The following data is extracted from Arkansas Slave Narratives.
[HW: A Railroad Work History]
I was only three years old when peace (1865) was declared. I was born in 1862. Peace was declared in 1865. I remember seeing plenty of men that they said the white folks never whipped. I remember seeing plenty of men that they said bought their own freedom.
I remember a woman that they said fought with the overseer for a whole day and stripped him naked as the day he was born. She was Nancy Ward. Her owner was named Billie Ward. He had an overseer named Roper. Her husband ran away from the white folks and stayed three years. He was in the Bayou in a boat and the bottom dropped out of it. He climbed a tree and hollered for someone to tel his master to come and get him if he wanted him.
My father's master was John T. Williams. He went into the army—the rebel army—and taken my father with him. I don't know how long my father stayed in the army but I was only 6 months old when he died. He had some kind of stomach trouble and died a natural death.
My mother and father both belonged to Joe Ward at first but Ward died and his widow married Williams. My mother told me and not only told me but showed me knots across her shoulder where they whipped her from seven in the morning until nine at night. She went into the smoke house to get some meat and they closed in on her and shut the door and strung her up by her hands (her arms were crossed and a rope run from her wrists to the hook in the ceiling on which meat was hung). There were three of them. One would whip until he was tired, and then the other would take it up.
Some years after she got that whipping, her master's child was down to the bayou playing in the water. She told the child to stop playing in the water, and it did not. Instead it threw dirt into the water that had the bluing in it. Then she took the child and threw it into the Bayou. Some way or other the child managed to scramble out. When the child's aunt herd it from the child, she questioned my mother and asked her if she did it. My mother told her "Yes". Then she said. "Well what do you want to own it for? Don't you know if they find it out they will kill you?"
How Freedom Came
My mother said that an old white man came through the quarters one morning and said that they were all free—that they could go away or stay where they were or do what they wanted to. If you will go there, I can send you to an old man eighty-six years old who was in General Sherman's army. He came from Mississippi. I don't know where he was a slave. But he can tell you when peace was declared aad what they said and everything.
What The Slaves Expected
The slaves were not expecting much but they were expecting more than they got. I am not telling you anything I read in history but I have heard that there was a bounty in the treasury for the ex-slaves, and them alone. And some reason or other they did not pay it off, but the time was coming when they would pay it off. And every man or woman living that was born a slave would benefit from it. They say that Abraham Lincoln principally was killed because he was going to pay this money to the ex-slaves end before they would permit it they killed him. Old man White who lives out in the west part of town was an agent for some Senator who was in Washington, and he charged a dime and took your name and age and the place where you lived.
Ku Klux Klan
They called the K.K.K. "White Cape". Right there in my neighborhood, there was a colered man who hadn't long come in. The colored man was late coming into the lot to get the mule for the white man and woman he was working for. The white man hit him. The Negro knocked the white man down and was going to kill him when the white man begged him off, telling him that he wouldn't let anybody else hurt him. He (the Negro) went on off and never came back. That night there were two hundred White Caps looking for him but they didn't find him.
Another man got into an argument. They went to work and it started to rain. The Negro thought that they would stop working because of the rain; so he started home. The man he was working for met him and asked him where he was going. When he told him he started to hit him with the butt end of the gun he was wearing. The Negro knocked his gun up, took it away from him, and drawed down and started to kill him when another Negro knocked the gun up, and saved the white man's life. But the Nigger might as well have killed him because that night seventy-five masked men hunted him. He was hid away by his friends until he got a chance to get away. This man was named Matthew Collins.
There was another case. This was a political one. The colored man wanted to run for representative of some kind. He had been stump speaking. He lived on a white man's place, and the owner came to him and told him he had better get away because a mob was coming after him (not just K.K.K.). He told his wife to go away and stay with his brother but she wouldn't. He hid himself in a trunk and his wife was under the floor with his two children. The white men fired into the house and that didn't do anything, so they throwed a ball of fire into the house and burned his wife and children. Then he rose up and came out of the trunk and hollered, "Look out I'm coming", and he fired a load of buck shot and tore one man nearly in two and ran away in the confusion. The next day he went to the man on whose place he lived, but he told him he couldn't do anything about it.
