Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
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From the WPA Slave Narratives:
July Ann Halfen
July Ann Halfen, who lives in Osyka, Mississippi, on Liberty Street, about five blocks west of the Illinois Central railroad, tells her life's story --
"My Marse wus Mr. Pharoh Carter, who lived above here at Carter's Hill, it is now called Chatawa, wus the man who owned my mammy an' me.
"He had plenty land an' plenty slaves, an' wus de meanest man dat eber walk'd de land, an' he wus so mean he hardly 'lowed any body else to walk his land, 'cause he wus 'fraid dey wud tote off some uf his dirt on deir shoes.
"He had a fine house sot up on de high hill, wid big cedar trees 'round dat house, but had all uf us chaps skeered to go nigh dat big house. We wud peep through de cracks uf de rail fence an' try to see whut wus gwine on at de house, but when we seed him, an' if he look'd at us we wud run, 'cause he wud storm at us an' skeer us an' if we did not move when he spoke to us he wud lam us 'cross our backs wid dat big whip he toted 'round wid him all de time.
"Mammy sed she b'longed to a Mr. Long in Adams County one time an' when I wus a baby she wus sold to Mr. Carter wid some more slaves. Mr. Carter had whut yo' call a overseer by de name uf Bickham, an' de nex' day atter my mammy got to Marse Carter's dis overseer tied my mammy to a post an' stripped her to de waist an' whupped her bad. Frum dat time on Mammy an' de overseer didn't git along one bit.
"I ken remember dat overseer whuppin' my mammy, pears to me like ebery day, an' old man marse Carter wud stand close by an' tell him to 'lay it on' - an' dat is de way he done all his slaves; ebery day some uf dem wus tied to dat post an' whupped.
"My pappy wus named Bradley, an' he wus left ober in Adam County, an' one time my mammy tuck me an' we run 'way an' tried to go back whar my pappy wus, an' dey picked my mammy up an' put us in some jail an' kept us dar an' one day old man Carter come an' got us an' tuck us back to his house an' tied my mammy to dat post an' I remember how my mammy cried an' sed "O, marse, I is neber gwine to run 'way er gin. O, please, I is gwine to stay here."
"I uster see dem whup de slaves till deir backs wus sore an' dey had to wurk in de fiel' bareback, 'cause dey cud not stand fur de clothes to tech deir backs.
"Marse Carter had a house gal by de name uf Francis, an' she had to wait on de white folks all day long an' when night wud come he made her slip out 'mongst de slaves an' see whut dey wus doin' an' talkin' bout.
"My mammy wus livin' wid 'nudder man named Joe, an' one night Joe an' my mammy an' some more slaves wus down on deir knees prayin' fur de good Lord to sot dem free, an' Francis wus slippin' round de corner uf de house an' heard whut dey wus sayin' an she goes back to de house an' tells de old Marse, an' he sont de oberseer down dar an' brung ebery one uf dem to de stake an' tied dem an' whupped dem so hard dat blood come frum some uf dem's backs.
"All de slaves prayed all de time fur to be sot free; some uf dem wus beat so much dey didnt have sense 'nuff to kno' whut to do when dey wus sot free, but dey wus happy to git way frum Marse Carter.
"De slaves lived in de quarters, an' mammy wud take her babes to de fiel' wid her an' put dem on a old piece uf quilt in de fence corners while she hoed or plowed, an' when de babies wud cry, she wud look 'round fur to see if de overseer wus in sight, so she cud stop an' nurse her babies.
"'fore de surrender dat overseer made me drive up de cows frum de pasture at night, an' I had to hold off de calves when Dolly wus milkin' - but I neber got any milk to drink, 'ceptin' when no body wus lookin' Dolly wud squirt some uf de milk frum de teat to my mouf.
"Marse Carter had a old shed back uf de house an' all de fiel' han's had to cum dar fur to eat. Dey wus fill up on corn bread, greens and cow peas an' some times dey got a piece uf meat, but dey neber did git any biscuits. I neber et a biscuit till I wus grown.
"I dont kno' whut went on at de big house. I wus not 'lowed to go dar, but some times when dar wus big doings up dar we wud go to de fence an' try to find out. Sometimes we wud see de fine hosses an' saddles an' a black man leadin' dem round to de lot an' we kno'd dar wus some body cum to see dem an' we kno'd dar wus chickins killed an' cooked but we dasent ask fur any. I wus nearly grown 'fore I eber tasted cake an' dat wus 'lasses cake den; I thought dat wus de best thing in de wurld, an' I like it yet.
"I forgit how many chulluns Marse Carter had, but mammy sed he married a Miss Lea de last time he married, an' dey had one gal, by de name uf Eveline, an' Eveline married a Mr. Causey de furst time an' a Mr. Thompson de nex' time. Miss Eveline had one gal by de name uf Miss Susie an' she wus born deaf an' dumb an' neber mar'ied.
"My mammy had to spin, card an' weave cloth ebery rainy day. We black folks had to wear lowells an' dat stuff wud neber wear out. I wore shirt tail aprons till afte' de surrender an' neber had any shoes till I wus in my teens.
"I dont think Marse Carter went to de war; I neber heard uf it, but I seed de soljers when dey come to de big house. Dey jest pulled things out dat house, blankets an' pillers an' sot fire to it. Dey broke de lock on de smoke house door and took ebery thing in dar. Dey pored de 'lasses on de ground and dey found de powder keg an' pored dat in de well an' put de cook pots in de well, an' Marse Carter sho' wus mad, an' afte' dey left he damned dem all, an' made us tote water frum de spring way down de bottom uf dat high hill. If Marse Carter had any cotton I dont remember bout dat, de soljers didnt git dat but dey tore down de rail fence nigh de house.
