Though slavery, it is credibly argued, is intrinsically inhumane, slave narratives from interviews conducted early in the 20th century reveal a mixed bag about the treatment of slaves and how slaves viewed their own social condition. In any case, I bet you can’t read just one!
"Who was your master Aunt Irene? Tell me about him." "His name was Jeff Anderson Poole an’ he was de bes’ man in de world. Mah ole miss was name Mollie. I was born on his plantation three miles from Uniontown eighty five years ago. "Mah pappy, Alfred Poole, b’longed to Marse Jeff an’ he bought mah mammy, Palestine Kent, from another plantation ’cause mah pappy jes’ couldn’ do no work fer thinkin’ ’bout her. "Marse Jeff paid fifteen hunderd dollars for my mammy an’ her three little chillun. Marse Jeff was rich, he owned three big plantations an’ Lawd knows how many niggers. Dey was a hunderd head on our plantation. He lacked to race horses an’ had a stable full o’ fine racers. I spec’ he made lots o’ his money on dem horses. Miss Mollie say when he win he swell out his ches’ an’ stick his thum’s in de armhole of his ves’ an’ talk ’bout it, but when he lose he don’t say nothin’. "Yas ma’am dere was always plenty to eat. A thousan’ poun’s o’ meat wasn’t nothin’ to kill on our plantation. My mammy was de cook in de big house an’ my pappy driv de carriage an’ went ’roun’ wid Marse Jeff when he tuck trips. I was a house servant too. When I wasn’ nothin’ mo’ in a baby, de oberseer’s wife tuck me to train, so I would know how to ac’ in de big house. "One day she started to give me a whuppin’. Us was out in de yard an’ when she bent over to git a switch I runned under her hoopskirt. When she look ’roun’ she didn’t see me nowhar. After while she started on up to de house an’ I runned along wid her under de hoopskirt, takin’ little steps so I wouldn’t trip her up, till I seed a chance to slip out." Irene threw back her head and laughed loud and long at this amusing memory. Asked then about her mistress she said: "Yas ma’am she was good. She never punished me, she used to go ’roun’ de quarters eve’y mornin’ to see ’bout her sick niggers. She always had a little basket wid oil, teppentine an’ number six in it. Number six was strong medicine. You had to take it by de drap. I always toted de basket. She gived me mah weddin’ dress. It was white tarletan wid ban’s o’ blue ribbin. I sole de dress las’ year but I can show you de pantalets she made me. I used to wear ’em to meetin’ on Sunday when us had singin’ an’ de preacher said words." Aunt Irene brought out the deep ruffled pantalets carefully folded and yellow with age, she had treasured them for seventy-five years. "No ma’am, Marse Jeff didn’t go to de war, I don’t know why. I guess it was ’cause he was so rich. Now don’t you be thinkin’ he was gun shy, 'cause he wasn’t an’ he done his part too ’cause he took keer o’ five widders an’ dey chillun when dey men got kilt in de war. "My pappy lef de night de Yankees tuck Selma. It was on Sunday, an’ I ain’t seed him since. "After de surrender us staid on with Marse Jeff. Us didn’t keer nothin’ 'bout bein’ free ’cause us had good times on de plantation. On Sadday dey had corn shuckin’s an’ de niggers had a week at Chris’mas wid presents for eve’ybody. Camping at de big house an’ mo’ to eat in one day den I sees now in a year.
