Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
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From the WPA Slave Narratives:
Jane Sutton Age 84
Foreword: Jane Sutton is 84 years old, 5 feet and 6 inches tall, and weighs 130 pounds. She states that she has weighed as much as 180. Her coloring is brown, usually what the Negroes themselves call a "brownskin." She is very feeble and almost toothless, but told her story cheerfully. She lives with a widowed daughter in the Negro section of Soria City-- in East Gulfport. The daughter earns a living for herself and old mother by doing laundry work for the white people, but Jane says sometimes they hardly have anything to eat, and such clothes as the white folks give them. She said the "Relief" helped her for awhile until her neighbors began to meddle and told that they did not need help, then she was cut off entirely. She still hopes to be put on the Old Age Pension List before she dies. She tells what she remembers of the days of slavery on a Mississippi plantation where she was born:
"I was bawn in Simpson County, near old Westville, on a big farm what belong to Mr. Jack Berry. I was 12 years old when the surrender come so my ole Mis' says. Her name was 'Mis' Ailsey-----an' all us cullud folks called her 'Ole Mis!'
She and Ole Masta had 12 chillun: Marthy, Lizabeth, Flavilia, Mary, Jack, Bill, Denson, Pink, Tally, Thomas, Albert and Frank.
"My father's name was Steve Hutchins. He belong to de Hutchins what live down near Silver Creek. He jest come on Saddy night and we don't see much of him. We called him "dat man." Our mammy tole us we ought to be more respectful to him cause he was our daddy, but we don't keer nothin' bout him. He never did bring us no candy or nothin.
"Our mother was name Lucy Berry. She always go by de white folks name what she lived with. She never marry. My mother had four boys and three girls. They was name: Delia, Sarah, Ella, Nathan, Isom, Anderson and Pleas. She work in de fiel' and ole masta said she was de only woman on de place whut could plow like a man.
"I 'members my grandma too. We always called her "Granny." She say dey stole her back in Virginia and brung her to Mississippi and sold her to Mr. Berry. Her name was Hannah. She was my mammy's mother. I don't 'members anything 'bout my daddy's folks case I never seed any of dem.
"Old Masta was a rich man for dat day. He had a saw mill, cotton gin and a mill whut ground cornmeal. We always had plenty to eat and wear. Dey spun and weaved der own cloth and made us clothes outen it.
"I kin jest see de white folk's house now. I was a big, house, nice and clean, but it want painted. It had a row of rooms crost dis way and a nuder row dat way wid a hall between. Dey had plenty uv rooms fer all dem boys and gals. Some of dem was bout grown. De 'Quarters' was in de back of de house. De cook's house was closest to de big house, den next was my granny's house whar we stayed, den dere was a long row--way down to de back fence. De cook's name was Ann. Dey didn't have no overseer or driver. Dere was 'nough of dem boys to look atter de work and Old Masta said he didn' need no overseer to look atter his niggers.
Our folks was good to us. Dey want always beatin' and knockin' us around. I'se telling de truf, Miss. You couldna find a scar on a one of us. Course, sometimes, they whupped us but dey didn't 'gash' us up like some of de old mastas's did dere niggers. When old Masta died I didn't know nuthin' 'bout him bein' sick. He tuk cramp colic in de night and was daid 'fore mawnin'. I hear somebody crying at de big house and Granny tole us Old Masta done die in de night. We was all sorry and I cried, cause, I said: 'Now we wont get no more candy." He usta bring us candy when he went to town. We'd be looking fer him and when he come home, he'd say: "Whars all my little niggers?" Den we'd com a-running, and he'd han' it out to us outer his saddle-bags. It was usually good stick candy. Dey had a big funeral and all de folks come. De men carried him to de graveyard by de church. Dey didn't have hearses dem days. It wuzn't fur to de graveyard so dey jest toted him in de coffin to de graveyard, whar dey barried him. Dey put flowers in cups and vases on de grave so's dey wouldn't wilt. Most of old Mis's slaves stayed wid her atter de war, cept the ones dat went to live wid de boys what married.
