Interviewer: Minnie Branham Stonestreet
Person Interviewed: Arrie Binns
Location: Washington-Wilkes, Georgia
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Arrie Binns lives in Baltimore, a negro suburb of Washington-Wilkes, in a little old tumbled down kind of a cottage that used to be one of the neatest and best houses of the settlement and where she has lived for the past sixty-odd years. In the yard of her home is one of the most beautiful holly trees to be found anywhere. She set it there herself over fifty years ago. She recalled how her friends predicted bad luck would befall her because she “sot out er holly”, but not being in the least bit superstitious she paid them “no mind” and has enjoyed her beautiful tree all these years. Many lovely oaks are around her house; she set them there long ago when she was young and with her husband moved into their new home and wanted to make it as attractive as possible. She is all alone now. Her husband died some years ago and three of her four children have passed on. Her “preacher son” who was her delight, died not very long ago. All this sorrow has left Aunt Arrie old and sad; her face is no longer lighted by the smile it used to know. She is a tiny little scrap of a woman with the softest voice and is as neat as can be. She wears an oldfashioned apron all the time and in cool weather there is always a little black cape around her frail shoulders and held together with a plain old gold “breastpin”.
She was born in (Georgia), her mother was Emeline Sybert and her father Jordan Sybert. They belonged to Mr. Jones Sybert and his wife “Miss Peggy”. After freedom they changed their surname to Gullatt as they liked that better. Arrie was among the oldest of nine children. The night she was born the stork brought a little baby girl to the home of a white family just across the creek from the Syberts. The little white girl was named Arine so “Miss Peggy” named the little new black baby girl Arrie, and that is how it happened she was given such an odd name.
Arrie said she was “15 or 16 years old when the war broke (1865), I wuz big enough to be lookin’ at boys an’ dey lookin’ at me.” She remembers the days of war, how when the battle of Atlanta was raging they heard the distant rumble of cannon, and how “upsot” they all were. Her master died of “the consumption” during the war. She recalls how hard it was after his death. The Syberts had no children and there was no one to turn to after his death. Arrie tells of her Master’s illness, how she was the housemaid and was called upon to fan him and how she would get so tired and sleepy she would nod a little, the fan dropping from hands into his face. He would take it up and “crack my haid with the handle to wake me up. I wuz allus so sorry when I done that, but I jest had ter nod.”
She told about how bad the overseers were and the trouble they gave until finally “old Miss turned off ther one she had an’ put my Pa in his place to manage things and look after the work.” Arrie was never punished, (not any more than having her head cracked by her Master when she nodded while fanning him.) “No mam, not none of our niggers wuz whipped. Why I recollect once, my brother wuz out without a pass an’ de patter rollers kotch him and brung him to old Miss and said he’d have ter be whipped, old Miss got so mad she didn’t know what ter do, she said nobody wuz a goin’ ter whip her niggers, but the patter roller men ‘sisted so she said after er while, ‘Well, but I’m goin’ ter stan’ right here an’ when I say stop, yer got ter stop’, an’ they ‘greed to dat, an’ the third time dey hit him she raised her han’ an’ said ‘STOP’ an’ dey had ter let my brother go. My Miss wuz a big ‘oman, she’d weigh nigh on ter three hundred pound, I ‘spect.”
After her master’s death Arrie had to go into the field to work. She recalled with a little chuckle, the old cream horse, “Toby” she use to plow. She loved Toby, she said, and they did good work. When not plowing she said she “picked er round in the fields” doing whatever she could. She and the other slaves were not required to do very hard work. Her mother was a field hand, but in the evenings she spun and wove down in their cabin. Aunt Arrie added “an’ I did love to hear that old spinnin’ wheel. It made a low kind of a whirring sound that made me sleepy.” She said her mother, with all the other negro women on the place, had “a task of spinnin’ a spool at night”, and they spun and wove on rainy days too. “Ma made our clothes an’ we had pretty dresses too. She dyed some blue and brown striped. We growed the indigo she used fer the blue, right dar on the plantation, and she used bark and leaves to make the tan and brown colors.”
Aunt Arrie said the Doctor was always called in when they were sick, “but we never sont fer him lesse’n somebody wuz real sick. De old folks doctored us jest fer little ailments. Dey give us lye tea fer colds. (This was made by taking a few clean ashes from the fire place, putting them in a little thin bag and pouring boiling water over them and let set for a few minutes. This had to be given very weak or else it would be harmful, Aunt Arrie explained.) Garlic and whiskey, and den, dar ain’t nothin’ better fer the pneumony dan splinter tea. I’ve cured bad cases with it.” (That is made by pouring boiling water over lightwood splinters.)
