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Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson Person
Person Interviewed: Maria Sutton Clemments
Location: DeValls Bluff, Ark.
Age: Between 85 and 90 years
I don’t know jes how old I is. Yes mum I show do member the war jes lack as if it was yesterday. I was born in Lincoln County, Georgia. My old mistress was named Frances Sutton. She was a real old lady. Her husband was dead. She had two sons Abraham and George. One of them tried to get old missus to sell my ma jes before the war broke out. He wanter sell her cause she too old to bear children. Sell her and buy young woman raise mo children to sell. Put em in the nigger drove and speculate on em. Young nigger, not stunted, strong made, they look at their wristes and ankles and chestes, bout grown bring the owner fifteen hundred dollars. Yea mam every cent of it. Two weeks after baby born see the mother carrin it cross the field fur de old woman what kept all the children and she be going right on wid de hoe all day. When de sun come up the niggers all in the field and workin when de ridin boss come wid de dogs playin long after him. If they didn’t chop dat cotton jes right he have em tied up to a stake or a big saplin and beat him till de blood run out the gashes. They come right back and take up whar they lef off work. Two chaps make a hand soon as dey get big nuf to chop out a row.
Had plenty to eat; meat, corncake and molasses, peas and garden stuff. They didn’t set out no variety fo the niggers. They had pewter bowls to eat outer and spoons. Eat out in the yard, at the cabins, in the kitchen. Eat different places owin to what you be workin at when the bell rung. Big bell on a high post.
My ma’s name was Sina Sutton. She come from Virginia in a nigger traders drove when she was sixteen years old and Miss Frances husband bought er. She had nine childen whut lived. I am de youngest. She died jes before de war broke out. Till that time I had been trained a house girl. My ma was a field hand. Then when the men all went to the army I plowed. I plowed four years I recken, till de surrender. Howd I know it was freedom? A strange woman-I never seed fore, came runnin down where we was all at work. She say loud as she could “Hay freedom. You is free.” Everything toe out fer de house and soldiers was lined up. Dats whut they come by fer. Course dey was Yankee soldiers settin the colored folks all free. Everybody was gettin up his clothes and leaving. They didn’t know whar des goin. Jes scatterin round. I say give ’em somethin. They was so mad cause they was free and leavin and nobody to work the land. The hogs and stock was mostly all done gone then. White folks sho had been rich but all they had was the land. The smoke houses had been stripped and stripped. The cows all been took off cept the scrubs. Folks plowed ox and glad to plow one.
Sometime we had a good time. I danced till I joined the church. We didn’t have no nigger churches that I knowed till after freedom. Go to the white folks church. We danced square dance jess like the white folks long time ago. The niggers baptized after the white folks down at the pond. They joined the white folks church sometimes. The same woman on the place sewed for de niggers, made some things for Miss Frances. I recollects that. She knitted and seed about things. She showed the nigger women how to sew. All the women on the place could card and spin. They sat around and do that when too bad weather to be on the ground. They show didn’t teach them to read. They whoop you if they see you have a book. If they see you gang round talkin, they say they talkin bout freedom or equalization. They scatter you bout.
When they sell you, they take you off. See drove pass the house. Men be ridin wid long whips of cow hide wove together and the dogs. The slaves be walkin, some cryin cause they left their folks. They make em stand in a row sometimes and sometimes they put em up on a high place and auction em.
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The pore white folks whut not able to buy hands had to work their own land. There shore was a heap of white folks what had no slaves. Some ob dem say theys glad the niggers got turned loose, maybe they could get them to work for them sometimes and pay em.
When you go to be sold you have to say what they tell you to say. When a man be unruly they sell him to get rid of him heap of times. They call it sellin nigger meat. No use tryin run off they catch you an bring you back.
I don’t know that there was ever a thought made bout freedom till they was fightin. Said that was what it was about. That was a white mans war cept they stuck a few niggers in front ob the Yankee lines. And some ob the men carried off some man or boy to wait on him. He so used to bein waited on. I ain’t takin sides wid neither one of dem I tell you.
If der was anything to be knowed the white folks knowed it. The niggers get passes and visit round on Saturday evening or on Sunday jes mongst theirselves and mongst folks they knowed at the other farms round.
When dat war was done Georgia was jes like being at the bad place. You couldn’t stay in the houses fear some Ku Klux come shoot under yo door and bust in wid hatchets. Folks hide out in de woods mostly. If dey hear you talkin they say you talkin bout equalization. They whoop you. You couldn’t be settin or standing talkin. They come and ask you what he been tell you. That Ku Klux killed white men too. They say they put em up to hold offices over them. It was heap worse in Georgia after freedom than it was fore. I think the poor nigger have to suffer fo what de white man put on him. We’s had a hard time. Some of em down there in Georgia what didn’t get into the cities where they could get victuals and a few rags fo cold weather got so pore out in the woods they nearly starved and died out. I heard em talk bout how they died in piles. Niggers have to have meat to eat or he get weak. White folks didn’t have no meat, no flour.