Reuben Fitzpatrick, of Eugene Street, Montgomery, was born Jan. 9, 1854, (83 years old). He says: "My Marster was Mister Gholson frum Bullock county. He had lots uv slaves ’cause he was a rich man. I was jes’ a boy ten years ole an’ he was a squire dat tried cases, so he rode all over de country to dif’funt places. I rode wid him to hole his horse. He wore a high top black hat and had a buggy wid a top dat let back. When we went we was gone a long time an’ when night come he would fix it fer me to sleep wid some uv de niggers in de quarters where we stopped. I sho’ lacked to go ’bout wid him. "My mother was de cook. She had rule over all the cookin’. She spinned thread an’ reeled it off too. "When de Yankees come through de country I seed ’em all runnin’ so I thought it was jedgment day an’ I runned an’ hid under de chimney an’ stayed dere ’tel night. Dey didn’t tarry long, but dey drove de horses right up on de piazza, and throwed ever’ thing out de houses, eben knocked down de smoke ’ouse doors. Dat’s de trufe’. "One time I was taken to the slave market and I was screwed on the block and Mr. Martin bought me and my Mamma. The man that was selling us would holler, "Who’ll bid? Who’ll bid?" We was supposed to be spry and fidgety so as to make the men want to buy us. My fust Marster was Wash Jones. He wan’t good to us. He would hit us wid his cane jes’ as if it had been a switch. Ben Jones didn’t like the way Marse Wash treated us niggers. He bought us for his son. "We didn’t have no doctors much in dem days, but us had a horn us use when we got sick. If us had the headache that horn would go right over the spot and it wouldn’t be no time ’fore the pain’d be gone. We’d use that horn anytime we was ailing an’ it’d sho’ do the work. I used to have the horn but I don’t know jes’ where it is now."
*Interview with Clara Davis* —_Francois Ludgere Diard_ _AUNT CLARA DAVIS IS HOMESICK FOR OLD SCENES_ "I was bawn in de year 1845, white folks," said Aunt Clara, "on de Mosley plantation in Bellvy jus’ nawth of Monroeville. Us had a mighty pretty place back dar. Massa Mosely had near ’bout five hundred acres an’ mos’ near to one hundred slaves. "Was Marse Mosely good to us? Lor’, honey, how you talk. Co’se he was! He was de bes’ white man in de lan’. Us had eve’y thing dat we could hope to eat: turkey, chicken, beef, lamb, poke, vegetables, fruits, aigs, butter, milk ... we jus’ had eve’y thing, white folks, eve’ything. Dem was de good ole days. How I longs to be back dar wid my ole folks an’ a playin’ wid de chilluns down by de creek. ’Tain’t nothin’ lak it today, nawsuh. When I tell you ’bout it you gwine to wish you was dar too. "White folks, you can have your automobiles an’ paved streets an’ electric lights. I don’t want ’em. You can have de busses an’ street cars an’ hot pavements an’ high buildin’ ’caze I ain’t got no use for 'em no way. But I’ll tell you what I does want. I wants my ole cotton bed an’ de moonlight nights a shinin’ through de willow trees an’ de cool grass under my feets as I runned aroun’ ketchin’ lightnin’ bugs. I wants to hear de sound of de hounds in de woods atter de ’possum, an’ de smell of fresh mowed hay. I wants to feel de sway of de ol’ wagon a-goin’ down de red, dusty road an’ listen to de wheels groanin’ as dey rolls along. I wants to sink my teeth into some of dat good ol’ ash cake, an’ smack de good ol’ sorghum offen my mouth. White folks, I wants to see de boats a passin’ up an’ down de Alabamy ribber an’ hear de slaves a singin’ at dere work. I wants to see de dawn break over de black ridge an’ de twilight settle over de place spreadin’ a sort of orange hue over de place. I wants to walk de paths th’ew de woods an’ see de rabbits an’ watch de birds an’ listen to frogs at night. But dey tuk me away f’om dat a long time ago. ’Twern’t long befo’ I ma’ied an’ had chilluns, but don’t none of ’em ’tribute to my suppote now. One of 'em was killed in de big war wid Germany and de res’ is all scattered out ... eight of ’em. Now I jus’ live f’om han’ to mouth; here one day, somewhere else de nex’. I guess we’s all a-goin’ to die iffen dis 'pression don’t let us ’lone. Maybe someday I’ll git to go home. Dey tells me dat when a pusson crosses dat ribber, de Lawd gives him whut he wants. I done tol’ de Lawd I don’t want nothin’ much ... only my home, white folks. I don’t think dat’s much to axe for. I supposed he’ll sen’ me back dar. I been a-waitin’ for him to call." Nannie Bradford
