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Interviewer: Esther de Sola
Person Interviewed: Gabe Emanuel
Location: Port Gibson, Mississippi
Gabe Emanuel is the blackest of Negroes. He is stooped and wobbly from his eighty-five years and weighs about one hundred and thirty-five pounds. His speech is somewhat hindered by an unbelievable amount of tobacco rolled to one side of his mouth. He lives in the Negro quarters of Port Gibson. Like most ex-slaves he has the courtesy and the gentleness of a southern gentleman.
“Lawsy! Dem slav’ry days done been s’long ago I jus’ ‘member a few things dat happen den. But I’s sho’ mighty pleased to relate dat what I recollec’.
“I was de house boy on old judge Stamps’ plantation. He lived ’bout nine miles east o’ Port Gibson an’ he was a mighty well-to-do gent’man in dem days. He owned ’bout 500 or 600 Niggers. He made plenty o’ money out o’ his fiel’s. Dem Niggers worked for dey keep. I ‘clare, dey sho’ did.
“Us ‘ud dike out in spick an’ span clean clothes come Sund’ys. Ever’body wore homespun clo’es den. De mistis an’ de res’ o’ de ladies in de Big House made mos’ of ‘em. De cullud wimmins wore some kin’ o’ dress wid white aprons an’ de mens wore overalls an’ homespun pants an’ shirts. Course, all de time us gits han’-me-downs from de folks in de Big House. Us what was a-servin’ in de Big House wore de marster’s old dress suits. Now, dat was somep’n’! Mos’ o’ de time dey didn’ fit—maybe de pants hung a little loose an’ de tails o’ de coat hung a little long. Me bein’ de house boy, I used to look mighty sprucy when I put on my frock tail.
“De mistis used to teach us de Bible on Sund’ys an’ us always had Sund’y school. Us what lived in de Big House an’ even some o’ de fiel’ han’s was taught to read an’ write by de white folks.
“De fiel’ han’s sho’ had a time wid dat man, Duncan. He was de overseer man out at de plantation. Why, he’d have dem poor Niggers so dey didn’ know if dey was gwine in circles or what.
“One day I was out in de quarters when he brung back old man Joe from runnin’ away. Old Joe was always a-runnin’ away an’ dat man Duncan put his houn’ dogs on ‘im an’ brung ‘im back. Dis time I’s speakin’ ’bout Marster Duncan put his han’ on old Joe’s shoulder an’ look him in de eye sorrowful-lak. ‘Joe’, he say, ‘I’s sho’ pow’ful tired o’ huntin’ you. I’spect I’s gwina have to git de marster to sell you some’r’s else. Another marster gwina whup you in de groun’ if he ketch you runnin’ ‘way lak dis. I’s sho sad for you if you gits sol’ away. Us gwina miss you ‘roun’ dis plantation.’ After dat old Joe stayed close in an’ dey warnt no more trouble out o’ him.
“Dat big white man called Duncan, he seen dat de Niggers b’have deyse’ves right. Dey called him de ‘Boss Man.’ He always carried a big whup an’ when dem Niggers got sassy, dey got de whup ‘crost dey hides.
“Lawsy! I’s recallin’ de time when de big old houn’ dog what fin’ de run-away Niggers done die wid fits. Dat man Duncan, he say us gwina hol’ fun’al rites over dat dog. He say us Niggers might better be’s pow’ful sad when us come to dat fun’al. An’ dem Niggers was sad over de death o’ dat poor old dog what had chased ‘em all over de country. Dey all stan’ ‘roun’ a-weepin’ an’ a-mournin’. Ever’ now an’ den dey’d put water on dey eyes an’ play lak dey was a-weepin’ bitter, bitter tears. ‘Poor old dog, she done died down dead an’ can’t kotch us no more. Poor old dog. Amen! De Lawd have mercy!’
“De Judge was a great han’ for ‘tainment[FN: entertainment]. He always had a house full o’ folks an’ he sho’ give ‘em de bes’ o’ food an’ likker. Dey was a big room he kep’ all polished up lak glass. Ever’ now an’ den he’d th’ow a big party an’ ‘vite mos’ ever’body in Mississippi to come. Dey was fo’ Niggers in de quarters what could sing to beat de ban’, an’ de Judge would git ‘em to sing for his party.
“I ‘member how ‘cited I’d git when one o’ dem shindigs ‘ud come off. I sho’ would strut den. De mistis ‘ud dress me up an’ I’d carry de likker an’ drinks’ roun’ ‘mongst de peoples. ‘Would you prefer dis here mint julip, Marster? Or maybe you’d relish dis here special wine o’ de Judge’s. ‘Dem white folks sho’ could lap up dem drinks, too. De Judge had de bes’ o’ ever’thing.
“Dey was always a heap o’ fresh meat in de meat house. De pantry fairly bu’sted wid all kin’ o’ preserves an’ sweetnin’s. Lawdy! I mean to tell you dem was de good days.
“I ‘member I used to hate ever’ Wednesday. Dat was de day I had to polish de silver. Lawsy! It took me mos’ all day. When I’d think I was ’bout th’ough de mistis was sho’ to fin’ some o’ ‘dat silver dat had to be did over.
“Den de war broke out. De marster went ‘way wid de sojers an’ gradual’ de hardness come to de plantation.
“Us never knowed when dem Yankee sojers would come spen’ a few weeks at de Big House. Dey’d eat up all de marster’s vit’als an’ drink up all his good likker.
“I ‘member one time de Yankees camped right in de front yard. Dey took all de meat out’n de curin’ house. Well sir! I done ‘cide by myse’f dat no Yankee gwina eat all us meat. So dat night I slips in dey camp; I stole back dat meat from dem thievin’ sojers an’ hid it, good. Ho! Ho! Ho! But dey never did fin’ dat meat.
“One time us sot fire to a bridge de Yankees had to cross to git to de plantation. Dey had to camp on de other side, ’cause dey was too lazy to put out de fire. Dat’s jus’ lak I figgered it.
“When de war was over my mammy an’ pappy an’ us five chillun travelled here to Port Gibson to live. My mammy hired out for washin’. I don’t know zackly what my pappy done.
“Lincoln was de man dat sot us free. I don’t recollec’ much ’bout ‘im ‘ceptin’ what I hear’d in de Big House ’bout Lincoln doin’ dis an’ Lincoln doin’ dat.
“Lawdy! I sho’ was happy when I was a slave.
“De Niggers today is de same as dey always was, ‘ceptin’ dey’s gittin’ more money to spen’. Dey aint got nobody to make’ em’ ‘have deyse’ves an’ keep ‘em out o’ trouble, now.
“I lives here in Port Gibson an’ does mos’ ever’ kin’ o’ work. I tries to live right by ever’body, but I ‘spect I won’t be here much longer.
“I’se been married three times.
“When de time comes to go I hopes to be ready. De Lawd God Almighty takes good care o’ his chillun if dey be’s good an’ holy.”