Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
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From the WPA Slave Narratives:
Foreword: Harriet Walker, ex-slave, lives near Panola, Mississippi, on a farm. She was born about 1852, and was owned during slavery time by George Norwood.
Aunt Harriet is about eighty-five years of age, and is a typical "black mammy" type. She is about five feet and five inches in height. Her broad, pleasant face is a dark dusky brown. She wears a large cloth tied neatly and smugly around her head, which is called a "head rag" by the negroes. She dresses with extreme neatness in large, loose fitting garments, with a large, square apron tied around her ample waist, and, when not smoking her long stem pipe, carries it in a square pocket in her apron. She is in excellent health and active for her age and seems happy while talking about her "white folks."
"My mother was brung over here from Africa when she was a tiny baby. I can recollect hearing her sister tell all bout it, for she was a good size strip of a gal when dey was captured. She said dey come up an' make her go git de baby, which was my mother. Den dey started off de boa wid 'em, along wid others dey had captured. When my gran mother found out day dey had stole her chullun, she struc out after 'em. She followed 'em to a stream of water an' kotched up wid 'em on de bridge, which was made of logs fastened together. She run up an' grab her baby an' helt it a few minutes, den dey made 'em go on. Dis was de las' time she ever seed 'em.
"When dey landed here, dey was sol' to George Norwood. He bought 'em along together so's de sister could take care of de baby.
"My marster owned about ten families of slaves. Dey lived in log cabins back of his big house. De slaves cooked dey own breakfast an' supper, but et dinner at Mars' big kitchen on long tables. De meals was cooked an' served by slave women. De chullun was fed after de grown slaves finished etin'. At night de chullun was fed early. Dey supper was mos' an' genrally bread an' milk mixed in one big pan, an' all de chullun et from it at once. Sometime it was some scramble.
"Old Missus was kin' to us, but we use to aggravate her a heap. We'd git hongry in de middle of de day, an' she'd go to de smoke house an' cut us big hunks of raw ham meat. When we'd see her gwine to de smoke house, we'd swarm 'round dere lak bees. When she'd han' us a hunk of meat, we'd slip off an' hide it, den go back for mo'.
She'd keep a cuttin' an' handin' out 'til she say, 'Ain't I done gib all you chullun some meat?' Den she'd line us up in a row an' make us hol' our meat up. After she gib us our meat, she gen'rally sont us to pick berries or gather nuts or whatever happened to be on han' dat us little uns could do.
"We wasn't taught nothin' but to wuk, but we all had some good times too. We had frolics an' dances wid fiddlin' music an' singin' wid old guitars. We had quiltings an' candy pullin's an' picnics on de fo'th of July. We went to church wid de white folks an' sot in de back.
"Mars George fed an' clo'esed well an' was kin' to his slaves, but once in a while one would git onruly an' have to be punished. De worse I ever seen one whupped was a slave man dat had slipped off an' hid out in de woods to git out of wuk. Dey chased him wid blood hounds, an' when dey did fin' him dey tied him to a tree, stroppin' him 'round an' 'round. Dey sho' did gib him a lashin'. Den dey brung him home an' tied him in de kitchen. He got loose an' hid in de barn under de shucks. Dey was a goin' to whup him ag'in when dey found him. Old Missus, she knowed where he was hid, but wouldn' tell on him. She axed Mars not to beat him ag'in, dat he was scared why he run, an' to try him ag'in. Mars let him come out an' he was a obeyin' slave after dat.
"I use to see ghostes too. I haint seed one in a long time. One time when I was a slave gal, I was along wid some others a gwine home from Mars' house. It was a drizzling rain, de wind was a kinda moanin' lak through de trees makin' ghostly sounds. Us was already scared a little, an' felt a little creepy when out of de night come de biggest, whitest dog I ever seed, an' I can tell you all we sho' did run, but dat white haint run after us. We didn' know what to do. We clumb up on a high wood pile. De ghost he run on after us to de pile of wood, an it jes disappeared. Mars had a big cream colored dog an' him an' Missus tried to make us believe it was dat dog, but us niggers know a haint when us sees one.
"When de war come on to free us, we had hard times den. Everything went plumb to de bottom an' to rack-an'-ruin. Us never did know what was a goin' to happen nex'. We could see de sojers a marchin' by an' hear de guns a shootin'. We heard de cannons at de battle of Vicksburg. Dat battle, it lasted an' lasted. It jes didn' look lak it would ever end.
"All durin' de war, de Cavalrymen would ride through an' wreck an' ransack de whole country. Dey would take our food for dey men an' destroy de res'. Dey would take Mars' good hosses an' leave dey old plugs. Dey got to whar when dey hear dem a comin' dey would send us wid de hosses to hide 'em in a Mayhaw pond. We was to keep dem dere til' dey holler. Several times we saved de hosses dat way, but one day us was a guardin' 'em lak dat an' we had Mars' gran' race hosses his wid 'em in de pond. We heard de signal to come out wid de hosses. Us brung 'em out to fin' us had been tricked. De Cavalrymen had kotched on an' it was dem dat had hollered.
"After de War ended, us stayed on wid Marster for three or fo' years, den moved to Joe McCastile's. We got along very well considerin'.
"I mar'ied when I was eighteen an' have twelve chullun. Three of 'em is dead. I has twenty-five gran' chullun an' thirty-five great gran'chullun. I'se happy an' enjoyin' life. I has my chullun close 'round an' lives wid my daughter. We has plenty to eat an' to wear. I lakes to think back on de old days of de good an' de bad. It all goes up to make life.
Transcribed by Linda Durr Rudd
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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