Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
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From the WPA Slave Narratives:
Foreword: Alex Montgomery, who lives in Lexie, Mississippi, about one fourth of a mile north of the school, tells me about his life. Alex is old and stooped from the waist; walks with a stick. Weighs 165, so he said and is 6 feet 3 inches tall. Has bad teeth and deaf as a post. Has a long face an' grey moustache and hair.
I wus eight years old an' a lil'l better when de big war closed; dey told me I wus born in eighteen an' fifty-seven. I wus born in Clyde County, Georgia, near Cary Springs, an' Cary Springs wus eleben miles frum the big town of Rome.
A man by de name uf Mr. Bill Montgomery wus my Marster; he had a big house an' a big plantation an' mammy sed he had one hundred an' eight slaves' he had an overseer by de name uf Hodges. Marse Bill wus good to his slaves but de overseer wus mighty tight on dem. He wus free wid de whip an' he had no mercy on dem; he made 'em wurk mi'ty hard. He wus riding dat hoss all over dat plantation all day long an' carried dat long whip wid him.
When come Sat'day dinner, dey all knocked off frum de fiel' an' had deir rashuns dished out to dem, so much fur ebery fam'ly. Dey got meal an' meat an' 'taters an' lasses an' sometimes got butter. An' round Christmas times dey got cheese, an' when dar wus a beef kilt all de slaves got deir share.
Marse Bill had ten chulluns an' de two oldest boys went to de war - deir names wus George an' Styles. Young Marse George wus shot an' dey sont him home an' he lived 'bout a week an' died; Marse Styles wus shot threw de head an' somebody sed he wus dead when he hit de ground. Dey neber brung him home; we neber seed him er gin afte' he went to de war. Marse George wus buried right dar near de big house; dey buried him in his uniform; he sho' wus a fine lookin' dead man; I seed him in his coffin.
We black chaps neber stayed round de big house much; we stayed in de quarters an' an old black woman by de name uf 'Granny' tuck keer uf us while our mammies wus in de fiel' --- but ebery day two wimen brung big pots uf pot licker an' corn bread down in de quarters an' poured it in big troughs an' we all wus handed a spoon an' told to eat it. Sometimes Granny roasted tater in de fire place an' give us one an' sometimes she parched goobers an' let us eat dem --- we had thick black lasses an' sometimes we got a piece uf bread an' dug a hole inside uf it an' den filled dat hole wid lasses, an' dat wus jes' like cake to us. All de cake we eber had to eat wus made wid meal an' lasses. My mammy useter cook pumpkin pie an' put lasses in dat an' I like dat now. I neber want pumpkin sweetened wid sugar.
Ebery Sat'day memmy wash'd our clothes an' patched an' pappy went off to some udder plantation; sometimes he had a pass an' sometimes he had none but wud jes' slip off. De patroller got him sometimes too. One time pappy run all de way home an' he wus yellin' fur mammy to open de door; mammy opened de door an' pappy fell inside an' mammy shut dat door to keep de dogs frum comin' in; but de patroller, he jes' come right in an' got my pappy by his shirt at de back uf de neck an' tuck him outside an' made him pull his shirt off an he whupped him hard. I cried an' cried. But dat didnt keep my pappy home. He went when eber he wanted to go, even if he did have to take a whuppin'.
Mammy sed she didnt keer if de patroller did git him; he wus gwine to see udder wimen; my pappy wus bad 'bout wimen. Sometimes he an' mammy wud fight bout his gwine out at night. Mammy had six chulluns by pappy; dey wus all boys an' I am de only one livin now. My mammy done well to raise dat many chulluns an' none uf dem eber wus in jail. De overseer neber did whup me but my mammy wurk'd on my back an' sed I wus triflin' --- De only wurk I eber done fur old Marse Bill wus pickin' up tater when dey wus plowin' dem up; he had four hosses an' plows in dat patch an' a drove uf black chulluns pickin up taters an' pilin' dem in rows, an' den some men wid a wagon wud come an' haul dem to de big bard whar dey stored dem in tater banks wid pine bark an' pine straw. Some times dem tater wud rot an' den some time dey would keep good. I neber seed a Irish Tater till afte' I wus grown.
My Marster's house wus a big house set up on a hill; it wus not painted but it had glass windows in it an' dey had shutters on de outside uf dem windows dat wud open and shut. Dey had a long brick walk frum de front gate to de steps an' on both sides uf dat walk wus cape jesmine bushes an' one time while I wus in de yard I broke a flowers an' long piece uf de bush an' tuck it home an' my mammy whupped me fur it.
Out in front of de yard close by de side uf de road dey had a big well dug; it had a windlass wid a long rope wound round it an' de bucket wus on one end uf de rope while de rest uf de rope wus wrapped round dat windlass; when de bucket went down in de well de rope wud come off de windlass, an' when de water wus in de bucket you jes' wind dat windlass an' de bucket wud come to de top of de well. I seed people pass by dar an' stop an' draw water an' drink out uf de bucket.
Down in de quarters dar wus no well an' we had to git water out frum a spring. Ebery Sat'day de black wimen wud tote deir clothes to de spring an' dar dey washed, but dey toted deir wet clothes back to de house to hang out.
My mammy an' pappy bofe wurk in de fiel' but all Granny done wus to tend to de chaps an' we bigger chaps had to hope her. Some times yo' wud hear as many as five or six cryin' at one time. Granny wud give dem some kind uf tea to make dem shut up.
Old marse Bill had a big bell hangin' high in his back yard. an' dat bell rung ebery mornin' an' at dinner an' when eber any thing went wrong bout de place.
When de rush season wud come all de fiel' hands wud eat up at de big house in a room back uf de kitchen while de white folks wud eat in de big house. Old Marse Bill an' Mistiss neber done a thing; dey made de darkies stand round an' wait on dem. In cold winter time dey had a woman to go round an' warm de beds to keep frum gittin' in cold bed at nights. Dem white folks had ebery thing fine dat dey wanted; dey wus mighty rich folks. Dey wus good folks; dey went to church ebery time dar wus any preaching' - Dey wus Presbyterians.
My pappy wus named George an' my mammy wus named Pheba. My pappy run way an' left my mammy afte' de surrender but my mammy raised us chulluns an' we neber kno'd whut become uf pappy. My mammy lived to be seventy years old an' went blind fore she died.
One day de big bell rung jes' fore dinner an' all de slaves went to de house but us chaps stayed in de quarters; when mammy an' pappy come back afte' dey had et, dey sed dey didn't hafter wurk fur Marse Bill any more, but if dey didnt wurk fur him dey did kno' whar dey wud git something to eat. Pappy sed he wus gwine to leave but mammy sed she wus gwine to stay on an' let Marse Bill take keer uf her an' we chaps. Pappy lowed he wus not gwine to let old man Hodge the overseer whup him a nudder time; he stayed a while but slipped off. Mammy stayed on; she had to wurk hard; she plowed and hoed an' Marse Bill let Mr. Hodges stay an' wurk dem slaves. When de end uf de year come we neber had nothin' --- But de next year mammy saved a lil'l an' done some better. Mammy stay dar till we chaps wus grown.
We wurk de crop on shares an' ebery year Mr. Hodges wud git de biggest share fur Marse Bill' we never made nuff to leave dar.
One day Mr. Smiley come to de fiel' whar I wus wurkin' an' sed he wanted some body to help pick cotton fur him; mammy sed me an' my brudder Henry cud go; we went an' to gedder we picked six hundred pounds an' he give us fifty cents a hundred' dat wus de furst money I eber made; I bought me a paid uf brogan shoes wid my money.
I never seed any Yankees; didnt kno' dar wus any till afte' I wus a big boy; I never heard de white folks talk 'bout de war. I heard de black folks prayin' to be sot free but I didnt kno' whut dey wus sayin' --- De black folks wanted to be sot free so Mr. Hodge wouldnt whup dem any more an' den dey wanted to go places like de white folks an' de patroller cudnt run 'em.
De slaves got set free an' den dey didnt kno' whut to (do) wid dem selves; dey had a mi'ty hard time while dey wus slaves an' den dey had nuffin but hard times eber since dey wus sot free. We kno'd nuffin but hard times all our lives.
I never voted in my life; dis nigger kno'd better den to try to vote; dem white folks wud git yo' ---
I mar'ied when I wus young to a woman who had two chulluns, an' den we had six more; we wurk'd on de farm all de time an' made a livin' at hard wurk. My old woman got unruly an' I had to leave her; so I wus told dat cotton wus easy to raise in Mississippi, an' I jes' packed up my duds an' come here. I is been here thirty years an' find dis country is jes' bout like Georgia; iffen you git any thing to live on yo' is sho' got to wurk fur it.
Afte' I come here I mar'ied Ailsey Ellzey, anudder woman wid chulluns an' we is been togedder fur nigh on to thirty years an' she is made me a good wife. She an' her chulluns make a good garden an' dey treat me well.
I uster wurk at de gin for Mr. Wes Holmes but he is dead now an' de younger folks says I am too old to be round de gin.
When I come to dis County it wus full uf piney woods, wid tall pine trees ebery whar an' deir wus plenty game uf all kind in dese here woods an' plenty fish in de creeks, but now most uf dat is gone, an' all de trees been cut up by saw mills an' now deir is nuffin but fiel' eberywhere.
I wus here when dis railroad wus built an' ebery body thought it wus gwine to make time better an' give us more wurk.
I wus here when dey built dat Court House at Tylertown, an' tried to git wurk deir but cudnt. I uster drive a team to Franklinton, an' git groceries; dat wus a ox team, an' I wus gone three days.
I is a Baptist; I belong to de Flatrock Baptist Church; I wus neber good nuff to be a deacon - but I pays my dues an' I prays mi'ty hard - I want to go to my heavenly home when I dies. I neber done anything worser than gittin' drunk, an' I kno's de good Lord is done forgiven me fur dat.
I is old, not able to wurk, an' bent low in my back. I is hard uf hearin' an' not got many teeth to chaw my 'backer. My wife's chulluns take keer uf me an' dey is kind to me. De white folks in dis hear place is good to me; when I gits out uf 'backer some body gives me a piece an' some times dey gives me a lil'l change. I praise de good Lord dat I live in a good country.
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
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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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