Category Archives: “Slaves of My Ancestors” series

Susan Castle on Life After Emancipation


Here is the last segment of Susan Castle’s testimonial for the Federal Writer’s Project. I don’t know about you, but when I reach the end of Susan’s testimonial, I am loathe to part with her.

Here is a forthcoming history of slavery entitled A Short History of Transatlantic Slavery by British/Irish historian Kenneth O. Morgan that looks fascinating. You can pre-order the book prior to its scheduled release, which is November 2015 (same as another book with promise, hmmmm). Here is the description from Amazon:

From 1501, when the first slaves arrived in Hispaniola, until the nineteenth century, some twelve million people were abducted from west Africa and shipped across thousands of miles of ocean – the infamous Middle Passage – to work in the colonies of the New World. Perhaps two million Africans died at sea. Why was slavery so widely condoned, during most of this period, by leading lawyers, religious leaders, politicians and philosophers? How was it that the educated classes of the western world were prepared for so long to accept and promote an institution that would later ages be condemned as barbaric? Exploring these and other questions – and the slave experience on the sugar, rice, coffee and cotton plantations – Kenneth Morgan discusses the rise of a distinctively Creole culture; slave revolts, including the successful revolution in Haiti (1791-1804); and the rise of abolitionism, when the ideas of Montesquieu, Wilberforce, Quakers and others led to the slave trade’s systemic demise. At a time when the menace of human trafficking is of increasing concern worldwide, this timely book reflects on the deeper motivations of slavery as both ideology and merchant institution.

And here are Susan Castle’s final words to us–

“Christmas was somepin’ else. Us sho’ had a good time den. Dey give de chilluns china dollas and dey sont great sacks of apples, oranges, candy, cake, and evvything good out to de quarters. At night endurin’ Christmas us had parties, and dere was allus some N****r ready to pick de banjo. Marse Thomas allus give de slaves a little toddy too, but when dey was havin’ deir fun if dey got too loud he sho’ would call ‘em down. I was allus glad to see Christmas come. On New Year’s Day, de General had big dinners and invited all de high-falutin’ rich folks.

“My mudder went to de corn shuckin’s off on de plantations, but I was too little to go. Yes Ma’am, us sho’ did dance and sing funny songs way back in dem days. Us chillum used to play ‘Miss Mary Jane,’ and us would pet our hands and walk on broom grass. I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout charms. Dey used to tell de chillum dat when old folks died dey turned to witches. I ain’t never seed no ghostes, but I sho’ has felt ‘em. Dey made de rabbits jump over my grave and had me feelin’ right cold and clammy. Mudder used to sing to Miss Lucy to git her to sleep, but I don’t ‘member de songs.

“Marster was might good to his slaves when dey got sick. He allus sont for Dr. Crawford Long. He was de doctor for de white folks and Marster had him for de slaves.

“My mudder said she prayed to de Lord to not let N*****s be slaves all deir lifes and sho’ ‘nough de Yankees comed and freed us. Some of de slaves shouted and hollered for joy when Miss Marion called us togedder and said us was free and warn’t slaves no more. Most of ‘em went right out and left ‘er and hired out to make money for deyselfs.

“I stayed on wid my mudder and she stayed on wid Miss Marion. Miss Marion gave her a home on Hull street ‘cause mudder was allus faithful and didn’t never leave her. After Miss Marion died, mudder wukked for Miss Marion’s daughter, Miss Callie Hull, in Atlanta. Den Miss Callie died and mudder come on back to Athens. ‘Bout ten years ago she died.

“I wukked for Mrs. Burns on Jackson Street a long time, but she warn’t no rich lady lak de Cobbs. De last fambly I wukked for was Dr. Hill. I nussed ‘til atter de chillum got too big for dat, and den I done de washin’ til dis misery got in my limbs.”

When asked about marriage customs, she laughed and replied: “I was engaged, but I didn’t marry though, ‘cause my mudder ‘posed me marryin’. I had done got my clothes bought and ready. Mrs. Hull helped me fix my things. My dress was a gray silk what had pearl beads on it and was trimmed in purple.

“What does I think ‘bout freedom? I think it’s best to be free, ‘cause you can do pretty well as you please. But in slav’ry time, if de N*****s had a-behaved and minded deir Marster and Mist’ess dey wouldn’t have such a hard time. Mr. Jeff Davis ‘posed freedom, but Mr. Abraham Lincoln freed us, and he was all right. Booker Washin’ton was a great man, and done all he knowed how to make somepin’ out of his race.

