Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
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From the WPA Slave Narratives:
Foreword: Tom Morris is about five feet six inches tall, rather stout; says he once weighed 175 pounds, but dont know what he weighs now. I guess about one hundred and sixty pounds. He has a round face, and is black as they make them. He has grey hair. He appears to be weak and says he is growing weaker all the time. He gets out in town and begs at times. Tom lives in what is known as Brown's Alley, on the east side of the railroad between Summit and McComb tells me this story:
"I wus born 'fore de war in Virginia; I doan kno' who my Marster wus, but when I wus 'bout six years ole me an' my mammy wus sol' to a man by de name of Joe Bowen, an' he brung us south an' sold us to Dr. Reeber, in Rankin County. I jes' doan kno' my age but I reckin I is 'bout eighty two. I remember livin in Virginia, an' cumin in a wagon to Rankin County.
"Mr. Bowen had a wagon dat wus civered an' I wus in dat while my mammy an' sum more uf de slaves walked. All de chaps wus in de wagon an' oxen pulled de wagon. De slaves dat wus walkin wus all tied ter gedder an' Mr Bowen an' a nudder man, dey rid hosses.
"I doan kno' whar we wus when Dr. Reeber bought my mammy, but I kno' we walked a long way an' he rid hoss back; but he didnt tie us. My mammy wus named Mary and my pappy wus named Bill Whitfield, Mr. Bowen bought him too, an' brung him south wid us, but sold him to a man frum New Orleans, an' we niver seed him ergin.
"My mammy sed when she lived in Virginia, she 'longed to er man furst by de name of Robinson an' he wus er good man, but sold her to make sum money; while livin' wid Marse Robinson is whar she met my pappy; he 'longed to er nudder man an' wud slip off an' cum to see my mammy an me. Sum times he got er pass an' sumtimes he didnt. One time de patroller an' he run an' hid in a big holler tree, an' dey cudnt find him; den one time dey put de dogs afte' him, an' he run up er dog wood tree, an' dey kotched him an' give him a bad whuppin' -- but dat didnt keep him frum cumin' to see me an' mammy, kase he kep' cuming back. Mammy cried when dey tuk my pappy ter New Orleans; she cried at nights.
"Dr Reeber wus a good man. He wus not rich an' me an' my mammy wus de only slaves he had. He had a lil'l farm but didnt do much wid it; he went ter see de sick an' got money fur dat; he rid hoss back ebery whar he went an' allus car'ied his pills in his saddle bags. He put dem saddle bags on de saddle 'cross dat hoss' back an' den rid on top uf de saddle bags.
"My mammy wus de cook, an' she wus er good cook; dat wus to be her wurk. I wus raised in de kitchen, an' my mammy made me brung in de kindlin'; I had ter help her wash dishes an' she taught me how ter cook. She cooked on de fireplace. I roasted 'taters in de ashes, an' she wud rake de ashes to one side an' pore de bread dou'h down on de hot place, den civer it wid ashes an' let it cook, den we had fine hoe-cake. I roasted pinders in de ashes too an' sum times I put corn down an' let it brown an' eat dat.
"Yes Mam, mammy washed sumtimes; I allus had to brung up de wood to put 'round de pot to bile de water, an' den she hed er big end uf a stump, an' she washed de clo'se er while an' den put dem on dis stump an' give me a bo'rd wid a small end to it, an' made me beat dem clo'se, an' keep turnin' dem an' beat dem er gin till dey wus pritty an' white; She drawed water frum de well an' made me help tote it to de tibs.
"My mammy sewed an' made my clo'se. I wore shirts dat cum down ter my ankles an' de furst time dey put pants on me dey had ter hold me an' put dem on, kase I did not want dem things on me.
"We didnt have many clo'se an' we wore patched clo'se most uf de time, but we had plenty ter eat. Yo' see, mammy done de cookin' an' we got a lil'l uf ebery thing dat went on de Dr.'s table. I hoped my mammy wash dishes all de time an' got plenty uf scraps dat wus left on de white folks plates. De kitchen wus in de yard out frum de big house an' iffen I slip er egg an' cooked it de white folks didnt kno' it.
"De Dr. done de milkin' an' when I got big 'nuff I wud hold off de calves while he milked. Sumtimes de Dr. wud turn de teat so de warm milk wud run in my mouf, an' he sed my mouf was too big. We had all de milk we wanted, an' mammy wud put me milk an' bread in er pan an' sot me down on de kitchen steps an' tell me to eat.
"Dr. had er big house an' dey had so much comp'ny; feedin' dem folks kept de Dr. pore all his life. Dey wud cum dar fur de Dr. ter docter dem an' allus git dar jes' at dinner time an' de Dr wud give 'em dinner an' sumtimes dar wud be five an' six at er time.
"One day he went off on his hoss an' mammy sed he wus gone ter de war; I didnt kno' whut dat wus but mammy sed it wus ter fight er lot uf men.
"While he wus gone, one day sum men cum ridin' up to de house an' mammy sed dey wus soljers; dey tuk nearly eberything we had ter eat; dey left us to near 'bout starve; dey drunk all de milk, an' tuk all our meat' one man who wus settin' on de big fine hoss, de one wid big shiny buttons on his coat, rid up an' made de sojers give us back a lil'l in de kitchen. He wus a fine gentleman. Mammy sed dem wus de Yankees. Dey went all over de place lookin' fur money; dey went in mammy's room looking fur it. Dey turn- de bed over but dey found none.
"When de war wus ober, an' de Dr. cum home he tole my mammy if we wud stay wid him he wud pay her wages, an' he did. We stayed dar er long time an' I larnt how to cook more an' more an' dar is whar I larnt my trade.
"I doan kno' why dey had de war, but sum uf de slaves wanted to git free kase sum uf de marsters wus mi'ty hard on dem, but me an' my mammy wus treated right. Dr. niver whupped us and fed us out uf his kitchen, but we had mi'ty few clo'se.
"Afte' de war wus ober I had to go to school, an' I had to go by de grave yard to git to dat school house. I toted my dinner in a tin bucket wid a lid on it, an' toted a bottle wid 'lasses in it. I poured de lasses in de lid uf dat bucket an' sopped it up wid my bread. Dat wus corn bread, but it wus good. Sumtimes I had a bite uf 'lasses cake an' de udder darkies wud try to take dat way frum me. I larned how to spell sum an cud read er lil'l.
Ebery time I passed by dat grave yard de dead folks wud ris' an' blow deir breath on me. I cud feel dat hot breath. I wud run. I wus skeered. I didnt love to go ter school. Afte' while when my brudder, Willie, got big nuff to go to school sum how I wus not so skeered. Yes, dar is ghosts. I seed dem more time dan I can count. One time I wus going by dat grave yard an' seed sumthing white standing by one uf de graves; it got bigger and flopped its wings up an' down. I niver looked at it ergin; I run all de way home an' when I tole my mammy she sed I niver seed no sich thing, but I kno' whut I seed. Nudder time I seed a tall man standin' in dat graveyard an' run home an' tole mammy, an' she sed dat wus er tomb stone.
"My teacher sed I wus bad in school, an' she whupped me most ebery day, an' one time she put me in a box wid er skeleton, an' dat liked to have kilt me. Whut did I do? Well I kicked an' kicked an' hollered an' she had ter let me out kase I wus bout ter break all dem bones. I didnt stay dar long but she niver done dat ergin. I jes kno'd dem bone wus goin' ter squeeze de life outern me, an' dey wus jes' bout ter grab me when she tuk de top off. I quit school afte' dat - till dey got er nudder teacher. "One time I put er pin in de teachers cheer an' she sot (on) it, an' jumped up an' sho did whup me fur it. Nudder time I broke her whup an' she beat (me) over de head wid er book. She sed I wus bad.
"De furst whiskey I eber got wus while I wus goin' ter school. One uf de big boys brung some in er bottle an' while we wus down at de spring ter git sum water, he give us all er drink. Dat wus not good; it sot my mouf on fire, but afte' dat I larnt to love it.
"My mammy had er nudder boy named Willie. He wus bad too, an' one time while he wus drunk he kilt er man in Brookhaven an' dey sont him to de pen an' he died dar; we niver seed him ergin. My mammy died in Brandon - she did not live many years afte' de war. Afte' we left de Dr. we had nuffin ceptin our clo'se. We had er hard time. She got washin' to do an' den sum times she got er lil'l cookin' fur to do. Den sumtimes she wud go back to de Doctor's an' help er lil'l - we always got pay fur it.
"De furst job I got wus drivin' er dray fur Stevens and Comp'ny, in Brandon. I stayed dar er long time, an' one day sum body stole er pair uf pants frum dem an' dey sed I got 'em. Well, I jes' quit den an' look round an' bout fur er nudder job.
"I mar'ied Cyntha Smith in Brandon an' den we cum to McComb. I heard I cud git plenty wurk in dis town. De furst wurk I got here wus wid Mr. McColgan at de Hotel. I cooked in dat kitchen fur nine years an' I cud give dem folks a meal whut wus a meal. Mr. Mack sed he niver wud er let me out iffen I had stayed off uf whiskey, but I got drunk too much an' when I wus drunk, dey sed I wus a bad nigger. One time de White Caps got afte' me an' Mr Mack hid me in a room up stairs in de Hotel an' dey cudnt find me.
"One time I got drunk an' got in a fight, an' shot at er nigger, an' dey put me in jail fur dat. Mr. Mack paid me out. I loved whiskey an' I love it yet. I cant git it now. I have no money. I am old an' thinks a lil'l whiskey wud be good fur me.
"One time while I wus working fur de Chester House in Brandon I got drunk an' stole a lot uf groceries, so dey sed. Dey put me in jail an' made me wurk out er big fine, an' er nudder time I wus put in jail in Brandon wus fur gittin' drunk an' fightin' er nudder colored gentleman. Dey made me wurk out dat fine too.
"Afte' I moved here to McComb, I had fight when I wus drunk. When I wus drunk I wus bad. I uster whip Cyntha, till one day she throwed er pan uf dishwater on me an' laid me out - well she hit me wid de pan too. I wus too drunk to make much fight. I kinder think she got de best uf me dat time.
"Afte' I quit de Hotel I got wurk wid Mr. Dowell drivin' a dray round town but dat wurk wus so heavy it most broke me down in my lines (loins). Den I went to Mr Denman's Store and stayed dar most uf my time till dey sed I wus gittin' too old fur dat wurk. Den I went to wurkin' gardens round de town fur er livin' an' Cyntha, she tuk in sum washings an' we made er livin'.
Cyntha has been dead bout thirteen years an' I live by myself. I does my own cookin' an' keepin' house. I looks to Direct 'leif fur support. My daughter help me sum, an' I beg sumtimes. I cud wurk now, but ebery body tells me I am too old. I gits down in my back sum times, but I rub it with linement made uf coal oil an' spirits uf Turpentine wid sum salt in it, an' dat helps me.
"Mammy sed de Robinson folks in Virginia wus mighty rich, an' lived in a big fine house an' had more dan er hundred slaves; dey had er nigger to do ebery thing. Dey had two cooks an' my mammy wus one uf dem cooks. Mammy wore a rabbit foot round her neck all de time to keep way de haints. You kno' de haints cum round de house way in de night time; one night I heard er haint knockin' an' knockin' kinder easy, an' sed "Mary" kinder low. I sed "Mammy, whut is dat?" an' she sed "Shut up; it is er haint." I niver seed it but I heard it. One time I heard er haint climbin' up de wall, an' mammy sed iffen I didnt go ter sleep dat haint wud git me. "Mammy sed wearin' dat rabbit foot wud brung good luck, an' I reckin it did but I niver seed it.
"De Dr. niver lowed no dancing at his house an' when dey went to church sumtimes dey sed mammy an' me cud go; we alwys walked. We went to de white folks church. We sot on one side uf de house an' de white folks sot most over de house; de men an' de wimen did not sot togedder. Marster sot down wid de deacons.
"I larnt to dance de back step, an' when I got grown I larnt to play de fiddle too, I cud sing sum, but I niver wurked in de fiel' an' learnt to sing
"Hang Jeff Daviss ter er sour apple tree,
As we go marchin' by-----"
afte' de war. At school we wud sing ----
"Run Nigger run, de patroller git yo'
Run Nigger run, it's almost day.
Dat nigger run, dat nigger flew,
Dat nigger lost his big black shoe.
Den dar wus one song I loved ter sing when I wus drunk jes' to make Cyntha mad--
"Me an' my wife lived all er lone,
In er lil'l log hut we call'd our own;
She loved gin an' I loved rum--
I tell yo' whut, we had lots uf fun.
Ha, ha, ha, yo' an' me
My brown jug, I do love de.
Iffen I had er cow dat give sich milk I wud dress her in de finest silk;
I'd feed her on de bestest hay,
An' milk her forty times er day.
Ha, ha, ha, yo' an' me
My brown jug, dont I love de.
"Cyntha is gone frum now an' sum times I am sorry fur de bad way I treated her. She wus good er she niver wud have put up wid me when I wus drunk. I miss Cyntha since she is gone.
"One time I wus sick an' had gone ter sleep, an' way in de night dar cum right up ter my bed er big sumting an' wud put out his hands ter grab me, an' ebery time he tried ter grab me, I wud civer up my head, an' when I pulled down de civer to see iffen he wus gone dar he wud be wid dem long fingers an' nails ready ter grab me. I screamed fur Cyntha an' she wud say, "Shut up an' go on ter sleep" an' ebery time I wud try ter tell her 'bout dat big thing afte' me she wud say "Shut up an' go ter sleep" an' dat thing got his fingers in my hair an' I had er bad time gittin' him loose frum me. I hollered til I cudnt holler an' de next mornin' Cyntha sed I wus jes' on er big drunk.
"I seed many ghosts in my life. I wudnt go by er graveyard at night by myself fur anything. I wudnt look down in er open grave kase I might be de next one to be put in dar.
Transcribed by Debbie M. Leftwich
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
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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