Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
Notice: This file may be downloaded for Personal Use Only, and may not otherwise be printed or copied without prior written consent of the submitter.
MSGenWeb Index Page
USGenWeb African-American Griot Project
From the WPA Slave Narratives:
Nelson Dickerson, who lives in Osyka on Highway fifty-one, tells me his life' story.
"I wus born right out in dis county 'bout 14 miles east uf here on Mr. Bill Alford's place; dat wus shor' a good man an' he wus good to his slaves. He didn't keep no overseer, but he an' his boys seed to it dat de slaves wurk'd an' he done de whuppin' himself. He never tied his slave to whup dem, but had dem stan' still while he whup.
"My old Marster had 'bout fifty or more slaves an' he had every thing fine 'round him. He had a good house, an' horses, an' cows, an' hogs, an' sheep and one mule. He raise nearly ebery thing we et but bought his flour an' sugar.
"Marse Alford had a fine keerage and two fine hosses to draw dat keerage, and he had dem hosses rubbed an' curried ebery day. He kept dem hosses lookin' sleek an' shiny. Old Ned drove dem hosses.
"My pappy wus named Jacob Dickerson; he wus bred an' born at Carter's Hill, close to whar Chatawa now stands, an' his Marster wus Old Mr. Issac Carter, de meanest white man dat eber lived. He jes' lived on de backs uf his slaves.
"Mr. Alford went dar an' bought my pappy an' tuck him home. an' he wus kind to him.
"My mammy wus named Sally an' she belong'd to Mr. Hughey Dukes, an' 'bout de time Marse Alford bought my pappy he went an' bought my mammy an' brung her home an' sed 'Jacob I brung you a good woman, take her an' live wid her' an' dat is de way my pappy mar'ied my mammy, but dey wus contented an' happy. Dey had five chulluns an' I am de only one livin' today an' I ought to be dead.
"I wus raised in de house an' yard. All de colored chulluns stayed in de yard and old Mistiss look'd afte' dem while de wimen wus in de fiel' ------ My pappy an' mammy bofe, wus fiel' han's. When I wus comin' up, old Mistiss made me an' sum uf de udders wurk. She wud whup us when we needed it. She made us bring in de wood, an' sumtimes cut a leetle uf it, an' we had to sweep de yard an' stamp, an' draw de water frum de well; dat well wus deep; it had two big wooden buckets an' a pulley, when one bucket wud come up de udder wud go down. Den we uster to hang buckets uf milk in de well to keep it cool.
"Never seed any ice till I wus grown an' come to live in Osyka an' dey told me de ice I seed den come off a lake an' wus shipped here, den afte' dat dey bought ice made in McComb an' ship it here.
"Marse Alford wus a mi'ty rich man; his money wus gold. Dar wus no banks in dem days an' he wud bury his money in de ground. I 'spect sum uf it wus never found.
"When I wus lit'le I uster to dance de back step an' shuffle an' O, boy! I cud dance, but I never cud sing; dey sed I had a voice like a bull frog.
"I stayed in de quarters at night an' wud come to de big yard ebery mornin' --- Mistiss had us chulluns fed in de yard an' when it rained we sumtimes went to de kitchen an' sumtimes back to de quarters ---
"Old Mistiss had a big loom room an' when it rained she had de wimen to come in an' sum wud card de bats, sum wud spin de thread and sum wud make de cloth. Dey had great stacks uf cloth piled up on a table in dat room. She wud give sum uf dat cloth to her wimen folks to make deir clothes uf. None uf her folks eber went naked.
"Ebery Sat'day Marse Alford wud dish out plenty meal fur his han's - dey got five pounds a head, to last dem a week. All de slaves had gardens 'round deir huts, an' had patches to plant. One year my pappy made a bale uf cotton, an' Marse Alford let him have de money but it wus old 'Federate money an' it turned out to be no count.
"De slaves spent Sat'day evenin' wurkin' deir own gardens, an' de wimen folks wud wash an' patch clothes. Some uf dem wud git a pass to go visitin', an' den sumtimes some uf dem wud slip off an' den de patroller wud run dem wid dogs jes' like runnin' rabbits. O, when de patroller got yo', yo' sho' smelt de patchin'.
"My mammy and pappy lived down on de hill side in a one room cabin' dat house had two bed in it; dey wus home-made beds, an' had ropes tied all through it; dey wus wrapped and plaited an' made de bed lie soft. We never kno'd whut springs wus in dem days. Den we had two benches an' one cheer; dat cheer wus home-made an' had a bottom in it dat wus made uf cow hide. It had long hair on it.
"Marse Alford had Five Boys; dey wus all 'bout grown while I wus a boy. I heard dem talkin' an' sayin' de war wus comin' an' how dey cud whup dem Yankees an' den dey had to go to fight; dey did not git hurt in de fight. Sometimes dey wud come home an' if dey didn't have a furlo' dey wud hide out in de woods, an' some times I had to go wid a nudder black boy to tote dem something to eat. Den at night dey wud come to de house to sleep an' git some thing to eat.
"Dey sed dey lost de war an' anybody wud lose de war if dey dont stay dar an' fight.
"De Yankees never cum to our house; I heard how dey went to udder folk' houses an' done mischief, but we lived back in de swamp an' I reckon dey cudnt find us.
"Sometimes de Southern soljers wud come by an' swap hosses an' den go on, but dey wus always kind.
