Slave Narrative of Julia Bunch
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Interviewer: Leila Harris
Person Interviewed: Julia Bunch
Seated in a comfortable chair in the living room of her home, Julia Bunch, Negress of 85 years, presented a picture of the old South that will soon pass away forever. The little 3-room house, approachable only on foot, was situated on top of a hill. Around the clean-swept yard, petunias, verbena, and other flowers were supplemented by a large patch of old-fashioned ribbon grass. A little black and white kitten was frisking about and a big red hen lazily scratched under a big shade tree in search of food for her brood. Julia’s daughter, who was washing “white people’s clothes” around the side of the house, invited us into the living room where her mother was seated.
The floors of the front porch and the living room were scrubbed spotlessly clean. There was a rug on the floor, while a piano across one corner, a chifforobe with mirrored doors, a bureau, and several comfortable chairs completed the room’s furnishings. A motley assortment of pictures adorning the walls included: The Virgin Mother, The Sacred Bleeding Heart, several large family photographs, two pictures of the Dionne Quintuplets, and one of President Roosevelt.
Julia was not very talkative, but had a shy, irresistible chuckle, and it was this, together with her personal appearance and the tidiness of her home that left an indelible impression on the minds of her visitors. Her skin was very dark, and her head closely wrapped in a dark bandana, from which this gray hair peeped at intervals forming a frame for her face. She was clad in a black and white flowered print dress and a dark gray sweater, from which a white ruffle was apparent at the neck. Only two buttons of the sweater were fastened and it fell away at the waist displaying her green striped apron. From beneath the long dress, her feet were visible encased in men’s black shoes laced with white strings. Her ornaments consisted of a ring on her third finger, earrings, and tortoise-rimmed glasses which plainly displayed their dime-store origin.
“I b’longed to Marse Jackie Dorn of Edgefield County, I was gived to him and his wife when dey was married for a weddin’ gift. I nussed deir three chilluns for ’em and slep’ on a couch in dier bedroom ’til I was 12 years old, den ‘Mancipation come. I loved ’em so and stayed wid ’em for four years atter freedom and when I left ’em I cried and dem chilluns cried.
“Yassir, dey was sho’ good white people and very rich. Dere warn’t nothin’ lackin’ on dat plantation. De big house was part wood and part brick, and de Niggers lived in one or two room box houses built in rows. Marse Jackie runned a big grist mill and done de grindin’ for all de neighbors ’round ’bout. Three or four Niggers wukked in de mill all de time. Us runned a big farm and dairy too.
“Dere was allus plenty t’eat ’cause Marster had a 2-acre gyarden and a big fruit orchard. Two cooks was in de kitchen all de time. Dey cooked in a big fireplace, but us had big ovens to cook de meat, biscuits and lightbread in. Us made ‘lasses and syrup and put up fruits just lak dey does now.
“My Ma was head weaver. It tuk two or three days to set up de loom ’cause dere was so many little bitty threads to be threaded up. Us had dyes of evvy color. Yassir, us could make wool cloth too. De sheeps was sheered once a year and de wool was manufactured up and us had a loom wid wheels to spin it into thread.
“Old Marster never whupped nobody and dere was only one man dat I kin ‘member dat de overseer whupped much and he ‘served it ’cause he would run away in spite of evvything. Dey would tie him to a tree way down in de orchard and whup him.”
Julia kept repeating and seemed anxious to impress upon the minds of her visitors that her white folks were good and very rich. “Yassir, my white folks had lots of company and visited a lot. Dey rode saddle horses and had deir own carriages wid a high seat for de driver. Nosir, she didn’t ride wid hoopskirts—you couldn’t ride wid dem on.
“Us bought some shoes from de market but dere was a travelin’ shoemaker dat wukked by days for all de folks. He was a slave and didn’t git no money; it was paid to his Marster. Us had our own blacksmith dat wukked all de time.
“De slaves from all de plantations ’round come to our corn shuckin’s. Us had ’em down in de orchard. Lots of white folks comed too. Dey kilt hogs and us had a big supper and den us danced. Nosir, dere warn’t no toddy, Marse didn’t b’lieve in dat, but dey would beat up apples and us drinked de juice. It sho’ was sweet too.
“Folks done dey travelin’ in stages and hacks in dem days. Each of de stages had four hosses to ’em. When de cotton and all de other things was ready to go to market, dey would pack ’em and bring ’em to Augusta wid mules and wagons. It would take a week and sometimes longer for de trip, and dey would come back loaded down wid ‘visions and clothes, and dere was allus a plenty for all de Niggers too.
“De white folks allus helped deir Niggers wid de weddin’s and buyed deir clothes for ’em. I ‘members once a man friend of mine come to ax could he marry one of our gals. Marster axed him a right smart of questions and den he told him he could have her, but he mustn’t knock or cuff her ’bout when he didn’t want her no more, but to turn her loose.
“Us had a big cemetery on our place and de white folks allus let deir Niggers come to de fun’rals. De white folks had deir own sep’rate buryin’ ground, but all de coffins was home-made. Even de ones for de settlement peoples was made right in our shop. Yassum, dey sung at de fun’rals and you wants me to sing. I can’t sing, but I’ll try a little bit.” Then with a beautiful and peculiar rhythm only attained by the southern Negro, she chanted:
“A rooster crowin’ outside your door means company’s comin’ and a squinch owl means sho’ death. Dose are all de signs I kin ‘member and I don’t ‘member nothin’ ’bout slavery remedies.
“Yassir, dey useter give us a nickel or 10 cents sometimes so us could buy candy from de store.” Asked if she remembered patterollers she gave her sly chuckle and said: “I sho’ does. One time dey come to our house to hunt for some strange Niggers. Dey didn’t find ’em but I was so skeered I hid de whole time dey was dar. Yassir, de Ku Kluxers raised cain ’round dar too.
“I ‘members de day well when Marster told us us was free. I was glad and didn’t know what I was glad ’bout. Den ’bout 200 Yankee soldiers come and dey played music right dar by de roadside. Dat was de fust drum and fife music I ever heared. Lots of de Niggers followed ’em on off wid just what dey had on. None of our Niggers went and lots of ’em stayed right on atter freedom.
“Four years atter dat, I left Edgefield and come here wid my old man. Us had six chilluns. My old man died six years ago right dar ‘cross de road and I’se livin’ here wid my daughter. I can’t wuk no more. I tried to hoe a little out dar in de field last year and I fell down and I hasn’t tried no more since.
“I went once not so long ago to see my white folkses. Dey gived me a dollar to spend for myself and I went ‘cross de street and buyed me some snuff—de fust I had had for a long time. Dey wanted to know if I had ever got de old age pension and said dat if I had been close to dem I would have had it ‘fore now.”