Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
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From the WPA Slave Narratives:
"Yes, mam, I sure can tell you all about it 'cause I was there when it all happened. My grandfather Peter, Grandmother Millie, my Father, John, and my Mother, Frances, all came from Alabama to Yazoo County, Mississippi, to live in the Love family. There names were Dennis when they came but after the custom of them days, they took the name of Love from their new owner. Me and all of my brothers and sisters were born right there. There were eleven head of us. I was the oldest. Then came Harry, John, William, Henry, Phillis, Polly, Nellie, Virginia, Millie, and the baby Ella. We all lived in the quarters and our beds were home made. They had wooden legs and canvas stretched across. I can't remember so much about the quarters because about that time the young Miss married Col. Johnson and moved to his place in Carroll County. She carried with her over one hundred head of darkies and our names was changed from Love to Johnson. My new master was sure a fine gentleman and he lived in a big white house that had two stories on it, and big white posts in front. There were flowers all around it that just set it off.
Master took me for the house boy, and I carried my head high. He would say to me. "Prince, do you know who you were named for", and I would say to him, "Yes sir, Prince Albert." And then he would say to me, "Well, always carry yourself like he did." To this good day I holds myself like Master said.
On certain days of the week one of the old men on the place took us house servants to the field to learn us to work. We was brought up to know how to do anything that came to hand. Master would let us work at odd times for out siders and we could use the money we made for anything we pleased. My grandmother sold enough corn to buy her two feather beds. We always had plenty to eat. The old folks did the cooking for all the field hands, 'cept on Sunday when each family cooked for his self. Old Miss would come every Sunday morning with sugar and white flour. We would most generally have fish, rabbits, 'possums or coons. Lord Child! those possums was good eating. I can tate them now. Folks these days don't know nothing about good eating. My master had a great big garden for every body and I ain't never seen such sweet 'tatoes as grew in that garden. They were so sweet the sugar would bust right through the peeling when you roast them on the hearth. Old Aunt Emily cooked for all the children on the place. Half an hour by the sun, they were all called in to supper. They had pot licker and ash cake and such things as would make them grow to be strong and healthy. Those children didn't know nothing about all those fancy ailments what children have now. They ran and played all day in their shirt tails in the summer time, but when winter came they had good warm clothes same as us older ones. One day Master's children and all the colored children slipped off to the orchard. They were eating green apples fast as they could swallow, when who should come riding up but Master himself. He lined them all up, black and white alike, and cut a keen switch and there was not a one in that line that didn't get a few licks. Then he called the old doctor woman and made her give them every one a dose of medicine. There wasn't one of them that got sick. Master and old Miss had five children. They are all dead and gone now, and I am still here. One of his sons was a Supreme Judge before he died. My folks were sure quality. Master bought all the little places around us so he wouldn't have no poor white trash neighbors. Yes sir! he owned about thirty-five hundred acres and at least a hundred and fifty slaves. Every morning about four o'clock we could hear that horn blow for us to get up and go to the field. We always quit work before the sun went down, and never worked at night. The overseer was a white man. His name was Josh Neighbors, but the driver was a colored man, "Old Man Henry." He wasn't allowed to mistreat nobody. If he got too upety they called his hand right now. The rule was if a nigger wouldn't work he would be sold. Another rule on that place was that if a man got dissatisfied he was to go to old Master and ask him to put him in his pocket. That meant he wanted to be sold, and the money he brought to be put in the pocket. I ain't never known of but two asking to be put in the pocket, and both of them was put in.
They had jails in those days but they were built for white folk. No colored person was ever put in one of them 'till after the War. We didn't know nothing about them things. 'Course old Miss knowed about them 'cause she knowed everything. I recollect she told me one day that she had learning in five different languages. None of us didn't have no learning at all. That is, we didn't have no book learning. There wasn't no teachers or anything of that kind, but we sure were taught to be Christians. Everything on that place was a blue stocking Presbyterian. When Sunday came we dressed all clean and nice and went to Church. There wasn't no separate church for the colored. We went to the white folks church and set in the gallery. We had a fine preacher. His name was Cober. He could sure give out the words of wisdom. We didn't have big baptizings like was had on heaps of the places, 'cause Presbyterians don't go down under the water like the Baptist does. Old Miss wouldn't stand for no such things as voodoo and "hants". When she inspected us once a week, you better not have no charm round your heck. She would not as much as let us wear a bag of asafetida, and most folks believed that would keep off sickness. She called such as that superstition and she says we was enlightened Christian Presbyterians and as such we must conduct ourselves. She didn't want to hear of no stories being told 'bout "hants" and ghosts cause there wan't no such things. I speck she was right 'cause I ain't never seed one in all the ninety years I've been living. If one of the slaves died he was sure given a grand Christian funeral. All of us mourners were there. Services were conducted by the white preacher. Just before the war came on, my Master called me to him and told me he was going to take me to North Carolina to his brother for safe keeping. Right then I knowed something was wrong, and I was wishing from the bottom of my heart the 'Publicans would stay out of our business and not get us all 'sturbed in the mind.