The folks was after some people and I run off and kept goin till I took up with some people. The white folks brought them to Tennessee-Covington-I come too. They come in wagons. My father, he got shot and I never seed him no mo. He lived on another farm fo de war. I lived wid them white folks till bout nine years and I married. My old man wanted to come to dis new country. Heard so much talk how fine it was. Then I had run across my brother. He followed me. One brother was killed in the war somehow. My brother liked Memphis an he stayed there. We come on the train. I never did like no city.
We farmed bout, cleared land. Never got much fo the hard work we done. The white man done learned how to figure the black folks out of what was made cept a bare living.
I could read a little and write. He could too. We went to school a little in Tennessee.
When we got so we not able to work hard he come to town and carpentered, right here, and I cooked fo Mr. Hopkins seven years and fo Mr. Gus Thweatt and fo Mr. Nick Thweatt. We got a little ahead then by the hardest. I carried my money right here [bag on a string tied around her waist]. We bought a house and five acres of land. No mum I don’t own it now. We got in hard luck and give a mortgage. They closed us out. Mr. Sanders. They say I can live there long as I lives. But they owns it. My garden fence is down and won’t nobody fix it up fo me. They promises to come put the posts in but they won’t do it and I ain’t able no mo. I had a garden this year. Spoke fo a pig but the man said they all died wid the kolerg [cholera]. So I ain’t got no meat to eat dis year.
I ain’t never had a chile. I ain’t got nobody kin to me livin dat I knows bout. When I gets sick a neighbor woman comes over and looks after me.
I thinks if de present generation don’t get killed they die cause they too lazy to work. No mum dey don’t know nuthin bout work. They ain’t got no religion. They so smart they don’t pay no tention to what you advise em. I never tries to find out what folks doin and the young generation is killin time. I sho never did vote. I don’t believe in it. The women runnin the world now. The old folks ain’t got no money an the young ones wastes theirs. Theys able to make it. They don’t give the old folks nuthin. The times changes so much I don’t know what goiner come next. I jes stop and looks and listens to see if my eyes is foolin me. I can’t see, fo de cataracts gettin bad, nohow. Things is heap better now fo de young folks now if they would help derselves. I’m too wo out. I can’t do much like I could when I was young. The white folks don’t cheat the niggers outen what they make now bad as they did when I farmed.
I never knowed about uprisings till the Ku Klux sprung up. I never heard bout the Nat Turner rebellion. I tell you bout the onliest man I knowed come from Virginia. A fellow come in the country bout everybody called Solomon. Dis long fo the war. He was a free man he said. He would go bout mong his color and teach em fo little what they could slip him along. He teached some to read. When freedom he went to Augusta. My brother seed him and said “Solomon, what you doin here?” and he said “I am er teaching school to my own color.” Then he said they run him out of Virginia cause he was learnin his color and he kept going. Some white folks up North learned him to read and cipher. He used a black slate and he had a book he carried around to teach folks with. He was what they called a ginger cake color. They would whoop you if they seed you with books learnin. Mighty few books to get holt of fo the war. We mark on the ground. The passes bout all the paper I ever seed fo I come to Tennessee. Then I got to go to school a little.
Whah would the niggers get guns and shoot to start a uprisin? Never had none cept if a white man give it to him. When you a slave you don’t have nothin cept a big fireplace and plenty land to work. They cook on the fireplace. Niggers didn’t have no guns fo the war an nuthin to shoot in one if he had one whut he picked up somewhere after the war. The Ku Klux done the uprisin. They say they won’t let the nigger enjoy freedom. They killed a lot of black folks in Georgia and a few white folks whut they said was in wid em. We darkies had nuthin to do wid freedom. Two or three set down on you, take leaves and build a fire and burn their feet nearly off. That the way the white folks treat the darky.
I never knowed nobody to hold office. Them whut didn’t want to starve got someplace whut he could hold a plow handle. You don’t know whut hard times is. Dem was hard times. They used to hide in big cane brakes, nearly wild and nearly starved. Scared to come out. I ain’t wanted to go back to Georgia.
The folks I lived wid fo I come to Tennessee, he tanned hides down at the branch and made shoes and he made cloth hats, wool hats. He sold them. We farmed but I watched them up at the house minu a time.
One thing I recollect mighty well. Fo de war a big bellied great monster man come in an folks made a big to do over him. He eat round and laughed round havin a big time. His name was Mr. Wimbeish (?). He wo white britches wid red stripes down the sides and a white shad tail coat all trimmed round de edges wid red and a tall beaver hat. He blowed a bugle and marched all the men every Friday ebening. He come to Miss Frances. They fed him on pies and cakes and me brushin the flies off im and my mouth fairly waterin for a chunk ob de cake. When de first shot of war went off no more could be heard ob old Mr. Wimbeish. He lef an never was heard tell ob no mo. He said never was a Yankee had a hart he didn’t understand! I never did know whut he was. He jess said that right smart.
I gets the Old Age Pension and meets the wagon and gets a little commodities. I works my garden and raises a few chickens round my house. I trusts in de Lord and try to do right, honey, dat way I lives.