Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
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From the WPA Slave Narratives:
Chaney Mack - age 74
Foreword: Chaney is 74 years old, five feet and four inches in height, weighs 125 pounds. She is what they call "Gingercake" in coloring. She dresses neatly and spends a great deal of time visiting among the white folks she has known these many years. The Negroes look up to her and she lords it over them in church and civic matters. She is "authority" in her small circle of black folk. She is no longer able to earn a living; is quite lame from a fall she got when she "tried to jump a branch." She walks with a cane. She "doctors" herself with herbs she gets from the woods, as taught her by her Indian mother. When asked to tell something about her father's life in Africa, she talked freely, as follows:
"Yes, my father was a full-blood African. He was about 18 years old when they brought him over. He come from near Liberia. He said his mother's name was "Chaney" and dats whar I gits my name. He said dar want no winter whar he come from and if dey felt like it, dey could all go "start naked." He wore a slip made of skins of wild animals, that come down to his knees. When ships would land in Africa, the black folks would go down to watch them and sometimes they would show them beads and purty things they carried on the ship. One day when my daddy and his brother, Peter, was standing round looking de Boss-man axed dem if dey wanted to work and handed dem a package to carry on de boat. When dey got in there dey see so many curious things dey jest wander aroun' looking, and before they know it the boat has pulled off from de landing and dey is way out in de water and kaint hep demselves, so they jest brought 'em on over to Georgy and sold 'em. There was a boat load of them --- all stolen. Dey sold my daddy and uncle Peter to Mr. Holland. He was put up on a block and Mr. Holland buyed him. Dat was in Dalton, Georgy.
"My daddy said in Africa, dey didn't live in houses. Dey jest lived in de woods, and et nuts, and wild honey they found in trees. Dey killed wild animals, skinned dem and et 'em, but made slips out of de skins to wear demselves. Dey jest eat them animals raw. Dey didn't know nothin' bout cooking. They even et snakes, but when they found 'em, they cut dere heads off quick, fore dey got mad and "pizened" demselves.
"He said dey never heard about God, and when they died dey always bury dem at night. Dey dig a hole in the groun' and den everybody would git him a torch and march behind the two who was carrying the corpse to whar dey dug de grave. Dey didn't know anything bout singing and God. Dat was de last of dem.
"They didn't make crops over there. Dey jest lived on things that growed on tress, and killed wild animals. Ef dey got too hungry, dey would jest as soon kill each other and eat 'em. Dey didn't know any better.
"When he come over here it went purty hard wid him having to wear clothes, live in houses and work. So he run away ever chance he got and went to de woods and hides hisself. When dey got too hot after him he'd come home. His old Masta warnt mean to him and would ask him, "What made you run away, Tom?" and he would tell him de driver beat him and he didn't want to be whupped. Den old masta told de driver to quit whuppin' Tom.
"He made him self a fiddle outa pine bark and usta play fer us to dance. He taught me to dance when I was little like dey did in Africa. Dey dance by derselves or swing each other 'round. Dey didn't know nothing 'bout dese "huggin' dances.
"I'd be settin' on my daddy's lap and he'd tell me all 'bout when he lived in Africa. He usta play de fiddle and sing 'bout "Africa------Dat Good Ole Land."------and den he would cry, when he thought of his mother back dere.
"My father wasn't much taller then me. After de war was over, dey carried boat loads of black folks back to Africa from Georgy. In 1884, he got up one mawning and walked round de house. My boy axed whar he was goin' and he said "I be back directly"--and we ain't never seen him sence. We think he went with Bishop Turner, an A. M. E. bishop of Atlanta, Ga. It was after the earthquake in Charleston, S. C. He was carryin' dem over dere until the people of Georgy made him quit. Dey wouldn't 'low his boats to land in Georgy. After Bishop Jones come to our church to talk 'bout taking dem back to Africa, my daddy walk off de next day and we aint seen or heard from him sence. He didn't come home dat night, nor de nex'---we all got busy to hunt him. He was jest homesick fer Africa--likes I get homesick fer Georgy. Ef I knowed whar any of Dr Jarnigan's folks was, I'd go back now. Dey never would let me suffer fer anything long as any of dem was living. I can't understand dese
Mississippi niggers, always talking how mean dere white folks was to dem. Sometimes I think dey musta got whut was comin' to dem. We was good to our white folks and dey was good to us. We never got no whuppings like dey say dey did.
"My mother was a pureblood Indian. She was born near dat "Lookout Mountain" up in Tennessee, on a river, in a log hut. Dey lived in houses and her father was de Indian chief. His name was "Red Bird." Dey belong to de Choctaw tribe. De white people was trying to drive dem out and in an uprising wid de whites, all my mothers' folks was killed but her. The white folks took her and give her to Dr. Jernigan.