Another man by the name of Bob Sawyer had a farm near my home and another farm down near Maginty's place. He worked the ????[TR: Illegible] Niggers from one farm to the other.
His boy would ride in front with a rifle and he would be in the rear with a big gun swinging down from his hip. There wae one Nigger who got out and went down to Alexandria (Louisiana). He wrote to the officers and they caught the Nigger and put him into the stocks and brought him back, and the man hadn't done a thing but run away. After that they worked him with a chain holding his legs together so that he could only make short steps.
They had an old white man who worked there and they treated him so mean he ran away and left his wife. They treated the poor whites about as bad as they treated the colored.
If Bob met a Negro carrying cotton to the Gin, he would ask "Whose cotton is that?", and if the Nigger said it was some white man's, he would let him alone. But if he said. "Mine", Bob would tell him to take it to some Gin where he wanted it taken. He was the kind of man that if you seen him first, you wouldn't meet him.
One night he slipped up on a Nigger man that had left his place and killed him as he sat at supper. I had an aunt with five or six children who worker with him. He married my young Mistress after I was freed.
I saw him do this. The white folks had a funeral at the church down there one Sunday. He came along and young Billie Ward (white man) was sitting in a buggy driving with his wife. When he saw Billie, he jumped down out of his buggy and horse-whipped him until he ran away. All the while, Sawyer's mother-in-law was sitting in his buggy calling out, "Shoot him, Bob, shoot him." this was because Billie and another man had done some talk about Bob.
I came to Brinkley, Arkansas, March 4, 1900, and have been in Arkansas ever since. Why I came, the postmaster where I was rented farm on which I was farming. In March he put hands in my field to pick my cotton. All that was in the field was mine. I knew that I couldn't do anything about it so I left. A couple of years before that I rented five acres of land from him for three dollars as acre (verbal agreement) sowed it down in cotton. It done so well I made five bales of cotton on it. He saw the prospects were so good that he went to the man who furnished me supplies and told him that I had agreed to do my work on a third and fourth (one-third of the seed and one-fourth of the cotton to go to the owner). He get this although if he had stuck to the agreement he would not have gotten but fifteen dollars. So he dealt me a blow there, but I got over it.
Before this I had bought a piece of timber land in Moorehouse parish (Louisiana) and was expecting to get the money to finish paying for it from my cotton. The cost was $100.00. So when he put hands in my field, it made me mad, and I left. (Brooks would have lost most of his cotton if the hands had picked it.)
At Brinkley, I farmed on halves with Will Carter, one of the richest men in Monroe County (Arkansas). I done $17.50 worth of work for Carter and he paid me for it. Then he turned around and charged me up with it. When we came to settle up, we couldn't settle. So finally, he said, "Figures don't lie." and I said, "No, figures don't lie but men do." When I sed that I stepped out and didn't get scared until I was half way home. But nobody did anything. He sent for me but I wouldn't go back because I knew what he was doing.
After that I went to Wheatley, Arkansas, about five miles west of Brinkley. I made a crop for Goldberg. Jake Readus was Goldberg's agent. The folks had told the white folks I wasn't no account, so I couldn't get nothing only just a little fat meat and bread, and I got as naked as a jaybird. About the last part of August, when I had done laid by and everything. Jake Readus came by and told me what the Niggers had said and said he knowed it was a lie because I had the best crop on the place.
When Goldberg went to pay me off, he told Dr. Beauregard to come and get his money. I said. "You give me my money; I pay my own debts. You have nothing to do with it." When I said that you could have heard a pin drop. But he gave it to me. Then I called the Doctor and gave him his money and he receipted me. I never stayed there but one year.
