Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
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From the WPA Slave Narratives:
"My name now is Orris Harris. It wus Orris Bonner 'fore I'se married, but I married Sam Harris w'en I wus a girul en liv ober de country. I wus seven year ole w'en de slaves wus freed, but I ken remember things dat hap'en in de war."
"My mammy wus named Sarah Bonner en my pappy named Warren Bonner. Dey wus slaves uf Mr Alec Hughey, uf Amite County. My pappy wus fust a slave ter a Mr. Bonner en den he wus sold to Mr Hughey, en atter de war my pappy en my mammy went by de name uf Bonner."
"Mr. Hughey wus hard on his slaves en used de lash er heap en he wurk dem mighty hard. He wou'dent low dem to go ter uder plantations en w'en dey did go dey allus got de lash. His wife wus a hard task master too."
"My pappy, Warren Bonner, wus Marse Hughey kerrage driver, en w'en he wud start to church wid de Mistress en de giruls, Marse Hughey wud tell him not ter low de horses to run way wid de kerrage en not ter low enything to hap'en to dem. He allus rode horse back."
"I stayed in de quarters en wus skeerd to go to de big house whar de white folks wus. We had plenty ter eat but I niver tasted eny thing frum de big house. My mammy wurk in de feild en we wus left wid a black woman, but we wus not low'd to go to de house."
"I niver seed de Yankees but de day dey cum we wus shut up en tole not to poke our heds otten de door. All de black chilluns wus skeerd. Mammy sed dey took all de meat en flour en car'ed off de milk en karrage horses."
"W'en Marse Hughey cum hom frum de war, he wus sick fur a while en den one day he tole all de niggers dat Mr. Lincoln had sot us free, en dat he wanted us to contract wid him. Mosten uf dem done so en stayed wid him til dey nearly starved to death en den dey left him en scat'rd eberywhar. My pappy en mammy stay dar en w'en dey moved dey went frum place to place. Dey both died in Amite County."
"I married Sam Harris w'en I wus 'bout 18 years, en we farmed er while en den moved to de railroad en done all kinds uf wurk. Sam died seven year er go. He wus 82 years ole w'en he died. He belonged to Mr. Ben Walker, who liv ne'r Wesson, durin' de war. Sam jist got de papers en we went to de parson en got married, en dat wus all."
"I niver seed de Klu Klux but de Bulldosers kept cumin' round en skeerin' de darkies. Dey niver cum for my pappy but I remember my mammy en oders telkin' 'bout 'em."
"W'en I wus a chile I wus tole Ghosts wud git me en I wus skeerd uf dem. I wus lookin' fur dem all de time but niver seed one. I allus planted my garden in de moon en had a fine garden. I wears a rabbit foot round my neck all de time to bring me good luck."
"I has five chilluns livin but den liv in udder states. Dey sends me money ivery month, en I hev a grand chile livin' wid me who helps me wid de wurk. She goes to skule."
"I wus in er automobile wreck three years er go en broke my hip en left leg en now I hafter to hobble 'bout on crutches, en cant wurk eny more."
"I wus jes seven years old when Lincoln freed de slaves. Mr. Alex Hughey wus my Marster an' I wus born 'bout ten miles northeast uf Liberty on a big plantashun. Mr. Hughey wus er mighty hard taskmaster. He wud whup an' all de time whuppin' sum uf de slaves. I seed him whup my pappy plenty times, an' he whupped my mammy too, but he niver whupped me. I kep' outern his way.
"My mammy wus named Mandy an' she wurk in de fiel' allas de time, 'ceptin' when it rained an' den she wint ter de loom. I seed her put cloth in de loom an she sed sum day I wud hev ter do dat, but I niver did git ter de loom room.
"Marse Alex wud git mad wid his slaves in de fiel' when dey didnt do ter suit him an' brung 'em ter de house an' tie 'em an' den put dat big whip on dem. When he ride ober de fiel' he all de time toted dat whip an' sum times would pop it 'cross sum body's back.
