Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Remembering Slavery

I recently read the book "Remembering Slavery," which consists of many transcripts from interviews with former slaves. The interviews were mostly conducted by workers from the Federal Writers Project in the 1930s. The book's introduction notes that there are some problems with the interviews -- in some instances, the interviewers seem to have edited the former slaves' words, or to have used far too much dialect in transcribing the words (even to the point of writing "wuz" when the former slave had correctly pronounced "was").

The transcripts contain many horrifying stories of beatings, the sundering of families, etc. Those were painful to read. There were also some colorful and interesting stories or tidbits as well, such as the following:

De war breaks and dat make de big change on de mass's place. He jines de army and hires a man call' Delbridge for overseer. After dat, de hell start to pop, cause de first thing Delbridge do is cut de rations. He weight out de meat, three pound for de week, and he measure a peck of meal. And 'wern't enough. He half starve us niggers and he want mo' work and he start de whippin's. . . . I guess dat Delbridge go to hell when he died, but I don't see how de debbil could stand him.
This story was hilarious:
Ole Marse John ain't never had no chillun by his wife. His wife was pow'ful jealous of Martha [a slave that John preferred] an' never let her come near de big house, but she didn't need to cause Marsa was always goin' down to the shacks where she lived. Marse John used to treat Martha's boy Jim jus' like his own son, which he was. Jim used to run all over de big house, an' Missus didn't like it, but she didn't dare put him out. One day de Parson come to call. He knew Marse John but didn't know Missus Mamie. He come to de house an' Jim come runnin' down de stairs to meet him. He took de little boy up in his arms an' rubbed his haid, an' when Missus come, tol' her how much de boy look like his father and mother. "Course it favor its father most," de preacher say, tryin' to be polite, "but in de eyes, de lookin' glass of de soul, I ken see dat he's his mother's boy." Miss Mamie shooed de child away an' took de preacher inside. Never did let on it wasn't her chile. Was pow'ful mad 'bout it, though. Never would let dat boy in de house no' mo'.
I love that "which he was."

Then there was this account of a wedding, from Tempie Herndon Durham. Again, you can just imagine the huge twinkle in her eye as she told this story:
Uncle Edmond Kirby married us. He was de nigger preacher dat preached at de plantation church. After Uncle Edmond said de las' words over me an' Exter, Marse George got to have his little fun: He say, "Come on, Exter, you an' Tempie got to jump over de broom stick backwards; you got to do dat to see which one gwine be boss of your househol'." Everybody come stan' 'roun to watch. Marse George hold de broom 'bout a foot high off de floor. De one dat jump over it backwards an' never touch de handle, gwine boss de house, an' if bof of dem jump over without touchin' it, dey won't gwine be no bossin', dey jus' gwine be 'genial. I jumped fust, an' you ought to seed me. I sailed right over dat broom stick same as a cricket, but when Exter jump he done had a big dram an' his feets was so big an' clumsy dat dey got all tangled up in dat broom an' he fell head long. Marse George he laugh an' laugh, an' tole Exter he gwine be bossed 'twell he skeered to speak less'n I tole him to speak.


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