Tell me something about yourself and your family, Nannie," I said. "Dere ain’t nothin’ much to tell ’cep I was born in slav’y times and I was ’bout twelve year old in May when ’mancipation come. My Pa and Ma b’longed to Mars James and Miss Rebecca Chambers. Dey plantation was jes’ on de aidge of town and dat’s what I was born. Mars James’ son William was in de war and old Miss would send me to town whar all de sojers tents was, to tote sompen good to eat to dem. I don’t ’member much ’bout de war ’cep de tents and de bum shells shootin’. I was little and couldn’t do much but I waited on Miss Liz’beth, my young Miss, and waited on table, toted battie cakes and sich like. No ma’am I don’t know nothin’ ’tall ’bout de patterollers or de Klu Kluxers but I know all ’bout de conjer doctors. Dey sho’ kin fix you. Dey kin take yo’ garter or yo stockin’ top an drap it in runnin’ water and make you run de res’ of yo’ life, you’ll be in a hurry all de time, and if dey gits holt of a piece of de seat of yo’ draw’s dey sprinkles a little conjer powder on it and burns it den you can’t never set down in no peace. You jes’ like you settin’ on a coal of fiah ’till you git somebody to take de spell offen you." "Nannie, were you glad when the war was over and you were free?" "What I keer ’bout bein’ free? Didn’t old Marster give us plenty good sompin to eat and clo’s to wear? I stayed on de plantation ’til I mah’ied. My old Miss give me a brown dress and hat. Well dat dress put me in de country, if you mah’ie in brown you’ll live in de country." Mingo White
"I was born in Chester, South Carolina, but I was mos’ly raised in Alabama," Mingo said. "When I was ’bout fo’ or five years old, I was loaded in a wagon wid a lot mo’ people in ’hit. Whar I was boun’ I don’t know. Whatever become of my mammy an’ pappy I don’ know for a long time. "I was tol’ there was a lot of slave speculators in Chester to buy some slaves for some folks in Alabama. I ’members dat I was took up on a stan’ an’ a lot of people come ’roun’ an’ felt my arms an’ legs an’ chist, an’ ast me a lot of questions. Befo’ we slaves was took to de tradin’ post Ol’ Marsa Crawford tol’ us to tell eve’ybody what ast us if we’d ever been sick to tell ’em dat us’d never been sick in our life. Us had to tell ’em all sorts of lies for our Marsa or else take a beatin’. "I was jes’ a li’l thang; tooked away from my mammy an’ pappy, jes’ when I needed ’em mos’. The only caren’ that I had or ever knowed anything 'bout was give to me by a frein’ of my pappy. His name was John White. My pappy tol’ him to take care of me for him. John was a fiddler an’ many a night I woke up to find myse’f ’sleep ’twix’ his legs whilst he was playin’ for a dance for de white folks. My pappy an’ mammy was sold from each yuther too, de same time as I was sold. I use’ to wonder if I had any brothers or sisters, as I had always wanted some. A few years later I foun’ out I didn’t have none. "I’ll never forgit de trip from Chester to Burleson. I wouldn’t ’member so well I don’t guess, ’cepin’ I had a big ol’ sheep dog name Trailer. He followed right in back of de wagon dat I was in. Us had to cross a wide stream what I tuk to be a ribber. When we started ’crost, ol’ Trailer never stop followin’. I was watchin’ him clost so if he gived out I was goin’ to try to git him. He didn’t giv’ out, he didn’t even hab to swim. He jes’ walked ’long an’ lapped de water lack a dog will. "John took me an’ kep’ me in de cabin wid him. De cabin didn’ hab no furniture in hit lack we has now ’days. De bed was a one-legged, hit was made in de corner of de room, wid de leg settin’ out in de middle of de flo’. A plank was runned ’twix’ de logs of de cabin an’ nailed to de post on de front of de bed. Across de foot an’ udder