Freeman, Aunt Mittie
The following data is extracted from Arkansas Slave Narratives.
Interviewer: Beulah Sherwood Hagg Person interviewed: Aunt Mittie Freeman Aged: 86 Home: 320 Elm St., North Little Rock. In home of granddaughter. [Aug 27 1937]
Story by Aunt Mittie Freeman
"Howdy, honey. Come on in and set down. It's awful hot, ain't it? What you come to see me for? You says old uncle Boss tell you I'se old slave lady? That's right, that's right. Us old war folks never fergits the others. Anything you wants to know, honey, jest go on and ax me. I got the bestest remembrance.
Orange county, Mississippi was where I was borned at but I been right here in Arkansas before sech thing as war gonna be. In slavery, it was, when my white folks done come to Camden. You know where that is?-Camden on the Ouachita? That's the place where we come. Yes Ma'am, it was long before the war when the doctor-I means Dr. Williams what owned my pappy and all us younguns-say he going to Arkansas. Theys rode in the fine carriages. Us slaves rode in ox wagons. Lord only knows how long it tuck a-coming. Every night we camped. I was jest a little tike then but I has a remembrance of everything. The biggest younguns had to walk till theys so tired theys couldn't hardly drag they feets; them what had been a-riding had to get out the ox wagon and walk a far piece; so it like this we go on.
Dr. Williams always wanted to keep his slaves together. He was sure good man. He didn't work his slaves hard like some. My pappy was a kind of a manager for Doctor. Doctor tended his business and pappy runned the plantation where we lived at. Our good master died before freedom. He willed us slaves to his chilrun. You know-passeled (parcelled) us out, some to this child, some to that. I went to his daughter, Miss Emma. Laws-a-Mercy, how I wishes I could see her face onct more afore I dies. I heerd she married rich. Unh-unh! I'd shore love to see her onct more.
After old master died, poor old pappy got sent to another plantation of the fam'ly. It had a overseer. He was a northerner man and the meanest devil ever put foot on a plantation. My father was a gentleman; yes ma'am, he was jest that. He had been brung up that-a-way. Old master teached us to never answer back to no white folks. But one day that overseer had my pappy whipped for sompin he never done, and pappy hit him.
So after that, he sent pappy down to New Orleans to be sold. He said he would liked to kill pappy, but he didn't dare 'cause he didn't owned him. Pappy was old. Every auction sale, all the young niggers be sold; everybody pass old pappy by. After a long time-oh, maybe five years-one day they ax pappy-"Are you got some white folks back in Arkansas?" He telled them the Williams white folks in Camden on the Ouachita. Theys white. After while theys send pappy home. Miss, I tells you, nobody never seen sech a home coming. Old Miss and the young white folks gathered round and hugged my old black pappy when he come home; they cry on his shoulder, so glad to git him back. That's what them Williams folks thought of their slaves. Yes ma'am.
Old Miss was name Miss 'liza. She skeered to stay by herself after old master died. I was took to be her companion. Every day she wanted me to bresh her long hair and bathe her feet in cool water; she said I was gentle and didn't never hurt her. One day I was a standing by the window and I seen smoke-blue smoke a rising over beyond a woods. I heerd cannons a-booming and axed her what was it. She say: "Run, Mittie, and hide yourself. It's the Yanks. Theys coming at last, Oh lordy!" I was all incited (excited) and told her I didn't want to hide, I wanted to see 'em. "No" she say, right firm. "Ain't I always told you Yankees has horns on their heads? They'll get you. Go on now, do like I tells you." So I runs out the room and went down by the big gate. A high wall was there and a tree put its branches right over the top. I clim up and hid under the leaves. They was coming, all a marching. The captain opened our big gate and marched them in. A soldier seen me and said "Come on down here; I want to see you." I told him I would, if he would take off his hat and show me his horns.
The day freedom came, I was fishing with pappy. My remembrance is sure good. All a-suddent cannons commence a-booming, it seem like everywhere. You know what that was, Miss? It was the fall of Richmond. Cannons was to roar every place when Richmond fell. Pappy jumps up, throws his pole and everything, and grabs my hand, and starts flying towards the house. "It's victory," he keep on saying. "It's freedom. Now we'es gwine be free." I didn't know what it all meant.
It seem like it tuck a long time fer freedom to come. Everything jest kept on like it was. We heard that lots of slaves was getting land and some mules to set up fer theirselves; I never knowed any what got land or mules nor nothing.
We all stayed right on the place till the Yankees came through. They was looking for slaves what was staying on. Now we was free and had to git off the plantation. They packed us in their big amulance ... you say it wasn't a amulance,-what was it? Well, then, their big covered army wagons, and tuck us to Little Rock. Did you ever know where the old penitentiary was? Well, right there is where the Yanks had a great big barracks. All chilluns and growd womens was put there in tents. Did you know that the fust real free school in Little Rock was opened by the govment for colored chullens? Yes ma'am, and I went to it, right from the day we got there.
