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Person Interviewed: Daniel William Lucas
Location: Red Bird, Oklahoma
I remember them slave days well as it was yesterday, and when I get to remembering the very first thing comes back to me is the little log cabin where at I lived when I was a slave boy back ‘fore the war.
Just like yesterday I see that little old cabin standing on a bit of hill about a quarter-mile from the Master’s brick mansion, and I see into the cabin and there’s the old home-made bed with rope cords a-holding up the corn shuck bedding where on I use to sleep after putting in the day at booing cotton or following a slow time rule team down the corn rows ’till it got so dark the old overseer just naturally had to call it a day.
And then I see the old baker swinging in the fireplace. That cooked up the corn pone to go with the fat side meats the Master Doctor (didn’t I tell you the Master was a doctor?) give us for the meals of the week day. But on a Sunday morning we always had flour bread, excepting after the war is over and then we is lucky do we get anything.
Just like yesterday, I hear the old overseer making round of the dabins every day at four, and I means in the morning, too, when the night sleep is the best, and the folkses tumbling out of the door getting ready for the fields.
All the mens dressed about the same. Just like me. Wearing the grey jeans with the blue shirt stuck in loose around the belt, brogan shoes that feels like brakes on the feet about the hot time of day when the old sun’s a grinning down like he was saying: “work, niggers, work!” And the overseer is saying the same thing, only we pays more attention to him ’cause of the whip he shakes around when the going gets kinder slow down the row.
Now I sees them getting ready for the slave auction. Many of ’em there was. The Master Doctor done owned about two hundred slaves and sometimes he sell some for to beat the bad crops.
There they’d stand on the wooden blocks, their faces greased and shiny, their arms and bodies pretty well greased too; seemed like they looked better and stronger that way, maybe some other reason. I dunno. And when the auction was over lots of the slaves would try to figger out when would the next one be and worry some afraid they’d be standing up there waiting for the buyers to punch and slap to see is they sound of limb and able to do the days work without loafing down the rows.
There’s the old white preacher who tried to tell the slaves about the Lord. He had a mighty hard job sometimes, ’cause of the teaching was hard to understand. And then – then he’d just seem to be riled with anger and lay down the law of the Lord between cuss-words that all the slaves could understand. So finally I guess everybody was religionired even it was cussed into ’em right from the pulpit!
That old preacher always makes me think of haunts, ’cause every evening when I drive up the cows for mincing, there’s a old, old log cabin right on the way that I pass every night, and it’s so haunted won’t nobody pass it after the darkness covers in the daylight.
I didn’t always get by ‘fore then, and the sounds I hear! Like they was people inside jumping and knocking on the floor, maybe they was dancing. I dunno. But they was a light in the big room. Wasn’t the moon a shining through the windows either, ’cause sometimes I would stop at the gate and say hello, then out go the light and the noises would stop quick, like them haunts was a-scairt as me and then, than I run like the old preacher’s Devil is after me with all his forks.
Then along come the war. The slaves would go around from cabin to cabin telling each other about how mean and cruel was the master or the overseer, and maybe soon of then would make for the North. They was the unlucky ones, ’cause lots of times they was caught.
And when the patrollers get ’em caught, they was due for a heavy licking that would last for a long time.
The slaves didn’t know how to travel. The way would be marked when they’d start North, but somehow they’d get lost, ’cause they didn’t know one direction from another, they was so scairt.
Just like yesterday I remember the close of the war. Nothing exciting about it down on the plantation. Just the old overseer come around and say:
“The Yankees has whipped the Rebels and the war is over. But the Old Master don’t want you to leave. He just wants you to stay right on here where at is your home. That’s what the Master say is best for you to do.”
That’s what I do, but some of them other slaves is kinder filled up with the idea of freedom and wants to find out is it good or bad, so they leave and scatter round.
But I stays, and the Master Doctor he pays me ten dollars every month, gives me board and my sleeping place just like always, and when I gets sick there he is with the herb medicine for my ailment and I is well again.
It’s long after the war before I leaves the old place. And that’s when I gets married in 1885. That was my first licensed wife and we is married in Holly Springs. Her name was Josephine and we has maybe eight-ten children, I dunno.
And I is thankful they ain’t none of my children born slaves and have to remember all them terrible days when we was ruled by the whip like I remember it, just like it was yesterday.