“De reason I jined de church was dat de Lord converted me. He is our guide. I think people ought to be ‘ligious and do good and let deir lights shine ‘cause dat’s de safest way to go to Heben.”

At the conclusion of the interview Susan asked: “Is dat all you gwine to ax me? Well, I sho’ enjoyed talkin’ to you. I hopes I didn’t talk loud ‘nough for dem other N*****s to hear me, ‘cause if you open your mouth dey sho’ gwine tell it. Yes Ma’am, I’se too old to wuk now and I’se thankful for de old age pension. If it warn’t for dat, since dis misery tuk up wid me, I would be done burnt up, I sho’ would. Good-bye Mist’ess.”


Susan Castle: Thomas Cobb “Had Too Many Slaves To Do Anything Himself”


T. R. R. Cobb’s house in Athens, Georgia. Susan Castle was a slave in this house.

In this segment, Susan tells us more about life as a slave of T. R. R. Cobb in Athens, Georgia. Here she tell us about Cobb’s family, that he sometimes whipped his slaves, and about his funeral after he was killed at the battle of Fredericksburg. Cobb was killed by stray shrapnel near the end of the day’s fighting, but there were rumors that he was shot by his own men out of spite. Susan’s perspective on Cobb’s death is interesting.

Susan was a child in the waning years of slavery, but the work was still hard. We get a sense of the never-ending labors endured by slaves, even from the standpoint of a child slave.


A must-read on the history of slavery from women’s perspective is Deborah Gray White’s Arn’t I a Woman?: Female Slaves in the Plantation South. Slave women had to endure the crushing weight of racism, but also had to deal with sexism as well. White’s book was first published in 1985 and the second edition appeared in 1999, but it is a classic work on the subject of women in slavery.

“In summer time us wore checked dresses made wid low waistes and gathered skirts, but in winter de dresses was made out of linsey-woolsey cloth and underclothes was made out of coarse unbleached cloth. Petticoats had bodice tops and de draw’s was made wid waistes too. Us chllun didn’t know when Sunday come. Our clothes warn’t no diffu’nt den from no udder day. Us wore coarse, heavy shoes in winter, but in summer us went splatter bar feets.

“Marse Thomas was jest as good as he could be, what us knowed of ‘im. Miss Marion, my Mist’ess, she won’t as good to us as Marse Thomas, but she was all right too. Dey had a heap of chillum. Deir twin boys died, and de gals was Miss Callie, Miss Sallie, Miss Marion (dey called her Miss Birdie), and Miss Lucy, det Lucy Cobb Institute was named for. My mudder was Miss Lucy’s nuss. Marse Thomas had a big fine melonial (colonial) house on Prince Avenue wid slave quarters in de back yard of his 10-acre lot. He owned ‘most nigh dat whole block ‘long dar.

“Oh! dey had ‘bout a hundred slaves I’m sho’, for dere was a heap of ‘em. De overseer got ‘em up ‘bout five o’clock in de mornin’ and dat breakfast sho’ had better be ready by seben or else somebody gwine to have to pay for it. Dey went to deir cabins ‘bout ten at night. Marse was good, but he would whup us if we didn’t do right. Miss Marion was allus findin’ fault wid some of us.

“Jesse was de carriage driver. Carriages was called phaetons den. Dey had high seats up in front whar de driver sot, and de white folks sot in de carriage below. Jesse went to de War wid Marse Thomas, and was wid him when he was kilt at Fredericksburg, Virginia. I heard ‘em say one of his men shot ‘im by mistake, but I don’t know if dat’s de trufe or not. I do know dey sho’ had a big grand fun’al ‘cause he was a big man and a general in de War.

“Some of de slaves on Marse Thomas’ place knowed how to read. Aunt Vic was one of de readers what read de Bible. But most of de Niggers didn’t have sense enough to learn so dey didn’t bother wid ‘em. Dey had a church way downtown for de slaves. It was called Landon’s Chapel for Rev. Landon, a white man what preached dar. Us went to Sunday School too. Aunt Vic read de Bible sometimes den. When us jined de chu’ch dey sung: “Amazing Grace How Sweet de Sound.”