When de surrender come my old daddy come to get me but I didn't want to go, and tole him I'se goin' stay wid Old Miss, so he goes and gits de shuriff and takes me anyway. I runned away twice and come back to Old Miss--He whupped me de first time, but de next time I hid frum him and he couldn't ketch me, so he went on back home and let me 'lone. Den I went with my mammy to live with Mr. Tally Berry. He was one of old Masta's sons. Dey usta come and tell me dat dat old nigger was gona kill me effen I didna' come wid him, but I jest stayed hid out till he go way.
"When Mis' Marthy gits married to Mr. Sebe Drummond they has a big wedding, and de house was full of der kin people and neighbors and frien's. Some of dem come in buggies and wagons and some come a-horseback. All de ladies rode horseback in dem days. Dey sho did look purty in der long riding-skirts wid dem little hats on dere heads. Dey cooked up plenty to eat and every body had a plenty.
"My white folks was all Baptis' and dey made us go to church too. De church was called de "Strong River Church." Dey had big babtizings." I 'members when I jined de church and was babtized. De white folks preacher babtized us in de creek whut run from Mr. Berry's mill pond. I was drest in a white 'lowel' slip made outer cloth we spin and weave. When we dressed up in our Sunday clothes we had caliker dresses. Dey sho was purty. I 'members a dress now dat old masta bought fer my granny. It was white and yaller, and it was de purtiest thing I thought I ever saw.
"I 'members when de Yankees come to our house. We heered dey was comin' and we hid all de hams and shoulders up in de loft of de big house. When dey got dere dey didn't git much and dey was mad and jest tore up some of old Mis' clothes, whut wus in de wad-robe. We was all scairt of dem.
"I 'specks all my white folks is daid now. I wish I could go back dar now, dey would hep me. Dey was good to us atter de war was over. Dis one would want me to live wid dem--den de 'tother one would want me to live wid him. Sometime I quit one and go live wid de udder one, but all of dem treat me good. I'se telling you de truf, Miss, I'se havin' a harder time now dan I ever had in slav'ry times.
"De 'Relief' give me a little something to eat and wear one time, but dey haven't ever give me no money, and I'se old and needy, but I'se trusting de Lord and de good white folks to hep me now. All de white folks I usta work fer has moved away from town now and I don't have nobody to look to but my poor daughter, and she is not able to work hard, but she looks atter me and I has some good neighbor womens who come and 'set' with me sometimes when she is away to her work. (I's gittin' deaf an' I aint got a tooth lef' in my head. I's too feeble to he'p make a livin', but maybe I'll get dat old age Pension, 'fore I die.)
Jane was glad to see the writer when she called for a second interview. She lives with a widowed daughter in a small 3-room house--'shot-gun' type, in the colored section of East Gulfport. They pay $1.50 a week rent on the house. There were old-fashioned flowers growing in the tiny doorway yard, and the premises were neatly kept. Jane says she is always glad when someone comes to "set" with her as she gets lonesome when her daughter is away at her work.
When asked if she remembered what the slaves expected from freedom, and if the Federal government ever gave the 40 acres and a mule, she laughed and said, "Not as I ever heered of."
"I members dey promised to give de cullud folks all kinds of things but dey never give dem nothin' as I can remember. We was just turned loose to scratch fer oursels. We was glad to stay on wid our white folks, cause dey was our best frien's atter all.
"I was jest a chile and cants remember much now, but I cants remember anybody gittin' anything 'cept what Old Masta and Old Mis' gib 'em."
Jane says she doesn't remember anything about Reconstruction days, but she does remember seeing the "Night Riders and Ku Klux's, as she called them. She said: "Whenever de cullud folks would slip off and have dere frolics, widout gittin' a "pass" from Old Masta, lots of times while dey was dancing and having a big time, dem Ku Klux's would swarm in de room like a lot o' bees, fore dey knows it, and begin grabbing at de men. Effen dey didn't have dere "pass" widem, dey would take dem down in de woods and whup dem fer runnin' off wid out axing dere white folks. Dey didn't bother de wimmins much. De wimmins usually got away while dey was catching de men.
