Anthropology Friday: Slavery Narratives (pt 4/4)

Alexandre Dumas, son of former slave Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, general in the French army
Alexandre Dumas, son of former slave Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, general in the French army

Welcome back to Anthropology Friday. Today we’re finishing Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States. (available on Amazon.) These stories were gathered in the 1930s as part of a Federally-funded program to get people working and preserve first-hand accounts of the history of the United States before everyone involved passed away.

When I start an anthropology text, I don’t know if I’m really going to enjoy it. Some texts are informative but dull, and many are both dull and uninformative. These personal narratives might not count as “anthropology” in the formal, polished sense–most of the interviewers probably had little to no formal “anthropology” training, and did very little to analyze or comment on the material they gathered.

Despite the obvious shortcomings of their methodology (interviewees sometimes seem to be inventing or exaggerating stories for the sake of the white interviewer,) and many short interviews with people who had little to say, the interviews still constitute nearly 10,000 pages of genuine first-hand accounts of slavery, the Civil War, and the late 1800s in the US South.

As someone who grew up in the South, much of this dovetails with my own cultural knowledge/memories. The tradition of eating black eyed peas for luck on New Years’ was at least mentioned, if not exactly observed (my grandmother probably still eats them.) For that matter, when my grandparents (who are still alive, if quite elderly) were young, back in the 30s, they heard first-hand accounts about the Civil War from their elderly relatives (long story short: Union troops burned down the farm.)

While every story is unique, they have certain commonalities, and many–especially the ones about the Yankees–are similar to the ones passed down in my own family.

Anyway, let’s begin.

“Aunt” Millie Bates: The Ghosts of War

“Was not long after dat fore de spooks wuz a gwine round ebber whar. When you would go out atter dark, somethin’ would start to a haintin’ ye. You would git so scairt dat you would mighty ni run every time you went out atter dark; even iffin you didn’t see nothin’. Chile, don’t axe me what I seed. Atter all dat killin’ and a burnin’ you know you wuz bliged to see things wid all dem spirits in distress a gwine all over de land. You see, it is like dis, when a man gits killed befo he is done what de good Lawd intended fer him to do, he comes back here and tries to find who done him wrong. I mean he don’ come back hisself, but de spirit, it is what comes and wanders around. Course, it can’t do nothin’, so it jus scares folks and haints dem.”

Maggie Black, 79 years old: Children’s Nurse, Games, and School

“Gawd been good to me, honey. I been heah uh long ole time en I can’ see mucha dese days, but I gettin’ ‘long sorta so-so. I wuz train up to be uh nu’se ‘oman en I betcha I got chillun more den any 60 year ole ’bout heah now dat I nu’se when dey wuz fust come heah. No, honey, ain’ got no chillun uv me own. Aw my chillun white lak yuh.”

EvX: As far as I know, the tradition of hiring black women to care for white children has disappeared from the South, (modern children are sent to daycares where they are raised by Hispanic women,) but memories of the system linger. Considering the South’s rather strict racial hierarchy, this was a kind of curious inversion. In practice, I wonder how it affected social relations. But continuing on:

“No, no’mam, dey wear long ole frock den en uh girl comin’ on dere when dey ge’ to be any kind uv uh girl, dey put dat frock down. Oh, my child, dey can’ ge’ em short ‘nough dese days. Ain’ hab nuthin but uh string on dese day en time. Dey use’er wear dem big ole hoop skirt dat sit out broad lak from de ankle en den dey wear little panty dat show down twixt dey skirt en dey ankle. Jes tie em ’round dey knees wid some sorta string en le’ em show dat way ’bout dey ankle. I ‘member we black chillun’ud go in de woods en ge’ wild grape vine en bend em round en put em under us skirt en make it stand out big lak. Hadder hab uh big ole ring fa de bottom uv de skirt en den one uh little bit smaller eve’y time dey ge’ closer to de waist. Ne’er hab none tall in de waist cause dat wuz s’ppose to be little bitty t’ing.” …

Cabin School
Cabin School with African American students

“A’ter freedom ‘clare, uh lady from de north come dere en Miss Leggett send we chillun to school to dat lady up on de hill dere in de woods. No, honey, yah ain’ ne’er see no bresh tent ’bout heah dis day en time. Dis jes de way it waz make. Dey dig four big holes en put postes in aw four corner ’bout lak uh room. Den dey lay log ‘cross de top uv dat en kiver it aw o’er wid bresh (brush) dat dey break outer de woods. Ne’er hab none uv de side shet up. En dey haul log dere en roll em under dat bresh tent fa we chillun to set on. Oh, de teacher’ud hab uh big box fa her stand jes lak uh preacher. Eve’ybody dat go to school dere hab one uv dem t’ing call slate dat yah ne’er hadder do nuthin but jes wash it offen. En dey hab dese ole l’arnin’ book wha’ yuh call Websters.” …

“Oh, gourds waz de t’ing in dem days. Dey waz wha’ de peoples hab to drink outer en wash dey hominy en rice in aw de time. Dey was de bestest kind uv bowl fa we chillun to eat corn bread en clabber outer. Peoples dis day en time don’ hab no sech crockery lak de people use’er hab. Honey, day hab de prettiest little clay bowls den.”

