Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
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From the WPA Slave Narratives:
I was born in Arkansas, at a place by the name of Red Fork. I don't know nothing about what part of the state its in. I just remember the name. I is heard my mammy say, at time of surrender, I was about six years old. I don't know how she knowed it, 'less old Miss told her. I was a little chap but big enough to wait on old Miss. My daddy was named Willis Walton, and my mammy, Lizzie. They had four children, three boys and me. Ellie, was the name of one of the boys. The names of the other two sons 'scaped me, at the present speaking.
The houses the slaves lived in was built of logs. They was all side by side, and that was called the quarters. Every house had a great big log fireplace. The bed was built up side the wall and had mattresses stuffed with hay and corn shucks. The children slept in what they called trundle beds. In the daytime they was rolled under the big beds, to get them out of the way. There was a great big cook kitchen where everybody ate together, 'cept on Sunday, when everybody cooked their own something to eat on the big log fireplaces, in their houses. We sure didn't lack for plenty of food.
The smoke house was kept full of meat, and to go with the meat, we had hominy, 'taters, corn bread, coons, rabbits, possums, greens and vegetables of all kinds. Food, seem like it didn't make you sick, no matter how much you eat, like it do now. There was one great big garden where the vegetables was raised for everybody.
The cloth, our clothes was made out of, was woven on the place. They had what they called looms to make it on. Our dresses was long and natural color, for every day. Our Sunday clothes was striped, in the prettiest colors you ever seed. We wore the same kind of dresses all the year round but in the cold weather we had real heavy underwear to keep us warm. The shoes were made on the place too. Everybody wore shoes, when it was cold. They was made pretty good, and would have been comfortable if the tacks, what held the soles on, hadn't always been coming through and sticking in your foots. I can't remember nothing about my grandpa and grandma, but I sure can recollect Master Sam Terry and his wife, Miss Ann. They didn't have no children so old Miss took me in the big house to be her little nigger. Her house wasn't made out of logs like ours was. It was boarded up and had a big hall through it. It wasn't fine like houses is now, but I was sure proud to stay in it. I slept in old Miss room, in a little wooden bed, that set over in one corner. I wasn't old enough to do no work, 'cept bath old Miss' foots, pick up her thread and scissors, when she dropped them, get down the gourd and hand her a drink of water, and all little waiting on like that. She didn't never give me no money, but she sure would give me the best pan cakes and lasses you ever tasted. My mammy said old Miss had me so rotten spoiled I wasn't worth killing.
Master looked after the place his self. He wouldn't have no overseer cause he said they was too mean to the slaves. He had a colored man for driver. I did know his name, but its gone out of my 'membrance now. There was plenty poor white trash living around us, but old Miss sure wouldn't low me to play with them. She tell me, if she catch me with them children, she going to wear me plumb out, but she ain't never so much as struck me with a feather in all the days of my life.
Master's place was big and he owned a heap of slaves but I don't know nothing bout the number of acres there was or how many slaves, 'cept as I said before there was heaps of them. Every morning before day, the big bell rang for them all to get up and be ready to go to the fields by sun up. The working day was from sun to sun. No working at night. When Supper was over their time was their own. There wan't no jails for slaves. When they done wrong they got whipped. Most of the whippings was for running off. The patrollers was the ones to catch the runaways and they did most of the whipping. I never seed nobody whipped, but ever now and then I would hear of it. There wasn't no bad mistreatment went on. Master wouldn't have none of that. I is heared how slaves was put on the block and sold but I never seed that either. They never came by our place with none for sale. Old Miss tried to learn me to read and write and count on my fingers, but I never did learn. None of the slaves had any schooling, while slavery lasted. Old Miss, also learned me to say my prayers. Every night she would go over "Our Father" with me till I could say it by myself. There wasn't no church ot attend, but an old white man used to come on the place on Sunday and read to us from the Bible. We just set around in the yard and listened, when the weather was good. When it rained we all went under the shed. They never held no baptizings and the only funeral I can remember was that of a real old woman, they called grandma. She didn't have no casket; nothing but a plain wooden coffin, that was made on the place. No preacher to conduct the service. Every body on the place was at the grave. They sang and prayed as best they knowed how to show respect to the dead.
Lots of slaves ran off. I don't know if they went to the North. They said they was going to make it to the free country. Most of them did make it there, 'cause they never did get them back. By the time the freedom came, most every one had gone. My mammy and Daddy ran off. I didn't see them no more till after peace was declared. She came after me and brought two colored Yankee soldiers with her. I see them coming and ran in the house and told old Miss, "Yonder comes some of them blue jackets." She says, "They is comin to set you free, but you is going to stay with me, ain't yo Before I could answer, my mammy decided that question. She said she come to get me, and she was going to carry me back Old Miss knowed wan't no use trying to keep me, so she says
"If Callie wants to go, carry her on." I loved Old Miss, and I hated to leave her but you know how children is. They is always ready, when they hears the word go. There wasn't never no trouble between the colored folks and the whites. They didn't run off for no reason of that kind, nor because they was mistreated. They just heared about that freedom, from one person and another, who would picture it to be something grand, and they all wanted to be free. The only way news was carried was from one to the other. Whenever you see them gang together telling that "They say" - so and so, you know right then, they don't know who "They" is.