I moved then down to Napel[TR: Possibly Kapel] Slough on Dr. West's place. I wanted to rent but Dr. West wouldn't advance me anything unless he took a mortgage on my place; so I wouldn't stay there. I chartered a car and took my things back to Brinkley at a cost of ten dollars. I stayed around Brinkley all the winter.
While I was at Wheatley, there was a man by the name of Will Smith who married the daughter of Dr. Paster, druggist at Brinkley. Now Jim Smith, poor white trash, attempted to assault Will Thomas' daughter. Negro girl. When Thomas heard it, he hunted Jim with a Winchester. When that got out, Deputy Sheriff arrested Will and they said that he was chained when he was brought to trial. He got away from them somehow and went to Jonesboro. I took my horse and rid seven or eight miles to carry his clothes. Another Nigger who had promised to make a crop when he left had the blood beat out of his back because he didn't do it.
The winter, I worked at the Gin and Black Saw Mills. That spring I pulls up and goes to Brises. That was in the year 1903. I made a crop with old man Wiley Wormley one of the biggest Niggers there. I fell short. George Walker furnished what I had.
Then I left and went back to Brinkley and worked at the Sawmill again. That was in 1904. I went to Jonesboro. I had just money enough to go to Jonesboro, and I had a couple of dollars over. I had never been out before that; so I spent that and didn't get any work. I stayed there three days and nights and didn't get anything to eat. Lived in a box car. Then I went to work with the Cotton Belt.
My boarding mistress decided to go up to fifteen dollars for board. I told her I couldn't pay her fifteen dollars for that month, but would begin next month. She wouldn't have that and got the officers to look for my money so I caught the train and went back to Brinkley and worked on the railroad again from the Cotton Belt to the Rock Island.
I was getting along all right and I done my job, but when the foreman wanted me to work on the roof and I told him if that was all he had for me to do he could pay me off because that was off the ground and I was fraid of falling. He said that I was a good hand and that he hated to lose me.
In March, 4, 1907, I came here (Little Rock) and at first rolled concrete in Niemeyer's at $1.50 a day where the other men were getting from two to two and a half dollars. They quit for more wages and I had to quit with them. Then I worked around till May 24 when I was hired at the Mountain Shops as Engine wiper for about six or eight months, then painted flues for three or four months, then was wood hauler for about thirteen or more years, then took care of the situation with shavings and oil, then stayed in wash room six or seven years until I was retired. I had control of the ice house, too.
Ideas About The Present
Young people are just going back to old Ante-Bellum days. They are going to destruction. They got a way of their own and you can't tell them anything. They don't educate anything but their heads. The heart isn't educated and if my heart is black as my hat, can I do anything for God? The old people are not getting a square deal. Some of them are being moved.
I did not get much schooling. Between the time I was old enough to go to school and the time I went to the field, I got a little. I would go to school from July to September, and also about six weeks in January.
They had public school taught by some of the people. I went to a white man once. An old white woman taught there before him. I went to a Negro woman, Old Lady Abbie Lindsay. She lives here now down on State Street. She is about ninety years old. I went to Jube Williams (white), Current Lewis, Abbie Lindsay, and A.G. Mertin. They did n't paas you by grades then. I got through the fourth reader. If you got through, they would go back and carry you through again. They had the old Blue Back Speller. I got ready for the fifth reader but I quit. I had just begun to cipher, in arithmetic, but I had to quit because they could n't spare me out of the field. In fact they put me into the field when I was eight years old, but I managed to go to school until I was about twelve years old or something like that. I never got a year's schooling all put together. My mother was a widow and had five or six children, none of them able or big enough to work but my oldest sister. She raised five of us.
If I had done as she told me, I might have been a good scholar. But I played around and went off with the other children. I learnt way afterwards when I was grown how to write my name. I could work addition and I could work some in multiplication, but I couldn't work division and couldn't work subtraction. Come around any time, specially on Sunday afternoons.
Source: Arkansas Slave Narratives