"When de War wus ober he neber sot us free; he jes' made all his slaves wurk right on, an' one day a man ridin' a big hoss come dar an' told Marse Carter to call all his slaves up to de big house. Dey all come runnin' an' de big man told dem dey didnt have to wurk fur Marse Carter any more 'lessen Marse Carter paid dem fur deir wurk.
"My mammy wus named Mariah, an' she had three chilluns an' I wus de oldest an' I wus 'bout twelve years old at dat time, but I remember my mammy spoke right up an' sed she wus gwine back to Adams County to my pappy. Well afte' de big man left Marse Carter had my Mammy put in a room an' wudnt 'low her to git out only when he wanted her to wurk an' den he stood close by to see dat she didnt go.
"At de end uf de year he had her put in jail an' sed she stole a bale uf cotton, an' tried to make her say so, but she wudnt. My pappy who wus left in Adams County come down dar an' he got some white men to git my mammy out uf jail an' den my mammy and pappy stayed togedder till he died. Dey wurk de farm on shares fur a Mr. Schilling, an' when I
got bigger I mar'ied Jake Halfen an' we stayed on de farm 'bout five years an' nearly starved to death, so we come to Osyka an' Jake got wurk haulin' de dray fur Mr. Wolf's store an' I done washin' an' ironin' fur Mrs. Emm Ott. She wus de best white woman dat I eber seed.
"I wurk'd fur Miss Emm Ott fur nigh on to fifty years. I scrubbed, I washed an' ironed an' nursed her babies an' when she died it most broke my heart. Den her girls sed I stole too much an' wudnt low me to wurk fur dem. O, I is bin treated mi'ty bad in my life. I wus treated bad when a slave an' neber had 'nuff to eat an' den I have gone to bed hongry afte' de surrender. I neber thought Miss Em's girls wud treat me like dat, an' now I am down wid rumatiz an' cant git 'bout an' dey dont come to see me.
"I neber seed inside a church till after' I come to Osyka, an' den I jined de Shiloh Baptist Church. I dont kno' why I jined. De man wus preachin' an' some uf de folks wus clappin' deir hands an' some uf dem wus pattin' deir feet an' some uf dem wus shoutin' an' all to once I felt de spirit move an' den I went to shoutin' like de rest uf de folks, an' I went down in front an' got down on my knees an'
I prayed hard an' de spirit seem to say to me dat I wus a chile uf God, an' I tole de preacher so an' jined right dar. No, I wus not baptised till de Sunday afte' dat. I wus baptised in the Tangipaho River right here in Osyka, an' all de folks wus shoutin' an' I went down in de water shoutin' --- I tell yo' I neber wus so happy as I wus dat day, an' I is been a good Christian woman eber since I wus baptised. I talks to de Lord an' his spirit tells me I is livin' right. I aint got many days to live but I am gwine to meet my Maker shoutin' --- He tells us to shout fur joy.
"Lordy, Miss Katy, old Chany put a "spell" on me bout ten years ago, an' I took a "misery" in my hip and back an' eber since den it is terrible fur me to git up an' down; sometimes I has to be he'ped an' some times I must have a stick to walk. I spent my days wurkin' fur people an' now I is done wurkin'.
"I had nine chilluns an' five uf dem is dead an' Lord only knows whar de udders is at. I live wid my grand chilluns an' dey is good to me, but dat spell makes me suffer so much.
"How did she put dat spell on me? Well, I tell yo' it wus dis way. She sed I stole a blanket frum her an' I
told her I didnt an' she sed I made me a coat uf dat blanket but I sed I bought dat coat frum a man who wus a peddler. She went home an' made out she wus my frien' - den one day she comes to my house an' sed I brung yo' some uf my apple tarts an' I wants yo' to eat dem. I et dem an' dat night I had awful cramps an' dis misery settled in my hip an' I jes' kno'd old Chaney had put one uf her spells on me. I is neber gwine to be well a gin. Whut become uf dat coat? I burnt it up.
"When I wus a gal I uster to dance an' knock de pigeon wing, an' step de heel and toe. I wus sho' light on my feet an' I cud cuss like a man. Whar did I larn to cuss. I heard Marse Carter cuss ebery day an' I get dem by heart.
"No mam, I neber went to school an' cant read, but I sont all my chilluns to school an' dey got a smart book learnin' but it neber done dem any good dat I seed.
"I learnt to smoke my pipe frum all de slaves when I wus little. I uster light my mammy's pipe fur her an' den I wud slip it out an' smoke when she wus in de fiel' at wurk.
"No mam, I neber had any good thing happen to me in my life. All I eber kno'd wus hard wurk an' got mi'ty lil'l fur dat.
"No mam, I neber sing now; dar is nuffin in my life to make me sing. When I wus young I cud sing but all dem songs is gone frum me now. All I kno' is sufferin' an' dis misery is got a good hold on to me.
July Ann Halfen is as black as they make them. She looks more like an African than any darky I have seen. She is about five feet five. Weighs about 140 lbs. Large mouth with protruding teeth; thick lips. Wears a cloth wrapped around her head and tied under her chin. Sits in a chair most of the day and complains. Her mind seems to wander at times and she wants to dwell upon her hardships in life. I visited her three times, and each time found her very despondent over her fate and the way people have treated her. She forgets names and places, and so many things of late years. She seems to harbor ill feeling.
Transcribed by Ann Allen Geoghegan
The Federal Writer’s Project of
The Works Progress Administration
For the State of Mississippi