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Person Interviewed: Andrew Moss
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
Place of Birth: Wilkes County, Georgia
Date of Birth: 1852
“One ting dat’s all wrong wid dis world today,” according to Andrew Moss, aged negro, as he sits through the winter days before an open grate fire in his cabin, with his long, lean fingers clasped over his crossed knees, “is dat dey ain no ‘prayer grounds’. Down in Georgia whar I was born,-dat was ‘way back in 1852,-us colored folks had prayer grounds. My Mammy’s was a ole twisted thick-rooted muscadine bush. She’d go in dar and pray for deliverance of de slaves. Some colored folks cleaned out knee-spots in de cane breaks. Cane you know, grows high and thick, and colored folks could hide de’seves in dar, an nobody could see an pester em.”
“You see it was jes like dis. Durin’ de war, an befo de war too, white folks make a heap o fun of de colored folks for alltime prayin. Sometime, say, you was a slave en you git down to pray in de field or by de side of de road. White Marster come ‘long and see a slave on his knees. He say, ‘What you prayin’ ’bout?’ An you say, ‘Oh, Marster I’se jes prayin’ to Jesus cause I wants to go to Heaven when I dies.’ An Marster say, ‘Youse my negro. I git ye to Heaven. Git up off’n your knees.’ De white folks what owned slaves thought that when dey go to Heaven de collored folk’s would be dar to wait on em. An ef’n it was a Yank come ‘long, he say too, ‘What you prayin’ ’bout?’ You gives de same ‘sponse. An he say, ‘We’se gwine save you. We goin’ to set you free. You wants to be free, dont you?’ ‘Yessir, Boss!’ ‘Well den, Yank say, come go ‘long wid me.’ Ain no use keep sayin’ ‘Please sir Boss, I’ll have to arsk my Master.’ Yank say, ‘what you mean, Marster? You aint got no Marster. We’s settin’ you free.'”
“Sometimes dey takes a’ tie a rope ’round you, and they starts ridin’ off but dey dont go too fas’ so you walks behind. Sometimes ‘long comes another Yank on a horse an he arsk, ‘Boy ain you tired?’ ‘Yessir Boss.’ ‘Well den you git up here behind me and ride some.’ Den he wrop de rope all ’round de saddle horn. Wrops and wrops, but leaves some slack. But he keeps you tied, so’s you wont jump down and run away. An many’s de time a prayin’ negro got took off like dat, and want never seen no more.”
“‘Course ef’n you goes wid em, you ‘member your trainin’ and ‘fore you leaves de field, you stacks your hoe nice, like you was quittin’ de days work. Dey learned the little’uns to do dat, soon’s dey begins to work in de fields. Dey had little hoes, handles ’bout de size of my arm, for de little fellers. I’ve walked many a mile, when I was a little feller, up and down de rows, followin’ de grown folks, an chopping wid de hoe ’round de corners whar de earth was soft so de little uns could hoe easy. Whoopee! Let dat dinner horn blow, and evy body stacks dey hoes, nince, neat stacks standin up, and starts to run. Some eats in dey own cabins, but dem what eats at de big house, sets down at a long table, and gets good grub too! Evy night, our Marster give us evy one a glass o whiskey. Dat’s to keep off decease. Mornins’ we had to all drink tar water for de same purpose. Dat want so tasty.”
“My Marster’s name was George Hopper. Dat man paid taxes on more’n two-thousand acres of land in two counties. I lived in dem two counties. Was born in Wilkes and raised in Lincoln County, Georgia. We called it de middle-south. My Marster he never did marry. Lots of folks didnt, dey jes took up wid one another. Marster Hopper had five children by my grandmother. She was his house woman, dat’s what he call ‘er. An when he died he willed her and all dem chilluns a house, some land, and a little money. He’d of left em a heap more money and ud been one of the richest men in the country, ef’n de war hadn’t broke out. When it was over he had a barrel full of ‘Federate greenbacks. But t’want no count. He done broke den. One day my uncle, he was the colored overseer, he went to Danbury, six miles from whar we lived at, and he paid $5 for a pound of coffee. Dat was befo de North whupped de South, and dey had’n killed-down de money value for de South.”
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“Talk about hard times! We see’d em in dem days, durin’ de war and most specially after de Surrender. Folks dese days dont know what trouble looks like. We was glad to eat ash-cakes and drink parched corn and rye ‘stead o coffee. I’ve seed my grandmother go to de smoke house, and scrape up de dirt whar de meat had drapped, and take it to de house fer seasonin. You see, both armies fed off’n de white folks, and dey cleaned out dey barns and cellars and smoke houses when dey come. One time, when de Yanks was on de way to Augusta, I was picking up chips to make the supper fire, when I see’d em comin’. I hit it out from dar and hide behind two little hills down by de big spring. After awhile my brother find me and he tell me to come on back to the house and see dem white mens dance. De Yanks kep’ comin’ and dey eat all night. By daylight they was through marchin past.”