“Marse Thomas had lots of slaves to die, and dey was buried in de colored folks cemetery what was on de river back of de Lucas place. I used to know what dey sung at fun’als way back yonder, but I can’t bring it to mind now.

“No Ma’am, none of Marse Thomas’ N*****s ever run away to de Nawth. He was good to his N*****s. Seems like to me I ‘memberrs dem patterrollers run some of Marse Thomas’ N*****s down and whupped ‘em and put ‘em in jail. Old Marse had to git ‘em out when dey didn’t show up at roll call next mornin’.

“Marse Thomas allus put a man or de overseer on a hoss or a mule when he wanted to send news anywhar. He was a big an and had too many slaves to do anything himse’f.

“I ‘spect dey done den lak dey does now, slipped ‘round and got in devilment atter de day’s wuk was done. Marse Thomas was allus havin’ swell elegant doin’s at de big house. De slaves what was house servants didn’t have no time off only atter dinner on Sundays.”

Susan Castle’s Testimonial of Her Life as a Slave


Susan Castle with her son and the Hull children

I hope you enjoyed reading Anna Parkes’ testimonial about her life as recorded in the Federal Writer’s Project. Again, my purpose in including her testimonial is, in some small way, to allow her voice to be heard once again. As wonderful a project as “Born in Slavery” was as undertaken by the government in the 1930s, it would be easy for these testimonials to be buried in the archive and neglected. Since I have a personal connection to Anna Parkes and Susan Castle, I feel a sense of responsibility to not only hear their voices, but to introduce them to the world in which I live.

Let’s now hear from Susan Castle. She and her family served my great-great-great grandfather, T. R. R. Cobb in Athens, Georgia. Let me offer a heads-up as we prepare to read her words: she frequently uses the n-word to describe herself and other black people. I thought about editing it out, but was loathe to do so because these are Susan’s words, and they are in a very real sense, sacred. We just need to bear in mind that this word was much more accepted in the time and context. We can also read the word and be reminded of the many ways in which African Americans were degraded as a race by slavery and by virulent racism during this period.

The picture above was taken at the turn of the twentieth century. As you’ll see in Susan’s testimonial, she continued on with the Hull family after the war. Susan is standing with her little boy on the left with the Hull children. My grandmother’s mother, Sally Hull, is among the children.


1257 W. Hancock Ave.
Athens, Georgia

Written by:    Sadie B. Hornsby
Edited by:      Sarah H. Hall
Athens and
John N. Booth
District Supervisor
Federal Writers’ Project
Augusta, Georgia


Ex-Slave—Age 78

On a beautiful morning in April, the interviewer found Susan sitting in the door of her cabin. When asked if she would like to talk about the old plantation days, she replied: “Yes Ma’am, I don’t mind tellin’ what I know, but for dat I done forgot I sho’ ain’t gwine make nothin’ up. For one thing, I ain’t never lived on no plantation. I was a house servant in town.” She added: “Do you mind me axin’ you one favor?” Consent was given and she continued: “Dat is, please don’t call me Aunt Susan; it makes me feel lak I was a hundred years old.

“I was borned in Clarke County, March 7, 1860; I believes dat’s what dey say. Mudder was named Fannie and Pappy’s name was Willis. Us chillum called ‘im Pappy lak he was de onliest one in de world. He fust belonged to Marse Maxwell of Savannah, Georgia. I was so little I disremembers how Pappy came by de name of Castle. In all de seben of us chillum, I didn’t have but one brudder, and his name was Johnny. My five sisters was Mary, Louvenia, Rosa, Fannie, and Sarah. All I ‘members ‘bout us chilluns was dat us played lak chilluns will do.

“In de quarters us had old timey beds and cheers, but I’ll tell you whar I slept most times. Hit was on a cot right at de foot of Mist’ess’ bed. I stayed at de big house most of de time at night, and ‘fore bedtime I sot close by Mist’ess on a foot stool she had special for me.

“All I recollects ‘bout my gran’ma was she belonged to General Thomas R. R. Cobb, and us called ‘im Marse Thomas. Gran’ma Susan wouldn’t do right so Marse Thomas sold her on de block.

