The following data is extracted from Arkansas Slave Narratives.
One morning early I (Irene Robertson) got off the bus and started up Main Street. I hadn't gone far before I noticed a small form of a woman. She wore men's heavy shoes, an old dark dress and a large fringed woolen shawl; the fringe was well gone and the shawl, once black, was now brown with age. I passed her and looked back into her face. I saw she was a Negro, dark brown. Her face was small with unusually nice features for a woman of her race. She carried a slick, knotted, heavy walking stick—a very nice-looking one. On the other arm was a rectangular split basket with wires run through for a handle and wrapped with a dirty white rag to keep the wire from cutting into her hand or arm.
I stopped and said, "Auntie, could you direct me to Molly Brown's house?"
"I'm her," she replied.
"Well, I want to go home with you."
"What you want to go out there for?"
"I want you to tell me about times when you were a girl," I said.
"I'm not going home yet. I got to get somethin' for dinner."
"Well, you go ahead and I'll follow along."
"Very well," she said.
I window shopped outside, and I noticed she had a box of candy, but it was a 25˘ box and had been opened, so I thought it may be nearly anything just put in the box. The next store she went into was a nice-looking meat market and grocery combined, I followed in behind her. A nice-looking middle-aged man gave her a bundle that was large enough to hold a 50˘ meat roast. It was neatly tied, and the wrapping paper was white, I observed. She thanked him. She turned to me and said, "Give me a nickel."
I said, "I don't have one." Then I said teasingly, "Why you think I have a nickel?"
She said, "You look like it."
I opened my purse and gave her a dime. She went over to the bread and picked up a loaf or two, feeling it. The same man said, "Let that alone."
The old woman slowly went on out. I was amazed at his scolding. Then he said to me, "She begs up and down this street every day, cold or hot, rain or shine, and I have to watch her from the time she enters that door till she leaves. I give her scrap meat," he added.
"How old is she?"
"She was about fifty years old sixty years ago when she came to Brinkley. She is close to a hundred years. People say she has been here since soon after the town started." He remarked, "She won't spend that dime you gave her."
"Well, I will go tell her what to buy with it," I replied.
I hurried out lest I loose her. She had gained time on me and was crossing the Cotton Belt Ry. tracks. I caught up with her before she went into a small country grocery store on #70 highway. She had passed several Negro stores, restaurants, etc, "I want a nickel's worth of meal, please, sir."
I said, "Auntie, buy a dime's worth of meal."
"I don't want but a nickel's worth." The man handed it to her to put in the basket. "Give me a piece candy." The merchant gave her a nice hard stick. She broke it half in to and offered me a piece.
I said, "No, thank you, Auntie." She really wanted me to have it, but I refused it.
She blowed her nose on her soiled old white underskirt. She wormed and went on out.
I asked the merchant "How old is she?"
"Bless her heart, I expect she is ninety years old or more. I give her some hard candy every time she comes in here. I give her a lot of things. She spends her money with me."
Then I asked if she drew an Old Age Pension.
He said, "I think she does, but that is about 30˘ and it runs out before she gets another one. She begs a great deal."
I lagged behind. The way she made her way across the Broadway of America made me scringe. I crossed and caught up with her as she turned off to a path between a garage and blacksmith shop.
I said, "Auntie, let me take your basket." She refused me. I said, "May I carry your meal or your meat?"
"I don't know you." she said shortly.
A jolly man at the side of the garage heard me. I said, "I'm all right, am I not" to the man.
He said, "Aunt Molly, let her help you home. She is all right. I'm sure."
I followed the path ahead of her. When we turned off across a grassy mesa the old woman said, "Here," and handed over her basket. I carried it. When we got to her house across a section of hay land at least a mile from town, she said, "Push that door open and go to the fire."
An old Negro man, not her husband and no relation, got a very respectable rocking chair for me. He had a good fire in the fireplace. The old woman sat on a tall footstool. She was so cold.
She said, "Bring me some water, please."
A young yellow boy stepped out and gave her a cup of water. She drank it all. She put the meat bones and scrap meat on the coals in an iron pot in some water. She had the boy scald the meal, sprinkle salt in it and add a little cold water to it. He put it in an iron pan and put a heavy iron lid over it. The kettle was iron. The boy set it aside and put the bread on hot embers. She sat down and said, "I'm hungry."
I said, "Auntie, what have you in that box?"
She reached to her basket, untied some coins from the corner of the soiled rag—three pennies and a nickel. She untied her ragged hose—she wore two pairs—tied above the knee with a string, and slipped the money to the foot and in her heavy shoes. It looked safe. Then the old Negro man came in with an armfull of scrub wood and placed it by the fireplace on the floor.
