County: Pearl River
Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
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From the WPA Slave Narratives:
Ben Richardson age unknown
Ben does not know his exact age. He says he remembers himself, everything he told me, but it must be merged with tales his parents told him. He is 5 ft. 7 in. tall, weighs 140 lbs, is chocolate in color, bald, kinky hair, short gray moustache. Rents 5 room house, and has plenty of good, common things, and beds kept snowy white by his wife.
Much to my disappointment he began to speak in carefully phrased English, without the usual dialect pronounciation. A light broke on me. "Uncle" I said, "are you just talking to me, or do you speak differently among your own folks."
"I don't talk to the cullud folks, like I'm talking to you," he said. "Please", I replied, "tell me your story the way you talk to your colored friends." He got the idea at once and began:
I was born in Mississippi, jes' below Poplarville, near Nicholson. I don't know jes' how old I is, my mammy said it was jes' befo' dey was musterin' for the fight, when she foun' me. My pappy was named Dan'l Richardson, his mammy was an Indian woman. My mammy was Sylvy Richardson.
My marster was a Byrd, dey called him Col. Byrd. I remembers him all right, but I don't remember th mistis. We all lived on a big plantation between Poplarville an' Nicholson. Col. Byrd had a worl' of cullud folks. He had a lot of log cabins clost together where we cullud folks all lived. I can remember when we lived in these.
My marster had a good deal of chillun, but I has done forgot their names, I don't remember 'em much.
Me? I has been married twice. My firs' wife died. I had one chile by her. Mary, a settin' there, is my secon' wife and she is the mother of five boys, all dead, scusin' two. One is married an lives at the Pass. He works for Suter at the waterworks. My other son jes' come home a month ago from New Iberia - he has a job at the college (St. Augustine Seminary for the training of negro priests) as cook. No, he ain' studyin' to be no Brother, we is Baptis'.
My pappy an' mammy farmed for the marster. Dey shore raised a plen'y of cawn an' cotton, 'taters and sugar cane. I have pushed many a stalk of cane into the mill, when I was jes' little.
Dey never did earn no money in dem days. Dey'd give 'em a Sat'day off sometimes, but dey never did earn nothin'.
We had our own gardens. We et cow peas, collard greens, sweet 'taters, 'lasses, home made rice, an' plen'y butter, milk an' clabber. We allus had a plen'y. My marster killed lots of beers, an' hogs an' sheeps. He allus give us cullud folks plen'y of the meat an' everything. We had honey, too. We would ketch possums coons an' rabbits an' cook 'em for ourselfs. But the bes' vittles I loved was green pot likker and cawn bread. Yes, I has heered that Masse Huey Long, liked it too. I had the priv'lege of crossing over his bridge at New Orleans a month ago.
As I said we had our own gardens an' cooked our own vittles on our fireplaces. We didn't know what a stove was. Our mistis cooked on a fire place too, jes' the same as us.
We wore wove close, dey spin' it with a thread an' put it on a loom. My mammy and other cullud womens did the spinnin'. Dem was Sunday close too, and dey looked good to us. We had shoes, these here with brass toes, them kind.
A cullud preacher married me both times. Nobody didn' give us no weddin', and we didn' have nothin' borrowed. What we had, we bought ourselfs.
My marster lived in a log house too, it jes' looked passable, one story with six rooms an' a kitchen off from the house. He only farmed 24 acres, mos' of his slaves cut an' hewed timber, an' hauled it to the mills with oxen. Den he hired most of his slaves out to other plantations.
He looked over his work hisself, he wouldn't let no body look over his niggahs, but hisself.
My marster never did whup any of his slaves, nor 'low any one else too, he would jes' chastise 'em like you would your chile, he was awful good to his slaves.
I have seen slaves auctioned off - they stood 'em on a block an' bid on 'em.
Our marster an' mistis didn't teach us to read an' write, dat's the reason I got no eddication today, never went to school a day in my life. We went to our marster's church, but no one read the Bible to us at home.
De slaves on my marster's place never would run off, 'cept to slip off an' go to balls without a pass. No slave was 'lowed off his marster's place without a pass. Dey had padrollers to ketch 'em ef they did. One time my pappy slipped off without a pass an' went to a ball, and the padroller ketched him an' whupped him, an' put a big knot over his eye.
My marster never did 'low none of his slaves to carry no news or bring none in an' none of his slaves was ever sold away from him.
In their spare time, slaves would get passes and go to balls, but they never did have so much spare time. Atter the crop was laid by, they had to cut wood an' clear out bushes, an' get ready for plantin' nex' time.
When I was a little boy, I played marbles an' ball. I have done forgot all the riddles an' charms I knowed, an' I never did believe in no ghosts or hoodoos. You see, I have been a converted man now for 55 years. Cordin' to the Bible an' what little I hear of it read, Christ died for us, and we have our own choice, whether we goes to heaven or hell, an' this worl' is enough punishment without goin' to a worser one.
We made medicine out of things we got in the woods, dey didn' have no drugstores den. I believes dat dis drugstore medicine is the reason so many is sick an' dead now. Atter the drugstore, den comes the undertaker.
Yes, I remembers the Yankee soldiers. Dey come to my marster's plantation an' lef' their old broke down horses, an' tuk all his good ones. Dey went out where the cows was, an' didn' even stop to kill 'em, but cut big slices of beef offn 'em with the big old swords dey had. No my mammy didn' tell me dat, I remember it myself.
Den I remember my marster talking to my pappy an' mammy, an' tellin' dem dey was free an' could go. Dey slapped their hands because dey was free, but dey didn' want to go. Our marster was so good to us dat pappy an' mammy stayed right on, I don' remember how long, but atter that he paid 'em for their work.
I have heered talk of Abraham Lincoln - he was the man that set us free - but I believes it is through the powers of God that we is free today.
I have heered talk of Jefferson Davis too, but I don' know who he was.
How does we live? Well, I mows a few lawns, but dey won't let me work on the WPA, they says I is too old. Now dey tell me in Loos'ana dey lets de ole men's work at cuttin' grass and such as they is able, but dey won' do it here. Mary gets a washin' sometimes, but she is gettin' disabled for work. Dey won' give us the "Old Age Assistance," dey say our son, the one cookin' for the Brothers is able to help us.
Transcribed by: Ann Allen Geoghegan
The Federal Writer’s Project of
The Works Progress Administration
For the State of Mississippi