Samuel Boulware, 82 years old: Food, Slavery, and Poor Whites

“Us had plenty to eat in slavery time. It wasn’t de best but it filled us up and give us strength ‘nough to work. Marster would buy a years rations on de first of every year and when he git it, he would have some cooked and would set down and eat a meal of it. He would tell us it didn’t hurt him, so it won’t hurt us. Dats de kind of food us slaves had to eat all de year. Of course, us got a heap of vegetables and fruits in de summer season, but sich as dat didn’t do to work on, in de long summer days.”

EvX: Oh God, a year’s worth of rations purchased all at once. That sounds pretty unappetizing.

It appears that one of the questions on the questionnaire the interviewers used was about food, so there are a lot of responses on the subject. The vast majority of responses state that food in slavery times was simple but abundant. By contrast, post-slavery, many people experienced a great deal of hunger (especially since the war disrupted agriculture and the Yankees burned down a lot of food.) But continuing on:

“Marster had over twenty grown slaves all de time. He bought and sold them whenever he wanted to. It was sad times to see mother and chillun separated. I’s seen de slave speculator cut de little nigger chillun with keen leather whips, ’cause they’d cry and run after de wagon dat was takin’ their mammies away after they was sold.

“De overseer was poor white folks, if dats what you is askin’ ’bout, and dat is one thing dat made him so hard on de slaves of de plantation. All de overseers I knowed ’bout was poor white folks; they was white folks in de neighborhood dat wasn’t able to own slaves. All dis class of people was called by us niggers, poor white folks. …

“Most them there patrollers was poor white folks, I believes. Rich folks stay in their house at night, ‘less they has some sort of big frolic amongst theirselves. Poor white folks had to hustle ’round to make a living, so, they hired out theirselves to slave owners and rode de roads at night and whipped niggers if they ketched any off their plantation widout a pass.

EvX: Several interviewees mentioned that overseers/patrollers/KKK members were drawn largely from the class of “poor whites”–an ethnically distinct group of whites drawn from a combination of the English lower classes, “Scotch-Irish,” and probably some regular Irish.

Andy Brice, 81 years old: Fiddlin’ Fiddler and the Election of 1878:

“Howdy Cap’n! I come to Winnsboro dis mornin’ from way ‘cross Wateree, where I live now ‘mongst de bull-frogs and skeeters. Seem lak they just sing de whole night thru: ‘De bull-frog on de bank, and de skeeter in de pool.’ Then de skeeter sail ’round my face wid de tra la, la la la, la la la part of dat old song you is heard, maybe many times. …

“One day I see Marse Thomas a twistin’ de ears on a fiddle and rosinin’ de bow. Then he pull dat bow ‘cross de belly of dat fiddle. Sumpin’ bust loose in me and sing all thru my head and tingle in my fingers. I make up my mind, right then and dere, to save and buy me a fiddle. I got one dat Christmas, bless God! I learn and been playin’ de fiddle ever since. I pat one foot while I playin’. I kept on playin’ and pattin’ dat foot for thirty years. I lose dat foot in a smash up wid a highway accident but I play de old tunes on dat fiddle at night, dat foot seem to be dere at de end of dat leg (indicating) and pats just de same. Sometime I ketch myself lookin’ down to see if it have come back and jined itself up to dat leg, from de very charm of de music I makin’ wid de fiddle and de bow. …

“They say behind my back, in ’76, dat I’s a white folks nigger. I wear a red shirt then, drink red liquor, play de fiddle at de ‘lection box, and vote de white folks ticket. …

“I ‘members very little ’bout de war, tho’ I was a good size boy when de Yankees come. By instint, a nigger can make up his mind pretty quick ’bout de creed of white folks, whether they am buckra or whether they am not. Every Yankee I see had de stamp of poor white trash on them. They strutted ’round, big Ike fashion, a bustin’ in rooms widout knockin’, talkin’ free to de white ladies, and familiar to de slave gals, ransackin’ drawers, and runnin’ deir bayonets into feather beds, and into de flower beds in de yards. …

“Ellen and me have one child, Sallie Ann. Ellen ‘joy herself; have a good time nussin’ white folks chillun. Nussed you; she tell me ’bout it many time. ‘Spect she mind you of it very often. I knows you couldn’t git ’round dat woman; nobody could. …

