Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
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From the WPA Slave Narratives:
"Dey tol' me I wus 12 year old when de surrender an' my mammy sed I wus born in de month uf May, but I doan kno' how old I is; you ken count how old I am. My mammy wus named Charity, an' she hed seven chulluns an' I wus de oldest.
"My old marster wus named Mr. Elbert Cook, an' he hed a big plantation outern west uf Magnolia, not fur frum de Tanghipahoa river. He jist lotta uf slaves, I doan 'member jist how many.
"Marse Elbert wus a big man an' wus good an' kind when things went rite, but he wid whip when he wus mad. He hed no overseer; he looked afte' de wurk himsel'. Ebery mornin' he wud put his han's ober his mouf an' holler, an' dem niggers wud git outern dat bed an' git ter wuk. Marse Elbert hed a mity loud voice, an' when he called, ebry body culd hear him. He hed no horn an' he had no bell, he jist holler'd, an' when he wud sneeze you culd hear him clear cross de river an' dat wus a mile away.
"Old Marse wud mek de slaves git ter de fiel' ter wuk an' he wud git on his big fine horse an' ride ober de fiel' wid a big whip hangin' by his side, an' de slaves wud see dat whip an' wurk hard fur dey wus skeer'd uf dat whip.
"Ebery week afte' dinner on Sad'ay old Marse wud gib all de slaves 'nouf vi'tuals ter last dem a week, an' iffen dey run short he wud give dem a lil'l more, O, he gibe 'em meal, an' lard, an' meat, an' soda, an salt an' lasses an' ebery Sunday we wint ter de big house an' got biskits an' sum times when dey hed com'ny an' de cook made cakes we got a piece uf cake. Sumtimes he wud gibe his han's nouf flour to mek a lasses cake but we didn't git dat offen. When dar wus lotta wurk ter do in de fiel' old Marse hed de slaves ter cum to de big house an' git dinner an' sumtime supper. Old Marse fed all his slaves well. He fed his stock rite well an' niver 'low'd no body ter beat his mules an' hosses.
"Old Mistis wus named Miss Vickey an' she wud good ter all uf us chulluns. Old Mandy wus too old ter wurk and she tuk keer of de lil'l chulluns rite in de big yard. I wus older dan sum uf 'em an' I hed ter he'p her. De black chaps played wid de white chaps an' Miss Vickey wud see dat we hed plenty ter eat an' jist as soon as we wud git (old) nouf ter wurk we hed ter git ter wurk. She made me an' de odder chaps sweep de yards, an' drive de cows ter de past're, an'
we toted water ter de fiel' han's, an' hed ter help tote de dishes frum de big house ter de kitchen, an' old Mistis larnt us how ter wurk, den 'fore de surrender I hed ter he'p chop cotton in de fiel' wid de udders.
"I wus born rite dar in de quarters an' lived in de lil'l log cabin till I wus grown. No, mam, I niver slept at de big house, I stayed in de quarters an' wint ter de big house ebery day. We hed no furn'chure 'ceptin a home-made bed an' a bench in de house an' er nudder bench on de gallery. All de slaves hed er tater patch, an' er corn patch tite by de side uf de house an' er water melon patch rite in front uf de house, an' dey wurk dese patches on Sunday. De pinder patch wus out in de fiel' an' den dar wus chufas.
"We niver hed much time ter rest 'ceptin Sad'ay nights, an' den sum times de older slaves wud git passes an' go sum whar, an' sum times slaves wud cum ter our place but dar wusn't much dancin' only on udder plantashuns. Ebery Sunday we hed ter wrap hair. Old Marse an' Miss Vickey niver 'low'ed us ter rest much.
"We hed no church ter go to, but sum times at night afte' de white folks wus sleep, sum uf de slaves wud hide down under de hill an' sing an' pray fur de Lord ter cum an' free 'em. Sum times slaves frum udder plantashuns wud cum an' sing an' pray wid us, but de slaves allus hed ter carry a lil'l piece uf paper ter keep de patterroller frum gittin' 'm. Dey wud sing
"O, Lord, cum free dis nigger,
O, Lord, cum free dis nigger,
O, Lord, cum free dis nigger
Fur I cany wurk all de day."
