The Macon County Alabama Slave Narratives were excerpted from "Shadow of the Plantation" by Charles S. Johnson. Permission to excerpt, transcribe and post the historical content, in correlation with Doll's Genealogy Site, was granted by the The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois, April 2001.
|Besides the various slave narratives listed here, this historical glance into the area and the local citizens, also includes other family related narratives.|
1. Georgiana Jackson
"I don't know how old I am. I was born in slavery. I remember when the Yankees first come and say dere want no more slavery."
2. Liza Cloud (blind)
"Slavery I know all about, looks like. I was sixteen years old when the Yankees come through. I can't tell about the year I was born but I know the month. I was born the first of May. You know back there colored folks didn't know nothing about the years."
3. Jennie Smith "I was about seventy-seven years old this last gone February. I am satisfied. I'm older'n this but that's what the white folks gied me when I was freed, but if I don't disremember that is my sister's age. When the war was declared, and freedom come, I was nursing and working at the white folks' home. They just got us niggers mixed up. I remember well when the people was drilling to free the slaves. That's why I know I'm older'n dat.
4. Zack Ivey
One of the older heads and strong spirits of the community. He was frank than is the custom of Negroes to be in contrasting his present condition with that of slavery. He complained: "I done had a harder time since I been free that when I was a slave. I never had such a hard time in my life as I'm having now. I'm saying this for myself. I ain't saying hit for nobody else. I wish I had stayed a slave. In slavery my master and mistress tuk care of me. I lived down in the quarters but I was always up at the house. Them quarters was 'ranged just like a garden. Here was a row and there was a row, and up there was the white folks' house. My mother had to see atta all the chillin in the quarters 'cause they kepts so much fuss. I was small and light and done 'bout most as I pleased. "In slavery days", he reminisced, "we et peas, onions, hog head, liver, cow's milk, butter, Irish potatoes, and everything what grows in a garden. That's why I'm here now. I'm just living on the strenk of that. Hit's the strenk of that done kept me alive. I had three chillun by my first wife and fifteen by my second wife. We had frolics. We had them in the white folks' yard. The white folks made you play and run and jump. Your feet an' things had ter be washed and you had ter be all clean and white ter set at table. We had guitars and blowing quills. We had the best kinda time. The only thing I didn't like they kept me in shirt tails so long. I thought I was too big fer ter be in my shirt tail and ever' time they come round and tell me ter jump my shirt tail would fly up, and I'd say, 'You gotta put some pants on me.' I was keeping company wid my lady frien', going cross the creek, and I looked and there my shirt tail was a floating."
5. Riny Biggers
A character of equal strength in the community, without being informed of the views of Zack Ivey, began her own reminiscences with a warning: "Don't you believe no nigger when he says he ruther be no slave. Things happen then too awful to talk about. If they catch you with a pencil in your hand it would be too bad. When de white folks' chillun would come through wid books from school by the quarters and dropped a piece of they school paper and if dey seed you pick hit up dey would clare you tryn' to learn to read and write, and over Sunday for a month you'd be put in a strait-jacket."
Riny Biggers, taking advantage of the extended privilege of her sex, was more aggressive about her freedom and made a fetish of education, although herself illiterate. The high value of literacy had been implanted in her in slavery as firmly as Zach Ivey's memory of the care-free days of frolics and food and courting. She was what one might call "race conscious." she told her children often the story of a figure who seemed to stand out in her memory as the heroic one of slavery. "Red Ann," she was commonly known, knew the secret of letters when she was bought by Riny's mistress. It was a trade-off as unethical as selling a blind horse without confessing his defect. Red Ann's literacy in this case was her defect. Riny's mistress bought Red Ann from a speculator but she did not know she could read. She was called "Red Ann" in contempt for nature's presumption to endow a slave with a swarthy Caucasian complexion and quite straight soft hair, sometimes referred to as Titian. When in the presence of her mistress, or any white person, for that matter, Ann carried a bank, uncomprehending stare. She would handle papers on which there was writing without showing the slightest curiosity. Once securely out of sight, she would read them and keep her intelligence to herself. Later she began to read letters coming to the house and, becoming bolder would show them to other slaves whom she took into her confidence. They watched as they read, then one day a slave, secretly jealous, whispered to her mistress Red Ann's secret. There was consternation confounded by unbelief. In a culture which denied the ability of Negroes to read, it was easier to believe as well as to wish that they could not. Suspicion grew and she was questioned. Red Ann persisted that she could not read. The mistress left notes around to trap her, but Red Ann was too clever. Finally, she wrote her mistress' name to a pass and disappeared.
