White, Julia A.
The following data is extracted from Arkansas Slave Narratives.
Interviewer: Beulah Sherwood Hagg Person interviewed: Mrs. Julia A. White, 3003 Cross St., Little Rock, Ark. Age: 79
Idiom and dialect are lacking in this recorded interview. Mrs. White's conversation was entirely free from either. On being questioned about this she explained that she was reared in a home where fairly correct English was used.
My cousin Emanuel Armstead could read and write, and he kept the records of our family. At one time he was a school director. Of course, that was back in the early days, soon after the war closed.
My father was named James Page Jackson because he was born on the old Jackson plantation in Lancaster county, Virginia. He named one of his daughters Lancaster for a middle name in memory of his old home. Clarice Lancaster Jackson was her full name. A man named Galloway bought my father and brought him to Arkansas. Some called him by the name of Galloway, but my father always had all his children keep the name Jackson. There were fourteen of us, but only ten lived to grow up. He belonged to Mr. Galloway at the time of my birth, but even at that, I did not take the name Galloway as it would seem like I should. My father was a good carpenter; he was a fine cook, too; learned that back in Virginia. I'll tell you something interesting. The first cook stove ever brought to this town was one my father had his master to bring. He was cook at the Anthony House. You know about that, don't you? It was the first real fine hotel in Little Rock. When father went there to be head cook, all they had to cook on was big fireplaces and the big old Dutch ovens. Father just kept on telling about the stoves they had in Virginia, and at last they sent and got him one; it had to come by boat and took a long time. My father was proud that he was the one who set the first table ever spread in the Anthony House.
You see, it was different with us, from lots of slave folks. Some masters hired their slaves out. I remember a drug store on the corner of Main and Markham; it was McAlmont's drug store. Once my father worked there; the money he earned, it went to Mr. Galloway, of course. He said it was to pay board for mother and us little children.
My mother came from a fine family,-the Beebe family. Angeline Beebe was her name. You've heard of the Beebe family, of course. Roswell Beebe at one time owned all the land that Little Rock now sets on. I was born in a log cabin where Fifth and Spring streets meet. The Jewish Synagogue is on the exact spot. Once we lived at Third and Cumberland, across from that old hundred-year-old-building where they say the legislature once met. What you call it? Yes, that's it; the Hinterlider building. It was there then, too. My father and mother had the kind of wedding they had for slaves, I guess. Yes, ma'am, they did call them "broom-stick weddings". I've heard tell of them. Yes, ma'am, the master and mistress, when they find a couple of young slave folks want to get married, they call them before themselves and have them confess they want to marry. Then they hold the broom, one at each end, and the young folks told to jump over. Sometimes they have a new cabin fixed all for them to start in. After Peace, a minister came and married my father and mother according to the law of the church and of the land.
The master's family was thoughtful in keeping our records in their own big family Bible. All the births and deaths of the children in my father's family was in their Bible. After Peace, father got a big Bible for our family, and-wait, I'll show you.... Here they are, all copied down just like out of old master's Bible.... Here's where my father and mother died, over on this page. Right here's my own children. This space is for me and my husband.
No ma'am, it don't make me tired to talk. But I need a little time to recall all the things you want to know 'bout. I was so little when freedom came I just can't remember. I'll tell you, directly.
I remember that the first thing my father did was to go down to a plantation where the bigger children was working, and bring them all home, to live together as one family. That was a plantation where my mother had been; a man name Moore-James Moore-owned it. I don't know whether he had bought my mother from Beebe or not. I can remember two things plain what happened there. I was little, but can still see them. One of my mother's babies died and Master went to Little Rock on a horse and carried back a little coffin under his arm. The mistress had brought mother a big washing. She was working under the cover of the wellhouse and tears was running down her face. When master came back, he said: "How come you are working today, Angeline, when your baby is dead?" She showed him the big pile of clothes she had to wash, as mistress said. He said: "There is plenty of help on this place what can wash. You come on in and sit by your little baby, and don't do no more work till after the funeral." He took up the little dead body and laid it in the coffin with his own hands. I'm telling you this for what happened later on.
A long time after peace, one evening mother heard a tapping at the door. When she went, there was her old master, James Moore. "Angeline," he said, "you remember me, don't you?" Course she did. Then he told her he was hungry and homeless. A man hiding out. The Yankees had taken everything he had. Mother took him in and fed him for two or three days till he was rested. The other thing clear to my memory is when my uncle Tom was sold. Another day when mother was washing at the wellhouse and I was playing around, two white men came with a big, broad-shouldered colored man between them. Mother put her arms around him and cried and kissed him goodbye. A long time after, I was watching one of my brothers walk down a path. I told mother that his shoulders and body look like that man she kissed and cried over. "Why honey," she says to me, "can you remember that?" Then she told me about my uncle Tom being sold away.