“You wants me to tell ’bout dat ‘lection day at Woodward, in 1878? You wants to know de beginnin’ and de end of it? Yes? Well, you couldn’t wet dis old man’s whistle wid a swallow of red liquor now? Couldn’t you or could you? Dis was de way of it: It was set for Tuesday. Monday I drive de four-hoss wagon down to dis very town. Marse John McCrory and Marse Ed Woodward come wid me. They was in a buggy. When us got here, us got twenty, sixteen shooters and put them under de hay us have in de wagon. Bar rooms was here. I had fetched my fiddle ‘long and played in Marse Fred Habernick’s bar ’til dinner time. Us leave town ’bout four o’clock. Roads was bad but us got home ’bout dark. Us put de guns in Marse Andy Mobley’s store. Marse Ed and me leave Marse John to sleep in de store and to take care of de guns.

“De nex’ mornin’, polls open in de little school house by de brick church. I was dere on time, help to fix de table by de window and set de ballot boxes on it. Voters could come to de window, put deir arms thru and tuck de vote in a slit in de boxes. Dere was two supervisors, Marse Thomas for de Democrats and Uncle Jordan for de Radicals. Marse Thomas had a book and a pencil, Uncle Jordan had de same.

“Joe Foster, big buckra nigger, want to vote a stranger. Marse Thomas challenge dis vote. In them times colored preachers so ‘furiate de women, dat they would put on breeches and vote de ‘Publican radical ticket. De stranger look lak a woman. Joe Foster ‘spute Marse Thomas’ word and Marse Thomas knock him down wid de naked fist. Marse Irish Billy Brice, when him see four or five hindred blacks crowdin’ ’round Marse Thomas, he jump thru de window from de inside. When he lit on de ground, pistol went off pow! One nigger drop in his tracks. Sixteen men come from nowhere and sixteen, sixteen shooters. Marse Thomas hold up his hand to them and say: ‘Wait!’ Him point to de niggers and say: ‘Git.’ They start to runnin’ ‘cross de railroad, over de hillside and never quit runnin’ ’til they git half a mile away. De only niggers left on dat ground was me, old Uncle Kantz, (you know de old mulatto, club-foot nigger) well, me and him and Albert Gladney, de hurt nigger dat was shot thru de neck was de only niggers left. Dr. Tom Douglas took de ball out Albert’s neck and de white folks put him in a wagon and sent him home. I drive de wagon.

When I got back, de white boys was in de graveyard gittin’ names off de tombstones to fill out de talley sheets, dere was so many votes in de box for de Hampton ticket, they had to vote de dead. I ‘spect dat was one resurrection day all over South Carolina.”

EvX: I believe this was the 1878 Gubernatorial election. Wikipedia says:

The 1878 South Carolina gubernatorial election was held on November 5, 1878 to select the governor of the state of South Carolina. Wade Hampton III was renominated by the Democrats and ran against no organized opposition in the general election to win reelection for a second two-year term. …

Upon becoming Governor after a prolonged struggle against Daniel Henry Chamberlain in the gubernatorial election of 1876, Wade Hampton adopted moderate racial policies and favored many Republican proposals. For instance, the state modified the agriculture lien law and passed a law giving counties the ability to mandate the fencing of livestock. Hampton also appointed many blacks to government positions and provided for more funds to be spent educating black children than white children. …

Throughout Hampton’s first term in office, he appealed for political harmony between the races. Hampton carried out his pledge to ensure equal rights between the races and he appointed more black men to office than Chamberlain had during his term as governor.[5] The more militant faction of the Democratic Party, led by Martin Gary, was entirely against any cooperation with blacks and instead sought to remove blacks completely from political life. The Edgefield County Democrats would not acknowledge any black Democratic clubs and they prevented blacks from participating in the primary elections. Hampton publicly refuted this policy and no other county followed suit.[4] Nevertheless, new laws were enacted by the General Assembly in 1877 to make it harder for blacks to participate and vote in the electoral process.

Hampton took every county in South Carolina, winning by an absurd 119,550 to 213 votes, or 99.8%.

Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee
Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee

George Briggs, 88: The Healing Preacher

“I is gwine over to Tosch to see Maria. Everybody know Maria. She go by Rice–Maria Rice. She sont fer me to cure her misery. First, I went from my home in lower Cross Keys, across de Enoree, to see Maria. When I reached dar whar she stay, dey tell me dat her daughter over to Tosch. Done come and got her.

