Produced by Andrea Ball and PG Distributed Proofreaders. Produced from images provided by the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division.
[TR: ***] = Transcriber Note
[HW: ***] = Handwritten Note
A Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews with Former Slaves
TYPEWRITTEN RECORDS PREPARED BY
THE FEDERAL WRITERS’ PROJECT
THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS PROJECT
WORK PROJECTS ADMINISTRATION
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
SPONSORED BY THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
the Federal Writers’ Project of
the Works Progress Administration
for the State of Arkansas
Roberts, Rev. J.
Robertson (Robinson?), George
Rogers, Oscar James
Rogers, Will Ann
Rooks, William Henry
Scott, Mollie Hardy
Smith, Emma Hulett
Smith, Ervin E.
Smith, Henrietta Evelina
Smith, John H.
Snow, Charlie and Maggie
Steel, Hezekiah (Ky)
Stephens, Charlotte E.
Stevens, William J.
Stewart, Minnie Johnson
Stith, James Henry
Tanner, Liza Moore
Thompson, Annie [TR: Corrected from “Thomas”] Thompson, Ellen Briggs
Tidwell, Emma (Bama?)
Trotter, Mark C.
Name of Interviewer: Cecil Copeland Subject: Social Customs–Reminiscences of an Ex-Slave Subject: Foods
This Information given by: Doc Quinn
Place of Residence: 1217 Ash Street, Texarkana, Arkansas Occupation: None [TR: also reported as Ex-slave.] Age: 93 [TR: also reported as 94.]
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Several months ago, I called at 1217 Ash Street, Texarkana, Arkansas where I had been informed a voluble old negro lived. An aged, gray-haired, negro woman came to the door and informed me her father was in the wood shed at the back of the house. Going around to the wood shed I found him busily engaged in storing his winter supply of wood. When I made known my mission he readily agreed to answer all my questions as best he could. Seating himself on a block of wood, he told this almost incredible story, along with lengthy discourses on politics, religion and other current events:
“I wuz born March 15, 1843, in Monroe County, Mississippi, near Aberdeen, Mah Mahster wuz Colonel Ogburn, one ob de bigges’ planters in de state of Mississippi. Manys de time he raised so much cotton dat dem big steamers just couldnt carry it all down to N’Awlins in one year. But den along came de Civil War an’ we didn’t raise nothin’ fo’ several years. Why? Becase most uf us jined the Confederate Army in Colonel Ogburn’s regiment as servants and bodyguards. An’ let me tell yo’ somethin’, whitefolks. Dere never wuz a war like dis war. Why I ‘member dat after de battle of Corinth, Miss., a five acre field was so thickly covered wid de dead and wounded dat yo’ couldn’t touch de ground in walkin’ across it. And de onliest way to bury dem wuz to cut a deep furrow wid a plow, lay de soldiers head to head, an’ plow de dirt back on dem.”
“About a year after de war started de Mahster got one ob dese A.W.O.L.’s frum de Army so we could come to Miller County, where he bought de place on Red River now known as de Adams Farm.
“When we fust came here dis place, as well as de rest ob de Valley, wuz just a big canebrake–nothin’ lived in dere but bears, wolves, and varmints. Why de Mahster would habe to round up de livestock each afternoon, put dem in pens, and den put out guards all night to keep de wolves and bears frum gettin’ em. De folks didn’t go gallivatin’ round nights like dey do now or de varmints would get them. But den we didn’t stay here but a few months until de Mahster’s A.W.O.L. wuz up, so we had to go back and jine de army. We fought in Mississippi Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.”
“When de war ended de Mahster moved us to Miller County, but not on de Adams farm. For de man whut used to own de farm said Uncle Sam hadn’t made any such money as wuz paid him for de farm, so he wanted his farm back. Dat Confederate money wuzn’t worth de paper it wuz printed on, so de Mahster had to gib him back de farm. Poor Massa Ogburn–he didn’t live long after dat. He and his wife are buried side by side in Rondo Cemetery.”
“Not long after de negroes wuz freed, I took 86 ob dem to de votin’ place at Homan and voted ’em all straight Democratic. On my way back home dat evenin’ five negroes jumped frum de bushes and stopped me. Dey ‘splained dat I wuz too ‘fluential wid de negroes and proceeded to string me up by de neck. I hollers as loud as I could, and Roy Nash and Hugh Burton, de election officers, just happen to be comin’ down de road and hear me yell. Dey ran off de niggers and cut me down, but by dat time I had passed out. It wuz several weeks befo’ I got well, and I can still feel dat rope ’round my neck. Iffen dey had known how to tie a hangmans knot I wouldn’t be here to tell you about it.”
“It wuzn’t long after dis dat I jined Colonel’ Baker’s Gang for ‘tection. ‘Colonel’ Baker wuz a great and brave man and did mo’ fo de white folks of dis country den any other man. Why iffen it hadn’t been fo’ him de white folks couldn’t hab lived in dis country, de negroes wuz so mean. Dey wuz so mean dat dey tied heavy plow shoes aroun’ de necks ob two little white boys and threw dem in de lake. Yes suh. I wuz dere.”
“And another time I wuz wid a bunch of niggers when dey wuz plannin’ on killin a white man who wuz a friend ob mine. As soon as I could I slips away and tips him off. When I got back one ob dem niggers looks at me suspicious like and asks, “where yo been, nigger?” I wuz shakin’ like a leaf in a storm, but I says: “I ain’t been nowhere–just went home to get some cartridges to help kill dis white man.”
“Not long after I jined Colonel Baker’s Gang, we wuz comin’ frum Fulton to Clipper through de Red River bottoms. De river wuz overflowin’ an’ as we wuz crossin’ a deep, swift slough, Colonel Baker and his horse got tangled up in some grape vines. Colonel Baker yelled, and I turned my mule around and cut all de grape vine loose wid my Bowie knife. Dere ain’t nothin’ like a mule for swimmin’. Dey can swim circles aroun’ any horse. As long as he lived, Colonel Baker was always grateful to me fo’ savin’ his life.”
“De Colonel hated de sight ob mean niggers. We would ride up to a negro settlement, and tell de niggers we wuz organizing a colored militia to catch Cullen Baker and his gang. Most ob de negroes would join, but some ob dem had to be encouraged by Colonel Baker’s big gun. De recruits would be lined up in an open field fo’ drilling. And dey sho wuz drilled. Colonel Baker and his men would shoot them by the score. Dey killed 53 at Homan, Arkansas, 86 at Rocky Comfort, (Foreman) Arkansas, 6 near Ogden, Arkansas, 6 on de Temple place, 62 at Jefferson, Texas, 100 in North Louisiana, 73 at Marshall, Texas, and several others.”
“All of de big planters wuz friendly to Cullen Baker. I have carried supplies many times frum de big plantations–Hervey, Glass, and others–to Cullen Baker. De Colonel always carried a big double-barrel shotgun. It must have been de biggest shotgun in de world, not less den a number eight size. He whipped 16 soldiers at Old Boston wid dis gun one time.”
“I saw Colonel Baker killed. We had just arrived at his father-in-law’s house and I wuz in the horse lot, about 50 yards from de house, when Joe Davis. Thomas Orr and some more men rode up.”
“De Colonel wuz standin’ by de chimney an did not see dem come aroun’ de house. Dey killed him befo’ he knew dey wuz aroun’. One ob de men asked Mr. Foster, “Where at dat d–n nigger?” I ducked down and crawled in under de rail fence and ran–I didn’t stop ’til I wuz deep in the Sulphur River bottoms. Every minute my heart seemed like it wuz goin’ to jump right out uv my mouth. I wuz the worst scared nigger that ever lived.”
“I have lived many years since dat time. De times and ways of livin’ have changed. I ‘member killing deer where the Texarkana National Bank stands, way befo’ Texarkana wuz even thought of. This place wuz one of my favorite deer stands. Nix Creek used to be just full ob fish. What used to be the best fishing hole aroun’ here is now covered by the Methodist Church (Negro), in East Texarkana. Dr. Weetten had a big fine home out where Springlake Park is. He wuz killed when thrown by a buckin’ horse. All of de young people I knew den have been dead many years.”
The question of eating special food on a particular day immediately brings in mind Thanksgiving Day, when turkey becomes the universal dish. Perhaps no other day in the year can be so designated, except among a few religious orders when the eating of meat is strictly prohibited on certain days.
The belief that negroes are particularly addicted to eating pork is well founded, as witness the sales of pork to colored people in most any meat market. But who could imagine that cotton-seed was once the universal food eaten in this vicinity by the colored people? That, according to Doc Quinn, a former slave, and self-styled exmember of Cullen Baker’s Gang, was the custom before and shortly after the Civil War.
The cotton-seed would be dumped into a hugh pot, and boiled for several hours, the seed gradually rising to the top. The seed would then be dipped off with a ladle. The next and final step would be to pour corn-meal into the thick liquid, after which it was ready to be eaten. Cotton-seed, it must be remembered, had little value at that time, except as livestock feed.