“Us had evvything good to eat. Marse Thomas was a rich man and fed ‘is Niggers well. Dey cooked in a big open fireplace and biled greens and some of de udder vitals in a great big pot what swung on a rack. Meat, fish and chickens was fried in a griddle iron what was sot on a flat topped trivet wid slits to let de fire thoo. Dey called it a trivet ‘cause it sot on three legs and hot coals was raked up under it. Hoe cakes made out of cornmeal and wheat flour sho’ was good cooked on dat griddle. ‘Tatoes was roasted in de ashes, and dey cooked break what dey called ash cake in de ashes. Pound cake, fruit cake, light bread and biscuits was baked in a great big round pot, only dey warn’t as deep as de pots dey biled in; dese was called ovens. Makes me hongry to think ‘bout all dem good vitals now.

“Oh! Yes Ma’am, us had plenty ‘possums. Pappy used to cotch so many sometimes he jest put ‘em in a box and let us eat ‘em when us got ready. ‘Possums tasted better atter dey was put up in a box and fattened a while. Us didn’t have many rabbits; dey warn’t as much in style den as dey is now, and de style of eatin’ ‘possums lak dey done in slav’ry times, dat is ‘bout over. Dey eats ‘em some yet, but it ain’t stylish no mo’. Us chillum used to go fishin’ in Moore’s Branch; one would stand on one side of de branch wid a stick, and one on de udder side would roust de fishes out. When dey come to de top and jump up, us would hit ‘em on de head, and de grown folks would cook ‘em. Dere warn’t but one gyarden, but dat had plenty in it for evvybody.

Anna Parkes on a Visit from the KKK and Life After the War


In this last installment from Anna Parkes, we hear her speak about her life after the Civil War and Emancipation.

Another important book that you will want to return to again and again is Gustave de Beaumont’s Marie, Or, Slavery in the United States. I wrote about this classic work by Alexis de Tocqueville’s traveling companion here and at Then and Now. Beaumont meant Marie to be read as a companion piece to Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, but his work was not translated until 1958, almost 100 years after Democracy was made available in English. Beaumont’s work is so important because he recognized that white racism against blacks was the mother of slavery, and thus, the real stain on the American character.

Now, here’s the last part of Anna’s testimonial:

“I done been studyin’ ‘bout de war times, and I ‘members dat Ole Marster wuz mighty troubled ‘bout his Negroes when he heared a big crowd of Yankee sojers wuz comin’ to Athens. Folkses done been sayin’ de Yankees would pick out de bes’ Negroes and take ‘em ‘way wid ‘em, and dere wuz a heap of talk ‘bout do scandalous way dem Yankee sojers been treatin’ Negro ‘omans and gals. ‘Fore dey got here, Ole Marster sent mos’ of his bes’ Negroes to Augusta to git ‘em out of danger f’um de Fed’rals. How some ever de Negroes dat he kept wid’ ‘im won’t bothered none, kaze dem Fed’rals ‘spected de Jedge and didn’t do no harm ‘round his place.

“In Augusta, I stayed on Greene Street wid a white lady named Mrs. Broome. No Ma’am, I nebber done no wuk. I jes’ played and frolicked, and had a good time wid Mrs. Broome’s babies. She sho’ wuz good to me. Ma, she wukked for a Negro ‘oman named Mrs. Kemp, and lived in de house wid her.

“Ole Marster, sent for us atter de war wuz over, and us wuz mighty proud to git back home. Times had done changed when we got back. Mos’ of Ole Marster’s money wuz gone, and he couldn’t take keer of so many Negroes, so Ma moved over dear de gun fact’ry and started takin’ in washin’.

“De wust bother Negroes had dem days wuz findin’ a place to live. Houses had to be built for ‘em, and dey won’t no money to build ‘em wid.

“One night, jes’ atter I got in bed, some mens come walkin’ right in Ma’s house widout knockin’. I jerked de kivver up over my head quick, and tried to hide. One of de mens axed Ma who she wuz. Ma knowed his voice, so she said: ‘You knows me Mister Blank,’ (She called him by his sho’ nuff name). ‘I’m Liza Lumpkin, and you knows I used to b’long to Jedge Lumpkin.’ De udders jes’ laughed at him and said: ‘Boy, she knows you, so you better not say nuffin’ else.’ Den anudder man axed Ma how she wuz makin’ a livin’. Ma knowed his voice too, and she called him by name and tole him us wuz takin’ a washin’ and livin’ all right. Dey laughed at him too, and den anudder one axed her sompin’ and she called his name when she answered him too. Den de leader say, ‘Boys, us better git out of here. These here hoods and robes ain’t doin’ a bit of good here. She knows ev’ry one of us and can tell our names.’ Den dey went out laughin’ fit to kill, and dat wuz de onliest time de Ku Kluxers ever wuz at our house, leastways us s’posed dey wuz Ku Kluxers.