“A kind friend dat de Lawd put in my path fetched me back across de Enoree and over to Tosch to Maria’s gal’s house. I is gwine straight over dar and lay my hand on Maria and rid her of dat misery dat she sont word was ailing her all dis spring. Don’t make no diff’uns whar you hurts–woman, man or suckling babe–if you believes in de holler of my hand, it’ll ease you, allus do it. De Bible say so, dat’s why it be true. Ain’t gwine to tell you nothing but de truth and de whole truth, so help me Jesus. Gone 65 years, I is been born agin dat long; right over in Padgett’s Creek church, de white folks’ church, dat’s what de Lawd tuck my sins away and washed me clean agin wid His blood. Dat’s why I allus sticks to de truth, I does. …

“Sho I can remember when dey had de mustering grounds at de Keys. Dar day mustered and den dey turn’t in and practiced drilling dem soldiers till dey larn’t how to march and to shoot de Yankees. Drilling, dat’s de proper word, not practice, I knows, if I ain’t ed’icated. Dey signed me to go to de 16th regiment, but I never reached de North. When us got to Charleston, us turn’t around and de bosses fetched us right back to Union through Columbia. Us heard dat Sherman was coming, fetching fire along ‘hind him. …

“I can histronize de poor white folks’ wives and chilluns enduring de time of de Civil War fer you. When dese poor white men went to de war, dey left deir little chillun and deir wives in de hands of de darkies dat was kind and de rich wives of our marsters to care fer. Us took de best care of dem poor white dat us could under de circumstances dat prevailed.

“We was sont to Sullivan’s Island, but befo’ we reached it, de Yankees done got it and we won’t ‘lowed to cross in ’64. But jes’ de same, we was in service till dey give Capt. Franklin Bailey ‘mission to fetch us home. Dar we had to git ‘mission fer everything, jes’ as us niggers had to git ‘mission to leave our marster’s place at home in Union County. Capt. Bailey come on back to Cross Keys wid us under his protection, and we was under it fer de longest time atter we done got home. …

“I see a man in de courthouse dis morning, and he was like Nicodemus. Why dat man want to be resto’d back like he was when he was jest 21 years old. I seed him setting down dar in Mr. Perrin’s office, and I knowed his troubles when he ‘low dat he done been to every doctor in town. De trouble was, he never had no faith in de doctors and nobody else. How could he have faith in Jesus when he never had none in nothing else? Brother, you has to have faith in your fellowman befo’ you has faith in de Lawd. I don’t know how come, but dat’s de way it is. My plan is working by faith. Jesus say, ‘Work widout faith ain’t nothing; but work wid faith’ll move mountains’…

“Dey looks at de back of my head, and de hair on it ain’t rubbed against no college and fer dat reason dese young negroes don’t want me to preach. Dey wants to hear dat man preach dat can read. Man dat can read can’t understand less’n some divine man guide him. I speak as my Teacher gives it to me, dat’s de Lawd. In so doing, I testify de word dat no man can condemn. Dat is my plan of Salvation: to work by faith widout price or purse, as de Lawd, my Teacher has taught me.”

aa_9993John Brown, 86 years old: Mixing

“My father was a ginger-bread colored man, not a full-blooded nigger. Dat’s how I is altogether yallow. See dat lady over dere in dat chair? Dat’s my wife. Her brighter skinned than I is. How come dat? Her daddy was a full-blooded Irishman. He come over here from Ireland and was overseer for Marse Bob Clowney. He took a fancy for Adeline’s mammy, a bright ‘latto gal slave on de place. White women in them days looked down on overseers as poor white trash. Him couldn’t git a white wife but made de best of it by puttin’ in his spare time a honeyin’ ’round Adeline’s mammy. Marse Bob stuck to him, and never ‘jected to it.

aa_9995

 

Sylvia Cannon, 85: A different Perspective

“Times was sho better long time ago den dey be now. I know it. Yes, mam, I here frettin myself to death after dem dat gone. Colored people never had no debt to pay in slavery time. Never hear tell bout no colored people been put in jail fore freedom. Had more to eat en more to wear den en had good clothes all de time cause white folks furnish everything, everything. Dat is, had plenty to eat such as we had. Had plenty peas en rice en hog meat en rabbit en’ fish en such as dat. Colored people sho fare better in slavery time be dat de white folks had to look out for dem. Had dey extra crop what dey had time off to work every Saturday. White folks tell dem what dey made, dey could have. Peoples would have found we colored people rich wid de money we made on de extra crop, if de slaves hadn’ never been set free. Us had big rolls of money en den when de Yankees come en change de money, dat what made us poor. It let de white people down en let us down too. Left us all to bout starve to death. Been force to go to de fish pond en de huckleberry patch. Land went down to $1.00 a acre. White people let us clear up new land en make us own money dat way. We bury it in de ground en dat how-come I had money. I dig mine up one day en had over $1500.00 dat I been save. Heap of peoples money down dere yet en dey don’ know whe’ to find it.”