“Yes suh, Cap’n,” the old negro went on to explain. “I has never eaten anything whut tasted any better, or whut would stick to your ribs like cotton-seed, and corn-meal cake. Rich? Why dey’s nuthin dat is more nutritious. You never saw a healthier or finer lookin’ bunch of negroes dan wuz on Colonel Harvey’s place.
“I ‘member one time tho’ when he changed us off cotton-seed, but we didn’t stay changed fo’ long. No suh. Of all de grumblin’ dem niggers did, becase dey insides had got so used to dat cotton-seed and corn-meal dey wouldn’t be satisfied wid nothing else.”
“One mornin’ when about forty of us niggers had reported sick, de Mahster came down to de qua’ters. ‘Whut ailin’ ye’ lazy neggers?’ he asked. Dem niggers los’ about fifty pounds of weight apiece, and didn’ feel like doin’ anything. ‘Mahster,’ I say. ‘Iffen you’ll have de wimmen folks make us a pot full of dat cotton-seed and corn-meal, we’ll be ready to go to work.’ And as long as I work fo’ Colonel Harvey, one uv de bes’ men whut ever lived, we always had cotton-seed and corn-meal to eat.”
Name of Interviewer: Mrs. W.M. Ball Subject: Anecdotes of an Aged Ex-Slave.
Subject: Superstitious Beliefs Among Negroes. (Negro lore) Story:–Information:
Information given by: Doc Quinn
Place of Residence: 12th & Ash Sts., Texarkana, Ark. Occupation: None (Ex-Slave)
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“Mah young marster wuz Joe Ogburn. Me and him growed up togedder an’ I wuz his body guard durin’ de wahr. Many’s de day I’ze watched de smoke ob battle clear away an’ wait fo’ de return ob mah marster. All de time I felt we wuz born to win dat wahr, but God knowed bes’ an’ you know de result.
“Three years ago I went to Little Rook wid Mr. Fisher. Lac’ all folks whut goes to dis city, we wend our way to de Capitol to see de Governor. Gov. Futtrell sittin’ bac’ in his great fine office, saw me and jined me in conversation. De fus’ question he axed me wuz ‘whut party does yo’ ‘filiate wif?’ I sez, ‘de Democrat–de party whut’s a frien’ to de nigger.’ De Governor axed me how does I lac’ dis life? I sez ‘very well, tho’ things has changed since slavery days. Those wuz good ole days for de black man; didn’t hafter worry about nuthin’. Now, I sho’ does mah share ob worryin’. I worries from one meal to de odder, I worries about whure I’ze gwine get some mo’ clothes when dese wears out?’
“I tole de Governor mah ‘sperience wif de Republican Party durin’ de wahr. I been hung fo’ times in mah life an’ one ob de times by de Republicans. Long time ago, Mr. Roy Nash an’ Mr. Hugh Sutton wuz a settin’ ovah de ballot box on ‘lection day, when I voted 80 Democrats. Yas, suh; I jus’ marches ’em in an’ tells ’em how to cas’ dey vote. Dat night, on mah way home frum de votin’, goin’ down de lonely road, I wuz stopped an’ strung up to a tree by de neck. Dey ‘splained dat I wuz too ‘fluential wid de niggers. When I wuz hangin’ dere I did some manful howlin’. Dat howlin’ sho brought de white folks. When dey see mah distres’ dey ‘leased de rope an’ I wuz saved. Dat is when I ‘pealed to Col. Baker for ‘tection. He wuz mah frien’ as long as he lib, and he wuz a good frien’ ob de South ’cause he saved lots ob white folks frum de wrath ob de mean niggers.”
(Note: The Col. Baker referred to was Cullen Baker, the leader of a ruthless gang of bushwhackers that operated in this section shortly after the Civil War.)
Doc Quinn tells a “ghost story” connected with the old church at Rondo, built in 1861.
“De Masonic Hall wuz built up ovah dis buildin’ an’ ever month dey had dey meetin’. One night, when dey was ‘sembled, two men wuz kilt. Dat sho’ did scatter dat lot ob Masons and frum dat time on de spirits ob dese men roamed dis chu’ch. Sometime in de dead ob night, dat bell wud ring loud an’ clear, wakin’ all de folks. Down dey wud come, clos’ like, to de chu’ch,–but scared to go closer. Mr. Bill Crabtree, a rich man an’ a man whut wuz scared too, offered anybody $100.00 to go inside dat chu’ch an’ stay one hour. Didn’t nobody need dat $100.00 dat bad!”
The old negro tells the following grave yard story:
“One dark, drizzly night, de niggers wuz out in de woods shootin’ craps. I didn’t hab no money to jine in de game. One nigger say, “Doc, effen you go down to de cemetey’ an’ bring bac’ one ob dem ‘foot boa’ds’ frum one ob dem graves, we’ll gib yo’ a dollar.” I ambles off to de cemete’y, ’cause I really needed dat money. I goes inside, walks careful like, not wantin’ to distu’b nuthin’, an’ finally de grave stone leapt up in front ob me. I retches down to pick up de foot boa’d, an’ lo! de black cats wuz habin’ a meetin’ ovah dat grave an’ dey objected to mah intrudin’, but I didn’t pay ’em no mind; jus’ fetched dat boa’d bac’ to dem niggers, an’–bless de Lawd,–dey gib me two dollars!”
Superstitious Beliefs Among Negroes
Some aged Negroes believe that many of the superstitious ideas that are practiced by their race today had their origin in Africa. A practice that was quite common in ante bellum days was for each member of the family to extract all of their teeth, in the belief that in doing so the family would never disagree. Fortunately, this and similar practices of self mutilation have about become extinct.
An old custom practiced to prevent the separation of a husband and wife was to wrap a rabbit’s forefoot, a piece of loadstone, and 9 hairs from the top of the head in red flannel, and bury it under the front door steps.
As a preventitive against being tricked or hoo-dooed, punch a hole through a dime, insert a string through the hole, and tie it around the left ankle.
To carry an axe or hoe into the house means bad luck. An itching nose indicates some one is coming to see you, while an itching eye indicates you will cry.
Interviewer: Bernice Bowden
Person interviewed: Henrietta Ralls 1711 Fluker St.
Pine Bluff, Ark.
“Yes ma’am, I was here in slavery times. I was born in Mississippi, Lee County, March 10, 1850. Come to Arkansas when I was ten years old. Had to walk. My old master was Henry Ralls. Sometimes we jump up in the wagon and he’d whip us out.
“My old mistes name was Drunetta. She was good to us. We called her Miss Netta. Old master was mean. He’d whip us. One day he come along and picked up sand and throwed it in my eyes. He was a mean old devil. He thought I was scared of him. Cose I was. That was before the war.
“I recollect when the Yankees come. I knowed they was a’ridin’. White folks made me hide things. I hid a barrel of wool once–put meal on top. They’d a’took it ever bit if they could have found it. They wanted chickens and milk. They’d take things they wanted–they would that. Would a’taken ever bit of our wool if they could have found it.
“They wouldn’t talk to old mistes–just talk to me and ask where things was. She didn’t notice them and they didn’t notice her.
“I reckon the Lord intended for the Yankees to free the people. They was fightin’ to free the people.
“I hear em say war is still goin’ on in the world.
“The owners was tryin’ to hide the colored people. Our white folks took some of us clear out in Texas to keep the Yankees from gettin’ em. Miss Liza was Miss Netta’s daughter and she was mean as her old daddy. She said, ‘Oh, yes, you little devils, you thought you was goin’ to be free! She had a good brother though. He wanted to swap a girl for me so I could be back here with my mammy, but Miss Liza wouldn’t turn me loose. No sir, she wouldn’t.
“After freedom I hired out–cooked, milked cows and washed and ironed.
“I went back to Mississippi and stayed with my father. Old Henry Ralls sold my father fore we come to Arkansas.
“I never been married. I could have married, but I didn’t. I don’t know hardly why.
“I been makin’ my own livin’ pretty much since I left my father.
“Biggest majority of younger generation looks like they tryin’ to get a education and tryin’ to make a livin’ with their brain without usin’ their hands. But I’d rather use my hands–cose I would.
“I went to school some after the war, but I had to pay for it.
“I been disabled bout five or six years. Got to have somethin’ to take us away, I guess.”
Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson
Person interviewed: Diana Rankins, Brinkley, Arkansas Age: 66
“I was born at Arlington, Tennessee but when I was a chile the depot was called With. My parents’ name Sarah and Solomon Green. There was seven girls and one boy of us. My sister died last year had two children old as I was. I was the youngest chile. Folks mated younger than they do now and seem like they had better times when there was a big family.
“Adam Turnover in Charleston, South Carolina owned my papa. When he died they sold him. He was one year and six months old when he was sold.
“I think S.C. Bachelor, around Brownsville, Tennessee, owned mama first. She said they put her upon the block and sold her and her mother was crying. The man after he sold her ask her if she didn’t want him to sell her. She said she didn’t care but said she knowed she was afraid to say she cared cause she was crying. She never seen her mama no more. She was carried off on a horse. She was a little girl then. General Hayes bought her and he bought papa too. They played together. General Hayes made the little boys run races so he could see who could run the fastest.
