Maybe you have never read a Slave Narrative.
I hope you stop and take the time to read the actual words of a slave being interviewed in between 1936 and 1938. Reading their words makes the experience just that much more real! Read to remember, so that we never allow this to happen ever again!
I chose this narrative, because of the mention of various foods: potatoes, chickens, eggs, shucks, milk, corn, tea, brown sugar, sorghum molasses, peas, and greens.
Interviewer: Pernella M. Anderson
Person interviewed: Rachel Hankins
El Dorado, Arkansas
“I was born in Alabama. My old mistress and master told me that I was born in 1850. Get that good—1850! That makes me about 88 but I can’t member the day and month. I was a girl about twelve or fourteen years old when the old darkies was set free. My old mistress and master did not call us niggers; they called us darkies. I can’t recollect much about slavery and I can recollect lots too at times. My mind goes and comes. I tell you children you all is living a white life nowdays. When I was coming up I was sold to a family in Alabama by the name of Columbus. They was poor people and they did not own but a few slaves and it was a large family of them and that made us have to work hard. We lived down in the field in a long house. We ladies and girls lived in a log cabin together. Our cabin had a stove room made on the back and it was made of clay and grass with a hearth made in it and we cooked on the hearth. We got our food from old mistress’s and master’s house. We raised plenty of grub such as peas, greens, potatoes. But our potatoes wasn’t like the potatoes is now. They was white and when you eat them they would choke you, especially if they was cold. And sorghum molasses was the only kind there was. I don’t know where all these different kinds of molasses come from.
“They issued our grub out to us to cook. They had cows and we got milk sometimes but no butter. They had chickens and eggs but we did not. We raised cotton, sold part and kept enough to make our clothes out of. Raised corn. And there wasn’t no grist mills then so we had a pounding rock to pound the corn on and we pound and pound until we got the corn fine enough to make meal, then we separated the husk from the meal and parched the husk real brown and we used it for coffee. We used brown sugar from sorghum molasses. We spun all our thread and wove it into cloth with a hand loom. The reason we called that cloth home-spun is because it was spun at home. Splitting rails and making rail fences was all the go. Wasn’t no wire fences. Nothing but rail fences. Bushing and clearing was our winter jobs. You see how rough my hands is? Lord have mercy! child, I have worked in my life.
“Master Columbus would call us niggers up on Sunday evening and read the Bible to us and tell us how to do and he taught us one song to sing and it was this ‘Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning’ and he’d have us to sing it every Sunday evening and he told us that that song meant to do good and let each other see our good. When it rained we did not have meeting but when it was dry we always had meeting.
“I never went to school a day in my life. I learned to count money after I was grown and married.
“My feet never saw a shoe until I was fourteen. I went barefooted in ice and snow. They was tough. I did not feel the cold. I never had a cold when I was young. If we had ep-p-zu-dit we used different things to make tea out of, such as shucks, cow chips, hog hoofs, cow hoofs. Ep-p-zu-dit then is what people call flu now.
“When war broke out I was a girl just so big. All I can recollect is seeing the soldiers march and I recollect them having on blue and gray jackets. Some would ride and some would walk and when they all got lined up that was a pretty sight. They would keep step with the music. The Southern soldiers’ song was ‘Look Away Down in Dixie’ and the Northern soldiers’ song was ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy.’ So one day after coming in from the field old master called his slaves and told us we was free and told us we could go or stay. If we stayed he would pay us to work. We did not have nothing to go on so we stayed and he paid us. Every 19th of June he would let us clean off a place and fix a platform and have dancing and eating out there in the field. The 19th of June 1865 is the day we thought we was freed but they tell me now that we was freed in January 1865 but we did not know it until June 19, 1865. Never got a beating the whole time I was a slave.
“I came to north Arkansas forty years ago and I been in Union County a short while. My name is Rachel Hankins.”