plank was runned into de logs an’ nail’ to de leg. Den some straw or cornshucks was piled on for a mattress. Us used anythang what we could git for kivver. De table had two legs, de legs set out to de front whilst de back part was nail’ to de wall. Us didn’t hab no stove. Thar was a great big fireplace whar de cookin’ was done. Us didn’t hab to cook, though, lessen us got hungry after supper been served at de house. "I warn’t nothin’ but a chile endurin’ slavery, but I had to wuk de same as any man. I went to de fiel’ and hosed cotton, pulled fodder and picked cotton wid de res’ of de han’s. I kep’ up too, to keep from gittin’ any lashes dat night when us got home. In de winter I went to de woods wid de men folks to ho’p git wood or to git sap from de trees to make turpentine an’ tar. Iffen us didn’t do dat we made charcoal to run de blacksmif shop wid. "De white folks was hard on us. Dey would whup us ’bout de leas’ li’l thang. Hit wouldn’t a been so bad iffen us had a had comforts, but to live lack us did was ’nouf to make anybody soon as be dead. De white folks tol’ us dat us born to work for ’em an’ dat us was doin’ fine at dat. "De nex’ time dat I saw my mammy I was a great big boy. Dere was a ’oman on de place what ever’body called mammy, Selina White. One day mammy called me an’ said, Mingo, your mammy is comin’.’ I said, ’I thought dat you was my mammy.’ She said ’No I ain’t your mammy, yer mammy is ’way way from here. I couldn’t believe dat I had anudder mammy and I never thought ’bout hit any mo’. One day I was settin’ down at de barn when a wagon come up de lane. I stood ’roun’ lack a chile will. When de wagon got to de house, my mammy got out an’ broke and run to me an’ th’owed her arms ’roun’ my neck an’ hug an’ kiss me. I never even put my arms 'roun’ her or nothin’ of de sort. I jes’ stood dar lookin’ at her. She said, ’Son ain’t you glad to see your mammy?’ I looked at her an’ walked off. Mammy Selina call me an’ tol’ me dat I had hurt my mammy’s feelin’s, and dat dis ’oman was my mammy. I went off an’ studied and I begins to ’member thangs. I went to Selina an’ ast her how long it been sence I seen my mammy. She tol’ me dat I had been ’way from her sence I was jes’ a li’l chile. I went to my mammy an’ tol’ her dat I was sorry I done what I did an’ dat I would lack fer her to fergit an’ forgive me for de way I act when I fust saw her. After I had talked wid my real mammy, she told me of how de family had been broke up an’ dat she hadn’t seed my pappy sence he was sold. My mammy never would of seen me no mo’ if de Lawd hadn’ a been in de plan. Tom White’s daughter married one of Mr. Crawford’s sons. Dey lived in Virginia. Back den it was de custom for women to come home whenever dey husbands died or quit ’em. Mr. Crawford’s son died an’ dat th’owed her to hab to come home. My mammy had been her maid, so when she got ready to come home she brung my mammy wid her. "Hit was hard back in dem days. Ever’ mornin’ fo’ day break you had to be up an’ ready to git to de fiel’. Hit was de same ever’ day in de year 'cep’ on Sunday, an’ den we was gittin’ up earlier dan the folks do now on Monday. De drivers was hard too. Dey could say what ever dey wanted to an’ you couldn’t say nothin’ for yourse’f. Somehow or yuther us had a instinct dat we was goin’ to be free. In de even’t when de day’s wuk was done de slaves would be foun’ lock’ in dere cabins prayin’ for de Lawd to free dem lack he did de chillun of Is’ael. Iffen dey didn’ lock up, de Marsa or de driver would of heard ’em an’ whupped ’em. De slaves had a way of puttin’ a wash pot in de do’ of de cabin to keep de soun’ in de house. I ’members once ol’ Ned White was caught prayin’. De drivers took him de nex’ day an’ carried him to de pegs, what was fo’ stakes drove in de groun’. Ned was made to pull off ever’thang but his pants an’ lay on his stomach ’tween de pegs whilst somebody stropped his legs an’ arms to de pegs. Den dey whupped him ’twell de blood run from him lack he was a hog. Dey made all of de han’s come an’ see it, an’ dey said us’d git de same thang if us was cotched. Dey don’t ’low a man to whup a horse lack dey whupped us in dem days. "After my mammy come whar I was I ho’ped her wid her work. Her tas’ was too hard for any one person. She had to serve as maid to Mr. White’s daughter, cook for all of de han’s, spin an’ card four cuts of thread a day an’ den wash. Dere was one hundred an’ forty-four threads to de cut. If she didn’t git all of dis done she got fifty lashes dat night. Many a night me an’ her would spin an’ card so she could git her task de nex’ day. No matter whut she had to do de nex’ day she would have to git dem fo’ cuts of thread, even on wash day. Wash day was on Wednesday. My mammy would have to take de clo’s ’bout three quarters of a mile to de branch whar de washin’ was to be done. She didn’t have no wash board lack dey have now ’days. She had a paddle what she beat de clo’s wid. Ever’body knowed when wash day was ’case dey could hear de paddle for 'bout three or four miles. "Pow-pow-pow," dat’s how it sound. She had to iron de clo’s de same day dat she washed an’ den git dem four cuts of thread. Lots of times she failed to git ’em an’ got de fifty lashes. One day when Tom White was whuppin’ her she said, ’Lay it on Marsa White 'case I’m goin’ to tell de Yankees when dey come.’ When mammy got through spinnin’ de cloth she had to dye it. She used shumake berries, indigo, bark from some trees, and dar was some kind of rock (probably iron ore) what she got red dye from. De clo’s wouldn’t fade neither. "De white folks didn’t learn us to do nothin’ but wuk. Dey said dat us warn’t ’spose’ to know how to read an’ write. Dar was one feller name E.C. White what learned to read an’ write endurin’ slavery. He had to carry de chillun’s books to school fer ’em an’ go back atter dem. His young marsa taught him to read an’ write unbeknowance’ to his father an’ de res’ of de slaves. Us didn’ have nowhar to go ’cep’ church an’ we didn’ git no pleasure outten it ’case we warn’t ’lowed to talk from de time we lef’ home ’twell us got back. If us went to church de drivers went wid us. Us didn’t have no church ’cep’ de white folks church. "After ol’ Ned got sech a terrible beatin’ fer prayin’ for freedom he slipped off an’ went to de North to jine de Union Army. After he got in de army he wrote to Marsa Tom. In his letter he had dose words: "’I am layin’ down, marsa, and gittin’ up, marsa;’ meaning dat he went to bed when he felt like it an’ got up when he pleased to. He told Tom White dat iffen he wanted him he was in the army an’ dat he could come after him. After ol’ Ned had got to de North, de yuther han’s begin to watch for a chance to slip off. Many a one was cotched an’ brung back. Dey knowed de penalty what dey would have to pay, an’ dis cause some of 'em to git desp’rite. Druther dan to take a beatin’ dey would choose to fight hit out ’twell dey was able to git away or die befo’ dey would take de beatin’.
Mary Elda Gray
"De war come when I was a big gal. I ’member dat my uncle an’ cousin jined in wid de Yankees to hope fight for de freedom. De Yankees come to our place an’ runned Massa Jim away an’ tuk de house for a horsepittil. Dey tuk all of Massa Jim’s clothes an’ gived dem to some of dere frien’s. Dey burned up all de cotton, hay, peas an’ ever’thing dat was in de barns. Dey made de white folks cook for de colored an’ den serve 'em while dey et. De Yankees made ’em do for us lak we done for dem. Dey showed de white folks what it was to work for somebody else. Dey stayed on our place for de longes’. When dey did leave, dere warn’t a mouthful to eat in de house. When de war was over, Massa Jim told us dat we had to find som’ers else to live. Co’se some of my folks had already gone when he come home. Us lef’ Massa Jim’s an’ moved to anudder farm. We got pay for de wuk what we did on dis yuther place. Raght atter de war de Ku Klux got atter de colored folks. Dey would come to our houses an’ scare us mos’ to death. Dey would take some of de niggers out an’ whup ’em an’ dose dat dey didn’t whup dey tied up by dere fingers an’ toes. Dese Ku Klux would come to our windows at night an’ say: ’Your time ain’t long acomin’.’ De Ku Klux got so bad dat dey would even git us in de daytime. Dey tuk some of de niggers an’ throwed ’em in de river to drown. Dey kep’ dis up ’twell some folks from de North come down an’ put a stop to it. Emma
