Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
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From the WPA Slave Narratives:
Age unknown I can't tell you how old I is because my pa lost the paper with the recording. Old Miss set it down in a big book when every child was born. At the time of mancipation she called all the grown folks up and gived them a paper with all such write on it. My pa lost hisin so he had to guess at uses age. He says I was about nine years old when peace was declared, but I must or been older than that to recollect much as I does about what happened.
My grandpa and grandma, Jile and Jinnie, my pa and ma, George and Mary, all came from Louise, Miss. to live on Master Tom and Miss Anna Davis place at Silver City. Master and Mistress had one child a beautiful daughter named Miss Janie. All four of my mother's children was born right there on that place---me, Randolph, Jiles, and Tom. All of the slaves lived in the quarters in nice log cabins.
At day light every morning when the grown-ups went to the field us children was all carried down to old Grandma May, who cared for us and seed after us till our mas got back from the fields. There was a long trough about a foot deep in Grandma May's house. This she filled with buttermilk and broke up corn bread in it. Each child that was big enough to stand was given a cockle shell to get their something to eat out of the trough. They sure were fat, fine looking children. You didn't see none of them with that puny look that you sees amongst the young ones now that's 'lowed to eat candy and trash of all kinds. I don't know what the grown ups was fed, but I heared them say they always had plenty, and that it was good.
The weavers on the place made the cloth for our clothes. Every body had enough to keep theirself clean. Every Saturday was free day. All the clothes had to be washed, the houses cleaned and uses bathed. When we was all clean and nice, we went up to the white folks house for inspection. I don't know how many there was of us or how many acres in the place, but I does know when we all got together for inspection it looked like a regiment. Old Master would view us from the poarch and say to old Miss, "There aint nobody in this country got as fine looking niggers as I is." They sure was fine. I can't recollect a sickly one amongst them.
We was treated mighty good. Once in a great while you hear 'bout somebody getting whipped. That was the only form of punishment there was. There warn't no jails to put folks in like there is now, so they just had to whip them. They sure didn't beat them neither. Master wouldn't let nothing like that go on. I am telling you the truth cause I sure do believe in letting the light shine where it should.
The only time I ever heard of Master going stark crazy was when his only child, Janie, died. He walked up and down on the porch and cussed God. He said everything he could think of against Him. Us all was standing in the yard and we heard every word he said. Right then the earth turned black. I has never seed such a cloud as hovered over the world. They had to light the candles in the house, and the men couldn't see to get the mules to the stables. Three days after that Master died. God showed him who he was, for cussin Him. After that the overseer looked after the place. I wasn't acquainted with him cause I was not old enough to work. They was just going to start me toting water to the fields when peace was declared.
There warn't never no trouble on the place between the white and the colored. We didn't have no celebrations of any kind not even on Christmas. The only church meetings was off to us self when the white folks didn't know nothing about it. We never had a corn shucking and they didn't allow no dancing. Some of the niggers would slip off and go to dances on other places when they felt sure they wouldn't get caught.
We was sure looked after careful when we was sick by old aunt Mary Cambric. She could doctor us if we was just a little ailing, but if we gets bad off sick the white doctor camed and left the medicine for Aunt Mary to give.
I never shall forget the day we heared of freedom. The Yankees came riding in the place right up to the quarters, and told how we was all free. Them soldiers had shiny bayonetts and guns laying cross the saddles. I was so scared I ran to my pa and wouldn't turn loose of him for nothing. He tells me 'taint nothing to be scared 'bout it means that freedom done took place. I says "I don't care what done took place I is still scared them Yankees." Old Mistress looks like she hate it mighty bad but them soldiers treated her powerful nice. They didn't bother her nor nothing in the big house. They told us we could leave when ever we got ready. There aint none of us ever got ready. We just stayed on. The only person what left was old Miss. She stayed on for awhile and had a school for to teach us all to read and write. She couldn't hold up at that very long. Some said the spirits of her husband and child worried her so she couldn't stand it in the big house no longer, so she left, and went to Baltimore to live, but she sure did carry her house servants what she had always had with her.