Nobody worked after dinner on Saturday. We took that time to scrub ourselves and our houses so as to be ready for inspection Sunday morning. Some Saturday nights we had dances. The same old fiddler played for us that played for the white folks. And could he play! When he got that old fiddle out you couldn't keep your foots still. When Christmas came that was the time of all times on that old plantation. They don't have no such as that now. Every child brought a stocking up to the big house to be filled. They all wanted one of Old Miss'es stockings cause now she weighted near on to three hundred pounds. Candy was put in piles for each person. When their names were called they walked up and got it, and everything there was for him besides. We didn't work on New Year's day. We could go to town or anywhere we liked, but we didn't have no kind of celebration. The most fun a person can have is at a "corn shucking". You have two captains and they each choose the ones they want on their side. Then the shucking begins. The last one I 'tended, the side I was on beat by three barrels. We put our Captain on our shoulders and rode him up and down while every body cheered and clapped their hands like the world was coming to an end. You can't make mention of nothing good that we didn't have to eat after the "shucking." I studies about those days now. The big parties at the white folks house, and me all dressed up with tallow on my face to make it shine, serving the guests. Just when everything was going on fine a sad thing happened. A thing I ain't never made mention of before. My young Misses, Miss Farrell, the one named for her Ma, ups and runs off and marries the son of the Irish ditcher that dug all the ditches on the place. My Miss wouldn't have done that if they had let her married the man she wanted to. They didn't think he was good enough for her, so just to spite them, she marries the son of the Irish ditcher. Old Miss wouldn't have nothing more to do with her, same as if she wasn't her own child, but I would go over to see her, and carry her milk, and things out of the garden. It was pitiful to see my Miss poor and when I couldn't stand it no longer, I walks right up to Old Miss, and I says, "Old Miss, does you know Miss Farrell ain't got no cow." She just set there like she ain't heard me, and put her lips together tight as she could, but she won't say nothing, so I couldn't do no more but walk off and leave her. Pretty soon she called, "Prince!" I says, "Yes, mam". She says, "Seeing you is so concerned 'bout Miss Farrell not having no cow you better take one to her." I says, "Where is the rope." She says, "I don't know nothing 'bout no rope." I found the rope and carried the best cow and calf in the lot to Miss Farrell. Shortly after that I left with Old Master to go to North Carolina.
Things went on on his brother's place pretty much as they did at home. I stayed there all four years of the war, and longer. I couldn't leave because the men folks all went to war and I had to stay and protect the women folks. The day peace was declared wagon loads of people rode all through the place telling us we was free, and that we didn't have no more Miss and Master. The old Colonel was killed in battle and his wife had died. The young Master called us in and said it was all true, that we were free as he was, and we could leave when ever we got ready. He said his money wasn't good any more and he didn't have no other money to pay us with. I can't recollect whether he got new money and paid us or not, but I do 'member we every last one of us stayed. I never left that place till my young master, Mr. Jim Johnson, the one that was the Supreme Judge, came for me. He was living then in South Carolina. He took us all home with him. We got there in time to vote for Gov. Wade Hamilton. We put him in office too. I have seen a many patrol in my life time, but they never did have enough nerve to come on uses place. Now the Ku Klux was different. I have ridden with them a many a time. It was the only way in them days to keep order. When I was about twenty-two years old, I married Clara Breaden. I had two children by her, Diana, and Davis. My second wife's name was Annie Bet Woods. I had six children by her. Mary, Ella, John D., Claud, William, and Prince, Jr. Three boys and two girls are still living. I live with my daughter Claud who is farming a place about five miles from Clarksdale. I have about fifteen head of grandchildren and ever last one of them is farmers. Things is all peaceful now, but the world was sure stirred up when Abraham Lincoln was elected. I remember well when they killed him. We had a song about him that went like this:
"Jefferson Davis rode the milk white steed,
Lincoln rode the mule,
Jef Davis was a mighty fine man,
And Lincoln was a fool."
One of the little girls was singing that song one day and she mixed them names up. She had it that Davis was the fool. I have laughed about that a many a time. When Misses finished with her she had sure broke her from sucking eggs.