"Old Mistis wurk hard all de time. She hed a big room whar sum of de women wus busy wid de cards, an' spinnin' an' de looms. Miss Vickey niver lowed de women ter rest. She med 'em wurk at night an' when it wus rainin' she wus rite dar ter see dat dey wus wurkin'. She kep' de looms goin' an' made all kind uf pretty cloth, an' dey made 'coverlets' jes as pritty as dey make 'em now. She made sum uf de wimin git bark out uf de woods an' dye sum uf dat thread, an' it sho' made pritty coverlets. An' den she hed ter dye her thread ter make pants an' coats. She made de pants an' coats outern blue jeans. She kep' sum uf de wimin sewin an' dey made mity fine things fur old Mistis an' her chulluns, an' dey made sum things fur us, but whut we got wus made frum cloth spun dar at home, an' it niver wore out. De gurl chulluns jes wore long aprons, and de boys jes hed long tail shirts, an' we niver hed anything under dem, an' when we wus bad Miss Vickey wuld lift our coat tails an' switch us on de naked hide. I wus allus gittin a switchin, an' de udder chaps wus too.
"Old Mistis made me larn ter spin, and made me larn ter sew but I niver got ter de loom, I jes seed de udders makin' de cloth.
"Old Mistis wud knit socka an' stockin' an' sum uf de wimen in de quarters wud knit at nite, but when old Mistis wuld go ter church, or hed fine com'ny she wud put on fine silks an' wear store bought stockin' an' she hed a lotta uf fine things.
"Old Marse hed a big fine house; it hed a up-stairs ter it, an' de roof hed dormer winders ter it. De steps wint up on de front gallery. Dar wus jes two big rooms in de frunt uf de house an' brick chimbleys at bofe ends uf de house, an' den dar wus two shed rooms behind de house wid a gallery between dem, an' dey et in a nudder house sto out in de back yard, an' dar wus a shed frum de big house ter de kitchen. Dat house is burnt down now. But old Marse uster hev a lotta com'ny an' made de slaves wait on dat com'ny. Sum times he wud call two boys to cum tek de hosses he made de slaves stand round pritty lively.
"Old Marse hed a big gin out behind de barn an' ebery year atter dey wuld gin de cotton dey wud put it on wagons an' send it ter Natchez; De teams wus oxen an' de driver wud start 'bout three days a hed uf old Marster. An den old Marse wud go on his big fine hoss, an' sell dat cotton an' lode de wagon wid ebery thing good ter eat and fine things fur old Mistis, an' it wus all de team culd pull home. Dar wus flour, sugar, coffee, raisins, cheese an' mackerel. Atter while old Marse traded in Magnolia an' it didnt tek dem so long ter go ter town.
"Dey talked a long time bout de war fore it cum, an' when it did cum old Marse did not go cause he wus too old an' den he wus crippled wid de rumatis. He hed ter ride his hoss ober de fiel' 'count uf his rumatis, an' so he sont his two boys, Elbert an' Taylor. Afte' dey wus gone old Marse uster send dem good things ter eat, until dey got too fur frum home. Dey didnt git hurt in de army but cum home ter dey famblys, an' bofe uf 'em died at home wid consum' shun.
"I 'member when de Yankees cum ter our house. Sum body sont Old Marse wurd dey wus cumin; Old Mistis sont her fine bed clothes an' coverlets ter de houses uf de slaves ter hide dem; Old Marse hed his fine hosses hid in de swamp an' de silver wus buried in de garden under a big rose bush ah' de Yankees did not find dem. But dem Yankees went inter de smoke house an' tuk all de meat an' flour an' we hed no biskits fur a long time. Old Marse went out ter de gate an' talked wid dem, an' dey didnt bother eny thing in de big house, an' none uf de slaves wint off wid dem. Dey all stayed wid old Marse.
"When de war wus ober, Old Marse called all de slaves up one morning bout 10 o'clock an' tole dem dat dey wus freed, an' sed iffen dey wud stay wid him an' wurk he wud pay dem fur deir wurk. Most uf dem sed dey wud stay an' den old Marse made dem write deir names or touch de pen on a piece uf paper whut dey called 'contract' an' dey didnt kno whut dat wus. But old Marse paid dem at de end uf de year lak he sed he wud. But de next year most uf dem wint ter nudder place ter wurk. My mammy stayed wid old Marse fur 'bout five years an' stayed wid her an' when she moved down in de lower edge uf de county ter a Mr. Wall's, I wint wid her, an' it wus while I wus livin' down dar dat I mar'ed Jim Felder, an' we lived on dat place fur a long time an' den moved up ter Mr. Sherrod Quins, west uf McComb an' wurked on shares and afte' while we bought a lil'l place jes south uf dar on whut is now de Highway ter Liberty.
"When we left old Marster we went empty handed. He give us nuffin but our pay an' we had a mity hard time. We hed no hoss an' nuffin ter eat ceptin whut Mr. Wall lowanced us, an' we hed ter pay fur dat at de end uf de year.