Nobody could blame old Miss 'bout leaving cause them haunts is terrible things. I didn't believe 'bout them, till I seed one and was convinced.
When my boy was a baby I had a little colored girl, whose ma was dead, came to stay with me and care for the baby while I did my work. One day she let that baby fall, and I wore her most out 'bout that.
The same night I was in the house with nobody but that baby. He was sitting on the floor when I heared something scratching at the door. Right den my hair commenced creeping up on top of my head and fore me stood that gal's mother. Yes sir! there stood Aunt Juda just as natural as if she had never died. I ran out of that house and left that baby sitting there by hisself. I ran fast as my legs could carry me to the next house and that hant right behind me when I got to the woman's house she says "Throw that shawl over your left shoulder quick as you can." I done it and aint never seed that spirit again. I don't believe in no hoo-doo and the only charm what I ever wears is this nutmeg and a piece of lead with a hole in it. Nothing else seems to do my heart no good when it gets to going too fast. The nutmeg eases it, and the lead holds it down.
Right after surrender some of the folks had trouble with the Ku Klux Klan. I is heard them tell 'bout hiding in ditches all night to keep the Klan from finding them. No such as that went on where I lived; never even seed one of them, day or night.
Can't member anything ever bothering my mind till that flu came sweeping through the country and my only living child George went down with it. He was forty-five years old, born and raised right there on that place. My other boy died when he was two months old. I didn't grieve so much 'bout that, but I couldn't get no contentment after George was 'ceasted. So I says to my husband, says I "Less leave this country." He knowed it warn't no use argumenting, cause my mind it was made up. We moved to Coahoma County and has lived here ever since. We aint never been sharecroppers just day hands.
When there is no work in the field my husband got plenty of odd jobs taking care of white folks yards, and honey! The washing I is done if I does say it myself there aint no steam laundry can turn out the pretty white clothes like old Mollie could when she was able to do it.
I is been married three times. My first husband's name was Allen Young. I stayed with him till my boy, George, was near on to a year old. By that time I found out that nigger warn't no count. I bundled my clothes up and throwed them over my shoulder, took my baby in my arms, and left him for good. Aint never had nothing to do with that man from that day to this.
Next I married Allen Watkins. He was all right 'cept he was so jealous. That man wouldn't even so much as let anybody look at me. Everyday when he came in from work, he would go all around the house looking for tracks. If he found any, I better tell him his brother been there, cause if I don't, something sure going to be started. We lived together many years; I can't say how many.
After he died, I married this here Henry. We have been married forty-seven years. He is the one what came to Coahoma County with me eighteen years ago. Both of us is about wore out now, and I speck we would have been dead long ago, if we had lived the fast life these young ones is living now. Don't wake me up 'bout the present generation. Just let that sleep cause there aint one good thing I can say on that conversation.
Another thing I don't know nothing 'bout is colored folks voting and holding high office. I is heared talk about it, but I never took no stock with it.
Some says I is talking against my own color when I says we was much better off before peace came. I am telling you the truth, in many consents it was far better. Look at me now; nothing to eat, nothing to wear. If I can't pay that two dollars rent they would put me right out on the street. I gets shame sometimes begging. Aint able to work. If it warn't for the government helping us some I don't know what we would do. The biggest part what they give us goes for rent. The neighbors brings in something to eat most every day, but if things was like the old times, I am telling you old Molly would have a nice warm house with no rent to pay, plenty of good food to eat, nothing to do but set by a big log fire, and care for the babies, while I smoke my old cob pipe in peace.
The only work I ever done during slave times, was to tote water to the fields. Me and another girl about my age toted water all day. We didn't get no money for doing it. Didn't nobody get no money for working, and you know they ain't going to pay no children for just toting water. When you has everything money can buy, what more good can money do you anyhow.