"Oncet I slipped away wid another gal and went to a party wid out axing Old Mis'---and then dem Night Riders come dat night, de niggers was runnin', and dodgin' and jumpin' outer winders like dey was scairt to death. I runs too, me and dat other gal. I fell down and tore my dress, but I want studyin' dat dress. I knows dat dem white folks had dat strap and I was gittin' away from dere as fast as I could.
"When 'Miss 'Lizabeth' got married to Mr. Ras Laird, dey had a big wedding and all dere folks come to see dem married. Den dey went to live in Rankin County, and she tuk me wid her cause Old Masta had give me to Mis' Lizabeth. After freedom I went back to 'Old Mis'--- I walked all the way back dar. It was about 20 mile. I wanted ter see my Ma, and brothers and sisters.
Asked about what she thought of the younger generation of colored people: "Dey raised dere young folks better in dem days. Dey larnt dem to work and dey didn't min' work, but today dey don't keer 'bout anything but havin' a good time. Dey ain't studyin' bout no hereafter neither." Jane seems to have "raised" her daughters better than the general run, as they are neat, industrious and very thoughtful of their old mother. She is very deaf, so they sit near her and tell her what is said if she fails to understand. They said she had been a leader in their church singing and could still sing well, and these are some of the songs she sang for the writer:
David And Goliath
"David, David is a 'bedient young boy,
He kilt Goliah, and shouted fer joy.
'God, gimme rashions from on high! (very high pitch)
Dats gon-na last me till--I--die.
David, David, don't git lost,
Stretch a rod and come--a-c-r-o-ss!"
Husband Don't You 'Buse Me
"Husban' don't you 'buse me,
Carry me back to Mama;
Mama's c-h-i-m-n-e-y c-o-r-n-e-r Is big enough fer me!"
Picking on a sheep-hide-- (Couldn't remember words)
A play or ring song they used to sing was:
Rabbit and Peavine
Rabbit, Rabbit, in de peavine.
I axed whar was he gwine, He said---
I'm gwine on down by de Vicksburg town--
And ai'nt got long to tarry.
Git up, in de peavine!
(To play this the children form a ring, with one in the middle, who sits on the ground while the others sing and march around him. When they ask where he is going he begins to hop like a rabbit and flaps his hips with his hands with his feet extended out to front. When they get to the part "We're gwine on down to Vicksburg town"--they all get down on the ground and hop around the ring singing and slapping their thighs --- imitating rabbits.)
Jane said a favorite song for revivals when they called for "Mourners" to come to the bench was:
"On Jordin's Stormy Banks I Stand."
"On j-or-d-i-n-s stor-m-y b-a-n-k-s I stan'
An' cast a wishful eye--
O------h, wh------o- o- o will c-o-m-e
An' go wid m-e-e-?
I'se boun' fer d-e p-r-o-m-i-s-e lan'"
Jane carries her tune well, and her voice was soft and musical as she sang in measured cadence, the old-time "Mourner's Call." You can almost imagine she see "De promise lan'."
Her daughters tried to recall to her mind a "very pretty" song she sometimes sings but she could not remember. They promised to write down the words for the writer and give them to her when she came again. Another song which they called a "Spiritual" was:
I'm Bound To Cross Jordan.
One of dese mawnin's, bright and fair,
I'm a-go-na hitch on my wings and try de air,
I'm bound to c-r-o-s-s J-o-r-d-i-n!
In dat mawnin' Away down yonder by de river's banks,
Twenty-four elders, all in ranks------
An' I'm bound to cross Jordin, in de mawnin'
I'm boun' to cross Jordin in dat mawnin'
O--h, lets git ready, lets git ready,
I'm boun' to cross Jordin--in--dat---mawnin'--!"
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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