"He hed no overseer - he seed ter day his slaves wurk. He made de slaves git up ebery mornin' by ringin' dat big bell. Dat bell wus hangin' on a scafful in de side yard,
an' he rung it 'fore day to git de han' off ter wurk and he rung it ergain ter call dem ter dinner. When it rained he made de men go in de crib an' shuck corn or go in de barn an' clean up, an' sum time afte' de rain he made dem wurk in de garden.
"Marse hed lots uf cows, sheep, and hogs an' Mistiss hed er big house full uf chickens. We hed plenty good things ter eat sich as peas, meat, bread an' milk, but we niver git eny chicken ceptin' sum body would steal it, an' den iffen it wus found out, dat sumbody got a whuppin' --- We chaps wud steal eggs but dey niver did fin' it out.
"We chaps seldom played in de big yard, we stayed in de quarters, an' de biggest chaps hed ter tend ter de lil'l one. Old Cisley wus too old to wurk an' she look afte' de chaps, but de chaps wud git 'way frum her. She kotched fire one day while smokin'g her clay pipe, an' chaps run fur water an' put it out, but burnt her leg mighty bad --- it wus sore er long time.
"My pappy wus named Warren Bonner, an' he wus Marse Alex's carriage driver. An' when old Mistiss wud go ter church wid de young Misstisses, Marse Alex wud give him his orders not ter 'low enything ter happen ter Mistiss an' de girls. An' if enything did not please him, when dey got home, pappy got de lash wid dat whup. Mos' uf de time, Marse Alex rode de horse by de side uf de carriage.
"We niver hed no dances in de quarters, an' I doan remember eny dances at de big house. Dey hed no pianny but Marse Alex wud play de fiddle hisself. Sumtimes when he played de fiddle, he made Jim and Tony stand out dar an' 'Knock de back-step' - O, dem boys culd sho nouf knock it off. Down in de quarters de slaves wud dance de 'pigeontoe' to de tune uf 'Arkansaw Traveler' - an' wus jes larnin' to dance when dey sed I wus freed.
"I doan remember when Christmas times cum - dat wus de same as eny udder time wid us --- we all hed ter wurk enyhow.
"We hed lots an' lots uf apples; old Mistiss wud have 'em peele an' put outern in de sun ter dry, an' sum times I wus tole ter stand dar an' keep de flies offen dem. I hed er long peach tree switch an' I hed ter keep dat ober de apples all de time. Sum times I wud jes slip er piece uf apple. Mistiss wud make pies out uf dem apples. We niver got nuffin frum de white folks table. We chaps had plenty milk an' bread sont us, but we et down in de quarters. We wus skeered ter go to de big house.
"Dar wus no lil'l chaps in de big house --- Dar wus Miss Susie, an Miss Nancy an' sum uf de chulluns wus dun mar'ied an' gone.
"Marse Alex made er wagon load uf cotton an' hed it hauled ter Liberty ebery two er three days. I doan kno' whut he dune wid it. But Marse Alex hed plenty. Marse Alex didn't go ter war, but mammy sed, he kno'ed De South wus goin' ter whup dem Yankees. We wus skeered uf de Yankees, but when de Yankees did cum, dey done us no harm. Dey jes got sumthing ter eat an' tuk, Marse Alex fine carriage hosses. Dar warnt many uf 'em. When dey sed de Yankees wus cumin' --- At furst I wus skeered, den I crept out ter de rail fence an' peep'd at dem, an' dey wus nothin' but men dressed in fine clo'es an' ridin' fine hosses, an' afte' dey got dey stomachs full dey left an' niver cum back. Ole marse wus not ter home. Pappy sed he wus in de swamp.
"Two ud de slaves ran 'way an' went wid de Yankees, an' dey neber cum back.