"She was big enough to know they was fighting and trying to drive 'em out. Her mother's name was "Marthy." She remembers when dey usta have "Green Corn Dances." Dey cooked all dere stuff together in a big pot, green corn, butter beans, and rabbit or any other kind of animal dey killed. After dey all eat dey have a big dance round de pot and call it de "Green Corn Dance." Dey used to make dere own whiskey out of corn and oats. Dey'd walk 50 mile to get a drink of whiskey. Dey sho' loved dere whiskey. Dey had holler canes what dey toted dere whiskey in. They lived in log huts, they cooked all their stuff together in big pots. They believed in de "Big Spirit."
"Some of dem was wild like Africans and dey didn't blieve in God, but my mother's folks did. She would git mad at us sometime, and when she did we would all "step light." I can see her now wid her long straight hair in two plaits hanging down her back, black as a crow. She'd look at us and say: "Ye pore sinner, fell from de rock, De day de moon went down in blood." Den she was going to whup somebody tell she see blood. She whupped my daddy jest the same as de rest of us. He was short--- no taller than me, and she was seven foot (?) tall. Dey call her "Big Sarah", and nobody fooled wid her. She walk straight and hold her head high. All of de other niggers was afraid of her. She usta whistle "Fisher's Horn Pipe." Dat was an Indian song dey sung when dey was mad. I never could "ketch" it. When she say good mawning to anybody, she say: "Com-missa---va." Den de udder one would answer, "I'm all right." Effen someone come up to de door to listen, she say: "Space." Dat mean "Go on." When she call us to breakfast, she say: "Spece-mena." Dat would mean, "Come git something to eat." Then she would hand us a big wooden tray, wid wooden spoons, and all de somethin' to eat would be in dat tray. We never know nothing' bout going to de table to eat wid de grown folks.
"When de Yankees come, I was playin' in de yard, makin' mud pies, wid de Doctor's little girl---name "Marthy." We heered a racket down de road dat went: "Shacky--shacky--shacky." We looked down dat way and saw somthing blue coming wid something shining. We run in de house and tole 'em "De world has turn blue, and was shinin'." My mother come to de door and hung up a white strip of cloth. Dat meant "peace." Old Masta was in de room and he run up dat ladder to de loft and drapt dat door down quick. My mother grabbed de ladder and broke it up 'fore dem Yankees could git dar and throwed it in de corner fer fire wood. Den dey rode up on dere hosses, got down and come in de house. Dey was all dressed in blue, wid brass buttons and carried swords and guns. It look lak dere was a whole regiment of 'em. Dey axed my Mama who she 'blong to. She tole 'em she don't 'blong to nobody but herself. Dat she lived dere wid Dr. Jernigan's famly and took keer of his chillun. Den dey say? "What you doin' wid dat white baby and dat black baby." She say: "Dis white chile is my ole Mis's baby." My old Mis' die when dis baby was born." Dis black baby is mine and Tom's." Den dey axed her whar de money was. She tole 'em dey didn't have no money---dey had jest a livin. Den she cook up some hams and hoecakes fer dem. Dey didn't have no cook stoves dem days. Dey cooked in big fire places, in pots hung on hooks. Dey could bake cakes and chickens and hams in dem pots, too. My Mama was a good cook. I was a "seven-months" baby, and was a sickly chile. Dey put me on a terbacco pipe when I was little and always let me have de chicken and turkey backs. Dats all I eat of dem now.
Dey used to cook bread in de ashes and call it "Ash cake." De way dey cooked it was to: "make de dough outa meal or flour and wrop it up in collard leaves, den lay it on de coals and kivver wid ashes. When it had cooked done, it come out clean as if it had a been cooked in a pan. Dat was good eatin." Dey made hoe-cakes, Johnnie cakes, or any kind of bread dat way.
De songs my mother used to sing was "Over Jordan River, I'm Bound to Cross" and "Swing Low Sweet Chariot." When she sing us to sleep she'd sing: "Bye ye Baby Buntin'--Daddy's gone a huntin'---To git a little Rabbit Skin, To Wrop de Baby Buntin' in."
She usta say "Come on--papoo" and den she'd put us in a basket and tote us on her shoulder.
Before de war was over we all 'blong to de Methodist Church wid de white folks. We'd set on the bench wid our white folks. Now we b'longs to the African Methodist Church whut was started by an African Methodist preacher.
All my folks lived to be old 'cept de one de slate mine caved in on. Dat was my brother Mose. My mother lived to be 112, and den she jest drap dead from joy when dey tole her dat Rachel, my sister what we hadn't seen in a long time, was still alive. Den my brother Jim lived to be 90. I members how dey usta git married. Dey called it "Jumpin' Over De Broom." When a man wanted to git married he tole his boss and sometimes his boss would talk to de woman's boss and dey would agree to let dem git married. Sometimes dey would sell one to de odder so's dey could be together, er if they didn't wanta sell dey jest "stipulated" when dey could visit dere women. It was mostly on Saddy nights, and sometimes dey would let dem stay over Sunday. When dey got ready to marry de old
Masta would say, "Now Git ready to Jump de Broom." De Old Masta would hold de broom. Dey would hold hands and jump dis way and den back again. Den Old Masta would say: "You is Married." Dat de way the cullud folks got married but de Indians was different, and dis is de way dey done:
"De Chief would marry dem. He was always standing, and dey would stand before him and hold hands. The Chief would say:
"He is black; she is yaller;
Made out of beeswax, and no taller,
Salute your bride, you ugly feller!" (or devil)
Dat was how my mother say de Indians married when she was a little girl in Tennessee.