Aunt Arrie told of their life on the plantation and it was not unlike that of other slaves who had good masters who looked after them. They had plenty to eat and to wear. Their food was given them and they cooked and ate their meals in the cabins in family groups. Santa Claus always found his way to the Quarters and brought them stick candy and other things to eat. She said for their Christmas dinner there was always a big fat hen and a hog head.
In slavery days the negroes had quiltings, dances, picnics and everybody had a good time, Aunt Arrie said, “an’ I kin dance yit when I hears a fiddle.” They had their work to do in the week days, but when Sundays came there was no work, everybody rested and on “preachin’ days” went to Church. Her father took them all to old Rehoboth, the neighborhood white church, and they worshiped together, white and black, the negroes in the gallery. That was back in the days when there was “no lookin’ neither to the right nor to the left” when in church; no matter what happened, no one could even half way smile. This all was much harder than having to listen to the long tiresome sermons of those days, Arrie thinks, specially when she recalled on one occasion “when Mr. Sutton wuz a preachin’ a old goat [HW: got] up under the Church an’ every time Mr. Sutton would say something out real loud that old goat would go ‘Bah-a-a Bah ba-a-a’ an’ we couldn’t laugh a bit. I most busted, I wanted ter laugh so bad.”
“Yassum, in dem days” continued Aunt Arrie, “all us colored folks went to the white folks church kase us didn’t have no churches of our own and day want no colored preachers den, but some what wuz called “Chairbacks”. The Chairback fellows went er round preachin’ an’ singin’ in the cabins down in the Quarters and dey use ter have the bes’ meetin’s, folks would be converted an’ change dey way. De hymns dey sung de most wuz “Amazin’ Grace” an’ “Am I Born ter Die?” I ‘members de meetin’s us use ter have down in our cabin an’ how everybody would pray an’ sing.”
“Dey ain’t nothin’ lak it use ter be,” sighed Aunt Arrie, “Now when I first could recollect, when a nigger died they sot up with de corpse all night and de next day had de funeral an’ when dey started to the burial ground with the body every body in the whole procession would sing hymns. I’ve heard ’em ‘nough times clear ‘cross the fields, singin’ and moanin’ as they went. Dem days of real feelin’ an’ keerin’ is gone.”
When freedom came there were sad times on the Sybert plantation, Arrie said. “Old Miss cried and cried, and all us cried too. Old Miss said ‘You’al jest goin’ off to perish.’ Aunt Jennie, one of the oldest women slaves stayed on with her and took keer of her, but all us stayed on a while. Us didn’t know whar to go an’ what ter do, an’ den come Dr. Peters and Mr. Allen frum Arkansas to git han’s to go out dar an’ work fer dem. My Pa took his family and we stayed two years. It took us might nigh ar whole week to git dar, we went part way on de train and den rid de steam boat up de Mississippi River ter de landin’. We worked in the cotton field out dar and done all kinds er work on de farm, but us didn’t like an’ Dr. Peters an’ Mr. Allen give my Pa money fer us ter come home on. ‘Fore we could git started my oldest brother wanted to come home so bad he jest pitched out and walked all de way frum Arkansas to our old home in Georgy. We come back by Memphis and den come on home on de train. When we wuz out dar I went to school an’ got as far as ‘Baker’. Dat’s de only schoolin’ I ever had.”
Aunt Arrie told about her courtship and marriage, she remembers all about it and grew rather sentimental and sad while she talked. She said that Franklin Binns was going with her before she went to live in Arkansas and when she came home he picked up the courtship where he had left off when she went away. He would ride 20 miles on horseback to see her. He brought her candy and nice things to eat, but she still wouldn’t “give him no satisfaction ’bout whether she keered fer him er not.” She said other men wanted to come to see her, but she paid them not one bit of attention. “No mam, I wouldn’t ‘cept of them, I never did go with in an’ everybody, I don’t do dat yit.” She said one day Franklin was to see her and said “Less us marry, I think ‘nough of you to marry.” She said she wouldn’t tell him nothin’ so he went to see her parents and they agreed, so she married him sometime later. They were married by a white minister, Mr. Joe Carter.
Aunt Arrie leads a lonely life now. She grieves for her loved ones more than negroes usually do. She doesn’t get about much, but “I does go over to see Sis Lou (a neighbor) every now an’ den fer consolation.” She says she is living on borrowed time because she has always taken care of herself and worked and been honest. She said that now she is almost at the close of her life waiting day by day for the call to come, she is glad she knew slavery, glad she was reared by good white people who taught her the right way to live, and she added: “Mistess, I’se so glad I allus worked hard an’ been honest—hit has sho paid me time an’ time agin.”