EvX: Many slaves had cruel masters whom they disliked and left as quickly as possible. But many slaves also suffered–and died–of hunger, sickness, and exposure after the war. “We would have been rich if not for the war” sounds like wishful thinking, but Mrs. Cannon may have actually lost the money she’d been carefully saving up before the war.

Charlie Davis, 79 years old: Patrollers and Marriage

“De patrollers was nothin’ but poor white trash, mammy say, and if they didn’t whip some slaves, every now and then, they would lose deir jobs. My mammy and daddy got married after freedom, ’cause they didn’t git de time for a weddin’ befo’. They called deirselves man and wife a long time befo’ they was really married, and dat is de reason dat I’s as old as I is now. I reckon they was right, in de fust place, ’cause they never did want nobody else ‘cept each other, nohow. Here I is, I has been married one time and at no time has I ever seen another woman I wanted. My wife has been dead a long time and I is still livin’ alone.”

EvX: I haven’t been keeping track of how many people married vs. never married, but my general impression is that most people interviewed did marry and never parted from their spouse except in death. This is quite different from our modern situation, in which a rather large percentage of the black community never marries and instead carries on relationships with a number of other people. One theory holds that the modern Welfare State has disincentivised marriage by giving more money to unmarried women with children than to married women with children; another holds that high density–and ghettos and housing projects are definitely dense–interferes with our ability to form lasting pair bonds.

Well, that’s the end. I hope you enjoyed these as much as I did.

Anthropology Friday: The Slave Narrative Collection (pt 1/4)

Wes Brady, interviewee from the Slave Narrative Collection, Marshall, Texas, 1937
Wes Brady, interviewee from the Slave Narrative Collection, Marshall, Texas, 1937

Back in 1936, the US government decided to put people to work by sending them out to collect narratives of slavery and the Civil War from the nation’s few remaining ex-slaves.

They found more than 2,000 survivors and ended up with over 10,000 typed pages of interviews, which they titled Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States.

I have been intending to read these narratives for several years, ever since I spotted them on Amazon (though I don’t suspect I’ll get through all 10,000 pages of them.) Many of the accounts are set down in dialect, which I gather was more common in writing in the 30s than it is today, we moderns having decided that dialect is “insulting” or something, though the truth is I think some people just find it difficult to read. I have always loved dialect, ever since I was very young, so you are getting these dialect and all. After all, every single person on earth speaks with an accent to someone else’s ears.

With so many pages of material, debated with myself about what I should excerpt, and eventually decided to just go with whatever I found interesting, especially the parts I found compelling enough to read out loud to others.

As usual, I’ll be using “” instead of blockquotes for readability.

M. E. Abrams: Secret BBQs, Spirits, and the Conjurin’ Doctor

“Marse Glenn had 64 slaves. On Sat’day night, de darkies would have a little fun on de side. A way off from de big house, down in de pastur’ dar wuz about de bigges’ gully what I is ebber seed. Dat wuz de place whar us collected mos’ ev’ry Sa’day night fer our lil’ mite o’ fun frum de white folks hearin’. Sometime it wuz so dark dat you could not see de fingers on yo’ han’ when you would raise it fo’ your face. … De pastur’ wuz big and de trees made dark spots in it on de brightest nights. … When us started together, look like us would git parted ‘fo we reach de gully all together. One of us see som’tin and take to runnin’. Maybe de other darkies in de drove, de wouldn’t see nothin’ jes den. Dats zactly how it is wid de spirits. De mout (might) sho de’self to you and not to me. De acts raal queer all de way round. Dey can take a notion to scare de daylights outtin you when you is wid a gang; or dey kin scare de whole gang; den, on de other hand, dey kin sho de’self off to jes two or three. …

“On light nights, I is seed dem look, furs dark like a tree shad’er; den dey gits raal scairy white. T’aint no use fer white folks to low dat it ain’t no haints, an’ grievements dat follows ye all around, kaise I is done had to many ‘spriences wid dem. … Raaly de white folks doesn’t have eyes fer sech as we darkies does; but dey bees dare jes de same.

“Never mindin’ all o’ dat, we n’used to steal our hog ever’ sa’day night and take off to de gully whar us’d git him dressed and barbecued. Niggers has de mos’es fun at a barbecue dat dare is to be had. As none o’ our gang didn’t have no ‘ligion, us never felt no scruples bout not gettin de ‘cue’ ready fo’ Sunday. Us’d git back to de big house along in de evenin’ o’ Sunday. Den Marse, he come out in de yard an’ low whar wuz you niggers dis mornin’. How come de chilluns had to do de work round here. Us would tell some lie bout gwine to a church ‘siety meetin’. But we got raal scairt and mose ‘cided dat de best plan wuz to do away wid de barbecue in de holler. Conjin ‘Doc.’ say dat he done put a spell on ole Marse so dat he wuz ‘blevin ev’y think dat us tole him bout Sa’day night and Sunday morning. Dat give our minds ‘lief; but it turned out dat in a few weeks de Marse come out from under de spell. Doc never even knowed nothin’ bout it. Marse had done got to countin’ his hogs ever’ week. When he cotch us, us wuz all punished wid a hard long task. Dat cured me o’ believing in any conjuring an’ charmin’ but I still kno’s dat dare is haints; kaise ever time you goes to dat gully at night, up to dis very day, you ken hear hogs still gruntin’ in it, but you can’t see nothing.

