Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
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From the WPA Slave Narratives:
Wash Hayes, ex-slave, lives about four miles from Mendenhall, Mississippi in Simpson County on his own small farm. One of his sons and family live with him. He was born about 1860, was owned during slavery time by William Hayes, commonly known as Billy Hayes, in Simpson County. He weighs one hundred and forty five pounds and is five feet and six inches in height. His health is very good and he is yet strong enough to work around the place. His general coloring is a dark blackish brown, his head is partly ball. He tells the following of his life.
"I was too little to recollect any thing fo' de war but I knows how dey lived back in dem days. My ole Marse's home is still a standin' jes' a few miles from whar I'se a livin'. Its ole an' 'bout to fall down an' ain't got much ob a roof on hit. De slave cabins has done all rotted down years ago. Ain't no sign o' whar dey stood. I goes over deir once in a while an' looks 'round an' thinks ob de days an' times that use to be.
"I can't tell much 'bout my grand parents as back in deir days dey was bought, sold an' traded 'round so much it was impossible to keep trace ob some ob 'em. My grand parents was seperated years ago by slave traders. Dey never knowed whut become ob 'em cause deir names was changed as dey passed from one slave to another. Dats' why I'se called Hayes 'cause Marse Billy Hayes owned us when we was freed.
"My grand pappy was a slave in Virgiana but was sole away when pa was a small boy. We don't know who bought him or whar he went as he was took off wid a heap o' others to be sole down de country. Den when my pa was fourteen years old he was sole at a auction to Wane Anderson, a slave trader. He say he was brung down here in a covered wagon. Dey would stop at points an' sell some ob de slaves but my pa was held 'till he got to Mississippi whar he was sole to my ole Marse William Hayes.
"My grand mammy was named Caroline an' she was sole to traders from Virgiana an' brung down to Mississippi. She never did see her people no more. She met grand pappy down here an' dey got married. It happened dey was on de same plantation. Yo' see Marse Billy owned three purty good size plantations wid several families o' slaves on each one. He had over-seers to look after 'em an' he rode a fine purty ho'se from one to de other a seein' 'bout everything. He was good to his slaves but he had 'em whipped now an' den. De whippin' was alwa's purty tough as dey used ho'se whips an' long switches. Dey was stripped off to de waist an' tied to a tree an' whipped. Now I never seed a whippin' block or whar dey was put in stock, but I'se heard my pappy tell o' how de slave buyers would come through and de slaves would be lined up in long rows an' marched up to a cross rood generally, an' put up fer sale. Sometimes dey would bring a good price ob several hundred dollars, den dey was took off to no tellin' whar an' folks would never know ob 'em no mo'.
"My pappy done fiel' wuk in season but de mos' ob de time he was de shoe maker fer all de slaves on Marse's three plantations. Dat kept him busy mos' ob de time. De shoes was made from rough cow hide wid brass on put on de toes to keep 'em from wearin' out so soon. When de slaves was give a pair ob dem shoes he knowed dey sho' had to las' a long time. Now de clothes dey wore was lak de shoes plain an' course. Dey had to wear mos' anything dey could git deir han's on. I'se heard my pa say dat dey had to wash 'en on Saturday nights an' dry 'em by de fire. Dey wore 'bout de same things on Sundays jes' washed up a bit. Deir wasn't no whar to go much back in dem days on Sundays only to Church 'bout one Sunday out ob each month. De slaves mos' an' generally was tired out an lay 'round 'an rested.
"Back in dem days de darkies wasn't never gibe no book learnin' to amount to anything an' not knowin' much dey couldn't understand much 'bout things an' was terrible superstitious. My pappy an' mammy believed in haints, ghos' an' hoo doo. Dey watched all kinds o' queer signs an' believed in 'em. Dey would tell hair raisin' tales ob hob gobblins an' things dey was scared ub. I recollect one time my ma was gwine through a fiel' one bright moon light night. She was already scart an' excited an' expecting some 'em when she say she looked a little ways across de fiel's an' seed a man wid long white hair a swingin' 'round in de moon light. She say it looked lak he jes' flooted 'long instead ob walkin', he looked bright eyed an' sad. He kept a gittin' closer an' closer to her. She knowed he was a ghos' as she could see slap through 'em. She say she ran as fas' as she could a screamin' till she got to de slave cabins an' was scart to look back to see if he was still a followin' her.
"De fust things I can recollect de war to free us was gwine on. De darkies as well as de white folks was havin' a time. De slaves was tole dat dey would git land an' a mule an sech things if dey was freed, but dey never did git nothin'. After de surrender Marse Billy let us go right on free. We rented places an' wuked fer wages. De Ku Klux was a meddlin' so wid colored people till we stayed scart to death. Dey would Klan up an' whip de colored folks if dey didn't do to suit every body. Me and my folks was so scart ob 'em an' stayed so shy ob 'em till I never knowed much 'bout 'em more than dey rid, whipped an' tormented darkies some 'em terrible.
"My pappy use to alwa's voted an' I did too up till de las' several years an' I quit foolin' wid it. It didn't seem to do no good, or make no difference to no body who was 'lected in de offices an' I jes' quit botherin' wid it.
"I met Melinda at Church on Sunday. Me or her neither had no notion ob gittin' married, but I laked her looks, she was purty an' a bright yellow. I courted an' sparked her, went to her house an' walked about wid her till we decided to git married. Now a heap o' boys tried to beat my time wid her but I was de lucky fellow. We had a grand weddin' an' had a big supper an' frolic dat night. We had plenty ob dancin' wid fiddle music an' an accordian playin' an' darkies singin' dem ole songs ob long ago. Dey was a few white folks at our weddin' cermony but ob course dey didn't stay fo' de frolic. Melinda sho was dressed up purty fo' de weddin'. She was all in white wid lace, ribbons an' flowers. She did look good to me. We raised nine chillun an' gibe 'em some education. Dey has made good farmers an' all is doing very well. Melanie an' me wuked hard an' got our home an' tried to alwa's keep it fixed up. My hobby in life was to be a home builder. I has alwa's liked to hunt an' fish. In my yound days I danced an' sung a heap but fer years I'se been too ole but I leans on my Church. Melinda has been dead fifteen years an' I ain't never married no mo'.
"De young colored folks ob dis day ain't a 'mountin' to nothin'. Dey is wild, rough an' uneducated. Dey could git educated if dey wanted to but dey jes' ain't a doin' it.
Transcribed by Ann Allen Geoghegan
The Federal Writer’s Project of
The Works Progress Administration
For the State of Mississippi