Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor
Person Interviewed: Lucretia Alexander
Location: 1708 High Street, Little Rock, Arkansas
Occupation: Washed. Ironed. Plowed. Hoed
“I been married three times and my last name was Lucretia Alexander. I was twelve years old when the War began. My mother died at seventy-three or seventy-five. That was in August 1865—August the ninth. She was buried August twelfth. The reason they kept her was they had refugeed her children off to different places to keep them from the Yankees. They couldn’t get them back. My mother and her children were heir property. Her first master was Toliver. My mother was named Agnes Toliver. She had a boy and a girl both older than I were. My brother come home in ’65. I never got to see my sister till 1869.
“My father died in 1881 and some say he was one hundred twelve and some say one hundred six. His name was Beasley, John Beasley, and he went by John Beasley till he died.
“My mother died and left four living children. I was the youngest.
“I got religion in 1865. I was baptized seventy-three years ago this August.
“I ain’t got nary living child. My oldest child would have been sixty-four if he were living. They claim my baby boy is living, but I don’t know. I have four children.
“The first overseer I remember was named Kurt Johnson. The next was named Mack McKenzie. The next one was named Pink Womack. And the next was named Tom Phipps. Mean! Liked meanness! Mean a man as he could be. I’ve seen him take them down and whip them till the blood run out of them.
“I got ten head of grandchildren. And I been grandmother to eleven head. I been great-grandmother to twelve head of great-grandchildren. I got one twenty-three and another nineteen or twenty. Her father’s father was in the army. She is the oldest. Lotas Robinson, my granddaughter, has four children that are my great-grandchildren. Gayden Jenkins, my grandson, has two girls. I got a grandson named Dan Jenkins. He is the father of three boys. He lives in Cleveland. He got a grandson named Mark Jenkins in Memphis who has one boy. The youngest granddaughter—I don’t remember her husband’s name—has one boy. There are four generations of us.
“I been here. You see I took care of myself when I was young and tried to do right. The Lord has helped me too. Yes, I am going on now. I been here a long time but I try to take care of myself. I was out visiting the sick last time you come here. That’s the reason I missed you. I tries to do the best I can.
“I am stricken now with the rheumatism on one side. This hip.
“My mother was treated well in slavery times. My father was sold five times. Wouldn’t take nothin’. So they sold him. They beat him and knocked him about. They put him on the block and they sold him ’bout beatin’ up his master. He was a native of Virginia. The last time they sold him they sold him down in Claiborne County, Mississippi. Just below where I was born at. I was born in Copiah County near Hazlehurst, about fifteen miles from Hazlehurst. My mother was born in Washington County, Virginia. Her first master was Qualls Tolliver. Qualls moved to Mississippi and married a woman down there and he had one son, Peachy Toliver. After he died, he willed her to Peachy. Then Peachy went to the Rebel army and got killed.
“My mother’s father was a free Indian named Washington. Her mother was a slave. I don’t know my father’s father. He moved about so much and was sold so many times he never did tell me his father. He got his name from the white folks. When you’re a slave you have to go by your owner’s name.
“My master’s mother took me to the house after my mother died. And the first thing I remember doing was cleaning up. Bringing water, putting up mosquito-bars, cooking. My master’s mother was Susan Reed. I have done everything but saw. I never sawed in my life. The hardest work I did was after slavery. I never did no hard work during slavery. I used to pack water for the plow hands and all such as that. But when my mother died, my mistress took me to the house.
“But Lawd! I’ve seen such brutish doin’s—runnin’ niggers with hounds and whippin’ them till they was bloody. They used to put ’em in stocks. When they didn’t put ’em in stocks, used to be two people would whip ’em—the overseer and the driver. The overseer would be a man named Elijah at our house. He was just a poor white man. He had a whip they called the BLACK SNAKE.
“I remember one time they caught a man named George Tinsley. They put the dogs on him and they bit ‘im and tore all his clothes off of ‘im. Then they put ‘im in the stocks. The stocks was a big piece of timber with hinges in it. It had a hole in it for your head. They would lift it up and put your head in it. There was holes for your head, hands and feet in it. Then they would shut it up and they would lay that whip on you and you couldn’t do nothin’ but wiggle and holler, ‘Pray, master, pray!’ But when they’d let that man out, he’d run away again.
“They would make the slaves work till twelve o’clock on Sunday, and then they would let them go to church. The first time I was sprinkled, a white preacher did it; I think his name was Williams.
“The preacher would preach to the white folks in the forenoon and to the colored folks in the evening. The white folks had them hired. One of them preachers was named Hackett; another, Williams; and another, Gowan. There was five of them but I just remember them three. One man used to hold the slaves so late that they had to go to the church dirty from their work. They would be sweaty and smelly. So the preacher ‘buked him ’bout it. That was old man Bill Rose.
“The niggers didn’t go to the church building; the preacher came and preached to them in their quarters. He’d just say, ‘Serve your masters. Don’t steal your master’s turkey. Don’t steal your master’s chickens. Don’t steal your master’s hawgs. Don’t steal your master’s meat. Do whatsomeever your master tells you to do.’ Same old thing all the time.
“My father would have church in dwelling houses and they had to whisper. My mother was dead and I would go with him. Sometimes they would have church at his house. That would be when they would want a real meetin’ with some real preachin’. It would have to be durin’ the week nights. You couldn’t tell the difference between Baptists and Methodists then. They was all Christians. I never saw them turn nobody down at the communion, but I have heard of it. I never saw them turn no pots down neither; but I have heard of that. They used to sing their songs in a whisper and pray in a whisper. That was a prayer-meeting from house to house once or twice—once or twice a week.