“I don’t ‘member much ‘bout no wuk atter freedom ‘ceppin’ de wash tub. Ma larned me how to wash and iron. She said: ‘Some day I’ll be gone f’um dis world, and you won’t know nuffin’ ‘bout takin’ keer of yo’self, lessen you larn right now.’ I wuz mighty proud when I could do up a weeks washin’ and take it back to my white folkses and git sho’ ‘nuff money for my wuk. I felt like I wuz a grown ‘oman den. It wuz in dis same yard dat Ma larned me to wash. At fust Ma rented dis place. There wuz another house here den. Us saved our washin’ money and bought de place, and dis is de last of three houses on dis spot. Evvy cent spent on dis place wuz made by takin’ in washin’ and de most of it wuz made washin’ for Mister Eddie Lumpkin’s family.

“Heaps of udder Negroes wuz smart like Ma, and dey got along all right. Dese days de young folkses don’t try so hard. Things come lots easier for ‘em, and dey got lots better chances dan us had, but dey don’t pay no ‘tention to nuffin’ but spendin’ all dey got, evvy day. Boys is wuss’en gals. Long time ago I done give all I got to my daughter. She takes keer of me. Effen de roof leaks, she has it looked atter. She wuks and meks our livin’. I didn’t want nobody to show up here atter I die and take nuffin’ away f’um her.

“I ain’ never had no hard times. I allus been treated good and had a good livin’. Course de rheumatiz done got me right bad, but I is still able to git about and tend to de house while my gal is off at wuk. I wanted to wash today, but I couldn’t find no soap. My gal done hid de soap, kaze she say I’se too old to do my own washin’ and she wanter wash my clo’es herse’f.”

In parting, the old woman said rather apologetically, “I couldn’t tell you ‘bout no sho’ ‘nuff hard times. Atter de War I wukked hard, but I ain’t never had no hard times.”

Anna Parkes on Church, Christmas, Booker T. Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and Emancipation


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.

Anna Parkes on “Negroes,” Food, and Being a Child in Slavery


As we continue with this “Slaves of My Ancestors” series, I’ll recommend some reading along the way. For starters, take up the Slave Narratives put out by the Library of America series. You’ll find writings from Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, William W. Brown, Sojourner Truth, and numerous others. It is an indispensable collection of primary sources.

Anna’s testimonial continues. For the first part of her story, go here; for some context for the series, go here and here. The full Slave Narratives website, “Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writer’s Project, 1936-1938” at the LOC is here.

“What else did you buy with the money?”, she was asked.

“Nuffin’ else,” was the quick reply. “All a piece of money meant to me in dem days, wuz candy, and den mo’ candy. I never did git much candy as I wanted when I wuz chillun.”

“You see I didn’t have to save up for nuffin’. Ole Marster and Ole Miss, dey took keer of us. Dey sho’ wuz good white folkses, but den dey had to be good white folkses, kaza Ole Marster, he wuz Jedge Lumpkin, and de Jedge quz bound to take evvybody do right, and he gwine do right his own self ‘fore he try to make udder folkses behave deyselves. Ain’t nobody, nowhar, as good to dey Negroes as my white folkses wuz.”

Who taught you to say ‘Negroes” so distinctly?” she was asked.

“Ole Marster,” she promptly answered, “He ‘spained dat us wuz not to be ‘shamed of our race. He said us warn’t no ‘niggers’; he said us wuz ‘Negroes’, and he ‘spected his Negroes to be de best Negroes in de whole land.

“Old Marster had a big fine gyarden. His Negroes wukked it good, and us wuz sho’ proud of it. Us lived close in town, and all de Negroes on de place wuz yard and house servants. Us didn’t have no gyardens ‘round our cabins, kaze all of us at de big house kitchen. Ole Miss had flowers evvywhar ‘round de big house, and she wuz all time givin’ us some to plant ‘round de cabins.