“Papa said they picked him up and carried him off. He said they pressed him into the breastworks of the war. He didn’t want to go to war. Mr. Hayes kept him hid out but they stole him and took him to fight. He come home. He belong to Jack Hayes, General Hayes’ son. They called him Mr. Jack or Mr. Hayes when freedom come. Mr. Jack sent him to Como, Mississippi to work and to Duncan, Arkansas to work his land. I was fifteen years old when we come to Arkansas. Mr. Walker Hayes that was president of the Commercial Appeal over at Memphis lost his land. We been from place to place over Arkansas since then. Mr. Walker was General Hayes’ grandson. We worked field hands till then, we do anything since. I nursed some for Mr. Charles Williams in Memphis. I have done house work. I got two children. My son got one leg off. I live with him. This little gran’boy is the most pleasure to us all.
“The Ku Klux never did interfere with us. They never come to our house. I have seen them.
“When papa come from war it was all over. We knowed it was freedom. Everybody was in a stir and talking and going somewhere. He had got his fill of freedom in the war. He said turn us all out to freeze and starve. He stayed with the Hayes till he died and mama died and all of us scattered out when Mr. Walker Hayes lost his land.
“Ladies used to be too fine to be voting. I’m too old now. My men-folks said they voted. They come home and say how they voted all I know about voting.
“Walker Avenue in Memphis is named for Mr. Walker Hayes and Macremore was named for him or by him one.
“We never was give a thing at freedom but papa was buying a place from his master and got in debt and sold it. I don’t own a home.
“I have high blood pressure and the Welfare gives me $8 a month. I’m not able to work. When you been used to a good plenty it is mighty bad to get mighty near helpless.”
Interviewer: Mrs. Bernice Bowden
Person interviewed: Senia Rassberry 810 Catalpa Street, Pine Bluff, Arkansas Age: 84
“Yes’m, I know what I hear em say. Well, in slavery times I helped make the soldiers’ clothes.
“I was born on the old Jack Hall place on the Arkansas River in Jefferson County.
“I know I was ‘leven years old when peace declared. I reckon I can member fore the War started. I know I was bastin’ them coats and pants.
“My old master’s name was Jack Hall and old mistress’ name was Priscilla. Oh, yes’m, they was good to me–just as good to me as they could be. But ever’ once in awhile they’d call me and say, ‘Senia.’ I’d say, ‘What you want?’ They say, ‘Wasn’t you out there doin’ so and so?’ I’d say, ‘No.’ They say, ‘Now, you’re tellin’ a lie’ and they’d whip me.
“I was the house girl, me and my sister. My mammy was the cook.
“Old master had two plantations. Sometimes he had a overseer and sometimes he didn’t.
“Oh, they had plenty to eat, hog meat and cracklin’ bread. Yes ma’am. I loved that, I reckon. I et so much of it then I don’t hardly ever want it now. They had so much to eat. Blackberry cobbler? Oh Lawd.
“How many brothers and sisters? Me? My dear, I don’t know how many I had but I heard my mother say that all the chillun she did have, that she had ‘leven chillun.
“Our white folks took us to Texas durin’ of the War. I think my old master said we stayed there three years. My mother died there with a congestive chill.
“We come back here to Arkansas after freedom and I think my father worked for Jack Hall three or four years. He wouldn’t let him leave. He raised my father and thought so much of him. He worked on the shares.
“After freedom I went to school. I learnt to read and write but I just wouldn’t _do_ it. I learnt the other chillun though. I did _that_. I was into ever’thing. I learnt them that what I could do. Blue Back? Them’s the very ones I studied.
“In slavery times I had to rise as early as I could. Old master would give me any little thing around the house that I wanted. They said he was too old to go to war. Some of the hands run off but I didn’t know where they went to.
“Some of the people was better off slaves than they was free. I don’t study bout things now but sometimes seems like all them things comes before me.
“I used to hear em talkin’ bout old Jeff Davis. I didn’t know what they was talkin’ bout but I heered em.
“I was sixteen when I married and I had eleven chillun. All dead but four.
“Yes’m, I been treated good all my life by white and black. All of em loved me seemed like.
“I been livin’ in Arkansas all my life. I never have worked in the field. I always worked in the house. I always was a seamstress–made pants for the men on the place.
“After I come here to Pine Bluff I worked for the white folks. Used to cook and wash and iron. Done a lot of work. I _did_ that.
“I been blind ‘leven years but I thank the Lord I been here that long. Glory to Jesus! Oh, Lord have mercy! Glory, glory, glory to Jesus!”
Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson
Person interviewed: Clay Reaves, (light mulatto, large man) Palestine, Arkansas
“I will be eighty years old my next birthday. It will be July 6th. Father was bought from Kentucky. I couldn’t tell you about him. He stayed on the Reaves place that year, the year of the surrender, and left. He didn’t live with mother ever again. I never did hear no reason. He went on Joe Night’s farm. He left me and a sister older but there was one dead between us. Mother raised us. She stayed on with the Reaves two years after he left. The last year she was there she hired to them. The only thing she ever done before freedom was cook and weave. She had her loom in the kitchen. It was a great big kitchen built off from the house and a portico joined it to the house. I used to lay up under her loom. It was warm there in winter time. I was the baby. I heard mother say some things I remember well.
“She said she was never sold. She said the Reaves said her children need never worry, they would never be sold. We was Reaves from back yonder. Mother’s grandfather was a white man. She was a Reaves and her children are mostly Reaves. She was light. Father was about, might be a little darker than I am (mulatto). At times she worked in the field, but in rush time. She wove all the clothes on the place. She worked at the loom and I lay up under there all day long. Mother had three girls and five boys.
“Mr. Reaves, we called him master, had two boys in the army. He was a real old man. He may have had more than two but I know there was two gone off. The white folks lived in sight of the quarters. Their house was a big house and painted white. I’ve been in there. I never seen no grand parents of mine that I was allowed to claim kin with.
“When I got up some size I was allowed to go see father. I went over to see him sometimes. After freedom he went to where his brothers lived. They wanted him to change his name from Reaves to Cox and he did. He changed it from James Reaves to James Cox. But I couldn’t tell you if at one time they belong to Cox in Kentucky or if they belong to Cox in Tennessee or if they took on a name they liked.
“I kept my name Reaves. I am a Reaves from start to finish. I was raised by mother and she was a Reaves. Her name was Olive Reaves. Her old mistress’ name was Charlotte Reaves, old master was Edmond Reaves. Now the boys I come to know was John, Bob; girls, Mary and Jane. There was older children. Mother was a sensible, obedient woman. Nobody ever treated her very wrong. She was the only one ever chastised me. They spoiled me. We got plenty plain rations. I never seen nobody married till after the surrender. I seen one woman chastised. I wasn’t close. I never learned what it was about. Old Master Reaves was laying it on.
“Mother moved to New Castle, Tennessee from Mr. Reaves’ place. We farmed–three of us. We had been living southeast of Boliver, Tennessee, in Hardeman County. I think my kin folks are all dead. Father’s other children may be over in Tennessee now. Yes, I know them. Mother died over at Palestine with me. She always lived with me. I married twice, had one child by each wife. Both wives are dead and my children are dead.
“Mother said I had three older brothers went to the Civil War and never come back home. She never heard from them after they went off. I don’t know but it was my understanding that they was to be soldiers. I don’t recollect them.
“Mother got so she wasn’t able to work in the field several years before she died. She worked in the field long as she was able. She lived with me all my whole life till she died. But I farmed. Some years we done well and some years we jess could live. I farmed all my life but a few years. I love farm life. It is independent living. I mean you are about your own man out there. I work my garden out at my shop now. I make baskets and bottom chairs at Palestine. A few years I kept Mrs. Wilkerson’s yard and garden. Her husband died and she moved off to Memphis. They did live at Palestine.
“I heard it said that Reaves said he could keep his own farm. The Ku Klux never bothered us. I have heard a lot of things but I am telling you what I know. I don’t know nothing about the Civil War nor the Ku Klux. I was most too small a boy at that time to know much.
“I used to vote. Can’t write my name. Don’t fool with it.
“I went to school on rainy days. I went a few other days. People used to have to work. I always wanted to work. I piddle around all the time working now. I went to colored teachers all together. I can read a little.
“I had a brother-in-law in Arkansas. I heard a lot of talk. I come on a visit and stayed three months. I went back and moved here. I come to this State–over at Palestine–March 11, 1883 on Sunday. I have a good recollection, or I think I have for my age. I’ve lived a pretty sensible life, worked hard but had good health. If I had another life to live now I would go to the farm. I love farm life.
“I chop wood, garden, go in the woods get my splints for baskets, chairs. I live by myself. I eat out some with I call them kin. They are my sister’s children. I get some help, $10 and commodities.
“When I did vote I voted Republican or I thought I did. But now if I did vote, I might change up. Times have changed.
“I don’t know much about the young generation. I do talk with them–some. They are coming up in a changed time. I wouldn’t talk against the colored race of people. Some of them work–are good. Some don’t. I think some will not work. Maybe they would. I come to know mighty little about them–no more than I know about the white girls and boys. I see them on the streets about as much as I ever see colored folks anywhere.”