Eastman Johnson's 1863 painting "The Lord is My Shepherd"
Eastman Johnson‘s 1863 painting “The Lord is My Shepherd”

EvX: So then the Master died and some other people came to live in the plantation house and then it got a reputation for being haunted…

“Den Marse Glenn’s boys put Mammy in de house to keep it fer ’em. But Lawd God! Mammy said dat de furs night she stayed dare de haints nebber let her git not narr’y mite o’ sleep. … Mammy low dat it de Marse a lookin’ fer his money what he done tuck and burried and de boys couldn’t find no sign o’ it. Atter dat, de sons tuck an’ tacked a sign on de front gate, offering $200.00 to de man, white or black, dat would stay dar and fin’ out whar dat money wuz burried. Our preacher, the Rev. Wallace, lowed dat he would stay dar and find out whar dat money wuz from de spirits. …

“He went to bed. A dog began running down dem steps; and a black cat run across de room dat turned to white befo’ it run into de wall. Den a pair of white horses come down de stairway a rattling chains fer harness. Next a woman dressed in white come in dat room. Brother Wallace up and lit out dat house and he never went back no mo’.

“Another preacher tried stayin’ dar. He said he gwine to keep his head kivered plum up. Some’tin unkivered it and he seed a white goat a grinnin’ at him. But as he wuz a brave man and trus’ de Lawd, he lowed, ‘What you want wid me nohow?’ The goat said, ‘what is you doin’ here. Raise, I knows dat you ain’t sleep.’ De preacher say, ‘I wants you to tell me what ole Marse don tuck and hid dat money?’ De goat grin and low, ‘How come you don’ look under your pillar, sometime?’ Den he run away. De preacher hopped up and looked under de pillar, and dar wuz de money sho nuf.”

Ezra Adams, 82 years old, reminds us that many former slaves died of hunger, disease, or exposure in the aftermath of the Civil War:

Negro Life at the South, oil on canvas, 1859,
Negro Life at the South, oil on canvas, 1859, (actually set in Washington, DC)

“De slaves, where I lived, knowed after de war dat they had abundance of dat somethin’ called freedom, what they could not wat, wear, and sleep in. Yes, sir, they soon found out dat freedom ain’t nothin’, ‘less you is got somethin’ to live on and a place to call home. … It sho’ don’t hold good when you has to work, or when you gits hongry. You knows dat poor white folks and niggers has got to work to live, regardless of liberty, love, and all them things. I believes a person loves more better, when they feels good. I knows from experience dat poor folks feels better when they has food in deir frame and a few dimes to jingle in deir pockets. …

“If a poor man wants to enjoy a little freedom, let him go on de farm and work for hisself. It is sho’ worth somethin’ to be boss, and, on de farm you can be boss all you want to, ‘less de man ‘low his wife to hold dat ‘portant post. A man wid a good wife, one dat pulls wid him, can see and feel some pleasure and experience some independence. But, bless your soul, if he gits a woman what wants to be both husband and wife, fare-you-well and good-bye, too, to all love, pleasure, and independence; ’cause you sho’ is gwine to ketch hell here and no mild climate whenever you goes ‘way.

James Hopkinson's Plantation. Planting sweet potatoes. ca. 1862/63
James Hopkinson’s Plantation. Planting sweet potatoes. ca. 1862/63

Victoria Adams, 90 years old: Medicine and the Yankees

“Us had medicine made from herbs, leaves and roots; some of them was cat-nip, garlic root, tansy, and roots of burdock. De roots of burdock soaked in whiskey was mighty good medicine. We dipped asafetida in turpentine and hung it ’round our necks to keep off disease.

“Befo’ de Yankees come thru, our peoples had let loose a lot of our hosses and de hosses strayed over to de Yankee side, and de Yankee men rode de hosses back over to our plantation. De Yankees asked us if we want to be free. I never say I did; I tell them I want to stay wid my missus and they went on and let me alone. They ‘stroyed most everything we had ‘cept a little vittles; took all de stock and take them wid them. They burned all de buildings ‘cept de one de massa and missus was livin’ in.

“It wasn’t long after de Yankees went thru dat our missus told us dat we don’t b’long to her and de massa no more. None of us left dat season. I got married de next year and left her. I like being free more better.”