When the slaves went to the quarters, after the day's work was done, they could do whatsoever they pleased. Some---time they play the guitar or banjo and sing. Saturday night they most generally went to the log house and danced. There wasn't no work went on in the fields Saturday after dinner. The women took that time to do the washing and make their soap. They didn't buy soap in them days. They made it. No work of no kind went on Sundays. In the fall of the year they would go to the woods and gather nuts. In the winter---time they set around the fire, and cracked and ate them.
Christmas was the big day on that place. Everybody was given a present, such as hams, molasses, and clothes. The children hung their stockings up and they was filled with apples, oranges, candy and cakes. Every family cooked Christmas dinner at their own house. On the 4th of July, we had a big barebecue dinner. We ate to our hearts content. No work on that day. Our corn shuckings wasn't in the form of a party. Rainy days when nothing else could be done we went to the cribs and shucked the corn. We liked that cause everybody was together and could laugh and sing and have a good time. I never did play with none of the children on the place. Old Miss had a swing put up for me, under one of the big trees in her yard. She made me lots of pretty rag dolls and dressed them all up nice. When she went out in her carriage, I set on a little stool at her feet. She always took me with her. She said she didn't want me hearing all them stores 'bout "Rawhead and bloody bones" or "hants" and ghosts, that was told to the children to scare them. One reason I ain't scared of all them things now, is because it was all kept from me, when I was young. I ain't never seed a ghost in my life, but I believe somebody has died in this very house I lives in, 'cause heaps of times I wakes up in the night and hears something scratching on the walls. There is something buried here, somewhere---no doubt about that. I asked the people living next to me, if they knowed anything about it, but they is people I don't class with, so I can't put no 'pendence in what they says. They believes in all these Hoo doo doctors. I let them persuade me to try one of them doctors just one time. The old man had some kind of a book that could shake your sickness off, if you put your hands on it. I put my hands on it, and it sure did nearly shake me to pieces. They learned later, the book was made out of electricity. So they ran the old man away from here. If them folks could do all they claims they can, they would be living a little better their selves. All that sort of thing came along after slavery time. When a slave got sick, a white gentleman doctor came and gave him the right kind of medicine to cure him. The old woman on the place, nursed him back to health. The old women was pretty good doctors too for little small ailments. They made herb teas that were mighty good for colds. They made a medicine for the children, that cured them of worms. Children now ain't healthy like them children was. They all wore asafetida bags around their necks which kept them from having diseases. I wear a piece of lead and a penny now for my heart trouble. Its the only thing that does me any good.
After the war was over and my mammy had come got me away from old Miss, we lived where the soldiers was camping. My mammy cooked and washed for them. The Ku Klux Klan didn't bother us none. They might have been scared to come around, on account of them soldiers. Schools was started for the colored folks. They was taught by a white man from the North. Everybody had a blue back book. I lived right there till I married a man by the name of Sam Washington. We moved to Rosedale to live. From there we moved to Friars Point. My husband worked at the oil mill and I took in washing. I ain't never worked a day in the field in my life. From there we moved to Louisville, Kentucky. My husband had a good job working in a saloon, and I was maid for the saloon keeper's wife. I lost my husband while I was living there. At that time I had three children living. Two boys and a girl. Both boys were living in Chicago, so they sent for me to come live with them. I stayed with them 'till my married daughter living in Clarksdale got sick and I came here to nurse her. I took care of her till she died. She had one son, Henry. He is the only grandchild I got, and I would be much better off if I didn't have him. He got all his ma's things, and wouldn't give me nothing, even so much as a fork to eat with. He put me out of the house. Had the police after me. Said I got after him with a knife when he was the one got after me. That boy is something awful. Whatever will become of him, the Lord Almighty knows. My youngest son, Mitchell, done got down with the T.B. He has been in the hospital in Chicago now for five or six years. My other son sends a little money to care for me whenever he can. That's why I is living on relief. Since I has had my stroke, I ain't able to do nothing. If it was slavery time now, I would sure be better off. No rent, to pay, and nobody have to stand for my doctor's bill. The white ladies treats me good, and the meat market man gives me scraps of meat for my stew. Thats more than the folks got after the war, and they was expecting forty acres and a mule.
Don't ask me nothing about all them men 'cause I sure don't know nothing about the, and all I is heard of them is that Abraham Lincoln wanted to free the slaves and Jefferson Davis would not let him, so they had to fight it out. Some of the colored fought on one side, and some on the other. They was just like children. The ones whats got good Mas and Pas wants to stay with them, and the ones whats got mean ones, wants to leave them. The shame of the times is the way children these days is being brought up. They just comes up themself. Yes sir, its a crying shame. They just don't have no respect for me, with my head as white as snow. They got no religion and folks is bad off when they don't have the Lord to depend upon. The parents no better than they are. Thats why I say, I don't class with none of them. I lives by myself and with myself. "Good morning, How is you today?" is as much conversation as I lets pass my lips.
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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