When things all got peaceful like I begun yearning to get back to my old home in Mississippi, so I came and I been here ever since. Maybe things is better as they is today. Most folks says so any way, but if Old Master was living, I for one would be better off. I can hear him say to me now, "Prince Albert, who is you named for. Well then hold your head high so folks can see you is aristocratic."
When I got back to Mississippi, I went in with a man named Mr. Jim Somerville. The first thing I done was to join the Democrat Club at Carrollton. Yes Sir, I joined that Club, put on the red shirt, and hoped them run all of the scalawags away from there. My young master had always told me to live for my country. I had seed too much of that war, not to know all about what was going on. For three years of the time, I had hauled food for the soldiers. I went behind old Uncle Joe, who had charge of it, and it was him who corrected me but I sure did that for three years. After everything got quiet and peaceful like in Mississippi, I started farming on Mr. Armstrong's place. He was a big rich man what lived near Vaiden. He sure treated the folks on his place fair and square. I bought 360 acres of land from him. I is a nigger what has sure been prosperous in my life. Besides the land I had, I owned 30 head of cattle, 14 mules and 60 hogs. Every year I was making 125 bales of cotton. I was bringing up my family right; teaching my children to be good Blue Stocking Presbyterians. For thirty years I stayed right there, always making a good living. All around the country I was knowed and everybody had confidence in me.
Every year I would take five of the white misses over to French Camp to school. We traveled in a wagon. The trip was too long to make in one day. We would stop at Mr. Stone's house where the young ladies would spend the night and I stayed with a friend of mine nearby. Early the next morning we would get started and continue on our journey to the school. I sure did take just as good care of those young Misses as their mother could have. In all the trips I made with them, there ain't never so much as a hair in one of their heads been harmed. I 'spected to spend the rest of my days right there on the same place, but you never can tell in this life whats going to happen. During the Cleveland Administration, cotton went to a nickle a pound. That was the year I lost my land. Mr. Armstrong went broke, and I went right down with him. We was both plumb busted. I crossed over the creek and bought me a place for $1,500, trying to see if I couldn't get on my feet again. That man I bought from sure did treat me bad. My young master came to see 'bout me, and he told me there warn't no use my paying no more on that place 'cause they ain't never made me out no bond for title.
No matter how much I paid it wouldn't do no good without the bond for title. Any man what would do the like of that can't 'speck their children to come to no good. I left that place and went to the Dike plantation near Drew. I was anxious to get to the Delta 'cause the boll weevil was getting bad where I was. I made two crops there in the year 1922-23. They treated me bad there too. I made 76 bales of cotton, and didn't get my seed money. From there we went from place to place, working as share croppers. Things was so bad during the depression it was hard to make a living anywhere. Four or five years ago we moved on this place with Mr. Mays, and we is getting along tollible well here. My crop is good and I's got a nice garden. Them nice tender greens what you see there I planted on the last day of August.
You was asking me about the slave uprisings. I knows what you mean about that, and thats all. Never in my life has I seed anything like that. Never, never, never! Where I was brought up, the white man knowed his place, and we knowed ours. Both of us stayed in our place, and we didn't have no lynchings.
Suppose from the way he used the expression, he meant common sense.
I show do know all about Booker T. Washington. He came to Mississippi once and held his meeting in Jackson. Me and my Presbyterian Minister went to Jackson to that meeting. He made a grand talk. Everything he said was helpful to the colored race. If we had taken his teaching we would have been better off today. He made mention about putting money in the Bank. Said every darkie from a cook on should save some money. Lots of darkies made memberance of that, and did it. He also told us the first thing for us to learn was to work. He says all the schooling in the world won't help none if you ain't got no mother wit* and if you didn't know how to meet a good hog when you sees one. All his teachings was rightful not only to the colored, but white folks says so too. Its a pity we ain't got more folks like Booker T. to guide us now that we ain't got no Old Miss and Master to do so.
Transcribed by Ann Allen Geoghegan
The Federal Writer’s Project of
The Works Progress Administration
For the State of Mississippi
"If you teach them where they come from, they won't need as much help finding where they are going!"
Cordelia Carothers " Aunt Dee" Geoghegan (1894-1987)
Project Manager: Ann Allen Geoghegan
Assistant State Coordinators and
Transcriptionists: Ann Allen Geoghegan, Debbie Leftwich, and
Rose Diamond and Linda Durr Rudd
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Unknown worker photograph provided by L. Stephen Bell Photography, and family photo albums of Karen Schweikle, Lucy Gray and Jens Burkhart.
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