“All de cookin’ wuz done at de big house kitchen, and hit wuz a sho’ ‘nough big kitchen. Us had two boss cooks, and lots of helpers, and us sho’ had plenty of good sompin’ teat. Dat’s de Gawd’s trufe, and I means it. Heap of folkses been tryin’ to git me to say us didn’t have ‘nough teat and dat us never had nuffin’ fittin’ teat. But ole as I is, I cyan’ start tellin’ no lies now. I gotter die fo’ long, and I sho’ wants to be clean in de mouf and no stains or lies on my lips when I dies. Our sompin’ teat wuz a heap better’n what us got now. Us had plenty of evvything right dar in de yard. Chickens, ducks, geese, guineas, tukkeys, and de smoke’ouse full of good meat. Den de mens, day wuz all time goin’ huntin’, and fetchin’ in wild tukkeys, an poddiges, and heaps and lots of ‘possums and rabbits. Us had many fishes as us wanted. De big fine shads, and perch, and trouts; dem wuz de fishes de Jedge liked mos’. Catfishes won’t counted fittin’ to set on de Jedges table, but us Negroes wuz ‘loved to eat all of ‘em us wanted. Catfishes mus’ be mighty skace now kaze I don’t know when ever I is seed a good ole river catfish a-flappin’ his tail. Day flaps dey tails atter you done kilt ‘em, and cleaned ‘em, and drap ‘em in de hot grease to fry. Sometimes dey nigh knock de lid offen de fryin’ pan.

“Ole Marster buyed Bill Finch down de country somewhar’, and dey called him ‘William’ at de big house. He wuz a tailor, and he made clo’es for de young marsters. William wuz right smart, and one of his joos wuz to lock up all de vitals atter us done et much as us wanted. All of us had plenny, but dey won’t nuffin’ wasted ‘round Ole Marster’s place.

“Ole Miss wuz young and pretty dem days, and Ole Marster won’t no old man den, but us had to call ‘em ‘Ole Miss,’ and ‘Ole Marster,’ kaze dey chilluns wuz called “Young Marster’ and ‘Young Mistess’ f’um de very day dey wuz born.”

When asked to describe the work assigned to little Negroes, she quickly answered: “Chilluns didn’t do nuffin’. Grownup Negroes done all de wuk. All chilluns done was to frolic and play. I wuz jes’ ‘lowed ter tote de key basket kaze I wuz all time hangin’ ‘round de big house, and wanted so bad to stay close to my ma in de kitchen and to be nigh Ole Miss.

“What sort of clo’es did I wear in dem days? Why Lady, I had good clo’es. Atter my little mistresses wore dey clo’es a little, Ole Miss give ‘em to me. Ma allus made me wear clearn, fresh clo’es, and go dressed up good all de time so I’d be fittin’ to carry de key basket for Ole Miss. Some of de udder slave chilluns had homemade shoes, but I allus had good sto’-bought shoes what my young mistess done outgrowed, or what some of de comp’ny gimme. Comp’ny what had chilluns ‘bout my size, gimme heaps of clo’es and shoes, and some times dey didn’t look like dey’d been wore none hardly.

“Ole Marster sho’ had lots of Negroes ‘round his place. Deir wuz Aunt Charlotte, and Aunt Julie, and de two cooks, and Adeline, and Mary, and Edie, and Jimmy. De mens wuz Charlie, and Floyd, and William, and Daniel. I disremembers de res’ of ‘em.

“Ole Marster never whipped none of his Negroes, not dat I ever heard of. He tole ‘em what he wanted done ,and give ‘em plenny of time to do it. Dey wuz allus skeert effen dey didn’t be smart and do right, dey might git sold to some marster would beat ‘em, and be mean to ‘em. Us knowed dey won’t many marsters as good to dey slaves as Ole Marster wuz to us. Us would of most kilt ourself wukkin’, fo’ us would have give him reason to wanna git rid of us. No Ma’am, Ole Marster ain’t never sold no slave, no whilst I can ‘member. Us wuz allus skeert dat effen a Negro git lazy and triflin’ he might git sold.

“No Negro never runned away f’um our place. Us didn’t have nuffin’ to run f’um, and nowhar to run to. Us heard of patterrollers but us won’t ‘fraid none kaze us knowed won’t no patterroller gwine tech none of Jedge Lumpkin’s Negroes.

Anna Parkes Speaks, Part I

contrabands-2 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:

Ex-Slave Interview

150 Strong Street
Athens, Georgia

Written by:    Sarah H. Hall
Federal Writer’s Project
Athens, Georgia

Edited by:      John N. Booth
District Supervisor
Federal Writer’s Project
Residencies 6 & 7
Augusta, Georgia

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.”