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Person Interviewed: Liza Smith
Location: Muskogee, Oklahoma
Both my mammy and pappy was brought from Africa on a slave boat and sold on de Richmond (Va.) slave market. What year dey come over I don’t know. My mammy was Jane Mason, belonging to Frank Mason; pappy was Frank Smith, belonging to a master wid de same name. I mean, my pappy took his Master’s name, and den after my folks married mammy took de name of Smith, but she stayed on wid de Masons and never did belong to my pappy’s master. Den, after Frank Mason took all his slaves out of de Virginia county, mammy net up wid another man, Ben Humphries, and married him. In Richmond, dat’s where I was born, ’bout 1847, de Master said; and dat make me more dan 90-year old dis good year. I had two brothers named Webb and Norman, a half-brother Charley, and two half-sisters, Mealey and Ann. Me, I was born a slave and so was my son. His father, Toney, was one of de Mason slave boys; de Master said I was ’bout 13-year old when de boy was born. Frank Mason was a young man when de war started, living wid his mother. Dey had lots of slaves, maybe a hundred, and dey always try to take good care of ‘em; even after de war was over he worried ’bout trying to get us settled so’s we wouldn’t starve. De Master had overseer, but dere was no whuppings. All de way from Richmond to a place dey call Waco, Texas, we traveled by ox-wagon and boats, and den de Master figures we all be better off over is Arkansas and goes to Pine Bluff. What wid all de running ’round de alaves was kept clean and always wid plenty to eat and good clothes to wear. De Master was a plenty rich man and done what his mother, Mrs. Betsy Mason, told him when we all left de Big Mansion, way back dere in Richmond. De Mistress said, “Frank, you watch over dem Negroes cause dey’s good men and women; keep den clean!” Dat’s what he done, up until we was freed, and den times was so hard nobody wanted us many Negroes around, and de work was scarce, too. Hard times! Folks don’t know what hard times is. When a Negro get sick de master would send out for herbs and roots. Den one of de slaves who knew how to cook and mix ‘em up for medicine use would give de doses. All de men and women wore charms, something like beads, and if dey was any good or not I don’t know, but we didn’t have no bad diseases like after dey set us free. I was at Pine Bluff when de Yankees was shooting all over de place. De fighting got so hot we all had to leave; dat’s the way it was all de time for us during de war, running away to some place or de next place, and we was all glad when it stopped and we could settle down in a place. We was back at Waco when de peace come, but Master Frank was away from home when dat happen. It was on a Sunday when he got back and called all de slaves up in de yard and counted all of dem, young and old. The first thing he said was, “You men and women is all free! I’m going back to my own mammy in old Virginia, but I ain’t going back until all de old people is settled in cabins and de young folks fix up wid tents!” Den he kinder stopped talking. Seem now like he was too excited to talk, or maybe he was feeling bad and worried ’bout what he going to do wid all of us. Pretty soon he said, “You men and women, can’t none of you tell anybody I ain’t always been a good master. Old folks, have I ever treated you mean?” He asked. Everybody shout, “No. sir!” And Master Frank smiled; den he told us he was going ’round and find places for us to live. He went to see Jim Tinsley, who owned some slaves, about keeping us. Tinaley said he had cabins and could fix up tents for extra ones, if his own Negroes was willing to share up with us. Dat was the way it worked out. We stayed on dere for a while, but times was so hard we finally get dirty and ragged like all de Tinaley Negroes. But Master Frank figure he done the best he could for us. After he go back to Virginia we never hear no more of him, but every day I still pray if he has any folks in Richmond dey will find me someway before I die. Is dere someway I could find dem, you s’pose?