"Afte' de war we stayed on at Marse Alex's an' niver culd make er nouf ter move. Afte' while we hed ter move, an' when we left wus not 'lowed ter carry eny thing wid us. We moved frum place ter place, an' afte' while I married Sam Harris an' we went ter de railroad; makin' er livin out dar wus as hard as in de country. Wurk wus hard ter git and when we got wurk we got mighty lil'l fur it. We went ter Magnolia an' wurk thar - Sam got wurk in er mill an' (I) got washin' fur white people, an' we managed ter git er long.
"Sam Harris wus owned by Mr Ben Walker, near Wesson, Miss. He died when he wus 62 years old. I had seven chulluns. One uf (dem) lives in Chicargo an' one in Cal'fornia, an' de nex' two is dead, an one lives in Baton Rouge and de udder two lives in Amite County on de farm.
"O, de niggers always sung when in de fiel' at wurk. Dey sung all de songs dey know'd --- one song dey sung wus
"Raise de Heaven as high as de sky; Fall down on your knees; Send up yer prayers; I'send up mine; De good Lord ter please.
"See my brudder down de hill; Fall down on your knees; Send up yer prayers; I'll send up mine; De good Lord ter please."
"Me an' my wife lived all er lone, In er lil'l log hut; all our own; She lovd gin, an' I lovd rum; I tell yer, brudder, we hed lots uf fun. Ha, ha, ha, yo' an' me; lil'l brown jug dont I love thee"
I tell yer dem niggers culd sho' do de wurk when dar wus singin'.
"I niver seed de Klu Klux but heard tell dey wus in de country. I niver seed de Bulldozers, but mammy an pappy sed dey wus afte' sum uf de niggers, but dey niver cum fur my pappy. Dey did git one feller livin' on Marse Hughey's place an' give him er whuppin' --- Mammy sed dey wus afte' er lot uf black peeple who wudnt wurk.
"When I wus er chap I wus tole dar wus ghost or haints, an' wus skeerd uf 'em, but I niver seed one in my life an' now doan believe in dem things. When yer die yer aint cumin' back here.
"Mammy all de time kep' er horse shoe nailed over de frunt door uf her cabin, an' whar eber she wud move ter, she all ways tuk dat horse shoe. Dat kept bad luck frum follerin' her. An' den she burnt salt in de fire when eber er old scrich owl wud holler, an' den we turn'd our pockets wrong side out. Mammy sed dat wud keep offen de bad luck, kase iffen yer didnt do dat sum body wus sho' gwine ter die.
"After Sam an' me cum ter de railroad, mammy cum out dar fur er while; she wus sick an' sed sumbody hed cast er spell on her. Dr. Wroten, give her sum med'cine, an' she went back home, in Amite County an' died, not long afte' dat. Pappy lived 'bout two years an' den he died. Dey bofe buried in Amite County.
"I niver jined er church, kase I know'd I might dance an' dey wud turn me out. In dem days, de church folks jes lovd ter turn yer out uf de church. Afte' I moved ter Beartown I jined de "Triumph and Kingdom uf God" church. Rev. C. C. Coleman is my pastor. Dat has been twenty years er go. an' mos' uf dat time I has been whut yer call de "Mother uf de Church" --- an' de church peeple he'p look afte' me now. I wurk hard to he'p build this chruch. I am er widder but I has bin able ter wurk till I got hurt an' now I jes can git er 'bout. My chaps he'ps me sumtimes.
Orris Harris just outside of the corporation of McComb, on the southern outskirts in a small village known as "Beartown". The negro quarters of McComb. She is real talkative but crippled. Orris is a bright yellow negro, rather stout, weighs about 140 pounds and is about five feet high. She has a round face and her general health seems to be good. She was (in) an auto wreck and broke her hip and leg; she is up and walks on crutches. She appears to be a darkey who wants to be "looked up" to.
Interviewer: Mrs. Holmes
Transcribed by Ann Allen Geoghegan
The Federal Writer’s Project of
The Works Progress Administration
For the State of Mississippi