This secret power was a lasting lesson for Riny, and she grounded into her own children from the day they were large enough to understand. For that reason she as accounted the equivalent of a radical in her society, and the variant fate of her children testified to the conflict between her own determination and the pressure of environment. Of Riny's first set there was one living and two dead. The living child, now in his fifties, eventually shook off the county, the state, and left the South forever. She knew only that he had a family in Detroit and children in school somewhere. Another son died at the age of ten. A daughter grew to womanhood, married, and died in childbirth. Of the second set, one daughter, Aggie, was living with her mother; a son, Arch, was killed in a fight with a white man; and still another, Jerry, had been away from home about fifteen years and had finally worked his way through school in South Carolina. Two other children had died at early ages and there had been three miscarriages. With her now was the second of the adopted children, which she had begun to rear. Her memories of slavery were fresh, no doubt from frequent rehearsing:
"My master's people? Some of them masters would take they slaves and lock'em in the house all day and you couldn't stick your head out of the door. We could lay on our porch and hear'em hollering and working all night tel day. I seed'em walk in sand tel they fell dead. Had been Me I would been fightin; now. I come from the fightin' class, but I'm too old ter fight now. My master's brother's wife was so mean tel the Lord sent a peal of lightenin' and put her to death. She was too mean ter let you go to the well and git a drink of water, and God come long and "squished" her head open. One of the other masters was so mean he made his slaves crow. Whenever he got ready to go ter Pratville he had him a chariot fixed up wid eight horses. Lak we settin' here done been two packs of hounds done passed chasing atta slaves and he had more slaves runned away."
6. Cass Stewart (over eight-five years of age)
"I was wid de Africans. Dey couldn't understand what dey was saying deyselves. I seed dem salt-water niggers down my home near Selma. I knowed a man down dere working 25 acres, couldn't work wid half of 'em 'cause when you made one of 'em mad you made all 'em mad.
The older slaves kept themselves aloof from the African, partly out of contempt and partly out of fear. In the community today there are contemptuous references to certain families as springing from "salt-water niggers." This situation provides an unexpected link with Africa which might indeed yield traces of other transplanted culture traits"12
7. Sam Thomas (nearly ninety years old)
Still feebly active, despite his nearly ninety years, and always able to raise some sort of crop, made an observation on the development of agriculture. He said: "The way they farmed here then was a hoss ter de plow and a hoss ter de hoe hand. They works dat way round here now. They had a leader and all lumped together in one hand master." Transcribers note: Additional dialogue included present day farming plantations.
"Even atta we was free, the niggers wouldn't believe it. They kept going to ter master and mistress atta passes to go off and they would say, Steve, I don't give no passes now, dem days is over; you is as free as me. The niggers couldn't believe hit atta they heard it. I'm tellin' de truf. The niggers was still scared, too. You know the niggers and white folks b'longed ter de same church, and went ter de same church. The niggers would set behin' de 'titions. The preacher would tell 'em slavery was over and ter come on in the church, but they wouldn't. Then the white folks got scared dat dem niggers would kill 'em. Dat de reason why niggers and white folks ain't goin ter de same church now. 'Cause mattered not how the preacher would say tain't no mo' master and mistress now come on inside, some of them niggers wouldn't. They stood outside by them windows wid day heads stickin' in. Yes, honey, I 'members dis all.
8. Will Daniels
The house in which he lived was ninety years old, and gave this explanation in support of his speculation: "There's an old man 'round here who used to wait on Dr.----------- and he's about ninety years old. The house was here when he was a boy. Old man Parker owned it in slavery times. The slave cabin was tore town when I moved here. The young Missus comes up here to see it sometimes now. She says she just likes to see the old place where she was raised. She showed us the print of the man's hand that built it. It's right there in the hall."