Emma said the first whipping she ever had, was after the Surrender, given her by her own father when they left Alabama and went to live near Columbus, Miss. She had always lived in the house with the "old Miss" and her young Miss, and when she had to leave them, she cried and so did they. Her grandmother Lucy Linier nursed "Miss Ann"; Lucy’s daughter Patsy nursed "Miss Ann’s" children, and was the special property of Fannie Montgomery Curry, who married a Mr. Sidney Lipscomb and whose children Emma helped to look after, so the three generations were interwoven. Emma only wishes she could go back to plantation days. All her trials and suffering came after she left "Ole Miss," and went to live with her father and mother, George and Patsy Curry, who had fourteen children and of which Emma was the eldest. Her father who was a quadroon in cast was cruel to his family, and especially so to her. He made her work like a man, cutting timber, splitting rails, digging, planting and all work of the farm. Now, Emma is the only member of her family left. She married three times, having only two children, a girl and a boy, these by her last husband, Frank Chapman, now dead, and Emma has no knowledge of her children’s whereabouts. She gave them an education so they could write to her if they wanted to. The girl married and left Mobile, the boy went to Chicago, was chauffeur for some rich folks. His last letter several years ago, in which he enclosed $25.00, stated he was going on a trip to Jerusalem with one of the young men of the family. Hattie
"Our dresses was homespun cloth dyed wid indigo, an’ us didn’t have very many clothes. But us kept plenty warm in de winter; an’ in de hot summers us didn’t need mor’n a thin li’l ol’ dress." Hattie called her master "a good Christian-hearted man who did de bes’ he could for de niggers." "I ’members," she said, "dat all de chilluns was good, too, ’ceptin’ two of de boys. Dey was bad uns for sho’ an’ was arguin’ an’ fightin’ all de time. "Honey, Ol’ Marster sho’ly did lak to sing, an’ he was pretty good at dat. I ’members dat he useter git out in de back an’ sing to de top of his voice: ’I’se Gwine Home to Die No More.’ "What I ’members most, dough, was de quiltin’s an’ spinnin’ frolics dat de women-folks had. Den, on Sattidy nights, dere was Sattidy night suppers an’ dances. All de peoples sho’ly did cut de high step at de dances." Hattie beamed as the trend of conversation turned to Christmas on Southern plantations. [Illustration: _Hattie Anne Nettles, Opelika, Alabama_] "Dat was a time!" she exclaimed. "Us had to go to mornin’ prayer, but atter dat us went back to de cabins, dressed in our Sunday bes’, an’ went up to de ’Big House’ fer some foolishness. An’ it was sho’ly real foolishness, too. "When I was growed up I married Bill Lockhart an’ us had fifteen chilluns an’ eight gran’chilluns. In de ol’ days niggers axed de white marster for de bride an’ no license was needed. Iffen dey lef’ de plantation, de other white marster bought ’em so de girl could go wid her man. "Our ol’ marster was as good as he could be like I done tol’ you. He looked atter de slaves when dey got sick an’ sont for de doctor. In dem days dey would draw blood. Dey would draw almos’ a quart from de body, an’ you usually got well, too." Hattie recalled one night of terror on the plantation when the Ku Klux Klan raided a prayer meeting where a large number of Negroes had congregated. "De Klansmen beat up lots of dem," she said. "If a nigger didn’t behave, dey’d nigh ’bout kill him." Hattie lives in Opelika with a daughter. Flowers dot her clean yard and her old days are full of happiness. Nicey Pugh