“Old Phipps whipped me once. He aimed to kill me but I got loose. He whipped me about a colored girl of his’n that he had by a colored woman. Phipps went with a colored woman before he married his wife. He had a girl named Martha Ann Phipps. I beat Martha ’bout a pair of stockings. My mistress bought me a nice pair of stockings from the store. You see, they used to knit the stockings. I wore the stockings once; then I washed them and put them on the fence to dry. Martha stole them and put them on. I beat her and took them off of her. She ran and told her father and he ran me home. He couldn’t catch me, and he told me he’d get me. I didn’t run to my father. I run to my mistress, and he knew he’d better not do nothin’ then. He said, ‘I’ll get you, you little old black some thin’.’ Only he didn’t say ‘somethin’.’ He didn’t get me then.
“But one day he caught me out by his house. I had gone over that way on an errand I needn’t have done. He had two girls hold me. They was Angeline and Nancy. They didn’t much want to hold me anyhow. Some niggers would catch you and kill you for the white folks and then there was some that wouldn’t. I got loose from them. He tried to hold me hisself but he couldn’t. I got away and went back to my old mistress and she wrote him a note never to lay his dirty hands on me again. A little later her brother, Johnson Chatman, came there and ran him off the place. My old mistress’ name was Susan Chatman before she married. Then she married Toliver. Then she married Reed. She married Reed last—after Toliver died.
“One old lady named Emily Moorehead runned in and held my mother once for Phipps to whip her. And my mother was down with consumption too. I aimed to git old Phipps for that. But then I got religion and I couldn’t do it. Religion makes you forgit a heap of things.
“Susan Reed, my old mistress, bought my father and paid fifteen hundred dollars for him and she hadn’t never seen ‘im. Advertising. He had run away so much that they had to advertise and sell ‘im. He never would run away from Miss Susan. She was good to him till she got that old nigger beater Phipps. Her husband, Reed, was called a nigger spoiler. My father was an old man when Phipps was on overseer and wasn’t able to fight much then.
“Phipps sure was a bad man. He wasn’t so bad neither; but the niggers was scared of him. You know in slave times, sometimes when a master would git too bad, the niggers would kill him—tote him off out in the woods somewheres and git rid of him. Two or three of them would git together and scheme it out, and then two or three of them would git him way out and kill ‘im. But they didn’t nobody ever pull nothin’ like that on Phipps. They was scared of him.
“One time I saw the Yankees a long way off. They had on blue uniforms and was on coal black horses. I hollered out, ‘Oh, I see somethin’.’ My mistress said, ‘What?’ I told her, and she said, ‘Them’s the Yankees.’ She went on in the house and I went with her. She sacked up all the valuables in the house. She said, ‘Here,’ and she threw a sack of silver on me that was so heavy that I went right on down to the ground. Then she took hold of it and holp me up and holp me carry it out. I carried it out and hid it. She had three buckskin sacks—all full of silver. That wasn’t now; that was in slavery times. During the War, Jeff Davis gave out Confederate money. It died out on the folks’ hands. About twelve hundred dollars of it died out on my father’s hands. But there wasn’t nothin’ but gold and silver in them sacks.
“I heard them tell the slaves they were free. A man named Captain Barkus who had his arm off at the elbow called for the three near-by plantations to meet at our place. Then he got up on a platform with another man beside him and declared peace and freedom. He p’inted to a colored man and yelled, ‘You’re free as I am.’ Old colored folks, old as I am now, that was on sticks, throwed them sticks away and shouted.
“Right after freedom I stayed with that white woman I told you about. I was with her about four years. I worked for twelve dollars a month and my food and clothes. Then I figured that twelve dollars wasn’t enough and I went to work in the field. It was a mighty nice woman. Never hit me in her life. I never have been whipped by a white woman. She was good to me till she died. She died after I had my second child—a girl child.
“I have been living in this city fifteen years. I come from Chicot County when I come here. We come to Arkansas in slavery times. They brought me from Copiah County when I was six or eight years old. When Mrs. Toliver married she came up here and brought my mother. My mother belonged to her son and she said, ‘Agnes (that was my mother’s name), will you follow me if I buy your husband?’ Her husband’s name was John Beasley. She said, ‘Yes.’ Then her old mistress bought Beasley and paid fifteen hundred dollars to get my mother to come with her. Then Peachy went to war and was shot because he come home of a furlough and stayed too long. So when he went back they killed him. My mother nursed him when he was a baby. Old man Toliver said he didn’t want none of us to be sold; so they wasn’t none of us sold. Maybe there would have been if slavery had lasted longer; but there wasn’t.
“Mother really belonged to Peachy, but when Peachy died, then she fell to her mistress.
“I have been a widow now for thirty years. I washed and ironed and plowed and hoed—everything. Now I am gittin’ so I ain’t able to do nothin’ and the Relief keeps me alive. I worked and took care of myself and my last husband and he died, and I ain’t married since. I used to take a little boy and make ten bales of cotton. I can’t do it now. I used to be a woman in my day. I am my mother’s seventh child.
“I don’t buy no hoodoo and I don’t believe in none, but a seventh child can more or less tell you things that are a long way off. If you want to beat the devil you got to do right. God’s got to be in the plan. I tries to do right. I am not perfect but I do the best I can. I ain’t got no bottom teeth, but my top ones are good. I have a few bottom ones. The Lawd’s keepin’ me here for somepin. I been with ‘im now seventy-three years.”
I’ll bet the grandest moment in the life of Sister Alexander’s mother was when her mistress said, “Agnes, will you follow me if I buy your husband?” Fifteen hundred dollars to buy a rebellious slave in order to unite a slave couple. It’s epic.