“An den come de Rebels. When dey come we had five-thousand bushel of corn, one-hundred head o hogs, three-hundred and fifty galons of syrup ‘en sech. When dey left, they took an set fire to evything, to keep it away from the Yanks, aimin to starve em out o dat country. Dat’s what dey done. Some of dem Rebs was mean as the Yanks. And dat was bein’ mean. Some called de Yanks, ‘de Hornets’, ’cause dey fight so. Take a Yank an he’d fight acrost a buzz saw and it circlin’ fifty mile a minute.”
“Dat time when the Yanks was goin’ to Augusta, an I went to black my Marster’s boot,-he’d give us a two-cent peice, big as a quarter-for boot blackin, I say, ‘Marster who is dem soldiers?’ An he say to me, ‘Dey’s de Yankees, come to try to take you awy from me.’ An I say, ‘Looks like to me Marster, ef’n dey wants to take us dey’d arsk you fer us.’ Marster laughed and say, ‘Boy! Dem fellers dont axes wid words. Dey does all dey talkin’ wid cannons.’ Did you know that a white woman shot de first cannon dat was ever fired in de state o Georgia? She was a Yankee Colonel’s wife, dey say, named Miss Anna, I dunno the rest o her name. She wants to be de first to fire a cannon she say, to set the negroes free. Dat was befo’ de war, begin. De roar of dat cannon was in folkes ears for more’n five days and nights.”
Uncle Andrew gave a little grunt as he lifted himself out of his chair. His little frame seemed lost in the broad-shouldered lumber jacket that he wore. He had laid aside the paper sack from which he had been eating, when the visitor came, and removed an old stocking cap from his head. When the visitor suggested that he keep it on, as he might catch cold he replied, “I dont humor myself none.” The sunlight fell upon his head and shoulders as he stood, to steady himself on his feet. Traces of his ancestry of Indian blood,-one of his grandfathers was a Cherokee Indian,-were evident in his features. His skin is jet-black, but his forehead high and his nose straight, with nostrils only slightly full. There was dignity in his bearing and beauty in his face, with its halo of cotton-white hair and beard, cut short and neatly parted in the middle of his chin.
Walking about the room, he called the visitor’s attention to family portraits on the walls. Some were colored crayons, and a few were enlarged snap-shots. Proudly he pointed to the photograph of a huge-sized Negro man, apparently in his thirties, and said, “He was our first comins’. Reckon he took after his great granddaddy, who was eight feet tall and weighed twe-hundred and fifty pounds. That man’s arms was so long, when dey hung down by his side, his fingers was below his knees. Dis grandfather was free-born. My father, Dave Moss, he was sold three times. He had twenty-five children. But he had two wives. As I aforesaid, folks didn’t always marry in dem days, jes took up wid one another. My mother was his title-wife. By her, he jes had me and my two full-brothers an one sister. My mother died two years after de war. My father give my sister to my grandmother. Jes give ‘er to ‘er.”
“How come I live in Knoxville, I was a young man, when I started off from Georgia, aimin to go over de mountains to Kentucky whar I heard dey pay good wages. I stopped in Campbell country, Tennessee wid another feller, an’ I see’d a pretty gal workin’ in de field. An I say’s, I’m goin’ to marry dat gal. Sho ‘nough me an her was married in less dan six months. Her Marster build us a log house and we lived dar ’till we come to Knoxville, Tennessee. Now, all o my boys is dead. Evy one o em worked for Mr. Peters (Peters and Bradley Flour Mills, of Knoxville)-and dey all died workin’ fer him. So Mister Willie, he say he gwine let me live here, in de company house, the rest o my days.”
The four room frame house stands near a creek at the dead end of an alley on which both whites and negroes live. The huge double bed, neatly made, stands between two windows from which there is an unobstructed view of the highway traversing north and south through northern Knoxville, several blocks away from Andrew’s home. “I jes lay down on dat bed nights and watch them autimobiles flyin by. Dey go Blip! Blip! and Blip! An I say to my self, ‘Watch them fools!’ Folkes ain got de sense dey’s born wid. Ain smart like dey used to be. An times ain good like dey was. Ef’n it hadnt been for some of dem crazy fools, actin up and smarty, me an my wife’d be gittin maybe a hun’ered an’ more dollars a month, ‘stead o the fifteen we gits ‘tween us for ole’ age help. They’d ought to let Rosevelt alone. An its his own folks as is fitin’ ‘im. He is a big man even ef he is a Democrat. I’m a Republican though. Voted my first time for Blaine.”
“Yes I votes sometimes now, when dey come gits me. An befo I got sick, I would ride the street car to town. An I goes down to de Court House, and when I see dem cannons in deyard I cain keep from cryin’. My wife arsk me what make me go look at dem cannon ef’n dey makes me cry. An I tells her I cry ’bout de good and de bad times dem cannon bringed us. But no cannons or nothin’ else, seems like going to bring back de good old times. But I dont worry ’bout all dese things much. Accordin’ to de Good Book’s promise, weepin’ may endure for a night, come joy in de mornin. An I knows dat de day’s soon come when I goes to meet my folks and my Lord an Marster in his Heaven, whar dey ain no more weepin.'”