But all and all, white folks, den was de really happy days for us niggers. Course we didn’t hab de ’vantages dat we has now, but dere wus somp’n’ back dere dat we ain’t got now, an’ dat’s secu’aty. Yassuh, we had somebody to go to when we was in trouble. We had a Massa dat would fight fo’ us an’ help us an’ laugh wid us an’ cry wid us. We had a Mistis dat would nuss us when we was sick, an’ comfort us when we hadda be punished. I sometimes wish I could be back on de ole place. I kin see de cool-house now packed wid fresh butter an’ milk an’ cream. I can see de spring down amongst de willows an’ de water a trickling down between little rocks. I can hear de turkeys a gobblin’ in de yard and de chickens a runnin’ aroun’ in de sun, an’ shufflin’ in de dus’. I can see de bend in de creek jus’ below our house, an’ de cows as dey come to drink in de shallow water an’ gits dere feets cool. [Illustration: _Nicey Pugh, Prichard, Alabama_] "Yassuh, white folks, you ain’t neber seed nothin’ lak it so you can’t tell de joy you gits f’um lookin’ for dewberries an’ a-huntin’ guinea pigs, an’ settin’ in de shade of a peach tree, reachin’ up an’ pullin’ off a ripe peach and eatin’ it slow. You ain’t neber seed your people gathered ’bout an’ singin’ in de moonlight or heered de lark at de break of day. You ain’t neber walked acrost a frosty fiel’ in de early mornin’, an’ gone to de big house to build a fire for your Mistis, an’ when she wake up slow have her say to you: ’Well, how’s my little nigger today?’ "Nawsuh, jus’ lak I told you at fus’. I was bawn a slave, but I ain’t neber been one. I’se been a worker for good peoples. You wouldn’t calls dat bein’ a slave would you, white folks?" Allen Sims
"I ’members lots ’bout slavery times; ’cause I was right dar. I don’t 'member much ’bout de war, ’cause I was too little to know what war was, and de most I seed was when de Yankees come through and burnt up de Big House, de barns, de ginhouse and took all Old Marster’s hosses and mules, and kilt de milk-cows for beef. They didn’t leave us nothing to eat, and us lak to starve to death. "Our folks, de Simses, dey come fum Virginny. My pappy and mammy was borned dere. Dey names was Allen Sims and Kitty Sims. My Old Marster was Marse Jimmie Sims, and my Old Mistis was Miss Creasie. Some of Pappy and Mammy’s chillun was borned in Virginny, and some of ’em in Alabama. I was de baby chile, and I was borned right on dis very place whar us is now. Dey had a whole passel of chillun. Dere was Chaney, Becky, Judy, Sam, Phoebe, King, Alex, Jordan and Allen—dat’s me. "Us lived in a log house in de quarter, wid a board roof and a ol’ rock fireplace wid a stick and dirt chimley. We had plenty wood, and could build jes’ as big fire as we need, if de weather was cold. Mammy, she cook ash-cake in de fireplace, and it was de bes’ bread I ever eat, better’n any dis store-bought bread. You ain’t never eat no ash-cake? Umph, Missy, you don’t know what good bread is lak! "Old Marster was good to his niggers and all of ’em, big and little had plenty to eat, and it wa’n’t trash neither. Us had ash-cake, hoe-cake, pone-bread, meat and gravy, peas, greens, roast-neers, pot-liquor, and sweet ’taters, I’ish taters, and goobers—I spec Old Marster’s niggers live better dan lots of white folks lives now. "Aunt Mandy, what was too old to work, looked atter all de little nigger chilluns, whilst dey mammys was working, and she whip us wid a brush, if we didn’t mind her; but she fuss more dan she whip, and it didn’t hurt much, but us cry lak she killing us. "When us got sick, Old Mistis looked atter us herself, and she gin us oil and turpentine and lobelia and if dat didn’t cure us, she sont for de doctor—de same doctor dat come to see her own fambly. Sometime a old nigger die, and Old Marster and Old Mistis dey cry jes’ lak us did. Dey put ’em in a coffin and bury ’em in de graveyard, wid de white preacher dar and nobody didn’t work none dat day, atter us come back fum de graveyard. "Our beds was bunks in de corner of de room, nailed to de wall and jes’ one post out in de flo’. De little chilluns slep’ crosswise de big bed and it was plum’ full in cold weather. [Illustration: _Allen Sims, Lee County, Alabama_] "Our clothes was osnaburg, spun and weave’ right at home, and it sho’ did last a long time. De little niggers jes’ wore a long shirt, ’twell