So you see, Miss, it's a good thing you are more interested in what I know since slave days. I'll go on now.
The first thing after freedom my mother kept boarders and done fine laundry work. She boarded officers of the colored Union soldiers; she washed for the officers' families at the Arsenal. Sometimes they come and ask her to cook them something special good to eat. Both my father and mother were fine cooks. That's when we lived at Third and Cumberland. I stayed home till I was sixteen and helped with the cooking and washing and ironing. I never worked in a cottonfield. The boys did. All us girls were reared about the house. We were trained to be lady's maids and houseworkers. I married when I was sixteen. That husband died four years later, and the next year I married this man, Joel Randolph White. Married him in March, 1879. In those days you could put a house on leased ground. Could lease it for five years at a time. My father put up a house on Tenth and Scott. Old man Haynie owned the land and let us live in the house for $25.00 a year until father's money was all gone; then we had to move out. The first home my father really owned was at 1220 Spring street, what is now. Course then, it was away out in the country. A white lawyer from the north-B.F. Rice was his name-got my brother Jimmie to work in his office. Jimmie had been in school most all his life and was right educated for colored boy then. Mr. Rice finally asked him how would he like to study law. So he did; but all the time he wanted to be a preacher. Mr. Rice tell Jimmie to go on studying law. It is a good education; it would help him to be a preacher. Mr. Rice tell my father he can own his own home by law. So he make out the papers and take care of everything so some persons can't take it away. All that time my family was working for Mr. Rice and finally got the home paid for, all but the last payment, and Mr. Rice said Jimmie's services was worth that. So we had a nice home all paid for at last. We lived there till father died in 1879, and about ten years more. Then sold it.
My father had more money than many ex-slaves because he did what the Union soldiers told him. They used to give him "greenbacks" money and tell him to take good care of it. You see, miss, Union money was not any good here. Everything was Confederate money. You couldn't pay for a dime's worth even with a five dollar bill of Union money then. The soldiers just keep on telling my father to take all the greenbacks he could get and hide away. There wasn't any need to hide it, nobody wanted it. Soldiers said just wait; someday the Confederate money wouldn't be any good and greenbacks would be all the money we had. So that's how my father got his money.
If you have time to listen, miss, I'd like to tell you about a wonderful thing a young doctor done for my folks. It was when the gun powder explosion wrecked my brother and sister. The soldiers at the Arsenal used to get powder in tins called canteens. When there was a little left-a tablespoon full or such like, they would give it to the little boys and show them how to pour it in the palm of their hand, touch a match to it and then blow. The burning powder would fly off their hand without burning. We were living in a double house at Eighth and Main then; another colored family in one side. They had lots of children, just like us. One canteen had a lot more powder in. My brother was afraid to pour it on his hand. He put a paper down on top of the stove and poured it out. It was a big explosion. My little sister was standing beside her brother and her scalp was plum blowed off and her face burnt terribly. His hand was all gone, and his face and neck and head burnt terribly, too. There was a young doctor live close by name Deuell. Father ran for him. He tell my mother if she will do just exactly what he say, their faces will come out fine. He told her to make up bread dough real sort of stiff. He made a mask of it. Cut holes for their eyes, nose holes and mouths, so you could feed them, you see. He told mother to leave that on till it got hard as a rock. Then still leave it on till it crack and come off by itself. Nobody what ever saw their faces would believe how bad they had been burnt. Only 'round the edges where the dough didn't cover was there any scars. Dr. Deuell only charged my father $50.00 apiece for that grand work on my sister and brother.
Yes ma'am, I'll tell you how I come to speak what you call good English. First place, my mother and father was brought up in families where they heard good speech. Slaves what lived in the family didn't talk like cottonfield hands. My parents sure did believe in education.
The first free schools in Little Rock were opened by the Union for colored children. They brought young white ladies for teachers. They had Sunday School in the churches on Sunday. In a few years they had colored teachers come. One is still living here in Little Rock. I wish you would go see her. She is 90 years old now. She founded the Wesley Chapel here. On her fiftieth anniversary my club presented her a gold medal and had "Mother Wesley" engraved on it. Her name is Charlotte E. Stevens. She has the first school report ever put out in Little Rock. It was in the class of 1869. Two of my sisters were graduated from Philander Smith College here in Little Rock and had post graduate work in Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. My brothers and sisters all did well in life. Allene married a minister and did missionary work. Cornelia was a teacher in Dallas, Texas. Mary was a caterer in Hot Springs. Clarice went to Colorado Springs, Colorado and was a nurse in a doctor's office. Jimmie was the preacher, as I told you. Gus learned the drug business and Willie got to be a painter. Our adopted sister, Molly, could do anything, nurse, teach, manage a hotel. Yes, our parents always insisted we had to go to school. It's been a help to me all my life. I'm the only one now living of all my brothers and sisters.