When my mother got to thinking about her folks sometime, she'd sit down and sing: "Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Comin' to Carry Me Back Home." Den we'd all gether round her cause we'd know she was thinkin' bout her folks back dere. She would cry and we would all cry together. Nobody fooled wid my mother. She'd grab a man by de collar, throw him down and set on him. Dat gal of mine is jest like her. Nobody fools round Rachel. Her daddy was Monroe Johnson and he was part Indian too. My mother loved to wear red. She dressed like a Gipsy, and always had a long red cape.
Granddaughter of the old Indian Chief, Red Bird, of Tennessee, and daughter of the black man, Tom, from the jungles of Africa--Chanie Mack, talks interestingly of the earthquake in Charleston, S. C. in 1884. She says her baby was two weeks old and she dates most of her stories since the war from the times her children were born.
"It was in August, and de year President Harrison was elected. I members de song dey sung when dey thought Cleveland had been elected instead of Harrison. I was livin' in Greensboro, AL after Cleveland's first time as president, and dey was running him fer de second term 'gainst Harrison. De day of the 'lection, all Greensboro, both white and black, went solid fer Cleveland. Dat night dey burned all de coffins in town dey could fin' and say dey was burning Harrison in 'em. Den dey marched up and down de street singing:
"Cleveland got elected,
Which was more dan we expected,
Climbin' up de golden stairs.
Hear dem bells a ringing, Sweet I do declare,
Hear dem darkies singing, climbing up de golden stairs,
"Harrison was at de back step,
Shining up de shoes,
Cleveland in de big house,
Reading up de news,
Climbing up de golden stairs.
Hear dem bells a-ringing, sweet I do declare,
Hear dem darkies singing, "Climbin' up de golden Stairs."
I went up town next day and axed Mr. Jeffrey, an old white gentleman, "who went in?" He say: "Harrison." But Cleveland went in next time. All de niggers was fer him same as de whites.
Dat was de same year of de Charleston earthquake. I members how de dishes fell out-a de shelves and all de niggers thought de worl' was comin' to an end."
Going back to her childhood, Chanie tells of how her mother would gather her children around the fireside and talk to them about things she had seen in her life and of things that would happen in their lives that she would not live to see.
"She ust-a tell us about when de stars fall in 1813. She saw de Comet-star den--a star wid a long tail. She tole us dat dar would be another war, and we'd see another comet. She said she could read dem stars. Den she said we would live to see waggins run widout horses, and every nation would go back to dere own home by de end of time, and at de end of de nex' war dat de bottom rail would come to de top--and dat dere would be war and rumors of war; kinfolks agin kinfolks; daughter agin mother, sons agin fathers. She say she see all dem things in de future through de stars. We chillun would set round de fire and lissen to her talk. She lived to be 112 years old. She ust-a go out at night and look up at de stars and den come back and tell us what was gona happen."
"My father was stolen from the jungles of Africa and brought on a slave ship to Georgia where he was sold on the block to Mr. Joe Holland, who owned a plantation near Dalton, Ga. He said in Africa dey didn't wear clothes, ceptin' a shirt made out-a skins of wild animals dat dey kill and eat raw. Dey saved de hides and made demselves shirts. His old masta was good to him. He learned to play de fiddle and would play for dances. One of his favorite tunes he used to play was: "Run nigger, run, de pat-a-roller'll git you; Dat nigger run, dat nigger flew, dat nigger tore his shirt in two." He was low and short---'bout five foot, but my mama was 7 foot tall and weighed 390 pounds. Dey called her "Big Sarah," and after she got to be an old woman, dey called her "Grandma Sarah"---cause she was a midwife. She made her own medicine from herbs, and she taught me to make medicines. Some of de things she used in her medicines was: Red shank, cherry bark, dog-wood bark, prickly-ash roots, bamboo roots, and blackhaw roots.
Although Chanie is almost seventy-five years old, she is going to take her first ride in an airplane next Sunday. Johnny Robinson, the black boy who distinguished himself in Ethiopia as head of Emperor Haile Selassi's Imperial flying corps, is an old neighbor of Chanie's, and he has promised to take her up in his plane for a ride over the city. She is looking forward to that event with much pleasure.
Chanie is a cheerful old soul; loves and trusts her "white friends" implicitly. She says she'll never want for bread long as any of them are living.
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
Banner designed by: Melissa McCoy-Bell
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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