dey got big ’nough to work in de field, and us had red shoes made at de tan-yard to wear in winter time; but us foots was tough and us went barefooted most all de winter too. Us played games too, ginerly, jumping de rope and base. "De grown niggers had good times Sadday nights, wid dances, suppers and wras’lin. De corn-shuckings was de biggest time dey had, ’cause de neighbors come and dey laughed and hollered nearly all night. "Old Marster and Old Mistis lived in a big two-story white house. Dey had ten chillun, five boys and five gals, and dey all growed up and married off. De old carriage-driver was name Clark, and he sho’ was proud. De overseer was Tetter Roberson, and he was mean. He beat niggers a lot, and bimeby Old Marster turned him off. He used to blow de horn way befo’ day to git de niggers up, and he work ’em ’tell smack dark. "Atter de Yankees burned up everyt’ing ’cept de cabins, us jes’ stayed right dar wid Old Marster when us freed. Old Marster built a new house for him and Old Mistis, but it wa’n’t much better dan our cabin and dey lived dere ’tell dey died. Stepney Underwood
"My mammy belonged to the Johnstons and my pappy was owned by the Underwoods," he continued; "dey lived next to each other on two big plantations in Lowndes County. Dey was good peoples—dem Underwoods. I remembers dat dey use to think I was as funny as a little monkey. De massa usta laugh his head off at me, and when dere was parties, de guestes would always say: ’Whar Stepney? We wants to see Stepney dance.’ I usta cut many a [...] pigeon wing fur ’em. "One day atter I finish’ my chores, I slip off an go across de line to see my mammy. When I was a-comin’ back th’ough de woods, I met up wid two pattyrollers. Dey stop me and say: ’Nigger, who you belong to?’ "’Massa Jim Johns’on,’ I answers. "’Whut you a doin’ out here, den?’ dey say, all de time a slippin’ a little closer so’s to grab me. "I don’t take time to gib ’em no mo’ answers kaze I knowd dat dis meant a beatin’. I starts my legs a-flyin’ an’ I runs through de fores’ lak a scar’t rabbit wid dem pattyrollers right behin’ me. My bare feets flew over dem stones an’ I jus’ hit de high spots in de groun’. I knowed dem two mens didn’t have no chance to kotch me, but dis sho meant a whuppin’ when I got home. [Illustration: _Stepney Underwood, [TR: Birmingham], Alabama_] "But I didn’t go home dat night. I stay out in de woods and buil’ me a little fiah. I laid down under a sycamo’ tree a-tryin’ ter make up my min’ ter go an’ take dat beatin’. I heered de panthers a screamin’ a way off in de fores’ an’ de wildcats a howlin’, an’ how I wished I coulda been wid my mammy. Eve’y now and den, I could see eyes a shinin’ in de darkness an’ rustlin’s in de bushes. Warn’t no use of me a-cryin’ kaze I was a long way fum home an’ dere warn’t no one to could hear me. Eve’y thing seem to be agin’ me. Far off across de ridge I heered a screech owl a-callin’, an’ I knowd dat meant death. I was glad I had my overalls on so’s I could turn my pockets inside out’ards to stop him. Atter I done dis, he sho-nuf stopped. Den my lef’ ear it commence to ichin’, and I knowd dat someone was a-sayin’ somethin’ mean about me. Probably dat oberseer dat was a-goin’ to whup me when I got home. Soon I fell slap to sleep on a bed of moss. De nex’ day I was awful hongry, an’ long ’bout de time de sun was a-comin’ ober de ridge, I heerd some mens a-comin’ through de brush. It was de massa, de oberseer an’ some mo’ mens. I runs toward de massa and I calls as loud as I could: ’Massa Jim, here I is.’ "He come up wid an awful frown on his face and de oberseer, he had a big whup in his han’. "’You little bur-head Nigger debil’, de massa say, ’I teach you ter run away fum yo’ place. Come on home; I’se gwine give you a good breakfast an’ fix you up in some decent clothes. I’se got visitors a-comin’ an’ heah you is out in de woods when I needs you to dance.’ Den de massa, he smile lak I ain’t done nothin’ wrong. ’I guess you wants yo mammy, you little lonesome pickaninny. Well, I s’pose I hadda go ober and buy her. You little debil you—now git on home.’"