Uncle Marian, a slave of great notoriety, of North Carolina. Daguerreotype, circa 1850.
Uncle Marian, a slave of great notoriety, of North Carolina. Daguerreotype, circa 1850.

EvX: Many slaves opted to stay where they were immediately after freedom, trusting the plantations they knew to the threat of hunger and homelessness in a war-ravaged land, but moved on later as opportunities arose.

Whether slaves stayed or left had a lot to do with how cruel their masters were–the crueler the master, the more likely their slaves were to leave as fast as possible. Unfortunately, given the misery and starvation induced by the war, these same people were probably less likely to survive long enough to give the folklorists their accounts. Obviously this may create a numerical bias in the accounts.

Frank Adamson, 82 years old: The Rattler and the Red Shirts

“I ‘members when you was barefoot at de bottom; now I see you a settin’ dere, gittin’ bare at de top, as bare as de palm of my hand.”

[EvX: In case it isn’t clear, “you” here is the person conducting the interview.]

“I’s been ‘possum huntin’ wid your pappy, when he lived on de Wateree, just after de war. One night us got into tribulation, I tells you! ‘Twas ’bout midnight when de dogs make a tree. Your pappy climb up de tree, git ’bout halfway up, heard sumpin’ dat once you hears it you never forgits, and dats de rattlin’ of de rattles on a rattle snake’s tail. Us both ‘stinctly hear dat sound! What us do? Me on de ground, him up de tree, but where de snake? Dat was de misery, us didn’t know. Dat snake give us fair warnin’ though! Marster Sam (dats your pa) ‘low: ‘Frank, ease down on de ground; I’ll just stay up here for a while.’ I lay on them leaves, skeered to make a russle. Your pa up de tree skeered to go up or down! Broad daylight didn’t move us. Sun come up, he look all ’round from his vantage up de tree, then come down, not ’til then, do I gits on my foots.

“Then I laugh and laugh and laugh, and ask Marster Sam how he felt. Marster Sam kinda frown and say: ‘Damn I feels like hell! Git up dat tree! Don’t you see dat ‘possum up dere?’ I say: ‘But where de snake, Marster?’ He say: ‘Dat rattler done gone home, where me and you and dat ‘possum gonna be pretty soon!’ …

“I’s as close to white folks then as peas in a pod. Wore de red shirt and drunk a heap of brandy in Columbia, dat time us went down to General Hampton into power. I ‘clare I hollered so loud goin’ ‘long in de procession, dat a nice white lady run out one of de houses down dere in Columbia, give me two biscuits and a drum stick of chicken, patted me on de shoulder, and say: ‘Thank God for all de big black men dat can holler for Governor Hampton as loud as dis one does.’ Then I hollers some more for to please dat lady, though I had to take de half chawed chicken out dis old mouth, and she laugh ’bout dat ’til she cried. She did!

“Well, I’ll be rockin’ ‘long balance of dese days, a hollerin’ for Mr. Roosevelt, just as loud as I holler then for Hampton.

Four generations of a slave family, Smith's Plantation, Beaufort, South Carolina, 1862
Four generations of a slave family, Smith’s Plantation, Beaufort, South Carolina, 1862

EvX: These interviews were conducted in the 30s, so that’s the second Roosevelt.

As Wikipedia points out, the fact that the interviewers were white may also have affected the particular anecdotes informants chose to share or how they framed them. In this case, I wonder if the account is even true. Wikipedia claims:

The Red Shirts or Redshirts of the Southern United States were white supremacist[1][2] paramilitary groups that were active in the late 19th century in the last years and after the end of the Reconstruction era of the United States. Red Shirt groups originated in Mississippi in 1875, when Democratic Party private terror units adopted red shirts to make themselves more visible and threatening to Southern Republicans, both white and freedmen. Similar groups in the Carolinas also adopted red shirts.

Among the most prominent Red Shirts were the supporters of Democratic Party candidate Wade Hampton during the campaigns for the South Carolina gubernatorial elections of 1876 and 1878.[3] The Red Shirts were one of several paramilitary organizations, such as the White League in Louisiana, arising from the continuing efforts of white Democrats to regain political power in the South in the 1870s. These groups acted as “the military arm of the Democratic Party.”[4]

While sometimes engaging in violence, the Red Shirts, the White League, rifle clubs, and similar groups in the late nineteenth century worked openly and were better organized than the secret vigilante groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. Their goals were to use violence and terrorism to restore the Democrats to power and repress the exercise of civil and voting rights by the freedmen.[5] During the 1876, 1898 and 1900 campaigns in North Carolina, the Red Shirts played prominent roles in intimidating non-Democratic Party voters. …