Who dat, on us place, got time to go hunting and fishing? Them niggers worked in the day time and slept all night. They didn't squander their time with the like of that. We had plenty good of something to eat, but it sure warn't possum, rabbit, or fish. The thing we like the best was buttermilk with good old cornbread broke up in it. I can see us going to that just same as little pigs. There was one big garden on the place, where the vegetables was raised for everybody, both the colored and whites. There warn't no slaves got a garden of his own, no nothing like that.
After freedom took place, Old Miss tried to learn us to read and write. She had great big card boards with A, B, C, on them for us to learn from. All that learning died right down, when old Miss left there. Wasn't nobody else to take up no time with us, so the education ceasted.
There warn't no colored church on the place. Sometimes us held church meetings in us houses. We would sing and pray that's all. After surrender us held our meetings in big tents and had a preacher, what could tell us the word of God. Before that, there wasn't much Christianity amongst us.
Ain't never heared talk of no nigger running off to the North. I is heared of them running away to another place. When that happened, the patrollers was put after them. Was they scared of them patrollers? That they were. Couldn't nothing be hidden from them. They would catch them niggers give them a whipping and make them go back home. Wasn't no need to run off nohow. So long as you done your work you didn't have a worry in this world.
The children on that place didn't play no games. They wasn't allowed to gang together nowhere. None of that whooping and hollowing went on like you hears now. Them children was taught to stay home and wait on their mammy and daddy. They didn't take the place with their songs and cutting up. No sir, them children had to keep quiet and stay in their place.
No promise was made to nobody on our place 'bout getting nothing after freedom. Least I never heared of nothing. The slaves didn't have no sense no way bout money. They didn't handle it, and they didn't know nothing 'bout it. My daddy bought him a mule with the first money he made. The mule's name was Mary. She was so old Daddy could smoke his pipe while she was picking up one foot to put down before the other. With that old broke down mule he made twenty-five bales of cotton. When he sold that cotton, you never seed the like of money he had. My brother would steal a hand full of that money and my daddy never knowed the difference.
When I got big enough to work, after freedom, I washed and ironed, three days of the week, for the white folks, and worked in the field three days. That is what I is done all my life. My profession is washing and ironing. When I washes clothes and puts them on the line, they looks like snow hanging around my place. When the men wore them pleated busom shirts, I could starch them and iron them so slick no fly better light on them, cause if he do, he sure going to slip down and break his neck.
I is heared tell that after the war some of the men folks voted, but I didn't know nothing 'tall bout it. We was just farmers on the place, we had been born and raised. When we left that place, we farmed at Vance for six years, before coming to Coahoma County and has been here ever since.
There ain't much to tell in the kind of life I has lead. If it had been like the lives of this younger generation, I couldn't have kept it all in my head. They is so fast they just lopes through life. They don't care nothing bout Heaven or Hell. Soon as their children can walk, they puts them in the streets. These advantages looks like makes them worser. I controls them when they comes in front of my door. They know I ain't going to stand for no rowdyness or cussing. All I has to do is to step to the door and say "I ain't going to have none of that around me, not none of it. Keep right on going, and if you don't I is going to set the law on you." Never heard of a slave up rising. I is tried to explain there wasn't nothing to rise up about.
I can't get about none now. I sits here by myself all day, singing the old church songs. When I get too lonesome and the tears falls from my eyes, I often hears a voice say "Every tear that comes from your eyes is going to be bottled up and opened in heaven for you as a prayer."
The song I sings most is
"Oh----grave yard. Oh----grave yard,
You must give over to the body,
Dig my grave with a silver spade
You must give over to the body.
Let me down with the golden chain
You must give over to the body.
Transcribed by Ann Allen Geoghegan
The Federal Writer’s Project of
The Works Progress Administration
For the State of Mississippi