Fergusson, Mrs. Lou
The following data is extracted from Arkansas Slave Narratives.
Interviewer: Mary D. Hudgins Person Interviewed: Mrs. Lou Fergusson Aged: 91 Home: With daughter Mrs. Peach Sinclair, Wade Street. [Jan 29 1938]
Zig-zaging across better than a mile of increasingly less thickly settled territory went the interviewer. The terrain was rolling-to put it mildly. During most of the walk her feet met the soft resistance of winter-packed earth. Sidewalks were the exception rather than the rule.
Wade Street, she had been told was "somewhere over in the Boulevard". Holding to a general direction she kept her course. "The Boulevard", known on the tax books of Hot Springs as Boulevard Addition, sprawls over a wide area. Houses vary in size and construction with startling frequency. Few of them are pretentious. Many appear well planned, are in excellent state of repair and front on yards, scrupulously neat, sometimes patterned with flower beds. Occasionally a building leans with age, roof caving and windows and doors yawning voids-long since abandoned by owners to wind and weather.
Up one hill, down another went the interviewer. Given a proper steer here and there by colored men and women-even children along the way, she finally found hereself in front of "that green house" belonging to Peach Sinclair.
Two colored women, middle aged, sat basking in the mild January sunlight on a back porch. "I beg your pardon," said the interviewer, approaching the step, "is this the home of Peach Sinclair, and will I find Mrs. Lou Fergusson here?"
"It sure is," the voice was cheerful. "My mother is in the house. Come around to the front," (the interviewer couldn't have reached the back steps, even if she had wanted to-the back yard was fenced from the front) "she's in the parlor."
Mrs. Lou turned out to be an incredibly black, unbelievably plump-cheeked, wide smiling "motherly" person. She seemed an Aunt Jemimah grown suddenly old, and even more mellow. "Mamma, this young lady's come to see you. She wants to talk to you and ask you some questions, about when-about before the war." (The situation is always delicate when an ex-slave is asked for details. Somehow both interviewer and interviewee avoid the ugly word whenever possible. The skillful interviewer can generally manage to pass it by completely, as well as any variant of the word negro. The informant is usually less squeamish. "Black folks," "colored folks", "black people", "Master's people", "us" are all encountered frequently.)
Five minutes of pleasant chatter preceeded the formal interview. Both Mrs. Sinclair and her guest (unintroduced) sat in on the conference and made comments frequently. "Law, child, we bought this place from your father. He was a mighty fine man." Mrs. Sinclair was delighted to find her guest to be "Jack Hudgins daughter." And later in the chat, "You done lost everything? Even your home-that's going? Too bad. But then I guess at that you're better off than we are. I've been trying for nearly a year to get my mother on the old age pension. They say she has passed. That was way along last March. Here it is January and she hasn't got a penny. No, I know you can't help. Yes, I see what you're doing. But if ever you does get on the pensions work-I'm going to 'hant'[A] you." (a wide grin) [A]
"Hant" was an intentional barbarism.
The old woman rocked and smiled. "Yes, ma'am. I'm her oldest, alive. She had 17 and 15 of them lived to grow up. But I'm about as old as she is, looks like. She never did have glasses-and today she can thread the finest needle. She can make as pretty a quilt as you'd hope to see. Makes fine stitches too. Seems like they made them stronger in her day." A nod of delighted approval from Mrs. Fergusson.
"I was born in Hempstead County, right here in this state. The town we were nearest was Columbus. I lived around there all of my life until I come here to be with my daughter. That was 15 years ago. Yes, I was born on a farm. From what I know, I'm over ninety. I was around 20 when the war ceaseted.
The man what owned us was named Ed Johnson. Yes, ma'am he had lots of folks. Was he good to us? Well, he was and he wasn't. He was good himself, wouldn't never have whipped us-but he had a mean wife. She'd dog him, and dog him until he'd tie us down and whip us for the least little thing. Then they put overseers over us. They was most generally mean. They'd run us out way fore day-even in the sleet-run us out to the field.
Was the life hard-well it was and it wasn't. No, ma'am, I didn't get much learning. Some folks wouldn't let their black folks learn at all. Then there was some which would let their children teach the colored children what they learned at school. We never learned very much.
You see, Master didn't live on the place. He lived bout as far as from here to town" (fully two miles) "The overseer looked after us mostly. No, ma'am I don't remember much about the war. You see, they was afraid that the fighting was going to get down there so they run us off to Texas. We settled down and made a crop there. How'd we get the land? Master rented it.
We made a crop down there and later we come back. No, ma'am we didn't stay with Mr. Johnson more than a month after there was peace. We come on in to Washington. No, ma'am, I never heard tell that Washington had been the Capitol of Arkansas for a while during the War. No, I never did hear that. Guess it was when we was in Texas. Then we folks didn't hear so much anyway.
We stayed in Washington most a year. Was I with my Mother? No, ma'am I was married-married before the war was thru. Married-does you know how we folks married in them days? Well the man asked your mother. Then you both asked your master. He built you a house. You moved in and there you was. You was married. I did some washing and cooking when I was in Washington. Then we moved onto a farm. I sort of liked Washington, but I was born on a farm and I sort of liked farm life.
We didn't move around very much-just two or three places. We raised cotton, corn, vegetables, peas, watermelons and lots of those sort of things. No ma'am, didn't nobody think of raising watermelons to ship way off like they does in Hempstead county now. Cotton was our cash crop. We rented thirds and fourths. Didn't move but three times. One place I stayed 15 years.
I been a widow 40 years. Yes, ma'am. I farmed myself, and my children helped me. Me and the owners got along well. Made good crops, me and the children. I managed to take good care of them. Made out to raise 15 out of the 17 to be grown. There's only 5 of them alive now.
Hard on a woman to run a farm by herself. Well now, I don't know. I made out. I raised my children and raised them healthy. I got along well with the farm owner. You might know when I was let to stay on one place for 15 years. You know I must have treated the land right and worked it fair.
Yes ma'am I remembers lots. Seems like women folks remembers better than men. I've got a good daughter. I'm still strong and can get about good. Guess the Lord has been good to me."
Source: Arkansas Slave Narratives