According to E. Merton Coulter in The South During Reconstruction (1947), the red shirt was adopted in Mississippi in 1875 by “southern brigadiers” of the Democratic Party who were opposed to black Republicans. The Red Shirts disrupted Republican rallies, intimidated or assassinated black leaders, and discouraged and suppressed black voting at the polls. …

State Democrats organized parades and rallies in every county of South Carolina. Many of the participants were armed and mounted; all wore red. Mounted men gave an impression of greater numbers. When Wade Hampton and other Democrats spoke, the Red Shirts would respond enthusiastically, shouting the campaign slogan, “Hurrah for Hampton.” …

In the Piedmont counties of Aiken, Edgefield, and Barnwell, freedmen who voted were driven from their homes and whipped, while some of their leaders were murdered. During the 1876 presidential election, Democrats in Edgefield and Laurens counties voted “early and often”, while freedmen were barred from the polls.[7] …

Few freedmen voted for Hampton, and most remained loyal to the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln. The 1876 campaign was the “most tumultuous in South Carolina’s history.”[8] “An anti-Reconstruction historian later estimated that 150 Negroes were murdered in South Carolina during the campaign.”[9]

After the election on November 7, a protracted dispute between Chamberlain and Hampton ensued as both claimed victory. Because of the massive election fraud, Edmund William McGregor Mackey, a Republican member of the South Carolina House of Representatives, called upon the “Hunkidori Club” from Charleston to eject Democratic members from Edgefield and Laurens counties from the House. Word spread through the state. By December 3, approximately 5,000 Red Shirts assembled at the State House to defend the Democrats. Hampton appealed for calm and the Red Shirts dispersed.

As a result of a national political compromise, President Rutherford B. Hayes ordered the removal of the Union Army from the state on April 3, 1877. The white Democrats completed their political takeover of South Carolina.

Graph of the enslaved population of the United States as a percentage of the population of each state, 1790–1860
Graph of the enslaved population of the United States as a percentage of the population of each state, 1790–1860

They were active in other states, too, but you get the idea.

Red is a common color, and soon appears again in Democrat lore, as Huber recounts in “Red Necks and Red Bandanas: Appalachian Coal Miners and the Coloring of Union Identity, 1912-1936″ (published 2006):

“They shot one of those Bolsheviks up in Knox County this morning. Harry Sims his name was…. That deputy knew his business. He didn’t give the redneck a chance to talk, he just plugged him in the stomach…” So Malcolm Cowley, writing in The New Republic in 1932, recounted a local coal operator’s response to the murder of a nineteen-year-old Young Communist League union organizer in eastern Kentucky… The contempt and ruthlessness in this comment will scarcely surprise readers familiar with the history of the violent, bloody suppression of the American labor movement, but seeing the pejorative terms Bolshevik and redneck used interchangeably may. For more than a century, the epithet redneck has chiefly denigrated rural, poor white southerners…. During the 1920s and 1930s, however, another one of its definitions in the northern and central Appalachian coalfields was “a Communist.”

Coal miners displaying a bomb that was dropped during the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921
Coal miners displaying a bomb that was dropped during the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921

During the Appalachian coal mine wars–which was a real thing that actually happened, though obviously it wasn’t actually on the scale of a real war–strikers often wore red bandanas around their necks.

Wikipedia notes:

The term characterized farmers having a red neck caused by sunburn from hours working in the fields. …

By 1900, “rednecks” was in common use to designate the political factions inside the Democratic Party comprising poor white farmers in the South.[14] … A newspaper notice in Mississippi in August 1891 called on rednecks to rally at the polls at the upcoming primary election:[15]

 

Primary on the 25th.
And the “rednecks” will be there.
And the “Yaller-heels” will be there, also.
And the “hayseeds” and “gray dillers,” they’ll be there, too.
And the “subordinates” and “subalterns” will be there to rebuke their slanderers and traducers.
And the men who pay ten, twenty, thirty, etc. etc. per cent on borrowed money will be on hand, and they’ll remember it, too.

By 1910, the political supporters of the Mississippi Democratic Party politician James K. Vardaman—chiefly poor white farmers—began to describe themselves proudly as “rednecks,” even to the point of wearing red neckerchiefs to political rallies and picnics.[16] …

The term “redneck” in the early 20th century was occasionally used in reference to American coal miner union members who wore red bandannas for solidarity. The sense of “a union man” dates at least to the 1910s and was especially popular during the 1920s and 1930s in the coal-producing regions of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania.[18]

The strikers, IIRC, were multi-ethnic, not just whites.

The path of the Democratic party from “anti Northerners” to “anti rich industrial capitalists” to “anti Southerners” is really interesting–Democrats haven’t won a majority of the white vote in a presidential election since LBJ made them the part of the Civil Rights Act.

It’s like they’re always red, but the meaning of “red” keeps changing.

That’s all I have time for today. See you next week.