Let us hear now from Anna Parkes. A quick word before we hear her voice: Keep in mind that Anna’s record is a historical artifact of the post-Civil War, Jim Crow South, the late 1930s to be exact. She is not from our own time, and she does not speak to us in language with which we are accustomed, nor perhaps entirely comfortable.
Some readers may look at Anna’s words and think that, because she doesn’t speak disparagingly of her former masters, she is defending or glorifying the institution of slavery. She is not speaking to the institution of slavery as a whole, but to her own experiences. And as you’ll see later in her testimony, she is very much aware that her experiences as a slave were atypically uneventful. If you’d like, you can go to the Library of Congress website to see the original transcript.
Her testimony is lengthy, and we’ll take it in parts. Here is the first part:
150 Strong Street
Written by: Sarah H. Hall
Federal Writer’s Project
Edited by: John N. Booth
Federal Writer’s Project
Residencies 6 & 7
Anna Parkes’ bright eyes sparkled as she watched the crowd that thronged the hallway outside the office where she awaited admittance. A trip to the downtown section is a rare event in the life of an 86 year old negress, and, accompanied by her daughter, she was taking the most of this opportunity to see the world that lay so far from the door of the little cottage where she lives on Strong Street.
When asked if she liked to talk of her childhood days before the end of the Civil War, she eagerly replied: “’Deed, I does.” She was evidently delighted to have found someone who actually wanted to listen to her, and proudly continued: “Dem days sho’ wuz sompin’ to talk ‘bout. I don’t never git tired of talkin’ ‘bout ‘em. Paw, he wuz Olmstead Lumpkin. Us lived at de Lumpkin home place on Prince Avenue. I wuz born de same week as Miss Callie Cobb, and whilst I don’t know z’ackly what day I wuz born, I kin be purty sho’ ‘bout how many years ole I is by axin’ how ole Miss Callie is. Fust I ‘members much ‘bout is totin’ de key basket ‘round ‘hind Ole Miss when she give out de vitals. I never done a Gawd’s speck of work but dat. I jes’ follerred ‘long atter Ole Miss wid ‘er key basket.
“Did dey pay us any money? Lawdy, Lady! What for? Us didn’t need no money. Ole Marster and Ole Miss all time give us plenty good sompin’ teat, and clo’es, and dey let us sleep in a good cabin, but us did have money now and den. A heap of times us had nickles and dimes. Dey had lots of comp’ny at Ole Marster’s, and us allus act might spry waitin’ on ‘em, so dey would ‘member us when dey lef’. Effen it wuz money dey gimme, I jes’ couldn’t wait to run to de sto’ and spend it for candy.”