Interviewer: Mrs. Bernice Bowden
Person interviewed: Jane Reece
819 W. Ninth Street, Pine Bluff, Arkansas Age: 85
“I know this–I’m 85. I was born in North Carolina.
“Oh, yes’m, I ‘member the War.
“I’m three thousand miles from my home.
“Old John Blue (Belew?) was my white folks.
“I did have good white folks. Yes ma’am, I’ll say that. Stayed there a long time after we was sot free. They was good to us.
“My mother was the mother of twelve chillun–she was a fast breeder.
“I was the onliest girl and old missis was just wild about me. I had good owners. I don’t remember no hard treatment among ’em.
“I ‘member she used to have me runnin’ from house to house totin’ a little note. That’s the reason I had such a good time. Heap of times I slept up at the big house with old missis.
“I got a good memory. We was allowed to sing and pray. I know our white folks was good that way. I’ll say that for ’em. I won’t go back on ’em.
“Our folks stayed right on there a long time.
“My father died three years after ever’thing had done got quiet and peaceful.
“I left my husband back there and come here to Arkansas with my mother.
“The bigges’ work I done–I used to be terrible ’bout cookin’, washin’ and ironin’, and field work. Ever’thing a man ever done I’ve done–cut wood, cut down sprouts, barn brush–I’ve done ever’thing.
“Oh yes, I went to school a whole lot. Got so I could read. Used to write too, but all that done left me.
“I’m gwine tell you the truth, lady. I don’t know whether the folks is better off free or not. They is better off in one way–they is free–but this young race is the devil.”
Interviewer: Mrs. Bernice Bowden
Person interviewed: Frank Reed,
1004 Missouri Street, Pine Bluff, Arkansas Age: 78
“I was a little boy pickin’ up chips and helpin’ feed the hog in slavery times for old master. Name was George Houston. That was in Alabama.
“I reckon I do remember George Houston. As far as I know he was good to us. I remember when he died.
“Our people stayed right there after freedom. My mother was a Houston till she married.
“I reckon I do remember the paddyrollers. I remember the hounds runnin’ too. I never thought I would remember that no more.
“They didn’t get after me ’cause I was too little. It didn’t last long enough for ’em to get after me.
“I’m sick and not able to help myself. I got run over by a wagon.
“I’m livin’ here with my daughter. Her husband is a preacher and they got eight children, so you can imagine how much they can do for me.
“One word of the white folks is worth a thousand of ours.”
Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor
Person interviewed: James Reeves
2419 W. Twentieth Street, Little Rock, Arkansas Age: 68
“I was born in 1870 down in Ouachita County about fourteen miles south of Camden going on toward El Dorado. They didn’t have no railroad then. I was a young man when they put the branch through. You see, I was born five years after slavery, but I remember my mother, my grandmother, and my great-grandmother. They taken me and talked to me freely and I know everything they knew.
Great-Grandmother on Mother’s Side
“My great-grandmother belonged to the Goodmans. Her master was named Bob Goodman. She lived to get one hundred thirteen years old. From the children of the old master, I got the information concerning her age. I looked it up after emancipation. One of old master’s sons was named Frank Goodman, and another was named Norphleet Goodman, and there was another whose name I don’t recall.
“My grandmother, great-grandmother, was named Frankie Goodman. I wasn’t here in slavery time, but I knew her after emancipation.
Grandmother on Mother’s Side
“My grandmother was named Hannah Goodman. These were different Goodmans but they were kin to these others. There was a large family of them. I don’t know the correct age of my grandmother but she was up in the eighties when she died.
“My mother was born a Goodman, but she married Reeves, my father. The record of their marriage I ain’t got. Back there, they didn’t keep up like you and I do, and we don’t keep up like these younger folks do. Near as I could get it, she lived to be about seventy-one years old.
“My father was named Adam Reeves. His master was named Rick Reeves. My father was born in Union County about ten miles from El Dorado. You might say north of El Dorado because he lived south of Camden. He lived there all his life. I have known him to move out of Ouachita County into Union, and from Union back to Ouachita.
Grandfather on Mother’s Side
“My grandfather on my mother’s aide was Henry Goodman. His mistress was a woman by the name of Lucy Goodman. She was the same woman who owned my mother. There was a big family of them Goodmans.
“His age–he lived to be about eighty years old. He died in Hot Spring County.
Grandmother on Father’s Side
“My grandmother on my father’s side was named Hetty. Her master was named Sam Abbott. She lived right close to seventy-four or seventy-five years. She been gone quite a while now. She used to live with papa.
“I don’t know so much about another of my ancestors.
“My wife didn’t have many people. She knows her mother, her mother’s mistress, and all. Her ma was named Martha Henson. That was her married name. Her mistress’ last name was Stribling. Martha Henson was a well-treated slave. The Striblings lived in Rockport, Arkansas, but their native home was Georgia. I don’t know where the Striblings are now. The old man died before the Civil War broke out. I guess they are all dead and in torment. My wife’s grandmother and grandfather on her mother’s side were gone so far back that neither she nor I know anything about them.
“My great-grandmother on my mother’s side was in Union County when I knew anything of her–close to El Dorado. I was about twenty-two years old when she died. She was tall and spare built, dark ginger cake color. Coarse straight black hair that had begun to mingle with gray. She never did get real gray, and her hair was never white. Even when she died, at a hundred and thirteen years, her hair was mostly black mingled with gray.
“The overseer knocked her in the head in slavery times, and they had to put a silver half-dollar in her head to hold her brains in. I have seen the place myself. When I was a little fellow she used to let me feel the place and she would say, ‘That’s where the overseer knocked granny in the head, son. I got a half-dollar in there.’ I would put her hair aside–my but she had beautiful hair!–and look at the place.
“My wife could tell you what my mother told her. She has seen the marks on my mother’s back and has asked, ‘Mama, what’s all these marks on your back?’ And mama would say, ‘That’s where I was whipped in slavery times, daughter.’ She never did like to tell the details. But the scars were awful.
“My grandmother was roughly treated and she had pretty near lost her eyesight from the ill treatment. She got so before she died that she could hardly see to go nowhere. I don’t know what it was they done to her that made her eyesight bad, but she insisted that it was due to bad treatment in slavery time.
“I have heard that the pateroles used to run the slaves if they didn’t have a pass from their mistress and master. The pateroles would run them and catch them and whip them.
How Freedom Came
“All my mother knew was that it got out that the Negroes were free. The day before the old woman told them that they were free, my grandfather, Henry Goodman who was a teamster, old mis’ called him and told him to tell all the darkies to come up to the house the next day.
“Next morning, she said, ‘Henry, you forgot what I told you. I want you to call all the darkies up here this morning.’ Henry had a voice like a fog-horn. He started hollering. I wish I could holler the way he did, but I got to consider the neighbors. He hollered. ‘Tention, ‘tention, hey; Miss Lucy says she wants you all up to the big house this morning. She’s got somepin to tell you.’
“They all come up to the yard before the house. When they got there, she says to him–not to them; she wouldn’t talk to them that morning; maybe she was too full–‘Henry, you all just as free now as I am. You can stay here with Miss Lucy or you can go to work with whomsoever you will. You don’t belong to Miss Lucy no more.’
“She had been sick for quite a bit, and she was just able to come to the door and deliver that message. Three weeks after that time, they brought her out of the house feet foremost and took her to the cemetery. The news killed her dead. That’s been seventy years ago, and they just now picking up on it!
Slave Time Amusements
“The old people say they used to have breakdowns in slave time–breakdown dances with fiddle and banjo music. Far after slavery, they had them. The only other amusement worth speaking about was the churches. Far as the churches was concerned, they had to steal out and go to them. Old man Balm Whitlow can tell you all about the way they held church. They would slip off in the woods and carry a gang of darkies down, and the next morning old master would whip them for it. Next Sunday they would do the same thing again and get another whipping. And it went on like that every week. When old man Whitlow came out from slavery, he continued to preach. But the darkies didn’t have to steal out then. He’s dead now, him and the old lady both.
“The slaves lived in old log houses. Some of them would be hewed and put up well. I have seen lots of them. Sometimes they would dob the cracks with mud and would have box planks floors, one by eight or one by ten, rough lumber, not dressed. Set ’em as close together as they could but then there would be cracks in them. I can carry you to some old log houses down in Union County now if they haven’t been torn down recently.
“One old log house there used to be old lady Lucy Goodman’s home. It has four rooms. It has a hall running through it. It was built in slave times. There is a spring about two hundred yards from it. That is about ten or twelve feet deep. There is a big cypress tree trunk hollowed out and sunk down in it to make a curbing. That cypress is about two or three feet across. The old man, Henry Goodman, sunk that cypress down in there in slavery time. He drove an ox team all the time. That is all the work he done. She would tell all the overseers, ‘Now, don’t you fool with Henry because we ain’t never whipped him ourselves.’
“I don’t know who it is that is living now. It’s been fifty years ago since I was there.