9. Helen Haygood
The Haygood family was rooted in slavery, but father and mother, both illiterate, were married and had lived together over fifty years, reared children, established a family tradition of a sort, accumulated a little property, and retained their affection for each other. Helen Haygood spoke thus of her background and relations with her husband until his recent death: "Yes, indeed, I may be old but I remember everything. I was born during slavery. Dem sho' was bad times. If the niggers hadn't been liberated by Abe Lincoln we'd still be the white folks' niggers. The way them folks used to beat us was shameful. My white folks want rich. They was just good livers and they want so bad. I ain't nebber forgotten my young mistress. She had the longest nose you ever seen, but she was sweet. Her name was S---------. All the niggers on the place called her "Miss Sis" and when I sees her now I calls her "Miss Sis.". She's done got powerful old but she still lives right on the old place over yonder near Honey Cup. Yes'm right there in Shorters. Folks would raise the fence and put your end on one side and your head on the other and beat and beat them niggers. I was the onliest little nigger on the place when freedom come. The Yankees come through and said slavery's done gone. Child, the niggers got to yelling and whooping all over the place. Some of 'em got kept in bondage as long as four years after freedom. The white folks jest wouldn't loose us. Abe Lincoln touched a pen for the sign of freedom but all the niggers didn't know. The Rebels didn't tell us until some good white folks let the cat out the bag. My husband he was off in the war. That was Jim. He done told me so much I ain't nebber gonna forget. He got discharged right on Peach Street in Atlanta. Dere's his picture on the wall. I gits here in my bed some night and puts the flashlight on the picture and says, "I'm still all alone Jim--still your Helen. I know it an't gonna be long now 'fore I goes to him. He sho' was a good husband. He used to cook and help me but we was married fifty-six years and I ain't missed cooking his vittels but once. He got mad then and hit me....Then he was sad and said, "Scraps (used to call me Scraps), I hain't nebber gonna hit you no mo' long's I live," and he sho didn't. I loved that man.
The week 'fore he died he said, "Helen git my tax papers and all the pension papers. I'se gonna fix things so if I die you won't have no trouble. I'se an old disable soldier and I'se gonna take care of you. Well, we signed papers n' all. The he paid Miss Jessie $1.00 to come here and write all our names in the Bible in ink. See, I couldn't write and Jim couldn't, but he'd be carryin' all that in his head, and he knew if anything ever happen and it weren't wrote down, it be hard for me. He was blind, too. He got blind from cooking so much. All that smoke was too much for his eyes. Well, I come nigh going blind too. Jim paid $100 for my eyes to get better. A white lady come here and tended like she was gonna do a heap for us and said she'd send some glasses but she ain't done nothin.' After freedom I went to school 'till the one-legged man wrote me I couldn't go no more without no money an' we ain't had nothin' then. All we got we just cummulated. When my chillus married I gave each one two sheets, three pillow cases, one half-dozen cups and saucers, and a piece of furniture. I treated 'em all the same. Just had to save to git all this, an' if anybody knows how to save and scrape, I do. I gits all the slop ready for the chillus and it don't take much the way I fixes it. I done lost $700 in this Tuskegee bank when hit closed. I'se been saving that a long time it sho' got me bad.
My husband died with the kidney trouble. He got drawed sores all on his legs. I got 'em now. Wait, I'm gonna show you. The children want me to go Birmingham to the doctor. Dere's a doctor there who can look plumb through you and see everything. Spects my heart is like this cause everything I got is dead but me and three chillun. I done had to stop breeding for six years on account of bad misfortune. I got a milk leg and risen breast. THe doctor is scared to lance it.
Tain't easy for me to keep up with all my spenses. I miss Jim for that. He sho' could figure. Just two years ago next month he died. I makes like this.....for dollars and circles nickles. I send some of the money up North to the chilluns, but I done got careless and don't keep it up.
12One old resident, in quoting remembered expressions of these Africans, used terms strikingly similar to the African West Coast pidgin English, which was all the more unusual because West Coast pidgin is not common in the dealect of the Negroes of this part of the South.
Links to Other Online Slave Narratives
American Slave Narratives: An Online Anthology
Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Workers' Project 1936-1938
First Person Narratives of the American South 1860-1920