"Times wus mity hard wid all uf de slaves; dey hed mity lil'l ter eat, an' sum times dey didnt git pay fur de wurk, an' we hed ter buy on a credit an' we culdnt git credit. Most uf de slaves hed ter wurk on shares an' let de white man furnish dem. Sum uf dem left de farms an' wint ter de towns ter wurk an' dey done no better. Wurk in town wus hard ter git, and den sum uf dem wint ter de saw mills an' wurk dar an' money wus mity skarce.
"Me and Jim raised 7 head uf chulluns ter be grown, an'
jes as soon as dey wus big 'nouf ter do us eny good, dey left home, an' four uf dem wint north, an' I doan know whar dey is, an' one uf dem lives in Magnolia an' de udder two lives in de country on farms.
"My old man died bout five years er go an' I live wid my darter on de old place. Dey say I dont own it eny more, cause I didnt pay my taxes, but I jes stays dar, an' got no udder place ter go. I is old an' ken hardly git er bout, but I try ter he'p mek er tater patch an' pick peas an' tend ter de chaps on de place.
"My old man wus Jim Felder an' he wus raised on Bogue Chitto River, an' me and him stayed ter gedder nigh on ter 59 years. We neber hed er weddin; we jes wint ter Magnolia an' tole de Judge we wanted ter git mar'ed an' he mar'ied us in de Court House.
"We bofe jined de Baptist Church an' wus baptised at de same time. Dar wus er big crowd ter be baptised wid us an' wus rainin' but we wus all so happy dat we didnt keer one bit fur de rain; we jes kep' singin' an' sum uf dem shouted. We wus baptised in de creek. I' member er song dat sung wus ---
"O happy day, O, happy day!
When Jesus wash'd our sin er way.
He taught me how ter sing an' pray
An' be rejoicin' ebery day,
O, happy day! O, Happy Day!
When Jesus washed my sin er way."
"I'is gwine ter heaven when I die,
I'is gwine ter heaven when I die,
Iffen you git dar 'fore I do,
Tell de Lord I'is cumin' too,
Fur I'is gwine ter heaven when I die."
"I allus planted my garden in de moon, an' iffen you plant beans or cucumbers when de sign is in de arm yer will allus hev big bunches of beans ter cum at one time, cause dat is when de sign means twins.
"Iffen you want good luck ter cum ter you, when you see er white mule, jes stamp him, by wettin' yer finger an' hittin de palm uf yer hand an' yer will hev good luck fur dat day; an' iffen yer see a bussard dat same day yer will hev good luck all dat week.
"When we wus chulluns old Mandy uster mek 'teas' an' give us ter keep us well, an' I larnt how ter doctor my chaps dat same way, an' dat beats eny doctor you ebery seed. Iffen dar is whoopin' cough in de neighborhood, jes tie er lil'l 'asfiddy' in er rag an' tie it round yer neck an' yer wont hev whoopin' cough.
"I am old now an' de young folks doan think we old folks hev eny sense, but dar is er lotter things I culd tell dem iffen I wuld, but when dey git sick dey hev ter buy store bought medicine.
"I am not able ter wurk now, but I hev seed de time when I culd beat eny uf de niggers wurkin' in de fiel' an' doin' all my wurk at de house, an' tendin' ter de chaps as well. None uf dese young one can do dat now.
"We allus walked whar eber we wint an' dese young folks say dey cant walk now er day, an' de want er fine car an' go in debt fur it ter git it.
"My boys dat is livin' is named Sylvester, an' one is Arthur an' one is Henry an' dey all is mar'ied an' livin ter demselves an' got deir famblies ter look afte'. Dey he'p me best dey can but dey look afte' dey famblies furst. I cant read nur write but I kno right frum wrong and I tries ter live so when de Lord comes ter dis earth er gin he will be sho ter tek me wid him.
"No, mam I niver seed er 'haint' but I know dat de old peeple uster try ter 'kunjer' sum uf de slaves. I niver seed it done but my mammy tole me bout it. She sed eny one born in cert'in time uf de moon culd cast er spell on er nudder. But dar wus a weed in de fiel's dat iffen yer mek er tea outern it wuld keep offen de spell. I doan kno how it wus done, jest heard my mammy tellin' bout it. I wuldnt harm eny body an' want no body ter narm me. I'is er good Baptist but cant git ter church offen.
Sarah Felder is an old woman and somewhat crippled with rheumatism; she walks with a stick; she is bent over and leans on the stick when walking. She seemed a little reticent at first but after while was ready to talk.
She weighs about 100 pounds, and seems frail --- about four feet six inches tall; sharp narrow face, and has grey hair, that is wrapped, and is what one would call ginger cake color.
She lives about seven miles west of McComb, near Highway 24, on the south side of the road.
Transcribed by Ann Allen Geoghegan
The Federal Writer’s Project of
The Works Progress Administration
For the State of Mississippi