"One mornin' in May Marse Alford rung de big bell an' when all de slaves come to de kitchen door He told dem dey wus free an' how dey had to wurk fur demselves frum now on. He sed dey cud stay dar wid him an' he wud pay dem fur deir wurk but dey wud have to buy all dey got eat frum now on. Some uf dem went off an' some uf dem stayed. My Mammy an' pappy stayed.
"Marse Alford dished out deir rations ebery Sat'day but he charged it to dem an' when de end uf de year wud cum dar wus nuffin left fur dem; dey stayed dar a nudder year an' wurk on shares an' still had nuffin at de end uf de year an' dat is whut made de black man steal. Dey wud steal cattle an' hogs, an' den de Bull Doozers wud come an' whup dem.
"One thing dat wus de matter wus de black man wudnt wurk as hard fur himself as he did fur his Marster. If de black man wud wurk as hard fur himself now as dey wus made to wurk when slaves, dat black man wud have as much as de white man. All de black men seem to be lazy, an' I is one uf dem.
"De first money I eber made in my life I made it by splitin' rails: I split rails fur a white man; no colored man had money to pay fur wurk; no use wurkin' fur him. I farmed most uf my life. I wurk'd at de gin fur Marse Alford: De gin dat time wus not like de gins now. Yo' cud hear dem gins runnin' a mile off an' we cud only gin two bales uf cotton a day. Dey had hosses to run de gin, an' when I wus a boy I had to drive dem hosses; afte' dat I had to pour de cotton in de hopper; I wud git cotton all over me an' look like I wus white at dat time.
"I mar'ied when I wus seventeen years old to a black woman by de name uf Sarah Brunfield. We cudnt git er long - we fought so much; she wus unruly an' I cudnt do nuffin wid her so I jes' up an' left dat woman. Den I mar'ied a gingercake colored woman by de name uf Grace Smith; she wus better dan de furst. We had five chulluns but dey is all dead an' she is dead; den I mar'ied right here in Osyka to dis woman who is paralyzed --- her name is Georgia Ann. We never had eny chulluns. Dis one runs me off ebery time I git drunk an' now I is done quit drinkin' an' she has no more trouble wid me.
"I uster git drunk eber time I cud git it to drink but dat old white lightenlin' makes me mi'ty sick an' I done quit.
"Yes, I is been in jail fur bein' drunk an' den I wud fight sometimes an' dey sont me to jail fur dat.
"I uster to go to log rollin's an' hel' de udder feller roll logs an' de wimen folks wud go de same time an' dey wud quilt while de men wud wurk. 'Bout forty years ago while I wus at a log rollin' I dropp'd my end uf de log an' fell; dat log rolled over my leg an' made me cripple; I can walk an' wurk, but dat broken leg gives me trouble all de time.
Dat log rollin' wus help'in a colored man, but when I got my best dinners I had to go to log rollin's dat wus fur de white man. Dat is whar dey put de big pot in de li'l one.
"Yes, mam, dar is ghosts; one time I seed it myself. I wus on de bed in de broad open daylight, jes' restin' an all uf a sudden a man all dressed in a snow white robe wus standin' in de air right by my side; his feet did not tech de floor, an' his arms wus standin' out straight frum his side, an' he sed to me "Nels I will tell yo' whar dar is a pot uf gold buried iffen yo' will go git an' give it to de right owner, will yo'? an' I sed "I sho' will." Den he sed "Go to dat pine tree dat is standin' in de forks uf de two roads 'bout half a mile frum here, an' yo' will find three notches cut on dat tree near de ground. Right at de foot uf dat tree is a pot uf gold an' it b'longs to Miss Bell Schilling, go git it an' take it to her." Den dat man rose up to de top uf de house an' wus gone.
"Well I waited till Monday afte' dat an' den I went to see 'bout dat tree an' somebody had cut it down, but I dugged right whar he sed an' sho' nuff I found 'bout two hundred dollars in a black cookin' pot, an' I took it to Miss Bell an' she give me five dollars. I seed more ghosts but dat is de one I remember most.
"I am jes' as happy as I ken be; why should I worry; sometimes I have plenty to eat an' sometimes I have nuffin or mi'ty li'l but dat is alright. I jes' take it fur granted I have to be punished some in dis wurld 'fore I die, an' dat is my share. I ought to be punished mi'ty much fur being born a black man.
"I doan own any home; sometimes I pay rent an' sometimes I doant but I stay here jes' de same.
"I come to Osyka fifty-two years ago an' been here eber since. De first store I eber seed in my life wus right here in Osyka an' it looked like dar wus eberything in de wurld in dar. I didnt kno' de store keeper had to buy whut he had in de store, I kno' he jes' had it an' dat wus all. I luves to live here, dis is a good place to live an' it is a good place to die. I 'spects to be buried right here.
"I is a member uf de Baptist Church; my membership is here an' my pastor is Rev. Ross. De darkies doant treat him right; dey doant pay him nuff to preach; iffen I wus him I
"De white folks in dis place is good to me; dey helps me to live; dey give me something to eat. Yo' kno' niggers never had much to live on an' de white man is de niggers best friend.
"I is old an' nearly blind but I treats ebery body right. I is trying to live right an' 'spects to see my Lord up yonder.
Nelson says he weighs 155 pounds and is 5 feet and 5 inches tall. Has round face - black - no whiskers - grey hair and claims to (be) well and hearty, just waiting for the Lord to come and get him.
Transcribed by Ann Allen Geoghegan
The Federal Writer’s Project of
The Works Progress Administration
For the State of Mississippi