He said, "The Government sent me here to live and take care of Aunt Molly. She been sick. I build her fires, and me and that boy wait on her."
I asked, "Is the boy kin".
He said, "No'm, she's all alone."
He went away and the boy went away. The old woman called them and offered them candy. She had twelve hard pieces of whitish, stale chocolate candy in the box. The boy refused and went away, but the old man took three pieces. I observed it well, when she passed it to me, for worms. I refused it. It seemed free from bugs though. She ate greedily and the old man went away.
We were alone and she was warm. She talked freely till the old Negro man returned at one o'clock for dinner. Notwithstanding the fact the meal hadn't been sifted and the meat not washed, it looked so brown and nice in two pones and the meat smelled so good I left hurriedly before I weakened, for I was getting hungry from the aroma.
"I was born at Edgefield County, South Carolina, and lived there till after I married."
"Did you have a wedding?"
"I sure did."
"Tell me about it."
"I married at home, at night, had a supper, had a nice dance."
"Did a colored man marry you?"
"Colored preacher—Jim Woods."
"Did he say the ceremony?"
"He read it out of a little book."
"Did you have a nice supper?"
"Course I did! White folks helped fix my weddin' supper. Had turkey, chickens, baked shoat, pies and cake—a table piled up full. Mama helped cook it. It was all cooked on fireplace.
"How were you dressed?"
"Dressed like folks dressed to marry."
"How was that?"
"I wore three or four starched underskirts trimmed in ruffles and a white dress over em. I wore a long lacy vail of net."
"Did you go away?"
"I lived close to my ma and always lived close bout her. I was called a first class lady then."
"My parents name Tempy Harris and Albert Harris. She was a cook. He was a farmer. They had five children. The reason I come to Arkansas was cause brother Albert and Caroline come here and kept writin' for us to come. My folks belong to the Harrises. I don't know nothin' bout em—been too long—and I never fooled round their houses. Some my folks belong to the Joneses. They kinfolks of the Harrises.
"No, I never saw no one sold nor hung neither.
"Remember grandpa. His daddy was a white man. His wife was a black woman. Mama was a brown woman like I is.
"I ain't had narry child. My mother died here in this house. Way me an my husband paid for the house, he farmed for Jim Black and Mr. Gunn. I cooked for Jim Woodfin. Then I run a roomin' house till four years ago. Four years ago I went to South Carolina to see my auntie. Her name Julia. They all had more 'n I had. She'd dead now. All of em dead bout it. She was a light woman—Julia. Her pa was a white man; her ma a light woman. Julia considered wealthy.
"I don't know nothin' bout freedom. I seen the soldiers. I seen both kinds. The white folks was good to us. We stayed on. Then we went to Albany, Georgia. We lived there a long time—lived in Florida a long time, then come here.
"The Joneses and Harrises had two or three families all I know. They didn't have no big sight of land. They was good to us. I picked up chips, put em in the boxes. Picked em up in my dress, course; I fetched up water. We had rocked wells and springs, too. We lived with man named Holman in Georgia. We farmed. I used to be called a smart woman, till I done got not able. My grandpa was a white man; mama's pa.
"What I been doin' from 1864-1937? What ain't I done! Farmin', I told you. Buildin' fences was common. Feedin' hogs, milkin' cows, churnin'. We raised hogs and cows and kept somethin' to eat at home. I knit sox. I spin. I never weaved. Folks wore clothes then. They don't wear none now. Pieced quilts. Could I sew? Course I did! Got a machine there now. (pointed to an old one.)
"I never seen no Ku Klux. I hid if they was about. I sure did hear bout em. They didn't never come on our place.
"I told you I never knowed when freedom come on.
"I went to school in South Carolina. I went a little four or five years. I could read, spell, cipher on a slate. Course I learned to write. Course I got whoopins; got a heap o' whoopins. People tended to childern then. What kind books did we have? I read and spelled out of the Blue Back Speller. We had numbers on our slates. The teacher set us copies. We wrote with soapstone. Some teachers white and some colored.
"Well, course I got a Bible. (disgusted at the question). I go to church and preachin' every Sunday. Yes. ma'am, now.
"I don't study votin'. I don't vote. (disgusted). I reckon my husband and pa did vote. I ain't voted.
"Course I go to town. I go to keep from gettin' hungry.
"Me and this old man get demodities and I get some money.
"I told you I don't bother young folks business. I thought I told you I don't. If I young I could raise somethin' at home that the reason I go hungry. I give down. I know I do get hungry.
"One thing I didn't tell you. I made tallow candles when I was a young woman.
"I don't know nothin' bout that Civil War."
Source: Arkansas Slave Narratives