The following data is extracted from Arkansas Slave Narratives.
Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor Person interviewed: Omelia Thomas 1014 W. Fifth Street, Little Rock, Arkansas Age: 63
"I was born in Marianna, Lee County, in Arkansas. I wasn't born right in the town but out a piece from the town in the old Bouden place, in 1875. My father kept a record of all births and deaths in his Bible. He never forgot whenever a new baby would come to get down his glasses and pen and ink and Bible. My daddy learned to read and write after the emancipation.
"My father's name was Frank Johnson and my mother's name was Henrietta Johnson. I don't know the given names of my father's and mother's parents. I do know my mother's mother's name. Lucinda, and my father's mother was named Stephens. I don't know their given names. My mother's master was a Trotter.
"My father was a free man. He hired his own time. He told me that his father hired his own time and he would go off and work. He made washpots. He would go off and work and bring back money and things. His mother was free too. When war was declared, he volunteered to go. He was with the Yankees. My father worked just like my grandfather did. Whenever he had a job to do. He never had a lick from anybody, carried his gun strapped down on his side all the time and never went without it.
"After the War, he worked on a steamboat. They used to kick the roustabouts about and run them around but they never laid the weight of their hands on him.
"They wouldn't allow him to go to school in slavery time. After the War, he got a Blue Back Speller and would make a bowl of fire and at night he would study-sometimes until daybreak. Then he found an old man that would help him and he studied under him for a while. He never went to any regular school, but he went to night school a little. Most of what he got, he got himself.
"He was born in Louisville, Kentucky. I don't know how he happened to meet my mother. During the time after the War, he went to running on the boat from New Orleans to Friar Point, Mississippi. Then he would come over to Helena. In going 'round, he met my mother near Marianna and married her.
"Mother never had much to say, and the other girls would have a big time talking. He noticed that she was sewing with ravelings and he said, 'Lady, next time I come I'll bring you a spool of thread if you don't mind.' He brought the thread and she didn't mind, and from then on, they went to courting. Finally they married. They married very shortly after the War.
"My mother was a motherless girl. My daddy said he looked at her struggling along. All the other girls were trying to have a good time. But she would be settin' down trying to make a quilt or something else useful, and he said to a friend of his, 'That woman would make a good wife; I am going to marry her.' And he did.
"She used to spin her fine and coarse sewing thread and yarn to make socks and stockings with. Her stockings and socks for the babies and papa would always be yarn. She could do pretty work. She had a large family. She had seventeen children and she kept them all in things she made herself. She raised ten of them. She would make the thread and yarn and the socks and stockings for all of these. I have known the time when she used to make coats and pants for my father and brothers. She would make them by hand because they didn't have any machines then. Of course, she made all the underwear. She put up preserves and jellies for us to eat in the winter. She used to put up kraut and stuff by the barrel. I have seen some happy days when I was with my daddy and mother. He raised pigs and hogs and chickens and cows. He raised all kinds of peas and vegetables. He raised those things chiefly for the home, and he made cotton for money. He would save about eight or ten bales and put them under his shed for stockings and clothes and everything. He would have another cotton selling in March.
"When my father was in the army, he would sometimes be out in the weather, he told us, and he and the other soldiers would wrap up in their blankets and sleep right in the snow itself.
"I farmed all my life until 1897. I farmed all my life till then. I was at home. I married in 1895. My first husband and I made three crops and then he stopped and went to public work. After that I never farmed any more but went to cooking and doing laundry work. I came from Clarendon here in 1901.
"I never had any experiences with the Yankees. My mother used to tell how they took all the old master's stuff-mules and sugar-and then throwed it out and rode their horses through it when they didn't want it for theirselves.
"I married a second time. I have been single now for the last three years. My husband died on the twentieth of August three years ago. I ain't got no business here at all. I ought to be at my home living well. But I work for what I get and I'm proud of it.
"A working woman has many things to contend with. That girl downstairs keeps a gang of men coming and going, and sometimes some of them sometimes try to come up here. Sunday night when I come home from church, one was standing in the dark by my door waiting for me. I had this stick in my hand and I ordered him down. He saw I meant business; so he went on down. Some of them are determined.
"There's no hope for tomorrow so far as these young folks are concerned. And the majority of the old people are almost worse than the young ones. Used to be that all the old people were mothers and fathers but now they are all going together. Everything is in a critical condition. There is not much truth in the land. All human affection is gone. There is mighty little respect. The way some people carry on is pitiful."
The men who bother Omelia Thomas probably take her for a young woman. She hasn't a gray hair in her head, and her skin is smooth and must be well kept. She looks at least twenty-five years younger than she is, and but for the accident of her presence at another interview, I would never have dreamed that she had a story to tell.
I went to see her in the quarters where she lives-over the garage in the back yard of the white people she works for. When I got halfway up the stairs, she shouted, "You can't come up here." I paused in perplexity for a moment, and she stuck her head out the door and looked. Then she said, "Oh, I beg pardon; I thought you were one of those men that visit downstairs." I had noticed the young lady below as I entered. She is evidently a hot number, and as troublesome as a sore thumb to the good old lady above her.
Source: Arkansas Slave Narratives