My sister's boy brought me up here; Mack Ford is his name.

"A long time ago—I don't know how long it's been—I came out of the back door something hung their teeth in my ankle. I hollered and looked down and it was a big old rattlesnake. I cried to my sister to get him off of me. She was scared, so all I knew to do was run, jump and holler. I ran about—oh, I don't know how far—with the snake hanging to my ankle. The snake would not let me go, and it wasn't but one thing for me to do and that was stop and pull the snake off of me. I stopped and began pulling. I pulled and pulled and pulled and pulled. The snake would not let me go. I began pulling again. After awhile I got it off. When I pulled the snake away the snake brought his mouth full of my meat. You talk about hurting, that like to have killed me. That place stayed sore for twenty years before it healed up. After it had been healed a couple years I then scratched the place on a bob wire that inflamed it. That has been about 25 or 30 years ago and it's been sore ever since. Lord, I sure have been suffering too. As soon as it gets well I am going back to Caledonia. I am praying for God to let me live to get back home. Mack Ford is the cause of me being up here.

"I was born in slavery time way before the War. My name is Millie Johnson but they call me Bill."

Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson Person interviewed: Rosie Johnson, Holly Grove, Arkansas Age: 76

"I was born and raised on Mr. Dial's place. Mama belong to them. My papa belong to Frank Kerr. His old mistress' name Jane Roberts in Alabama. His folks come from Alabama. He say Jane Roberts wouldn't sell her slaves. They was aired (heired) down mong the children. David Dial had sebral children and mama was his house girl and nurse. They was married in Dial's yard. My papa name Jacob Kerr. They took me to Texas when I warn't but two years old. We rode in the covered wagon where they hauled the provisions. They muster stayed a pretty good time. I heard em talkin' what all they raised out there and what a difference they found in the country. They wanted to go. They didn't wanter be in the war they said. It was too close to suit them.

"I recken I was too small to recollect the Ku Klux. I heard em talk bout how mean the Jayhaws was.

"I never voted. What business I got votin' I would jes' lak you tell me? I don't believe in it no more'n nuthin'.

"I been farmin' all my life. I had fourteen children. Eight livin' now. They scattered bout up North. It took meat and bread to put in their mouths and somebody workin' to get it there I tell you. There ain't a lazy bone in me. I jes' give out purty nigh. I wash and iron some when I ken get it.

"I got a hog and a garden. I ain't got nuthin' else. I don't own no house, no place. I got a few chickens bout the place what eat up the scraps what the pig don't get.

"I signed up three years ago. I don't get nuthin' now. What I scrape round and make is all I has.

"I was born in June 1861. I don't recollect what day they said. Pear lack it been so long. When it come to work I recken I is had a hard time all my life. I never minded nuthin' till I got so slow and no count."

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse