Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
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From the WPA Slave Narratives:
George Washington Ramsay
Foreword: Uncle George Ramsay lives about 15 miles east of Saucier. Take State 55 east from Saucier, proceed about 5 miles, just beyond Airey, then instead of turning south with 55, keep straight road on east. This is an excellent gravelled road. Continue about ten miles to State 57, running north and South. Near the junction of this first road with 57, lives "Bass" O'Neil. At his house get directions to the George Ramsay homestead, which is about two miles to the northwest over a rough woods trail, not very safe for cars in wet weather. Uncle George is a very bright colored negro, with white hair, moustache, and goatee and blue eyes, which are entirely sightless now. He is 5 ft. 9 in. tall and weighs only about 115 lbs. now, but it is "every bit good stuff" he explained. His wife, 69 years old, is a tall fleshy woman, also entirely blind. Neither one spoke the negro plantation dialect. Uncle George did not speak differently from the illiterate white, while his wife Amy, had considerable education, and used excellent language. She was also polished in manners. Uncle George is a very happy person with a prodigious sense of humor. Almost every phase of life has a funny aspect with him and he laughed incessantly as he told his story.
My father was named Bat Ramsay, no he wasn't a white man, jes' bright, but I'm mighty nigh a full blooded Ramsay. My mother was Amy Ramsay owned by Bill Ramsay. My mother originated with the Fairleys, an' was bought by Bill Ramsay. My father, belonged to his brother, Andy Ramsay. He lived across the line in Jackson county. My mother an' father never did belong to the same master, but my father was 'lowed to come over every Sat'day an' spend Sunday with us. There were 9 chillun of us in our family, but all is dead but me. My master, Bill Ramsay, never did have but one family of cullud people. We lived in his yard. His house was just across the road from where Mr. O'Neal's is now. It got burned up. It was an ole split log house, not painted, ceiled on the outside with ceiling boards, an' on the inside with dressed lumber, an' covered with pine shingles. It was jes' identical like this house, where you is a settin now, I built mine jes' like it. My master was not rich, but he was a good liver.
My father an' mother farmed altogether. They never did earn no money in slave times, but we got everything we needed. We had the same things to eat as our master and wore the same identical close. No one in them days had any fine Sunday close, but such as our master had, we had the same, nice, clean, new jeans.
My master, Bill Ramsay, was a good man. I loves to talk about him. I never did leave him. I set over him for five days an' nights before he died an' closed his eyes in death. The mistis had laid down. He opened his eyes an' says, "George, boy, call your mistis". I tiptoed over to her bed softly so as not to excite her, an' spoke low, "The master wants you to come there." He looked up at me an' her an' says, "I can't stay with you no longer. Goodby." Then he was gone, an' if ever any one went to Heaven, he did.
This was my master's second wife. My ole mistis died when her baby was about 12 months old, an then my mother took possession of that family. They had another woman to cook, but my mother had gen'ral charge of the house an' chillun. She spun an' wove an' kept them dressed.
I want to show you a piece of work made entirely by a slave woman. Gal, bring me that quilt. Now you see the white linin' and the white between the blocks. My mother wove that white cloth an' the thread it's quilted with. The red an' green an' blue pieces was bought from the store, but she got the pattern by goin' out into the woods an' gettin a leaf to cut it by. The two parts of the pattern is cut from the bull-tongue leaf and the gopher grass. The quilt is about 90 years old, an' it was made when people was smart, an' went into the woods to get their patterns.
When I married fust time, I had a little weddin' given me by white folks in the community, where I was married. It was at Bluff Creek in Jackson county. I wouldn't let no cullud preacher marry me. I was married by Judge Henry Havens, Oct. 27, 1877.
My master, Bill Ramsay, had 9 chillun, but everyone is dead. I'm about the only seed of the Ramsays left.
I never did see no slaves punished. My master didn' low nothin' punished round him. He wouldn't even let my mother whip us. His cullud folks didn' go cold an' they didn' go hungry.
None of us was learned to read an' write in slave days. I didn' go to school atter freedom, we didn' have time then, we had to get out an' scratch for our bread.
Yes, I am a Christian, we was raised that way. The white folks had preachin' at 11 o'clock, an' at 3 o'clock the cullud folks had their meetin' in the same house, with the same identical white preacher. I was christened by this preacher, Preacher Brenley, I had on the prettiest little white slip, it had red tattin' around the neck and the tail was scalloped with more red tattin' on it. Did my mother tell me about it? No, I 'members it myself. I was stood on the altar in the old Ramsay Methodist church. I was the purtiest dressed chile in that house that day.
The preacher read the Bible to us, and so did my master, Bill Ramsay. What songs did we sing? Gal, get me my old mistis' hymbook. (The girl brought a much worn book of classic hymns) "Why these are just the same hymns the white folks sang". Of course they is, how would we niggahs know any others?
Here the wife spoke up. "We did have the melodies we made up ourselves, but I can't remember any of them. My mother used to sing, "I'm going home to die no more" that was one of her favorites.
There was jes' two families in them parts that had cullud people, Bill an' Andy Ramsay, an' they came to the same church an' brought their niggahs with 'em.
I 'members too, when we kids used to pick the seeds from the cotton in our absent times. We had a little handgin we used when we wanted to spin cloth. When our work was done, we stayed about the yard, played hide-and-hoop, an' hide the switch. We had all the good times we wanted, we didn't know nothin' else. We had better times then than folks has now, both white an' black. I 'member seeing the white gals ridin' their horses with them great long skirts on. We never went to no parties, I never seed a fiddle till I was 20 years old, that business jes' wasn't here then.
I don't believe in no ghostes or hoodoos --- I've seen people run by a ghost, but it turned out to be a Billy goat. You said a ghost, but I say a goat.
Yes, I 'members the War. I held Gen'l Stevens horse, "Lone Star" for him once, an' watered it. It was a beautiful bay with blazed face and stocking legs. He had his regiment an' was passin' through from one point to another. He gave me 50 cents in Confederate money --- I kep' it till it wore out.
I don't know much about Abraham Lincoln, but I have seed his picture. But I can tell you about ole man Jeff Davis. He shook hands with me right there where the Confederate Home now is. I went to tell him about the Ramsays that was Confederate soldiers an' to recommend them. I guess I'm the only cullud man around here that ever seen Jeff Davis.
I have heered of Booker T. Washington, but I didn't like his way of doing things. He sold his students. --At my exclamation of surprise the wife spoke up, and gave a very intelligible explanation of what her husband meant. It was in substance as follows:
When Washington first started his school, funds were of course limited. Young negroes who attended, worked for part of their expenses, and paid part. If they couldn't pay, they made notes to the school, and upon graduation these had to be paid out of their first earnings. The school advertised their services, and hired them out to the most likely bidders, without any volition on their part. Here they had to work, until their debt to the school was paid. To many, this seemed like reducing them to bondage again. (This was the explanation given by the old colored woman, Willie Ramsay, and the writer has no knowledge as to whether it is true or not.) Old George finally commented on the negroes lack of foresight by saying, Jes' give the niggah a free ticket an' he'll get on the train, not knowin where he's goin'.
Interviewer's Note: He owns his own home, home-steaded it in the 1880's, 160 acres of which he still retains 130, taxes paid, he says. "I pinches an does without to save my tax money" he stated. The large, old fashioned pioneer house was built with material entirely cut from his place, which was rich in big yellow pines. It was copied from his master's house, a log house, ceiled inside with dressed lumber, eight rooms, including a separate kitchen and dining room, and an ell with two rooms built more recently. It is quite weather beaten, and some what settled now, but still it is a comfortable and adequate shelter. There are good beds and a few pieces of the most elemental furniture. The whole was spotlessly clean. A son and a daughter with their families live with them, care for the old blind couple and cultivate a part of the farm. Six other children live in little cabins and farms near by, so that Uncle George is much like an old patriarch surrounded by his clan. Once in comfortable circumstances, the old darky had to apply for Relief under the ERA, and now draws the tiny Old Age Assistance. With his most elemental wants supplied, respected by all, both colored and white, this old slave is one of the happiest of persons. The twelve miles of good gravelled road connecting States Highways 55 and 57 were in excellent condition, but when we turned at the three mailboxes at the beginning of a trail into the woods, about one-eighth miles before reaching 57, our trouble began, and there were two and one half miles of it. Sometimes there were faint tracks, indicating the existence of a road, but at other places the grass was completely grown over the old road and there were mudholes and pools of water which we tackled fearfully. Coming out, however, we hired the stout young grand son of Uncle George who claimed to be an experienced chauffeur, to go back to the highway with us. When at last we reached the home of the old blind negro, a large rambling old log house with frame ell, he settled into his swing at the end of the porch, with a delighted laugh, "Here I is" he said extending his hand. For being blind, Uncle George can only know people by touch and their voices, and everybody, white or black shakes hands with him. Men strange to him of either color are promptly explored as to their height and girth and other physical characteristics. Without being presumptive the old slave adresses white men whom he has known always, familiarly by their first names, and they resent any inference that he is being too forward. No one feels that he does not keep his place, yet no inferiority complex mars the exuberant happiness and calm content in which he has his being.
Well, now I knows you has had a hard time gettin' out here. I has paid taxes for nigh about 70 years, an' endurin' all dat time de Supervisors has been promisin' me a road, an' dey ain' made me one yet. Now I hears it has been turned over to the CCman's, so maybe dey will fix me one.
Speakin' of the ole Ramsays, Cal Dees' (State Senator C. E. Dees, Sr) mother, Miss Jane Ramsay, was either 5 hrs older, or 5 hrs younger than I is, I forgets which.
No, it was not my father's marster, ole Andrew Ramsay dat was operator on de Ole Wire Road. It was de young marster Andrew Ramsay, Jr., his son. I remembers when de Ole Wire Road was put up an' my father, Bat Ramsay, rode it as substitute from Holden Ferry on the Pascagoula to Wolf River. He was substitute for Phil Delgado, a furriner, who had a telegraph office at ole Ramsay, (now Dantzler) an' had married my father's young mistis. You see the fac's of the business is, Mr. 'Gado used the bottle a little too much, an' my pa had to keep the ball a rollin' for him. You sees dey didn' have no postes den, de telegraph wires was strung along on trees, an' dey was allus somepin' gettin' wrong with 'em. My pa' drove an' ole blin' mule to a jersey wagon, dat was a kin' of little spring wagon.
My father was a big 7 ft. Scotchman, well maybe it was only 6-1/2 foots, an' his foots were so big, he wore a 'leven shoe, but twelves fitted him bes'. You see he was a shoemaker an' could make de shoes to fit hisself. He run a tanyard an' gristmill for his mistis. He was really her business manager, for Del bought likker by de 5 gallon can, an' stayed drunk a whole lot. He used to try to get pa to drink with him. One time he tole pa he had to stay all night an' drink with him, an' when pa tried to go home, he locked him up in a room. The floor was made of big ole planks, an' pa pried one up an' crawled out under de house. When Del opened de door, dere was no Bat dere, for pa was done half way home by dat time. I tole it an' nealy got a whuppin for it - I was allus a tellin' things to the white folks, only I picked the wrong ones to tell everytime, an' was allus gettin' into some kin' of trouble for it.
One time Delgado an' me, we 'cluded to make whiskey. I was a good work han' den about 16 years ole. He took me down the branch, an' we foun' a good hidden place. I was de watch man, an' he made de still. He made it out'n tin an' a lot o' things, it looked sorta like one of dese here little ranges dey has now. I ain' never seen nothing like it before or sence, an' I is shore nobody else has.
He would set a cup under, an' it would go drip, drip, crip, an' every little while he would tas' it. "Now, George, you watch", he says an' laid down to sleep. No, no, he wasn' afraid of no officers findin' him, it was his wife an' her folks he was skeered of. I set by a watchin' but purty soon dat thing began to go, fizz- fizz, fiz, - sputter, sputter, sputter, an' the firs' thing I knowed, it blowed up. I tells you, George run. Delgado woke up an' says, "Lord, George", an' he run too. Nobody knowed it twel I tole his brother-in-law, an' again I tole the wrong pusson, for the Ramsays tried to keep him from drinkin'. He would tell his wife's folks, "I don' drink," an' he was drunk all de time.