Right After Freedom
“Right after freedom, when the surrender came, my mother was just a girl ’bout fifteen or sixteen. She married after freedom. Her and her husband farmed for a living–you know, sharecropped.
Ku Klux Klan
“The Ku Klux and the pateroles were the same thing, only the Klan was more up to date. It’s all set up with a hellish principle. It’s old Pharaoh exactly.
“The Ku Klux Klan didn’t have no particular effect on the Negro except to scare him.
“When the emancipation came about, the people of the South went to work to see what they could do about it. The whole South was under martial law. Some of the people formed the Ku Klux Klan to keep the Negro down. I never remember that they bothered any of our family or the people in our house. But they scared some and whipped more, and killed some.
Political Trouble about 1888
“The darkies and the white folks in Union County had an insurrection over the polls about the year 1888. In them days, when you wanted to put a Republican man in, you didn’t have to do much campaigning. They just went to the polls and put him in. Everybody that could vote was Republican. In the fall of 1888 they had a great trouble down there, and some of them got killed. They went around and commanded the Negroes not to go to the polls the next day. Some of the Negroes would tell them, ‘Well, I am going to the polls tomorrow if I have to crawl.’ And then some of them would say, ‘I’d like to know how you goin’ to vote.’ The nigger would ask right back, ‘How you goin’ to vote?’ The white man would say, ‘I’m goin’ to vote as I damn please.’ Then the nigger would say, ‘I’m going to do the same thing.’ That started the trouble.
“On Sunday before the election on Monday, they went around through that county in gangs. They shot some few of the Negroes. As the Negroes didn’t have no weapons to protect theirselves, they didn’t have no chance. In that way, quite a few of the Negroes disbanded their homes and went into different counties and different portions of the state and different states. Henry Goodman, my grandfather, came into Hot Spring County in this way.
“Roosevelt has got himself in a predicament. They are drunk and don’t know what to do. The whole world is stirred up over why one-fourth of the world should rule the other three-fourths. One-fourth of the world is white. The Bible says a house divided can’t stand. The people don’t know what to do. Look how they fight the Wage Hour Bill. Look at the excitement they raised when it was first suggested that the Union and Confederate veterans meet together.
“We were savages when we came over here. Everything we got and everything we know, good and bad, we got from the white folks. Don’t know how they can get impatient with us when everything we do they learnt us.
“Roosevelt has done more than any Democrat that has ever been in the Chair. He had to do something to keep down a rebellion. Then we like to had one as it is through the labor question.
“The poor white man always has been in a tight [HW: place]. He was almost as much oppressed as the Negro.
“The young people of today ain’t got no sense. They don’t give no thought to nothing. They don’t know how to think at all. All the schools and education they give don’t make them think. If I had as much education as they have, I would be able to accomplish something. The teachers don’t press down on them and make them know what they go over. There is a whole lot of things happening now.
Old People in Pulaski County
“Out in Pulaski County, going west out the Nineteenth Street Pike till you strike the Saline County line, there are quite a few old colored people. I guess you would find no leas than twenty-five or thirty out that way. There is one old man named Junius Peterson out that way who used to run a mill. If you find him, he is very old and has a good memory. He is a mulatto. You could get out to him by going down till you come to a place that is called the Henderson Lane. You turn to the right and go off the pike less than a mile and you come to a big one-story house settin’ on a hill where Peterson lives. Right on beyond that about three-fourths of a mile on the right side of the road, you come to George Gregory’s. The mother of my church is about eighty-one years old but she is over in Saline County. Her name is Jane Joyner.
“There are quite a few old persons around Woodson that can give you information. But that is in Saline County, I think. Sweet Home, Wrightsville, Toltec–all of them have a few old colored persons on the farm that was here in slavery times.”
Reeves’ story was taken because of his clear memories of his parents and grandparents. He described to me an old log house still standing in Union County.
I got all agog with excitement. I asked him for the exact location. He gave it. Then I suggested that maybe he would go down with me sometime to visit it. He agreed. Then at the last moment caution began to assert itself, and I said, “When was the last time you saw the cabin?”
He reflected a moment; then he said, “Waal, I guess it was a little more ‘an fifty years ago.”
I lost my enthusiasm.
Reeves told the Phill-la-me-york story which was told by Austin Pen Parnell. You will find it in his story. The only difference between his story and Parnell’s is that Reeves had the conclusion. He claimed that the old master got in a fight with one of the slaves present and yelled out his identity when he was getting badly beaten. The story sounds like it came from the Arkansas folklore collection or from someone who contributed it to that collection.
An aftermath of Reeves’ story is finding out that most people consider Henry Banner, whose story has been previously given and whose age was given as eighty-nine, is considered by many persons to be ninety-four.
Neely, one of the adult school-teachers, says that he has gone over Banner’s life carefully with him, and that he must have been twenty-one or twenty-two at the close of the War because during slavery, he had experience at logging, or rather at logrolling, a work so difficult that only full-grown men were used at it. Since Banner is slightly built, there is scarcely a possibility that he did such work before the normal time.
[HW: Cf. 30715 for interview with Parnell.]
Interviewer: Bernice Bowden
Person Interviewed: Shepherd Rhone
10th and Kentucky
Pine Bluff, Ark.
“Yes ma’am, I was bred and born in ‘sixty-three in Phillips County, Arkansas, close to Helena, on old Judge Jones’ plantation. Judge Jones, he was a lawyer. Remember him? I ought to, he whiped me enough. His wife’s name was Caroline Jones. She used to smack my jaws and pull my ears but she was a pretty good woman. The old judge was a raw one though. You had to step around or he’d step around for you.
“I stayed right there till I was grown. My mother was named Katie Rhone and my father was named Daniel Rhone. My mother was born in Richmond, Virginia and my father in Petersburg, Virginia.
“Judge Jones brought em here to Arkansas. My father was a bodyguard for old Judge Jones’ son Tom in the War. My father stuck with him till peace declared–had to do it.
“They was thirteen of us chillun and they is all gone but me, and I’ll soon be gone.
“I know when the Yankees come I run from em. When peace declared, the Yankees come all through our house and took everything they could get hold of to eat.
“The only reason the Yankees whipped the South was they starved em.
“I know one time when peace declared I caught afire and I run and jumped in a tub of water and I had sense enough not to tell my mother. A girl I was raised up with went and told her though.
“After freedom I worked for old Judge Jones on the half system. He give me everthing that was due me. When he was eighty years old, he called all his old tenants up and give em a mule and twenty-five dollars. He was pretty good to em after all.
“I went to free school in the summertime after the crops was laid by, I can read and write pretty good.
“I came here to Jefferson County in ‘eighty-six and I put in thirty-six years at the Cotton Belt Shops. When that strike come on they told us colored folks to quit and I never went back. I worked for em when she was a narrow gauge.
“I worked in the North three years. I nightwatched all over St. Louis and Madison, Illinois. I liked it fine up there–white folks is more familiar up there and seems like you can get favors. If I don’t get somethin’ here, I’m goin’ back up there.
“When I got big enough I voted the Republican ticket and after they got this primary. I think the colored people ought to vote now cause they make em pay taxes.
“I’ll tell you right now, the younger generation is goin’ to the dogs. We’ll never make a nation of em as long as they go out to these places at night. They ought to be a law passed. When nine o’clock comes they ought to be home in bed, but they is just gettin’ started then.
“I belong to the Catholic Church. I think it’s a pretty good church. We have a white priest and I’ll tell you one thing thing–you can’t get a divorce and marry again and stay in the Catholic Church.”
Interviewer: Mrs. Bernice Bowden
Person interviewed: Dora Richard
3301 W. 14th Avenue, Pine Bluff, Arkansas Age: 76
“I was born in South Carolina and I was my mother’s baby chile.
“Jacob Foster was our old master and he sold my mother over in east Tennessee. Now of cose she wasn’t put upon the block and sold. She was the house woman and spin and wove. After they sold her my father run off. Oh sure, they caught him and I know old mistress said, ‘Now, Jacob, if you want to go where Lydia is, you can go.’ So they sold him near her.
“I stayed with the Fosters till peace was declared and ever’thing was declared free. Then my father come after me.
“I can just sketch things. I try to forget it. My mother and father was pretty agreeable when they was set free.
“In Tennessee we stayed at the foot of Lookout Mountain and I can remember seein’ the cannon balls.
“Here’s the way I want to tell you. Some of the white people are as good to the colored people as they could be and some of em are mean. My own folks do so bad I’m ashamed of em.
“So many of the colored of the South have emigrated to the North. I have lived there and I don’t know why I’m here now.
“Some of my color don’t like that about the Jim Crow Law, but I say if they furnish us a nice comfortable coach I would rather be with my own people. And I don’t care to go to the white folks’ church.
“My mother used to tell me how they used to hide behind trees so the boss man couldn’t see em when they was prayin’ and at night put out the light and turn the pot down.
“I went to school in Tennessee. I never will forget it. I had a white teacher. He was in the War and he had a leg shot off. I went through the sixth grade and was ready for the seventh Ray’s Arithmetic. I walked four miles there and four miles back–eight miles a day.
