Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
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From the WPA Slave Narratives:
Sylvia Floyd, ex-slave, lives in Mendenhall, Mississippi with his daughter. He was born about 1852 and was owned during slavery time by Mrs. Polly Newson of Simpson County. He is extremely small, only about five feet and one inch in height and weighs around ninty pounds. His general coloring is a very dark brown and his hair is white from age. He is not in very good health but is yet active for his years. He tells the following story.
"My ole Marse died afore I can recollect, so's you see I jes' had a Missus. She owned a fairly good size plantation wid four families ob slaves. Now each family had pert' nigh a house and yard full o' chillun from grown up 'uns down to little babies. De owners alwas' wanted a heap o' chillun a growin' up so dey would hab mo' slaves. So fust an' las' Ole Missus had a goodly number to farm her acres and acres ob cotton an' corn, peas an' taters, long wid cane fer 'lasses an' different kinds ob stuff to grow plenty o' grub to feed de slaves an' stock on.
"I don't know nothin' o' my grand mamys an' pappys a' tall. I jes' know dey was back in Virginnie belongin' to some body up deir. De way my pa an' ma was sole an' traded 'bout we jes' naturally los' track ob 'em. Back in slave days families would be torn up an' seperated an' when de slave traders 'ud come through de Masters 'ud sell any ob 'em aways from each other if dey could git a good price fer 'em. Sometimes dey would sell de wife an' keep de husband an' sell boys an' girls away from home an' deir folks would never know whut become ob 'em. After freedom dey would try to find 'em an' git back together but mos' an' generally alwa's failed as dey wouldn't know whut name dey 'ud be takin' as de colored folks had to go by de name ob deir Masters 'cause dey don't hab none ob deir on; an' another reason dat was one way each Master had ob knowin' an' keepin' up wid his slaves. Dey never let 'em leave de plantation wid out a pass, an' dey had patrole riders to go out an' git 'em ifen dey didn't come in. Dey didn't hab to be much late 'fore yo' could hear 'em commin' after 'em. De darkies use to pull pranks on de patrole riders by strechin' grape vines across de road to throw de horses. At other times de slaves 'ud git a little riled up an' jump de traces a little by fightin' back wid fire, but dey couldn't never do much fer dey never was allowed to git together enough to carry out nothin'. De patrole riders kept 'em purty well rounded up an' seperated only 'cept long enuf fer a little frolicin'. Dey use to sing dis ole song 'bout 'em
"Run, nigger, run, de patrole's a commin',
"Run, nigger, run, de patrole's a commin',
"Dat nigger run, dat nigger flew
"Dat nigger tore his shirt in two
"Run, nigger, run!
"Now when I was a little slave chap I lived at my cottages back ob Missus' house. It wasn't much, jes' a little hut to stay in. I eat at Miss Polly's kitchen in tin plates an' tin cups in de winner times. Dey 'ud gib us pot liquor in a big pan wid corn bread crumbled up in it. We would sit 'round dat pan ob pot liquor an' all eat out ob it at de same time. We eat milk an' corn bread lak dat too.
"Now I jis' slept 'bout mos' any ole way, jes' slept de bes' I could. Sometime it was on de cabin flo', in de barn an' shuck house, under de bed an' anywhere. It didn't make no difference to nobody where I happened to drop off to sleep.
"Our clo'se was few an' scarce, de fact is, we nigh mos' done widout 'em in de summer time; we jes' run 'bout barefooted in our long shirts. In de winter time we wore brogan shoes wid brass toes. Dey was heavy, rough, an' course, widout much fit or shape. Yo' see dey was made from de cowhides by tanners what was scattered 'bout over de country. Dey didn't know much 'bout making shoes nohow, den dey didn't have much to make 'em wid in de way ob tools an' machinery. One thing 'bout 'em was, dey sho' would las' a long time. We had to make 'em las' as long as we could, fer we wasn't sho' o' gitting no mo' when dey wore out.
"Now when we got sick our ole black mamys' could purt nigh cour mos' anything wid greeces, oils an' root teas an' hot poltices made from leaves, mustard an' clay, but if all dat failed to wuk, Doctor Will Weathersby was called in wid his physics an' pill pockets. He had to ride fer miles an' miles horse-back or in his buggy over rough road an' across creeks dat had jis makeshifts o' bridges. It was sho' bad fer folks to git bad off sick back in dem days an' haf' to wait so long fer de Doctor.
"Our releigous services was mos'ly wid de white folks. We sat in de back part o' deir churches. At times de darkies would go off to de woods to preach, shout an' sing praises. Some o' de songs was song long by de preacher or leader fust calling out a line, den de darkies would sing dat, den he would call out another line an' dey would sing dat, an' so on through de song. Some would be a humming deep an' low. Dat sho' was purty singing too.
"De pleasures de slaves had was things lak fishing,
hunting, an' frolicing. Dey usually had a picnic once or twice a year. De music fer de merriments was fiddles, banjos an' acordins. Some times when dey didnt have no fiddles or nothing dey would jis pat to dance by. Mos' ob de courtships was started an' carried on at dese gatherings an' gwine to church. Slaves didnt marry lak dey do dese days. Dey didn't git no licens an' go through all this cermony. When a boy an' gal took a notion to git married all dey had to do was to git de consent o' deir masters. When freedom come on dey all had to get remarried according de law.
"De war come on to free us wid all its troubles an' horrors. It was talked 'round fer a long time fo' it broke out. De darkies wasnt allowed to know or hear no mo' bout it dan could be helped. De slaves couldn't read nor write, an' what few ob 'em dat could wasnt allowed to read a thing dat was writ on a piece o' paper. Anyhow we heard an' learned dat we was to be freed. Some times we would hear we was going to git land or mules or de lak.
"After de war it was hard times wid every body trying to build back a little o' what de war had tore up an' ruint. An' rite in de middle ob everything de Klu Klux Klan sprung up to pester de darkies. Dey alwas' had a leader an' had meeting places. Mos' o' de time in de woods, dey would ride through dressed in long white hainty looking robes wid white masks all over deir head an' faces, dey even went up in a pint at de top ob de head. Dey had big holes cut out fer de eyes. Now dey sho' was scary looking an' mo' so to de colored folks for dey never did know what dey might do next. What dey was fer, was to keep de colored folks scared up, an to make 'em do what dey wanted 'em too.
"After de war it was unsettled times fer several years. Me an' my folks finally got settled on a little tract of land.
"I got married when I was 'bout eighteen years ole, it was 'round 1870 I guess. I think I has six chillun, but I can't tell 'bout but two ob 'em. I has sorter los' tract ob 'em. I has a son an' a daughter dat I knows ob. Dey is a doing purty well an' has a litle book learning. I'se a living wid my daughter.
"I can't give no opinion ob de young folks or dis young generation as I dont never go no where an' dont keep up much wid de times, but I wishes everybody well.
Transcribed by Ann Allen Geoghegan
The Federal Writer’s Project of
The Works Progress Administration
For the State of Mississippi