Well ma'am, about how we lived all since freedom; it's been good till these last years. After I married my present husband in 1879, he worked in the Missouri Pacific railroad shops. He was boiler maker's helper. They called it Iron Mountain shops then, though. 52 years, 6 months and 24 days he worked there. In 1922, on big strike, all men got laid off. When they went back, they had to go as new men. Don't you see what that done to my man? He was all ready for his pension. Yes ma'am, had worked his full time to be pensioned by the railroad. But we have never been able to get any retirement pension. He should have it. Urban League is trying to help him get it. He is out on account of disability and old age. He got his eye hurt pretty bad and had to be in the railroad hospital a long time. I have the doctor's papers on that. Then he had a bad fall what put him again in the hospital. That was in 1931. He has never really been discharged, but just can't get any compensation. He has put in his claim to the Railroad Retirement office in Washington. I'm hoping they get to it before he dies. We're both mighty old and feeble. He had a stroke in 1933, since he been off the railroad.
How we living now? It's mighty poorly, please believe that. In his good years we bought this little home, but taxes so high, road assessments and all make it more than we can keep up. My granddaughter lives with us. She teaches, but only has school about half a year. I was trying to educate her in the University of Wisconsin, but poor child had to quit. In summer we try to make a garden. Some of the neighbors take in washing and they give me ironing to do. Friends bring in fresh bread when they bake. It takes all my granddaughter makes to keep up the mortgage and pay all the rest. She don't have clothes decent to go.
I have about sold the last of the antiques. In old days the mistress used to give my mother the dishes left from broken sets, odd vases and such. I had some beautiful things, but one by one have sold them to antique dealers to get something to help out with. My church gives me a donation every fifth Sunday of a collection for benefit. Sometimes it is as much as $2.50 and that sure helps on the groceries. Today I bought four cents worth of beans and one cent worth of onions. I say you have to cut the garment according to the cloth. You ain't even living from hand to mouth, if the hand don't have something in it to put to the mouth.
No ma'am, we couldn't get on relief, account of this child teaching. One relief worker did come to see us. She was a case worker, she said. She took down all I told her about our needs and was about ready to go when she saw my seven hens in the yard. "Whose chickens out there?" she asked. "I keep a few hens," I told her. "Well," she hollered, "anybody that's able to keep chickens don't need to be on relief roll," and she gathered up her gloves and bag and left.
Yes ma'am, I filed for old age pension, too. It was in April, 1935 I filed. When a year passed without hearing, I took my husband down so they could see just how he is not able to work. They told me not to bring him any more. Said I would get $10.00 a month. Two years went, and I never got any. I went by myself then, and they said yes, yes, they have my name on file, but there is no money to pay. There must be millions comes in for sales tax. I don't know where it all goes. Of course the white folks get first consideration. Colored folks always has to bear the brunt. They just do, and that's all there is to it.
What do I think of the younger generation? I wouldn't speak for all. There are many types, just like older people. It has always been like that, though. If all young folks were like my granddaughter-I guess there is many, too. She does all the sewing, and gardening. She paints the house, makes the draperies and bed clothing. She can cook and do all our laundry work. She understands raising chickens for market but just don't have time for that. She is honest and clean in her life.
Yes ma'am, I did vote once, a long time ago. You see, I wasn't old enough at first, after freedom, when all the colored people could vote. Then, for many years, women in Arkansas couldn't vote, anyhow. I can remember when M.W. Gibbs was Police Judge and Asa Richards was a colored alderman. No ma'am! The voting law is not fair. It's most unfair! We colored folks have to pay just the same as the white. We pay our sales tax, street improvement, school tax, property tax, personal property tax, dog license, automobile license-they what have cars-; we pay utility tax. And we should be allowed to vote. I can tell you about three years ago a white lady come down here with her car on election day and ask my old husband would he vote how she told him if she carried him to the polls. He said yes and she carried him. When he got there they told him no colored was allowed to vote in that election. Poor old man, she didn't offer to get him home, but left him to stumble along best he could.
I'm glad if I been able to give you some help. You've been patient with an old woman. I can tell you that every word I have told you is true as the gospel.
Source: Arkansas Slave Narratives