Slave Narratives: It’s complicated

4 Feb

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

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

"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

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

"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."

Clara Davis

*Interview with Clara Davis*
    —_Francois Ludgere Diard_


"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

"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

"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


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.

"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

"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

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

"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

"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

"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.’"
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