Yes, dey rid along de ole Wire Road with de mail an' along de ole City Road. "Crab", you knows him, Mr. B. H. Breland, carried it from a place called Wisdom to Mississippi City. He rid an ole mule called ole Beck. I have knowed Crab all my life an' he sure is de bes' one for writin' in Stone County. When my wife here could see - she is blind too, we took de Herald for about 17 years, jes' to read Crab's pieces.
My marster an' my father's marster didn' go to de War. Dey was too ole an' dey wouldn' agone nohow. Dey stayed home an' tended to de farms an' de slaves, somebody had to keep de home fires burnin' didn' dey? But deir sons went, all three of my young marsters, John an' Jeff an' Jim, an' dey all come back. Marse Jeff Ramsay what went to de War, was de father of Circuit Clerk, Jeff Ramsay.
De second Andrew Ramsay, my father's young marster, is de one dat firs' built Ramsay Springs, an' I is de one dat built it under him. Andrew Ramsay an' a man named A. Baldwin is the ones dat bought de lan' an' I'm de one dat built de spring an de houses, an' I didn' know anymore how to do it at fust dan a Billy goat knows about a Bible. But we had de plans all drawed out an' we studied 'em, till we seen how to go ahead. Dey was five other niggahs workin' on de job too, but I was de boss man to show 'em how. He paid me a dollar a day an' my board, I tole him I wouldn' board mysel' case I tole him I would be too tired to cook atter I worked all day.
We put up all de buildin's at de firs' Ramsay Springs an' dey stayed dere till Mr. Miller done built it over 'bout fifteen years ago.
I wasn' ole enough to vote when first de cullud folks was 'lowed to, but I did vote for two or three years at de las'. I remember when several cullud mens was elected here, but dey wasn' capable or qualified, an' dey sold deir offices to white men. De cullud folks was 'sposed to be 'publicans, but my pa was a Democrat, like the res' of de Ramsays, an' I did the same as he done, I never voted a 'publican ticket in my life. When I was 22 or 23 years old, I set on a petit jury in Mississippi City. Dey was half an' half, cullud an' white.
When de white primaries come in, dat cut de cullud man out a votin', and den too he was a coward, an' ef a white man say, "you can't vote", he done quit, right den. Den we couldn' set on juries 'cause you had to be a tax-payer, an' pay all your taxes at de proper time, an' be able to read an' write. An' back in dem days de cullud folks had no learnin'. I is too ole to pay poll tax - my boys pays deirs, but dey don' try to vote.
I jes' hates to tell you what I thinks of de young cullud folks now, dey is so sorry. I wouldn' live de life like dey leads for anything in de worl'. I don' see any of dese young niggahs, trying to buy 'em a farm or a home, an' trying to fix up to live right in dis worl' an' I am sure dey is makin' no preparations for any future worl'. No, I don' think de learnin' dey gets now, is doin' em a bit of good. Dey don' profit by it an' cultivate it to make deirselves better. All dey cares for is to be runnin' to town, payin' rent an' havin' a big time.
Now here I is with my good house an' farm, what I homesteaded when I was young. I scrimps an' starves to pay my taxes, an' no one can' put me out of it. I am blind now, an' can't work no more, but de good white folks an' de good Lord dey don' forget me. Sence you was here before' dey has sent me some close, see dis shirt an' pants which I is got on, you see I allus tries to go clean.
Then as storm clouds began to gather and remembering that two and a half mile stretch of woods road, we said, "Well, Uncle George, we would like to talk to you all day, but we will have to get back to the highway before the storm breaks."
"Me too, me too, I wishes you could talk to me all day. Be sure you come back again, I loves to have you come, an' I tole the Good Marster about you coming to see me dat other time."
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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