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Abram Harris

From: More Arkansas

Interviewer: Watt McKinney
Person Interviewed: Abram Harris
Marvell, Arkansas, (6 miles west)
Age: 93

Abram Harris, an ex-slave, just past ninety-three years of age lives
with his daughter, Hannah, 70 years old, on the farm of Mrs. Alice
Davison a few miles west of Marvell, Arkansas. The two of them have just
completed, within the last few days, the harvesting of a small crop of
cotton and corn, and Abram was found in a small thicket not far from
their cabin where he was busily engaged in cutting some firewood for
their winter use. A small tree had been felled and the old man was
swinging his axe with the strength and enthusiasm of one far younger
than he as the wood was being cut to the proper length for his heater.
Interrupted at my approach, Abram laid aside the axe and greeted me with
that courtesy so characteristic of an ex-slave. After stating the
purpose of my visit, the old negro apparently pleased at this
opportunity afforded him to rest and talk, sat on the body of the newly
cut tree and told me the following story:

"Yes sir, Cap'n, my name is Abram Harris and I is jist past ninety-three
year old. En cose I knows dat I don't look dat old en all de folks sey
dat I acts er heap younger dan my age iffen I really is old as I claims,
en I kin still wuk bettern heap dese young uns, kase I is always knowed
how ter wuk. My old Boss Man teach me de tricks. He war er wukker
he-self, en eberybody hed ter roll roun Old Marster. He neber low no
lazy pussen ter stay wid him. Yes sir, Cap'n, I sho has kept up wid my
age eber since dat time when Old Marster tole me how ole I is. Yo kin
see dat I is er old nigger, kase dese here whiskers so white en de hair
on my haid so white too. When ye see dat on er nigger yo kin know dat he
er old pussen right off. I gwine ter tell yo, how cum dat I sho knows
how old I is. Er heap er niggers, dey tell yo dat dey is so en so year
old when dey aint no sich er thing en dey don't know dey age, but I
does, en hit wus jes dis er way.

"I wus borned en raised in South Carolina not fur from Greenville en my
Old Marster whut I belonged ter, wus Marse Hodges Brown, en my young
Marster he wus Marse Hampton, en me en Marse Hampton wus sho born in de
same mont en de same year, en de mont, hit wus October, en dats zackly
whut Old Marster tole me, en Marse Hampton sed dat same thing. Us wus
boys togedder, me en Marse Hampton, en wus jist er bout de same size, en
Marse Hampton, he claimed me, en I gwine ter be his property when bofe
us grown. Dat is iffen de war not cum on en Marse Hampton hadn't er got
kilt in de battle. When de war fust brake out, Marse Hampton he too
young den ter jine de troops, how-sum-eber he went ter jine up den when
he older brudder, Marse Thad, jine up, but Old Mis she wud'nt hear ter
Marse Hampton gwine off den, kase he not old enuf, en den, he Old Mis'
baby chile. Marse Thad, he bout two er three year older dan Marse
Hampton en he jine de troops at de fust muster en went off ter de war en
fit de Yankees night bout two years when de ball shot him in de
shoulder, en he wounded den en hab ter cum bak home fer ter git well
ergin. Atter Marse Thad cum home en stay fer er mont er sich time fer he
wound ter heal up, den he ready ter go bak ter de company, en Marse
Hampton gwine ter be eighteen year old pretty soon den, so dey swade Old
Mis ter let Marse Hampton go wid Marse Thad bak ter de war, so Old Mis
en Old Marster, dey gib in en Marse Hampton lef wid Marse Thad ter jine
up wid him in de same company whut he in when de ball hit him. Now dat
wuz in de spring when Marse Hampton jine up wid de troops, en him en me
gwine ter be eighteen dat fall in October, but hit twarnt as awful long
fore Marse Hampton got kilt in de big battle, en Marse Thad too. Dey wuz
bofe kilt in de charge, right dar on de bres-wuks, wid dey guns in dey
hans, dem two young Marsters er mine, right dar in dat Gettysburg
battle, dats whut Old Marster en Old Mis bofe tole me er meny er time,
en I wus eighteen in dat October atter dat big fight whut Mars Thad en
Marse Hampton git kilt in, en Marse Hodges writ hit down fer me on er
paper, en ebery October since den I gits sumbody whut kin figger ter
tell me how old I is so's I kin know en tell folks when dey ax me, en
jes last mont, my gal Hannah figgered hit out er gin en she sey dat I is
now ninety-three past, so dat is de way dat I gits at hit Cap'n. Now is
dat right?