“I can remember too when my mother and father was baptized. I know mama come out of the water a shoutin’. Oh, that was good times then. I felt better when I was under my mother cause when I married my life was over. I raised about ten children.
“I remember when the Ku Klux come to my sister’s house lookin’ for her husband. I know I was in the bed and I raised up. I was scared you know.
“When I hear some colored folks say they wish the old slavery times was back, I just knows they is lazy. They don’t want any responsibility.”
Interviewer: Mrs. Bernice Bowden
Person interviewed: Jim Ricks
517 E. 22nd Avenue, Pine Bluff, Arkansas Age: 79
“I was born in slavery times. I ‘member runnin’ from the Yankees when they wanted to carry me off. Just devilin’ me, you know. You know how little chillun was ’bout white folks in them days.
“I went to school three weeks and my daddy stopped me and put me to work.
“Old master was named Jimmie Ricks. They named me after him, I think.
“My mother said he was a mighty good master. Didn’t ‘low his niggers whipped.
“Yes’m, I was born and raised in Arkansas, down here in Calhoun County.
“I had a chance to learn but I was a rowdy. I wanted to hunt. I was a mighty huntsman.
“I was a good worker too. White folks was all stuck on me ’cause I was a good worker.
“I did farm work and then did public work after the crops was laid by. But now I got too old to work.
“I seen the Ku Klux once or twice when they was Ku Klukin’ around. Some of ’em would holler ‘Kluk, kluk, kluk.’ I was quite small, but I could remember ‘am ’cause I was scared of ’em.
“I farmed all my life till year before last. I was a good farmer too.
“I used to vote years ago. I voted Republican. Yes ma’am.
“Younger generation ain’t near like they was when I was young. I was well thought of. Couldn’t be out after sundown or they’d bump my head. My stepfather would give me a flailin’. I thought he was mean to me but I see now he done right by whippin’ me.
“I know in slavery times they got plenty of somethin’ to eat. Old master fed us well.”
Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson
Person interviewed: Charlie Rigger
R.F.D., three miles, Palestine, Arkansas Age: 85 plus, doesn’t know age
“I was born six miles from Mounticellar close to the line of Morgan and Jasper County. Mother belong to the Smiths. Her father was part Creek (Indian). They all was sold to Floyd Malone. His wife was Betsy Malone. They had five children.
“When I was a child I lay under the loom day after day picking up the sickle. Ma was a cook and a weaver too.
“Malone was a good man but his wife was one of ’em. She was a terrible piece of humanity. Father was a farm hand. They had a gin, a shoe shop, and a blacksmith shop all on Floyd Malone’s place. I picked a little cotton before ‘mancipation. Floyd Malone had to buy my mother to git her where my father was.
“Some of the boys wore dresses till they was twelve or fifteen years old. One fellar rode a mule or cow one the other to preaching. While he sit talking to his gal at the window a steer cone up and et off his dress tail. Boys got to courting before they got to take off their long shirts.
“They wasn’t so good to mother. She run off several times. She went ’bout one and one-half miles to her mother on the Compton place. They didn’t whoop her. They promised her a whooping. They whooped her and me too but I never knowed ’em to whoop my father. When they whoop my mother I’d run off to place we lived and crawl under the house.
“We chillun had nothing to do wid coffee. We drunk milk out little bowls. We’d turn it up or lap it out which one could do the best. They fed us. We’d ask for more till we got filled up.
“I recollect the soldiers come by in July 1863 or 1864 and back in December. I heard talk so long ‘fore they got there I knowed who they was. They took my oldest brother. He didn’t want to go. We never heard from him. He never come back. My white master hid out. He didn’t go to war. One son went and come back. It was the Yankees made my oldest brother go. The first crowd in July swapped their wore-out scrub stock for our good stock. That second crowd cleaned them out, took our hogs. Miss Betty had died ‘fore they come in July. That second crowd come in December. They cleaned out everything to eat and wear. They set the house ‘fire several times with paper and coal oil (kerosene). It went out every time. One told the captain. He come up behind. It went out every time. He said, ‘Let’s move on.’ They left it clean and bare. We didn’t like them. We had meat hid in the cellar. We got hungry that spring sure as you born.
“The old man married pretty soon after freedom. He married young to what he was.
“I didn’t find much fault to slavery ‘cepting the abuse. We et three times a day and now if I get one piece I do well. Mother cooked, washed, ironed and spun four cuts a day. We all et at the master’s kitchen three times a day. We had thirty-two families. I’ve heard that ag’in time and ag’in so as I recollect it till now. We didn’t have to work no harder ‘en we do now if you have a living.
“Master waited till all there. He had a horn made sorter like a bugle for that business. Called us to our meals. We stayed a year. Went to his brother’s one year, then to Major Lane’s big farm. We had to work about the same as b’fore freedom. Not much change.
“The Ku Klux come ’round right smart. Some had on skin coverings, cow heads and horns. Some wore white sheets and black dresses on white horses. They was scary looking. They would whoop and kill too. I was too scared to get caught off at night.
“Mother died. I was traveling about. I spent thirteen months in Mississippi. Three winters right in Memphis. I married in Mississippi. I left two daughters in Georgia. My wife died. I come to Arkansas in 1902. I live all alone.
“This present generation is traveling too fast. It-is-to-be. Fast traveling and education. Times not good as it always have been b’fore that last war (World War). When the white folks start jowing we black folks suffers. It ain’t a bit our fault. Education causes the black man to see he is bit (cheated) but he better not say a word. It very good thing if it is used right. Fast traveling is all right in its place. But too many is traveling and they all want to be going. We got into pretty fast time of it now. It-is-to-be and it’s getting shoved on faster.”
Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson
Person interviewed: Ida Rigley, Forrest City, Arkansas Age: 82
“I was born in Richmond, Virginia. Colonel Radford and Emma Radford owned my mother. They had a older girl, Emma and Betty and three boys. I called her Miss Betty.
“My mother was Sylvia Jones and she had five children. Bill Jones was my father. He was a born free man and a blacksmith at Lynchburg, Virginia in slavery times.
“He asked Colonel Radford could he come to see my mama and marry her. They had a wedding in Colonel Radford’s dining room and a preacher on the place married them. They told me. My father was a Presbyterian preacher. I heard papa preach at Lynchburg. He had a white principle but no white blood. I never knew him very much till long after freedom.
“Miss Betty Radford was raising me for a house girl. I was younger than her children. Mother was a weaver for all on the place. Old aunt Caroline was the regular cook but my mother helped to cook for hands he hired at busy seasons of the year. My sisters lived in the quarters and mama slept with them. She helped them. They worked in the field some. They was careful not to overwork young hands. They cooked down at the quarters. They had a real old man and woman to set about and see after the children and feed them. The older children looked after the babies. When Miss Betty went off visiting she would send me down there. I did love it.
“Emma and Betty went to school at Richmond in a buggy. They had a colored boy driver. He was the carriage driver. Emma and Betty would play with me too. Miss Betty fed me all the time. She made me a bonnet and I can’t get shed of my bonnet yet. I got four bonnets now.
“When the white folks had a wedding it lasted a week. They had a second day dress and a third day dress and had suppers and dinner receptions about among the kin folks. They had big chests full of quilts and coverlets and counterpanes they been packing back. Some of them would have big dances. A wedding would last a week, night and day.
“They had a farm right. We had peacocks, white guinea and big black turkeys, cows, sheep, goats, hogs; he had deer. He kept their horns cut off and some of the cow’s horns were off. We had a acre in a garden and had roses and all kinds of flowers. I like flowers now. Tries to have ’em. They had a gin on the place. He raised corn, rye, cotton, and tobacco. The hands got their supplies on Saturday. On rainy days all the women would knit, white and colored both. Miss Betty knitted some at night in winter. They had a shop to sharpen and keep all the tools in. A particular old man made the brooms and rakes.
“It seem like there wasn’t so many flies. Miss Betty mixed up molasses and flour and poison and killed flies sometimes. She spread it on brown paper. We had fly weed tea to set about too sometimes. We didn’t have to use anything regular. We didn’t have no screens. We had mighty few mosquitoes. We had peafowl fly brushes. They was mighty pretty.
“One thing we had was a deep walled well and an ice-house. They cut ice in blocks and put it up for winter[HW:?]. We had one spring on the place I know.
“They kept hounds. Colonel Radford’s boys and the colored boys all went hunting. We had ‘possum and potatoes all along in winter; ‘possum grease won’t make you sick. Eat all you want. I’d hear their horn and the dogs. They would come in hungry every time. I never seen no whiskey. He had his cider and vinegar press and made wine. We had cider and wine all along. Colonel Radford was his own overseer and Charlie his oldest boy. They whooped mighty little. They would stand up and be whooped. Some of the young ones was hard-headed and rude. He advised them and they minded him pretty well.
“Our yards was large and beautiful; some had grass and some clean spots about in the shade. Friday was wash day. Saturday was iron day. Miss Betty would go about in the quarters to see if the houses was scrubbed every week after washing. They had to wear clean clothes and have clean beds about her place. She’d shame them to death.
