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Person Interviewed: Eliza Evans
Location: McAlester, Oklahoma
I sho’ remember de days when I was a slave and belonged to de best old Master what ever was, Mr. John Mixon. We lived in Selma, Dallas County, Alabama.
My grandma was a refugee from Africa. You know dey was white men who went slipping ’round and would capture or entice black folks onto their boats and fetch then over here and sell ‘em for slaves. Well, grandma was a little girl ’bout eight or nine years old and her parents had sent her out to get wood. Dey was going to have a feast. Dey was going to roast a baby. Wasn’t that awful! Well, they captured her and put a stick in her mouth. The stick held her mouth wide open so she wouldn’t cry out. When she got to de boat she was so tired out she didn’t do nothing.
They was a lot of more Colored folks on de boat. It took about four months to get across on de boat and Mr. John Mixon met the boat and bought her. I think he gave five hundred dollars for her. She was named Gigi, but Master John called her Gracie. She was so good and they thought so much of her dat they gave her a grand wedding when she was married. Master John told her he’d never sell none of her chillun. He kept dat promise and he never did sell any of her grandchillun either. He thought it was wrong to separate famblys. She was one hundred and three years old when she died. I guess her mind got kind of feeble ’cause she wandered off and fell into a mill race and was drowned.
Master John Mixon had two big plantations. I believe he owned about four hundred slaves, chillun and all. He allowed us to have church one time a month with de white folks and we had prayer meeting every Sunday. Sometimes when de men would do something like being sassy or lazy and dey knowed dey was gonna be whipped, dey’d slip off and hide in de woods. When dey’d slip back to get some food dey would all pray for ‘em dat master wouldn’t have ‘em whipped too hard, and for fear the Patroller would hear ‘em they’d put their faces down in a dinner pot. I’d sit out and watch for the Patroller. He was a white man who was appointed to catch runaway niggers. We all knew him. His name was Howard Campbell. He had a big pack of dogs. The lead hound was named Venus. There was five or six in the pack, and they was vicious too.
My father was a carriage driver and he allus took the family to church. My mother went along to take care of the little chilluns. She’d take me too. They was Methodist and after they would take the sacrament we would allus go up and take it. The niggers could use the whitefolks church in the afternoon.
De Big House was a grand place. It was a two-story house made out of logs dat had been peeled and smoothed off. There was five big rooms and a big open hall wid a wide front porch clean across de front. De porch had big posts and pretty banisters. It was painted white and had green shutters on de windows. De kitchen was back of de Big House.
De slaves quarters was about a quarter of a mile from de Big House. Their houses was made of logs and the cracks was daubed with mud. They would have two rooms. Our bedsteads was made of poplar wood and we kept them scrubbed white with sand. We used roped woven together for slats. Our mattresses were made of cotton, grass, or even shucks. My mother had a feather bed. The chairs was made from cedar with split white oak bottoms.
Each family kept their own home and cooked and served their own meals. We used wooden trays and wooden spoons. Once a week all the cullud chillun went to the Big House to eat dinner. The table was out in de yard. My nickname was “Speck”. I didn’t like to eat bread and milk when I went up there and I’d just sit there. Finally they’d let me go in de house and my mother would feed me. She was the house woman and my Anntie was cook. I don’t know why they had us up there unless it was so they could laugh at us.
None of old Master’s young niggers never did much work. He say he want ‘em to grow up strong. He gave us lots to eat. He had a store of bacon, milk, bread, beans and molasses. In summer we had vegetables. My mother could make awful good corn pone. She would take meal and put salt in it and pour boiling water over it and make into pones. She’d wrap these pones in wet cabbage or collard leaves and roll dem into hot ashes and bake dem. They sho’ was good. We’d have possum and coon and fish too.
The boys never wore no britches in de summer time. Boys fifteen years old would wear long shirts with no sleeves and they went barefooted. De girls dressed in shimmys. They was a sort of dress with two seams in it and no sleeves.
Old Master had his slaves to get up about five o’clock. Dey did an ordinary day’s work. He never whipped them unless they was lazy or sassy or had a fight. Sometimes his slaves would run away but they allus come back. We didn’t have no truck with railroaders ’cause we like our home.
A woman cussed my mother and it made her mad and they had a fight. Old Master had them both whipped. My mother got ten licks and de other woman got twenty-five. Old Mistress sho’ was mad ’cause mother got whipped. Said he wouldn’t have done it if she had known it. Old Mistress taught mother how to read and write and mother taught my father. I went to school jest one day so I can’t read and write now.
Weddings was big days. We’d have big dinners and dances once in a while and when somebody died they’d hold a wake. They’d sit up all night and sing and pray and talk. At midnight they’d serve sandwiches and coffee. Sometimes we’d all get together and play ring plays and dance.
Once the Yankee soldiers come. I was big enough to tote pails and piggins then. These soldiers made us chillun tote water to fill their canteens and water their horses. We toted the water on our heads. Another time we heard the Yankee’s was coming and old Master had about fifteen hundred pounds of meat. They was hauling it off to bury it and hide it when the Yankees caught then. The soldiers ate and wasted every bit of that good meat. We didn’t like them a bit.
One time some Yankee soldiers stopped and started talking to me, they asked me what my name was. “I say Liza, and they say, “Liza who?” I thought a minute and I shook my head. “Jest Liza, I ain’t got no other name.”
He say, “Who live up yonder in dat Big House?” I say, “Mr. John Mixon.” He say, “You are Liza Mixon.”‘ He say, “Do anybody ever call you nigger?” And I say, “Yes Sir.” He say, “Next time anybody call you nigger you tell ‘em dat you is a Negro and your name is Miss Liza Mixon.” The more I thought of that the more I liked it and I made up my mind to do jest what he told me to. My job was minding the calves back while the cows was being milked. One evening I was minding the calves and old Master come along. He say, “What you doin’ nigger?” I say real pert like. “I ain’t no nigger, I’se a Negro and I’m Miss Liza Nixon.” Old Master sho’ was surprised and he picks up a switch and starts at me.
Law, but I was skeered! I hadn’t never had no whipping so I run fast as I can to Grandma Gracie. I hid behind her and she says “What’s the matter of you child?” And I say, “Master John gwine whip me.” And she say, “What you done?” And I say, “Nothing.” She say she know better and ’bout that time Master John got there. He say, “Gracie, dat little nigger sassed me.” She say, “Lawsie child, what does ail you?” I told then what the Yankee soldier told me to say and Grandma Gracie took my dress and lift it over my head and pins my hands inside, and Lawsie, how she whipped me and I dassent holler loud either. I jest said dat de wrong person.
I’se getting old now and can’t work no more. I jest sits here and thinks about old times. They was good times. We didn’t want to be freed. We hated the Yankee soldiers. Abe Lincoln was a good man though, wasn’t he! I tries to be a good Christian ’cause I wants to go to Heaven when I die.