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This is an extract from "Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews with Former Slaves" prepared by the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Projects Administration, 1936-1938.
I have taken unusual liberties with the order of the paragraphs in this text as it was a series of reminiscences that did not follow chronological order. I have not changed any of the sentences.
The picture is of an African-American man plowing with a mule in the South during the 1930s. It is not Lula Taylor's fatherm Henry Deal, but the type of rig is similar to what he would have used.
Because this interview subject used terms unfamiliar to modern readers, explanatory material appears [in brackets].
Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson
Person Interviewed: Lula Taylor, R.F.D., east of town, Brinkley, Arkansas
Date: circa 1936
I was born at Pigeon Roost on Jim High's place (Wattensaw, Arkansas). [Wattensaw, a very small town near the center of the state, is now known as DeValls Bluff, Arkansas. About one-third of the population is African-American.] All my kin folks was field hands. I ploughed all day long.
Lula Taylor was 71 when this interview was recorded in 1936, so she would have been born in 1865, the last year that slavery was legal in the United States, and she would have been freed before her first birthday. She had no personal memories of enslavement, but she did a very good job of recounting the family stories she was taught about life during slavery times in rural Arkansas.
MOTHER AND GRANDMOTHER CHARITY LINNERMAN
My mother [name not recorded] was sold five times. She was sold when she was too little to remember her mother. Her mother was Charity Linnerman. They favored. [They resembled one another.] She was dark and granny was light colored. My mother didn't love her mother like I loved her.
FATHER HENRY DEAL AND GRANDFATHER HENRY POOL
Grandpa [Henry Pool] found a pitcher of gold money been buried in old Master Pool's stable. He give it to them. They knowed it was out there. [The enslavers had perhaps placed the gold there to hide it or to test Henry Pool's honesty in reporting that he found it.]
Papa was sold from the Pools to the Deals [and his surname was changed to Deal].
"My papa [Henry Pool Deal] said he'd hit boards and stood on them all day, one after another, working cold days. [The impression i get from this cryptic statement is that as an enslaved person, Henry was not given adequate footwear, so to avoid standing on frozen or muddy ground he would split boards to stand on.]
THE WHITE CRANE: A DEATH OMEN
Papa said his ole mistress Deal was out under an apple tree peeling apples to dry. A white crane flew over the tree and fluttered about over her. Next day she died. Then the old man [the enslaver, Mr. Deal] married a younger woman.
DURING THE CIVIL WAR
"Grandpa Henry Pool went to war. [It is unclear whether Henry Pool was conscripted into the Confederate Army or escaped to join the Union Army.]
Mother was with [the enslaver] Miss Betty Reed in most of war times. Miss Betty hid their jewelry and money. She spoke of the Yankees coming and kill pretty chickens and drink up a churn of fresh milk turned ready for churning. It be in the chimney corner to keep warm. They'd take fat horses and turn their poor ones in the lot. They never could pass up a fat hog. They cleaned out the corn crib.
Granny [Charity Linnerman]'s head was all split open. I lived to see all that. [She saw the scars on her granmother's head.] White folks said her husband done it, but she said one of her old masters struck her on the head with a shoe last [a heavy metal form, the size of a foot, on which leather shoes are crafted].
THE CONJURER AS AN ENSLAVER
A man (Negro) come by and conjured my mother. She was with Miss Betty Reed (or Reid) up north of Lonoke. They was my mother's last owners. [The town of Lonoke (originally Lone Oak) did not actually come into existence under that name until after the Civil War. It was built on the ruins of Brownsville, a town that was burned to the ground by Union forces after the Confederate Army retreated to Little Rock. At the present time, Lonoke has about 4,000 residents, of whom about about one-quarter are African-American.]
That old man [the conjurer] made out like she stole things, when he stole them his own black self. He'd make her hide out like she stole things. [The story takes a strange turn now as the black conjure doctor and his wife use sorcery to see to it that Lula Taylor's mother is falsely accused of theft, stolen away from the Reed family, and becomes their unwilling slave and servant, Additionally, using conjure, they break up her first love affair and force her to marry a man of their choosing.]
She [Lula Taylor's mother] had a sweetheart, and him and his wife [the conjurer and his wife], she had to live with them. They stole her off from her last owner, Miss Betty Reed. [Not only white people enslaved people of African and Native descent. The number of persons of colour who themselves became enslavers is not known, but they were a small percentage of those who kept slaves. The use of conjure to produce false accusations, create an aura of guilty actions, and ultimately steal a slave away from white enslavers is unusual.]
They [the conjurer and his wife] didn't like her [Lula Taylor's mother's], sweetheart. They was going to marry. He bought all her wedding clothes. When she didn't marry him, she let him have back all the weddin' clothes and he buried his sister in them.
This old man was a conjurer. He give my mother a cup of some kind of herbs and made her drink it. [Conjuration through the use of medically and magically potent herbs was, and is, quite common. In this case, the herbal drink stole Lula Taylor's mother's will-power.] He tole her all her love would go to Henry Deal. He liked him. He [Henry Deal] was my papa. Her love sure did leave her sweetheart and go to my papa. He bought her some nice clothes. She married in the clothes he got her. She was so glad to let go that old man and woman what conjured her 'way from her white folks to wait on them.
WHEN FREEDOM CAME
Master Wade Deal, at freedom, give papa a pair of chickens, goats, sheep, turkeys, a cow; and papa cleared ten acres of ground to pay for his first mule. He bought the mule from Master Wade Deal.
Old Master Deal used to run us from behind him plowing. We tease him, say what he'd say to the horse or mule. He'd lock us up in the smokehouse. We'd eat dried beef and go to sleep. He was a good old man. [This cordial relationship between an ex-enslaver and his former slaves was not entirely uncommon, at least in the pre-WWI era, before the rising influence of segregation, the Ku Klux Klan, and restrictive Jim Crow laws placed hard boundaries between people.]
Granny [Charity Linnerman] lived in a house behind the white church [the church where whte people worshipped] in Helena [Arkansas, on the Eastern border of the state.]. After freedom, we kept writing till we got in tetch with her. We finally got granny with us on the Jefferies place at Clarendon [Arkansas, a small town closer toward the middle of the state; the population is about one-third African-American.].
Grandpa [Henry Pool] played with us. He'd put us all up on a horse we called Old Bill. He said he got so used to sleeping on his blanket on the ground in war times till he couldn't sleep on a bed. He couldn't get off asleep [he couldn't fall asleep on a bed]
THE EXTINCTION OF THE PASSEDGER PIGIONS
It is sad about the pigeons at Pigeon Roost (Wattensaw, Arkansas). They weighted trees down till they actually broke limbs and swayed plenty of them. That was the richest land you ever seen in your life when it was cleared off. Folks couldn't rest for killing pigeons and wasted them all up. I was born at Pigeon Roost on Jim High's place. I seen a whole washpot full of stewed pigeon. It was fine eating. It was a shame to waste up all the pigeons and clear out the place. Passenger Pigeons, Ectopistes migratorius, were at one time the most abundant bird in North America. They were driven to extinction by mass slaughter for their meat and by habitat destruction; the last member of the species died in 1914.]
This material is reprinted from
[My sincere gratitude to my husband nagasiva for help with graphics.]
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