“Colonel Radford had a colored church for us all. It was a log house and he had a office for his boys to read and write and smoke cob pipes in. The white folks’ church was at the corner of his place. I went there most. They shouted and pat their hands. Colonel Radford was a Baptist.
“Nearly every farm had a fiddler. Ever so often he had a big dance in their parlor. I’d try to dance by myself. He had his own music by the hands on his place. He let them have dances at the quarters every now and then. Dancing was a piece of his religion.
“I don’t think our everyday frocks was stiffened but our dress up clothes was. It was made out of flour–boiled flour starch. We had striped dresses and stockings too. We had checked dresses. We had goobers and a chestnut grove. We had a huckleberry patch. We had maple sugar to eat. It was good. We had popcorn and chinquapins in the fall of the year, I used to pick up chips to use at the pot. I had a little basket. I picked up corn cobs. They burnt them and made corn cob soda to use in the bread and cakes. We parched peeled sweet potatoes slice thin and made coffee.
“The Civil War was terrible. One morning before we was all out of bed the Yankees come. It was about daylight. He and the three boys were there. They didn’t burn any houses and they didn’t hesitate but they took everything. They took all Miss Betty’s nice silverware. They took fine quilts and feather beds. That was in the fall of the year. They drove off a line of our slaves (a block long) fer as from me to that railroad. Made them go. They walked fast in front of the cavalrymen. They took mama and my sisters. She got away from them with her girls and found her way back to papa at Lynchburg.
“Colonel Radford went and took some of the slave men and his boys. They brought home plenty beds and a barrel of salt. He brought back plenty. He sent his slave man to town any time. They had no notion leaving.
“One time some Yankees come. I run hid around Miss Betty’s long dress. She was crying. They was pulling her rings off her fingers. I told them to quit that. One of the mean things said, ‘Little nigger, I shoot your head off.’ They took all her nice clothes. They said they took all niggers. I sassed them. They went in another room. I shot under Miss Betty’s big skirt. They looked about for me but they thought I run off to my mama. She was gone but they didn’t know it. I seen my best times then. We had a good time there. Miss Betty was good and kind to me. Good as I wanted. I wish I had that good now.
“The soldiers come and I knowed it was the Yankees I hated. They took all they could find and wasted a lot of it. I was scared. I kept hid about. The slaves put their beds and clothes up on the wagons and went off behind them and some clumb up in the wagons. I heard Miss Betty say, ‘They need not follow them off, they are already free.’ The way she said it, like she was heart broken, made me nearly cry and I remember her very words till this day. She was a good woman.
“Mama come and got me long time after that and I didn’t want to go nor stay neither. It was like taking me off from my own home. Papa was freeborn and freedom I couldn’t understand till I was long grown. I never got a whooping in my life. I was taught politeness.
“During slavery we bought mighty little. Flour in barrels, salt. We had Maple sugar and sorghum molasses in bounty. We was happy and had plenty to eat and wear.
“I learned to make the fine cakes from a Jew woman (Jewess), Mrs. Isaac. I’ve been called a cook here in Forrest City. I was taught by Mrs. Isaac to make angel food, coffee cake, white bread and white cakes. From that I made the other kinds my own self.”
People in Forrest City send for Ida and keep her a week or two baking Christmas and wedding cakes.
Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson
Person interviewed: Milton Ritchie
R.F.D., Brinkley, Arkansas Age: 78
“I was born in Marietta Hotel at Marietta, Georgia. The hotel belong to Milton Stevens. He had two sons. One died fo I was born and Pink was in the war. Mistress Thursday was old moster’s wife. We all had to refugee. My sister was down in the bottoms with all the slaves and cattle when she died. She took sick and died suddenly. They heard the soldiers was coming to Atlanta and knowed they would come by Marietta. Moster Stevens sold the hotel just at the beginning of the war. He moved to the country. Mama cooked at the hotel and in the country both. The hotel was a brick house on the railroad where they fed a lot of people every day. Moster Milton used to take me bout where he went, rode me on his foot when I was a baby. After they went to the farm every evening Mistress Thursday come get me, take me to the house. She got bread and butter, sugar, give it to me and I slept on a pallet in her room. I never did know why she done that. Mama had a little house she slept in. She cooked. They never whooped me. They never whooped mama.
“One time the Federal army camped not a great ways from us. One time I was playing in a gully–big red ditch. I spied the Federals coming. I flew out the ditch up the hill and across the field. They was calvary men camped back of our field. We all left that place and refugeed to another place. They didn’t burn the house but they sent two bullets through the walls or that house. ‘Old Granny’ was too old to refugee. She kept living by herself in a house on the place. They never bothered her. She wasn’t kin to us but Moster Milton owned her and kept her fed. We raised sugar-cane, hogs, corn, and goobers. The sugar-cane had no top. I got a whooping every Monday. Mama whoop me. We go drink sugar-cane juice in the trough at the mill. We got up in there with our feet. They had to wash out the troughs. It was a wood house. It was a big mill. He sold that good syrup in Atlanta. It wasn’t sorghum. The men at the mill would scare us but we hid around. They come up to the house and tell on us.
“We had moved from the farm when they burned Atlanta. From the place where Moster Milton refugeed I could hear a roaring all the time nearly, sometimes clearer, and the roaring was broke sometimes.
“Moster Milton ran the farm when he run the hotel cept I was born at the hotel and Mistress Thursday lived there then too. He had all Negro overseers. Each overseer had a certain lot of hands to do what he told them. He didn’t have no trouble. He told them if they made something for them and him too it would be fine, if they didn’t work they would have to do without. They had plenty they said.
“My mama was sold on the block in Virginia when she was twelve years old. She and her little brother sold the same day. Moster Milton Stevens bought her. The same man couldn’t buy them both, didn’t have money enough. They had a little blanket and she and her brother cut it into and put it around their shoulders. They been sleeping together and Moster Milton brought her home on his horse up behind him. Her mama was crying when she left her. She never heard nor seen none of her folks no more she told me. (The old Negro cried.)
“My mama and papa was dark but both was mixed. They never told me if it was white or Indian. Papa was a tall, big bony man. Mama wasn’t so big and stouter. He never tried to get away from his owners. He belong to Sam Ritchie five or six miles away. I never beard much about them. They had Negro overseers. Papa was a foreman. He tanned the cow hides and made shoes for all the hands on Ritchie’s place. He made our shoes over there too. They said Stevens and Ritchies didn’t keep bad dogs. Mistress Eliza Ritchie was a Stevens before she married. Papa never was sold. He said they was good to them. Mama was named Eliza too and papa George Ritchie.
“When freedom was on papa went to Atlanta and got transportation to Chattanooga. I don’t know why. He met me and mama. She picked me up and run away and met him. We went in a freight box. It had been a soldier’s home–great big house. We et on the first story out of tin pans. We had white beans or peas, crackers and coffee. Meat and wheat and cornbread we never smelt at that place. Somebody ask him how we got there and he showed them a ticket from the Freedmans bureau in Atlanta. He showed that on the train every now and then. Upstairs they brought out a stack of wool blankets and started the rows of beds. Each man took his three as he was numbered. Every night the same one got his own blankets. The room was full of beds and white guards with a gun over his shoulder guarded them all night long. We stayed there a long time–nearly a year. They tried to get jobs fast as they could and push em out but it was slow work. Mama got a place to cook at–Mrs. Crutchfield’s. She run a hotel in town but lived in the country. We stayed there about a year. Papa was hired somewhere else there.
“Papa got us on a farm in middle Tennessee after that. We come to Mr. Hooper’s place and share cropped one year, then we went to share crop for Wells Brothers close to Murfreesboro. I been on the farm all my life since then.
“The Ku Klux never pestered us. I heard about them.
“The Welfare helps me and I would do work if I could get work I can do. I could do light work. Times is hard. Hard to get a living. I don’t mind work. I couldn’t do a day’s work now.
“The young generation is beyond me. I don’t be about them much.”
Interviewer: Mrs. Bernice Bowden
Person interviewed: Alice Rivers
W. 17th, Highland Addition, Pine Bluff, Arkansas Age: 81
“Yes’m, I remember when the Yankees come. I ricollect when they throwed out all the meat from old master’s smokehouse. The colored folks was tryin’ to ketch it and I know I tried to ketch it too.
“Don’t I look like I been here in Reb. time? I was born in Mississippi on Colonel Reed’s place in 1857.
“I just know the Yankees come through. Had on blue coats with gold lookin’ buttons. I never will forget it ’cause it was so frightening.
“I can ricollect way back there.
“I don’t know whether the white folks was good or not, we hardly ever saw ’em. Had a old woman that cooked for the chillun at the quarters. I ricollect they had a big old kittle and she’d cook that full of somethin’. I know the old lady give us plenty of somethin’ to eat.
“All the white folks didn’t treat their hands mean. Some of ’em was a fool ’bout them little niggers.
“Old woman what cooked for the chillun was old Aunt Henie and she walked half bent with a stick.
“I went to school some after freedom. Learned how to spell and read but not much writin’.
