Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
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From the WPA Slave Narratives:
Allen Ward Age 81
Foreword: Allen Ward, ex-slave, age 81, born in 1856, was born by Westly Lee, who lives east of Old Westville. Old Uncle Allen is white headed and bent; his short square built body leans heavily on his sturdy walking cane. At times he shakes his head wearily as he thinks back into the past, then his expression changes quickly to a broad smile, from plesant memories of the long ago. Between sighs and smiles he tells this story.
"I hates to talk 'bout all dis, as dem was bad days fer us niggers; wuk, eat, an' sleep filled us' lives; jest de same things ober an ober, neber through, alwas' driven on an' on. I don't lak ter think ob hit all. Den I finds myself thinking again, now dat I'se a gittin' ole, a waitin' fer my ole age pension an' things ter be done fer me, dat mixed wid de uder us did hab us' fun. Us enjied good times tergether an' didn't hab to worry 'bout how us would make a livin'. My master owned a big plantation. De little log cottages fer de slaves was scattered ober de farm in convenient places.
"De fust thing dat I can recolect I must a been a little tot ob 'bout four years, ha! ha! I jis' wore long shirts den an' on till I was a big strip ob a boy. Dats de way dey dressed 'em. My fust duty was a waitin' on "Ole Misus," who fer years was a invalid. I had ter set by her bed-side an' fan de flies. I'd grow tired a settin' dar so lon'; I wanted ter be out a runnin' 'bout, longed to exercise an' play. Misus would sleep fer hours at de time, which seemed ages ter me. I would fan on quiet lak an' still, soon I would grow tired an' sleepy an' would drop off ter sleep, too, an' sometimes I would tumble ter de floo', mos' ob de time I slept on a pallet on de floo' by her bed, an' was called on through de nite to do little things fer her. Later I was made ter do wuk 'round de house, such as bringin' in wood an' water, an' keepin' de fires agwine.
"As I growed ole'r I was sent ter de fields. My fust wuk of dis kin' was a pullin' up grass, thinin' corn, an pickin' cotton. I can neber fergit de acres an' acres ob snowy white cotton fields wid a bunch ob us a pickin', scattered in groups ober de big fields, wid de cotton sacks a hangin' from us' sholdiers. Mars he hurried us on but us took hit as slow an' easy lak as us could out dar in de hot sun. Us hollered an' sung spirituals an' uder songs dat us made up ourselves. Many ghos' stories was tole dat was hair raisin' an' scary to us little chaps. Tales ob all kind was tole as us picked on, listenin' fer de dinner bell. Dat was what us was a wukin' fer.
"In my younger days I believed in haints, but learned years ago dat deir wont no such thing. I learned ter figger 'em out to alwas' be a dog, or a cat, or pranks played by de shaddows an' de moonlight. If a nigger dont go git too scared he can fin' out what a haint is. One nite when I was a little chap I was sont out in de side yard, de win' was a blowin' a little bit rash, de moon was a shinin' dim lak. I was a goin' easy an' slow, a lookin' ober fust one sholdier den de uder one. Seberal big dark objects went an' took on de form ob monsters ready ter spring pon me, when I uped an' heard a whissin' muffled sound. I rolled my eyes in de direction ob de noise an' ter my horror, under a clump ob oak trees I saw two or three sure 'nuf' ghos' all white 'an bobbing up an' down, swingin' dis way 'an dat way, an' a comin' closer and closer ter me. I frez in my tracks, felt weak an' trembly, an' jist afore dey kotch me, I runed ober myslef screamin' in de house. Dis proved ter be swings de white chillun had lef' under de trees, wid big white pillows in dem. De win', an' dim moonlight was all a little nigger fer a real ghos' scare.
"When de slaves lef' de plantation, deir masters gib 'em a pass, dey had ter be back by a certain time, an' if dey failed men was sont after 'em. If a slave was found wid out a pass he was punished. I can 'member 'em havin' merry times at de frolics, a dancin' an' a singin' by de music ob de fiddles an' de guitars. De time would natually slip too fas' an' de fust thing dey knowed de patrol would be a ridin' atter dem, dey was 'fraid ter be drove in, an' laked a little 'citement too, so de slaves would cut long grap vines an' stretch dem across de road, by tyin' den ter trees De horses would be tripped an' the men throwed from dem.
"My Mars was kind ter his slaves 'til jest 'afore de war broke out, den he got pretty cruel. Dat was caused by him bein' so up-sot over de fear ob loosin' every thing an' de dread o' war changed him.
"When I was 'bout eight years ole de slaves was freed De war days was bad times fer us all, but when us got our freedom it was worse. Us didnt know whut ter do, or how te look out fer our selves. Us tried ter make a livin' by farmin' and fer the nex' three years us had a mighty hard time when Mr. Richard Fathering heard ob us. He knowed my ma and pa. We was happy de day he sent fer us. He moved us to Silver Creek in Lawrence County, ter work fer him in his Tan Yard. We stayed wid him fer three years when we went back to farmin'.
"I had my romance too. I met de girl I loved at a big meetin'. I knowed right deir and den I wanted Clara. I met her rejicing, smilin' an' lovin' lak. Fer six months I courted Clara. Other niggers tried to beat my time wid her, but I was smarter dan dem. We married in '77 and I aint never parted from her yit, or married no body else. I aint never to dis day staid 'way from her a night. We had ten chillun, half of em is dead. I think a heap o' Clara.
"Back in de days when I married, dey had de weddin' at de gal's house and staid deir dat night. De nex' day dey'd go to his Ma's house an dat was de enfare. Both ob 'em had good things cooked up an' sometimes give a dance. A dance then lasted all through de night.
"I am an old man now, but I like ter see things move on. I enjoy livin' and wish every body well.
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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