They took pappy and put him to work in the big commissary; it was on the corner of Second and Main Street. He got $12.00 a month and all the grub we could eat. Unh, Unh! Didn't we live good? I sure got a good remembrance, honey. Can't you tell? Yes, Ma'am. They was plenty of other refugees living in them barracks, and the govment taking keer of all of 'em.
I was a purty big sized girl by then and had to go to work to help pappy. A man name Captain Hodge, a northerner, got a plantation down the river. He wanted to raise cotton but didn't know how and had to get colored folks to help him. A lot of us niggers from the barracks was sent to pick. We got $1.25 a hundred pounds. What did I do with my money? Is you asking me that? Bless your soul, honey, I never seen that money hardly long enough to git it home. In them days chilluns worked for their folks. I toted mine home to pappy and he got us what we had to have. That's the way it was. We picked cotton all fall and winter, and went to school after picking was over.
When I got nearly growd, we moved on this very ground you is a setting on. Pappy had a five year lease,-do you know what that was, I don't-but anyhow, they told him he could have all the ground he could clear and work for five years and it wouldn't cost him nothing. He built a log house and put in a orchard. Next year he had a big garden and sold vegables. Lord, miss, them white ladies wouldn't buy from nobody but pappy. They'd wait till he got there with his fresh beans and roasting ears. When he got more land broke out, he raised cotton and corn and made it right good. His name was Harry Williams. He was a stern man, and honest. He was named for his old master. When my brothers got growed they learned shoemakers trade and had right good business in Little Rock. But when pappy died, them boys give up that good business and tuck a farm-the old Lawson place-so to make a home for mammy and the little chilluns.
I married Freeman. Onliest husban ever I had. He died last summer. He was a slave too. We used to talk over them days before we met. The K.K.K. never bothered us. They was gathered together to bother niggers and whites what made trouble. If you tended to your own business, they's let you alone.
No ma'am, I never voted. My husband did. Yes ma'am, I can remember when they was colored men voted into office. Justice of Peace, county clerks, and, er-er-that fellow that comes running fast when somebody gets killed. What you call him? Coroner? Sure, that's him. I know that, 'cause I seen them a-setting in their offices.
We raised our fam'ly on a plantation. That's the bestest place for colored chilluns. Yes ma'am. My five boys stayed with me till they was grown. They heerd about the Railroad shops and was bound theys going there to work. Ben-that was my man-and me couldn't make it by ourselfs, so we come on back to this little place where we come soon after the war. He was taken with a tumor on his brains last summer and died in two weeks. He didn't know nothing all that time. My onliest boy what stayed here died jest two weeks after his pa. All them others went to Iowa after the big railroad strike here. They was out of work for many years; they didn't like no kind of work but railroad, after they been in the shops.
How I a-living now? You wants to know, honest? Say honey, is you a relief worker-one of them welfare folkses? Lor' God, how I needs help! Honey, last summer when my husband and son die they wasn't nothin' to put on 'em to bury in. I told the Welfare could I get something clean and whole to bury my dead; honey chile, it's the gospel truth, it was two weeks after they was buried when they brought me the close (clothes). Theys told me then I would get $10.00 a month, but in all this time now, I only had $5.00 one time. I lives with my daughter here in this house, but her man been outen work so long he couldn't keep up the payments and theys 'bout to loose it. Lordy, where'll we go? I made big garden in the spring of the year, and sold a heap. Hot summer burnt everything up, now. Yessum, that $5.00 the Reliefers give me-I bought my garden stuff with it.
I got the rheumatiz a-making the garden. It look like I'm done. I knowed a old potion. It made of pokeberry juice and whiskey. Good whiskey. Not old cheap corn likker. Yessum, you takes fine whiskey-'bout half bottle, and fills up with strained pokeberry juice. Tablespoon three times a day. Look-a-here, miss. Look at these old arms go up and down now. I kin do a washing along with the youngish womens.
Iffen you wants to know what I thinks of the young folks I tells you. Look at that grandchile a-setting there. She fourteen and know more right now than I knowed in my whole life. Yes ma'am! She can sew on a machine and make a dress in one day. She read in a book how to make sumthin to eat and go hatch it up. Theys fast, too. Ain't got no time for olds like me. Can't find no time to do nothin' for me. People now makes more money than in old days, but the way they makes it ain't honest. No'am, honey, it jest plain ain't. Old honest way was to bend the back and bear down on the hoe.
Did you ask somethin' 'bout old time songs? Sure did have purty music them days. It's so long, honey, I jest can't 'member the names, 'excusing one. It was "Hark, from the Tombs a Doleful Sound." It was a burying song; wagons a-walking slow like; all that stuff. It was the most onliest song they knowed. They was other music, though. Could they play the fiddle in them days, unh, unh! Lordy, iffen I could take you back and show you that handsome white lady what put me on the floor and learned me to dance the contillion!
I'm a-thinking we're a-living in the last days, honey, what does you think? Yes, Mam! We sure is living in the seventh seal. The days of tribulations is on us right now. Nothing make like it used to. I sure would be proud iffen I knowed I had a living for the balance of my days. I got a clean and a clear heart-a clean and clear heart. Be so to your neighbors and God will make it up to you. He sure will, honey."
Source: Arkansas Slave Narratives