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Interviewer: Mrs. Bernice Bowden Person interviewed: James Davis 1112 Indiana St. (owner), Pine Bluff, Ark. Age: 96 Occupation: Cotton farmer
“This is what’s left of me. How old? Me? Now listen and let me tell you how ’twas. Old mistress put all our ages in the family Bible, and I was born on Christmas morning in 1840 in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“My old master was Peter Davis and he was old Jeff Davis’ brother. There was eight of them brothers and every one of em was as rich as cream.
“Old master was good to us. He said he wanted us singin’ and shoutin’ and workin’ in the field from morning to night. He fed us well and we had plenty good clothes to wear-heavy woolen clothes and good shoes in the winter time. When I was a young man I wore good clothes.
“I served slavery about twenty-four years before peace was declared. We didn’t have a thing in God’s world to worry bout. Every darky old master had, he put woolen goods and good heavy shoes every winter. Oh, he was rich-had bout five or six thousand slaves. Oh, he had darkies aplenty. He run a hundred plows.
“I went to work when I was seven pullin’ worms off tobacco, and I been workin’ ever since. But when I was comin’ up I had good times. I had better times than I ever had in my life. I used to be one of the best banjo pickers. I was good. Played for white folks and called figgers for em. In them days they said ‘promenade’, ‘sashay’, ‘swing corners’, ‘change partners’. They don’t know how to dance now. We had parties and corn shuckin’s, oh lord, yes.
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“I’ll sing you a song
‘Oh lousy nigger Oh grandmammy Knock me down with the old fence rider, Ask that pretty gal let me court her Young gal, come blow the coal.’ “When I was twenty-one I was sold to the speculator and sent to Texas. They started me at a thousand and run me up to a thousand nine hunnerd and fifty and knocked me off. He paid for me in old Jeff Davis’ shin plasters.
“I runned away and I was in Mississippi makin’ my way back home to North Carolina. I was hidin’ in a hollow log when twenty-five of Sherman’s Rough Riders come along. When they got close to me the horses jumped sudden and they said, ‘Come out of there, we know you’re in there!’ And when I come out, all twenty-five of them guns was pointin’ at that hole. They said they thought I was a Revel and ‘serted the army. That was on New Years day of the year the war ended. The Yankees said, ‘We’s freed you all this mornin’, do you want to go with us?’ I said, ‘If you goin’ North, I’ll go.’ So I stayed with em till I got back to North Carolina.
“After surrender, people went here and yonder and that’s how come I’m here. I emigrated here. I left Raleigh, North Carolina Christmas Eve 1883. I’ve seen ninety-six Christmases.
“I member the folks said the war was to keep us under bondage. The South wants us under bondage right now or they wouldn’t do us like they do.
“When I come to this country of Arkansas I brought twelve chillun and left four in North Carolina. I’ve had six wives and had twenty-nine chillun by the six wives.
“I’ve seen them Ku Klux in slavery times and I’ve cut a many a grapevine. We’d be in the place dancin’ and playin’ the banjo and the grape vine strung across the road and the Ku Klux come ridin’ along and run right into it and throw the horses down.
“Cose I believe in hants. They’re in the air. Can’t everybody see em. Some come in the shape of a cat or a dog-you know, old folks spirits. I ain’t afeared of em-ain’t afeared of anything cept a panter. Cose I got a gun-got three or four of em. You can’t kill a spirit cept with silver.
“I was in the road one time at night next to a cemetery and I see somethin’ white come right up side of me. I didn’t run then. You know you can git so scared you can’t run, but when I got so I could, I like to killed myself runnin’.
“I’m not able to work now, but I just go anyhow. I got a willin’ mind to work and a strong constitution but I ain’t got nothin’ to back it. I never was sick but twice in my life.
“Since I been in Pine Bluff I worked sixteen years at night firing up and watchin’ engines, makin’ steam, and never lost but one night. I worked for the Cotton Belt forty-eight years. I worked up until the fust day of this last past May, five years ago, when they laid me off.
“I’m disabled wif dis rheumatism now but I works every day anyway.
“I’ll show you I haven’t been asleep atall. I worked for the railroad company forty-eight years and I been tryin’ to get that railroad pension but there’s so much Red Cross (tape) to these things they said it’d be three months before they could do anything.”