“I can’t tell you ’bout no whippin’s ’cause if they whipped the folks they didn’t do it at the quarters where the chillun was.
“I been farmin’ all my life till I come to Arkansas in 1916. Since then I first cooked and washed. I ain’t worked out in three years now.
“I gets a little pension from the Welfare and I make out on that. My granddaughter lives with me. She will finish high school in May and then she can take care of herself.
“I used to own this place but it was sold for taxes. Don’t make any difference if you is as old as Methuselah you got to pay them taxes. Old Caeser started ’em and we’ve had to pay ’em ever since.
“Younger generation ain’t mannerly now like they was when I was young. Chillun used to be obedient but they got to have their way now. Old folks done put the chillun where they is now and they ought to take care of ’em.
“I don’t know where the world gwine come to in the next five years. I reckon they’ll all be dead way they’re gwine now. Storms takin’ ’em away here and war in them other countries.”
Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson
Person interviewed: J. Roberts, Brinkley, Arkansas Age: 45 or 50
Occupation: Methodist preacher
“My father was a Federal soldier in the Civil War. He was from Winston, Virginia. He went to war and soon after the end he came to Holly Grove. He was in Company “K”. He signed up six or seven papers for men in his company he knew and they all got their pensions. Oh yes! He knew them. He was an awful exact honest man. He was a very young man when he went into the war and never married till he come to Arkansas. He married a slave woman. She was a field woman. They farmed. Father sat by the hour and told how he endured the war. He never expected to come out alive after a few months in the war.
“John Roberts Collins was his owner in slavery. I never heard why he cut off the Collins. I call my own self J. Roberts.”
“The present times are hard times. Sin hath caused it all. Machinery has taken so much of the work.”
“The present generation are fair folks but wild. Yes, the young folks today are wilder than my set was. I can’t tell you how but I see it every way I go.”
Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson
Person interviewed: George Robertson? or George Robinson? Brinkley, Arkansas
“My papa named Abe Robertson. His owner named Tom Robertson. I was born in middle Tennessee. My mama named Isabela Brooks. Her master named Billy Brooks. His wife name Mary Brooks. My master boys come through here six years ago wid a tent show. My papa went off wid the Yankees. Last I seed of him he was in Memphis. They took my mama off when I was a baby to Texas to keep the Yankees from gettin’ her. My grandma raised me. We stayed on the big plantation till 1880.
“I don’t want no Sociable Welfare help till I ain’t able to work. I don’t want none now.”
(To be continued) [TR: no continuation found.]
Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor
Person interviewed: Augustus Robinson 2500 W. Tenth Street, Little Rock, Arkansas Age: 78
“I was born in Calhoun County, Arkansas in 1860, January 15th. I am going according to what my daddy told me and nothing else. That is all I could do.
How the Children Were Fed
“My grandmother on my mother’s side said when I was a little fellow that she was a cook and that she would bring stuff up to the cabin where the little niggers were locked up and feed them through the crack. She would hide it underneath her apron. She wasn’t supposed to do it. All the little niggers were kept in one house when the old folks were working in the field. There were six or seven of us.
“My daddy was a white man, my master. His wife was so mean to me that my master sold me to keep her from beating me and kicking me and knocking me ’round. She would have killed me if she could have got the chance. He [HW: My daddy] sold me to a preacher who raised me as though I were his own son. Whenever he sat down to the table to eat, I sat down. He made no difference at all. He raised me in El Dorado, Arkansas. His name was James Goodwin. He sent me to school too.
Visited by Father
“When Harrison and Cleveland ran for President, my [HW: white] father came to Little Rock. Some colored people had been killed in the campaign fights, and he had been summoned to Little Rock to make some statements in connection with the trouble. He stopped at a prominent hotel and had me to come to see him. When I went up to the hotel to meet him, there were a dozen or more white men at that place. When I shook hands with him, he said, ‘Gentlemen, he’s a little shady but he’s my son.’ His name was Captain I.T. Robinson. He lived in Lisbon, Arkansas.
“My mother’s name was Frances Goodwin. She belonged to Captain Robinson. I don’t know but I think that when they came to Arkansas, they came from Georgia. They were refugees. When the War started, people that owned niggers ran from state to state to try to hold their niggers.
“I lived right in the yard. We had four houses in the yard and three of them was made of logs and one was made out of one-by-twelve planks. I lived in the one made out of planks. It had one big room. I reckon it was about twenty by fifteen, more than that, I reckon. It was a big room. There [HW: were] two doors and no windows. We had old candlesticks for lights. We had old homemade tables. All food was kept in the smokehouse and the pantry. The food house and the smokehouse were two of the log cabins in the yard.
“Goodwin schooled me. [TR: First sentence lined out.] He had a teacher to come right on the place and stay there teaching. He raised me and brought me up just as though I was his own child.
“I remember getting one whipping. I didn’t get it from Mr. Goodwin though. His brother gave it to me. His brother sent me to get a horse. An old hound was laying in the way on the saddle and the bridle. He wouldn’t move so I picked up the bridle and hit him with it. He hollered and master’s brother heard him and gave me a whipping. That is the only whipping I ever got when I was small.
“I heard of the Ku Klux Klan but I don’t know that I ever seen them. I never noticed what effect they had on the colored people. I just heard people talking about them.
“The first work I did was farming–after the War. I farmed,–down close to El Dorado, about six miles away from there. I kept that up till I was about seventeen or eighteen years old or somewheres about there. That was on James Goodwin’s place–my last master, the man who raised me. Then I left him and came to Little Rock. I don’t remember in what year. I went to school here in Little Rock. I had already had some schooling. My grandmother sent me. The school I went to was called the Union School. It was down on Sixth Street. After I left there, I went to Capitol Hill School. I was going to school during the Brooks-Baxter War. The statehouse was on Markham Street and Center. My grandmother’s name was Celie Robinson. She went by the name of her owner.
“After I had gone to school several years–I don’t remember just how many–I worked down town about ten or eleven years. Then I went to railroading. First I was with the Iron Mountain and Southern. Later, it changed its name to the Missouri Pacific. I worked for them from 1891 to 1935. On August 29th I received my last pay check. I have tried ever since to get my railroad pension to which my years of service entitle me but have been unable to get it. The law concerning the pension seems to have passed on the same day I received my last check, and although I worked for forty-four years and gave entire satisfaction, there has been a disposition to keep me from the pension. While in service I had my jaw broken in two pieces and four front teeth knocked out by a piece of flying steel.
“Another man was handling the steam hammer. I was standing at my regular place doing my regular work. When that happened, I was cut down like a weed. There wasn’t a man ever thought they would see me in that job again after that piece of steel cut me down.
“Also, I lost my right eye in the service when a hot cinder from the furnace flew in it while I was doing my regular work. Then I was ruptured because of the handling of heavy pieces of iron at my work. I still wear the truss. You can see the places where my jaw was broke and you can see where my teeth were knocked out.
“Out of all the ups and downs, I stuck to the company just the same until they retired me in 1935 because of old age. The retirement board wanted to know when I asked for a pension, why did I think I was entitled to a pension? I told them because I had been injured through service with the company and had honorably finished so long a period of service. It is now admitted that I am eligible to a railroad pension but there seems to still be a delay in paying it for some reason or other.
“I get a little assistance from the Welfare, and I get some commodities. If it wasn’t for that, I would be broke up.”
[HW: Brooks-Baxter War was about 1872-74.]
Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson
Person interviewed: Malindy Robinson 8th Street, West Memphis, Arkansas Age: 61
“I was born in Wilkerson County, Mississippi. My ma never was sold, She said she was eleven years old when peace was declared. Master Sims was grandma’s owner. Grandpa was never sold. He was born in Mississippi. He was a mulatto man. He was a man worked about the house and grandma was a field woman. She said she never was whooped but worked mighty hard. They was good to grandma. She lived in the quarters. My parents b’long to the same owner. But far as I ever knowed they married long after freedom. They was raised close to Woodville, Mississippi.”
Interviewer: Mary D. Hudgins
Person interviewed: Tom Robinson
Home: Lives with his son on outskirts of Hot Springs
As I entered Goldstein Grade school for colored I passed an old fellow sitting on the sidewalk. There was somthing of that venerable, dignified, I’ve-been-a-slave look about him, so much of it that I almost stopped to question him. Inside I entered a classroom, where a young woman was in conference with a couple of sheepish youngsters who had been kept in after school.
Did she know the whereabouts of any ex-slaves? She beamed. Only the other day an old man had appeared on the school grounds. She appealed to her charges. Didn’t they remember that she had told them about him and about what slavery had meant. Sheepish looks were gone. They were agog with interest. Yes ‘um, they remembered. But none of the three knew his name or where to find him.
Another teacher entered the room. No, she couldn’t remember the name. But the old man often came up to watch the children at play. He said it made him happy to see them getting opportunities he never could have had. Wait a minute–he might be outside at this very moment. A clatter of heels and calls of triumph. “Yes! Yes! Here he is!”
Outside I dashed to _drop flat on the sidewalk_[HW:?] beside the aged man I had passed a few minutes before. Out came my smile and a