Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor
Person Interviewed: Amsy O. Alexander
Location: 2422 Center Street, Little Rock, Arkansas
Occupation: Track laborer, Track foreman, Railroad builder
[HW: Helps Build Railroad]
“I was born in the country several miles from Charlotte in Macklenberg, County, North Carolina in 1864.
“My father’s name was John Alexander and my mother was Esther McColley. That was her maiden name of course.
“My father’s master was named Silas Alexander and my mother belonged to Hugh Reed. I don’t know just how she and my father happened to meet. These two slaveholders were adjoining neighbors, you might say.
“My father and my mother married during the war. I was the first child. I had three half brothers and three half sisters from the father’s side. I didn’t have no whole brothers and sisters. I am the only one on my mother’s side. My father was not in the war.
“I don’t know that the pateroles bothered him very much. My father and mother were well treated by our master and then both she and my father were quiet and their masters were good to them naturally.
“During slavery times, my father was a farmer. My mother farmed too. She was a hand in the field. They lived in a little log cabin, one room. They had a bed in there, a few chairs and a homemade table. They had a plank floor. I only know what I heard my people speak of. I don’t know what was what for myself because I was too young.
“From what I can understand they had a big room at the house and the slaves came there and ate there. They had a colored woman who prepared their meals. The children mostly were raised on pot liquor. While the old folk were working the larger young uns mongst the children would take care of the little ones.
“Their masters never forced any breeding. I have heard of that happening in other places but I never heard them speak of it in connection with our master.
“When the master came back from the war, they told the slaves they were free. After slavery my people stayed on and worked on the old plantation. They didn’t get much. Something like fifty cents a day and one meal. My folks didn’t work on shares.
“Back there in North Carolina times got tight and it seemed that there wasn’t much doing. Agents came from Arkansas trying to get laborers. So about seven or eight families of us emigrated from North Carolina. That is how my folks got here.
“The Ku Klux were bad in North Carolina too. My people didn’t have any trouble with them in Arkansas, though. They weren’t bothered so much in North Carolina because of their owners. But they would come around and see them. They came at night. We came to Arkansas in the winter of 1897.
“I went to public school after the war, in North Carolina. I didn’t get any further than the eighth grade. My father and mother didn’t get any schooling till after the war. They could read a little but they picked it up themselves during slavery. I suppose their Master’s children learned it to them.
“My father never did see any army service. I have heard him speak of seeing soldiers come through though. They looted the place and took everything they wanted and could carry.
“When I first come to this state, I settled in Drew County and farmed. I farmed for three years. During the time I was there, I got down sick with slow fever. When I got over that I decided that I would move to higher ground. There was a man down there who recommended Little Rock and so I moved here. I have been here forty-nine years. That is quite a few days.
“I belong to the Presbyterian Church and have been a member of that church for fifty-five years. I have never gotten out publicly, but I even do my little preaching round in the house here.
“When I came to Little Rock, I came in a very dull season. There wasn’t even a house to be rented. It was in the winter. I had to rent a room at “Jones” hall on Ninth and Gaines streets and paid one dollar a day for it. I stayed there about a month. Finally there was a vacant house over on Nineteenth street and Common and I moved there. Then I commenced to look for work and I walked the town over daily. No results whatever. Finally I struck a little job with the contractor here digging ditches, grubbing stumps, grading streets and so forth. I worked with him for three years and finally I got a job with the street car company, as laborer in the Parks. I worked at that job two years. Finally I got a job as track laborer. I worked there a year. Then I was promoted to track foreman. I held that seven years.
“I quit that then and went to the railroads. I helped to build the Choctaw Oklahoma and Gulf Railway. When the road was completed, I made the first trip over it as Porter. I remained there till August 9, 1928. During that time I was operated on for prostatitis and doctors rendered me unfit for work, totally disabled; so that is my condition today.
“I think the future looks bright. I think conditions will get better. I believe that all that is necessary for betterment is cooperation.
“I believe the younger generation—the way it looks—is pretty bad. I think we haven’t done anything like as much as we could do in teaching the youngsters. We need to give them an idea of things. They don’t know. Our future depends on our children If their minds aren’t trained, the future will not be bright. Our leaders should lecture to these young people and teach them. We have young people who dodge voting because of the poll tax. That is not the right attitude. I don’t know what will become of us if our children are not better instructed. The white people are doing more of this than we are.
“There was a time when children didn’t know but what the foot was all there was of a chicken. The foot was all they had ever seen. But young folks nowaday should be taught everything.”