As we continue with Anna’s testimonial, let me recommend a book that came out just a few months ago, Edward Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. Baptist argues persuasively that America’s growth into a modern, industrialized state is a direct result of the success of slavery in the South in the nineteenth century. The development of cotton, one of the most important commodities of the early industrial revolution, fueled the American economy in the antebellum period, making the United States an indispensable trade partner in the burgeoning textile industry. Cotton’s development as a cash crop breathed new life into the plantation system of the South, and slavery thus flourished in the lands of the Old Southwest. One of the saddest aspects of the growth of slavery in the South was the forced migration of slaves from places like Virginia to Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Perhaps as many as a million slaves were put on forced marches west over the Appalachians into those newly opened territories to cultivate cotton. I highly recommend this book as a powerful history of U.S. slavery.
Here’s Anna talking about her experiences going to church, waking up on Christmas morning, slave funerals, and two of the most prominent men in American history.
“Us had our own Negro church. I b’lieves dey calls it Foundry Street whar de ole church wuz. Us had meetin’ evvy Sunday. Sometimes white preachers, and sometimes Negro preachers done de preachin’. Us didn’t have no orgin or planny in church den. De preacher hysted de hymns. No Ma’am, I cyan’ ‘member no songs us sung den dat wuz no diffunt f’um de songs now-a-days, ‘ceppen’ dey got orgin music wid de singin’ now. Us had c’lections evvy Sunday in church den, same as now. Ole Marster give us a little change for c’lection on Sunday mawnin’ kaze us didn’t have no money of our own, and he knowed how big it made us feel ter drap money in de c’lection plate. Us Meferdis had our bapizin’s right dar in de church, same as us does now. And ‘vival meetin’s. Dey jes’ broke out any time. Out on de plantations dey jes’ had ‘vival meetin’s in layin’ by times, but here in town us had ‘em all durin’ de year. Ole Marster used ter say: ‘Mo’ ‘vivals, better Negroes.’
“Evvybody oughter be good and jine de church, but dey sho’ oughtn’t to jine effen dey still gwine to act like Satan.
“Us chillum would git up long ‘fore day Chris’mas mawnin’. Us used ter hang our stockin’s over de fire place, but when Chris’mas mawnin’ come dey wuz so full, hit would of busted ‘em to hang ‘em up on a nail, so dey wuz allus layin’ on Ma’s cheer when us waked up. Us chllun won’t ‘lowed to go ‘round de big house early on Chris’mas mawnin’ kaze us mought ‘sturb our white folkses’ rest, and den dey done already seed dat us got plenny Santa Claus in our own cabins. Us didn’t know nuffin’ ‘bout New Years Day when I was chillun.
“When any of us Negroes died Ole Marster was mighty extra good. He give plenny of time for a fun’ral sermon in de afternoon. Most of de fun’rals wuz in de yard under de trees by de cabins. After de sermon, us would go ‘crost de hill to de Negro buyin’ ground, no far f’um whar our white folkses was buried.
“Us never bothered none ‘bout Booker Washin’ton, or Mister Lincum, or none of dem folkses ‘way off dar kaze us had our raisin’ f’um de Lumpkins and dey’s de bes’ folkses dey is anywhar’. Won’t no Mister Lincum or no Booker Washin’ton gwine to help us like Ole Marster and us knowed dat good and plenny.
“I cyan ‘member much ‘bout playin’ no special games ‘ceppin’ ‘Ole Hundud.’ Us would choose one, and dat one would hide his face agin’ a tree whilst he counted to a hundud. Den he would hunt for all de others. Dey done been hidin’ whilst he wuz countin’. Us larned to count a-playin’ ‘Ole Hundud’.
“No Ma’am, us never went to no school ‘till after de War. Den I went some at night. I wukked in de day time atter freedom come. My eyes bothered me so I didn’t go to school much.
“Yes Ma’am, dey took mighty good care of us effen us got sick. Ole Marster would call in Doctor Moore or Doctor Carleton and have us looked atter. De ‘omans had extra good care when dey chilluns comed. ‘Til freedom come, I wuz too little to know much ‘bout dat myself, but Ma allus said dat Negro ‘omans and babies wuz looked atter better ‘fore freedom come den dey ever wuz anymo’.
“Atter de War wuz over, a big passel of Yankee mens came to our big house and stayed. Dey et and slept dar, and dey b’haved powerful nice and perlite to all our white folkses, and dey ain’t bother Jedge Lumpkin’s servants none. But den evvybody allus b’haved ‘round Jedge Lumpkin’s place. Ain’t nobody gwine to be brash ‘nough to do no devilment ‘round a Jedges place.
“Hit was long atter de War ‘fo’ I married. I cyan’ ‘member nuffin’ ‘bout my weddin’ dress. ‘Pears like to me I been married ‘mos of my life. Us jes’ went to de preacher man’s house and got married. Us had eight chillum, but dey is all dead now ‘ceppin’ two; one son wukkin’ way off f’um here, and my daughter in Athens.
“I knows I wuz fixed a heap better fo’ de War, than I is now, but I sho’ don’t want no slav’ry to come back. It would be fine effen evvy Negro had a marster like Jedge Lumpkin, but de won’t all dat sort.