The following data is extracted from Arkansas Slave Narratives.
STATE-Arkansas NAME OF WORKER-Bernice Bowden ADDRESS-1006 Oak Street, Pine Bluff, Arkansas DATE-November 2, 1938 SUBJECT-Exslaves [TR: Repetitive information deleted from subsequent pages.]
Circumstances of Interview
1. Name and address of informant-Gracie Mitchell
2. Date and time of interview-November 1, 1938, 3:00 p.m.
3. Place of interview-117 Worthen Street
4. Name and address of person, if any, who put you in touch with informant-Bernice Wilburn, 101 Miller Street, Pine Bluff, Arkansas
5. Name and address of person, if any, accompanying you-None
6. Description of room, house, surroundings, etc.-A frame house (rented), bare floors, no window shades; a bed and some boxes and three straight chairs. In an adjoining room were another bed, heating stove, two trunks, one straight chair, one rocking chair. A third room the kitchen, contained cookstove and table and chairs.
Text of Interview
"They said I was born in Alabama. My mother's name was Sallie and my father was Andrew Wheeler. I couldn't tell when I was born-my folks never did tell me that. Belonged to Dr. Moore and when his daughter married he give my mother to her and she went to Mobile. They said I wasn't weaned yet. My grandmother told me that. She is dead now. Don't know nothin' bout nary one o' my white folks. I don't recollect nothin' bout a one of 'em 'cept my old boss. He took us to Texas and stayed till the niggers was all free and then he went back. Good to me? No ma'm-no good there. And if you didn't work he'd see what was the matter. Lived near Coffeyville in Upshaw county. That's whar my husband found me. I was living with my aunt and uncle. They said the reason I had such a good gift makin' quilts was cause my mother was a seamstress.
"I cooked 'fore I married and I could make my own dresses, piece quilts and quilt. That's mostly what I done. No laundry work. I never did farm till I was married. After we went to Chicago in 1922, I took care of other folks chillun, colored folks, while they was working in laundries and factories. I sure has worked. I ain't nobody to what I was when I was first married. I knowed how to turn, but I don't know whar to turn now-I ain't able.
"I use to could plow just as good as any man. I could put that dirt up against that cotton and corn. I'd mold it up. Lay it by? Yes ma'm I'd lay it by, too.
"They didn't send me to school but they learned me how to work.
"I had a quilt book with a lot o' different patterns but I loaned it to a woman and she carried it to Oklahoma. Mighty few people you can put confidence in nowdays.
"I don't go out much 'cept to church-folks is so critical.
"You have to mind how you walk on the cross; If you don't, your foot will slip, And your soul will be lost." "I was a motherless chile but the Lord made up for it by givin' me a good husband and I don't want for anything."
According to her husband, Gracie spends every spare moment piecing quilts. He said they use to go fishing and that Gracie always took her quilt pieces along and if the fish were not biting she would sew. She showed me twenty-two finished quilt tops, each of a different design and several of the same design, or about thirty quilts in all. Two were entirely of silk, two of applique design which called "laid work". They were folded up in a trunk and as she took them out and spread them on the bed for me to see she told me the name of the design. The following are the names of the designs:
1. Breakfast Dish 2. Sawtooth (silk) 3. Tulip design (Laid work) 4. "Prickle" Pear 5. Little Boy's Breeches 6. Birds All Over the Elements 7. Drunkard's Path 8. Railroad Crossing 9. Cocoanut Leaf ("That's Laid Work") 10. Cotton Leaf 11. Half an Orange 12. Tree of Paradise 13. Sunflower 14. Ocean Wave (silk) 15. Double Star 16. Swan's Nest 17. Log Cabin in the Lane 18. Reel 19. Lily in de Valley (Silk) 20. Feathered Star 21. Fish Tail 22. Whirligig Gracie showed me her winter coat bought in Chicago of fur fabric called moleskin, and with fur collar and cuffs.
She sells the quilt tops whenever she can. Many are made of new material which they buy.
Personal History of Informant
1. Ancestry-Father, Andrew Wheeler; Sallie Wheeler, mother.
2. Place and date of birth-Alabama. No date known, about 80 years old.
3. Family-Husband and one grown son.
4. Places lived in, with dates-Alabama, Texas till 1897, Arkansas 1897-1922, Chicago, 1922 to 1930. Arkansas 1930 to date.
5. Education, with dates-No education.
6. Occupations and accomplishments, with dates-Cooked before marriage at 16; farmed after marriage; home sewing.
7. Special skills and interests-Quilt making and knitting.
8. Community and religious activities-Assisted husband in ministry.
9. Description of informant-Hair divided into many pigtails and wrapped with rags. Skin, dark. Medium height, slender, clothing soiled.
10. Other points gained in interview-Spends all her time piecing quilts, aside from housework.
Source: Arkansas Slave Narratives