"My white folks wus sho good ter all dey niggers. Dere wus nigh bout no
whippin er tall, least Old Marster neber did whip his slaves ter do no
good, en he mos ginerally tole us mammies er pappies ter do de whippin
er de chillun en de older boys en gals. He hab whip me do en he whip
Marse Hampton too when us wus boys. Old Marster start in wid dat hickry
en mek out lak he gwine ter frail us out, but atter he done landed er
few licks on us, en den us commence hollerin lak he hirtin bad, den he
quit whippin, dat de way Old Marster wus. He neber want ter hurt nobody.

"My pa wus name, Jake, en my Mammy wus named, Fanny, Old Marster bought
dem from sum-whar, but I wus borned right dar, me en Delia en all de res
er de chillun.

"Cap'n, wud ye lak fer me ter tell ye bout dat time dat me en Delia wuz
stole? Well, we sho wux stole. De Speckle-ladies (speculators or
traders) stole us er way frum Old Marster when us wus chillun, bout
twelve er thirteen year old. Hit happened in de night, when dar warnt
nobody dar in de quarters but de wimmin. Old Marster en all de men wus
down on de ribber dat night, er floatin logs er cuttin timber er sum
sich wuk es dat, when dese hear folks cum er stealin chillun. Delia en
me wus de fust ones dat dey grab en de onliest ones dat dey git frum Old
Marster, but dey sho got us. I 'members dat stealin good. Dem folks tuk
us off ter de woods whar dey tied us up ter er tree fer er whole night
en day, en tell us dat iffen we cry er holler dat dey gwine ter kills us
sho. Den dey cum en tuk us er way en ganged us up wid er lot mo nigger
boys en gals whut dey done stole sum whars else. Dey yoked us togedder
en walked us clean ter Georgia whar dey sole us. Dey sho pushed dem
chillun hard ober de rocks en de hard places till our feets wud bleed
frum de sores whar de rocks en de thorns scratch.

"Dey sole me en Delia ter er young white man en he wife whut ain't been
married long en ain't got no start er niggers yit. Us stayed dar fer mo
dan er year I rekkin, en dem wus good white folks en wus good ter us. De
Mis teach Delia ter be er house gal en de Marster teach me ter handle
stock en plow wid him eber day. Us wus skeered ter tell dem white folks
whut bought us whar us home wus en who us Marsters used ter be, kase we
skeered dat de speckle-ladies mout cum bak en steal us sum mo, en tek us
er way sum mo. I don't know how hit wus dat Old Marster Hodges Brown cum
ter fine out whar we wus, but he sho learnt er bout hit sum sich er way,
en one mornin early here cum Old Marster Hodges Brown wid two mo white
mens cumin atter me en Delia. Atter dey thru dentifyin us, Old Marster
tuk us on bak home wid him, en we sho wus glad ter go. Now Cap'n, dat is
de truf I am tellin you bout dat stealin, when me en Delia wus stole.

"My pappy wus named, Jake, en he wus de wagoner fer Marster till he
daid, den Marster tuk me en trained me fer de wagoner atter den. My
Marster warnt no big, rich man lak er heap er de white folks in dem
slabery times, yit en still, he sho hed er plenty er ebery-thing, en de
bes of all he fed he niggers good en wus always good ter tem. Marster
used ter peddle er heap in Columbia en Greenville bofe atter I git ter
be de wagoner fer him. Us wud tek big loads er taters en truck ter dem
towns whar Marster wud sell em ter de folks dar. Sumtimes he wud tek er
bout twenty beeves ter one er dem towns en rent him er yard whar he wud
butcher er bout one beef ebery day en peddle out de meat. Marster neber
hed many niggers lak lots de white folks. He jes hed er bout er dozen in
all. He sey dat all he want, er got eny use fer.

"Marster hed er big fruit orchard. Jes all kines er fruit wud be in dat
orchard, en when dey ripe, Marster send loads dem apples en peaches down
ter de still whar he had dem made up in ter Brandy en put in de kegs en
barrels en brought bak home when hit done. Heap er times dat I 'members
he call de folks up ter de bak gallery en sey, 'Cum on up here folks en
git yo all er dram'. Dats whut he say.

"Whilst our Marster wus good ter all he niggers, dar wus heap er de
marsters in dem slabery times whut wus mean, en dat whut mek de niggers
run off en hide in de woods, en dats when dey git de nigger hounds on em
en track em down jes lak ye do er coon. My pappy, Jake, he owned by er
mean white man, fore old Marster bought him in. I 'members bout him
tellin us chillun when he used ter run off en hide in de cane thickets
fer days en days kase he marster so mean en beat him up so bad, en dat
he git so hungry dat he slip bak in close ter de house in de night, en
dat sum de wimmins slip him sum meat en bread. He sey dat he used ter
sleep wid de dogs under de crib on cold nights so de togs cud keep him

"Dar warnt none er de white folks in dem slabery times whut wud let dey
niggers hab any learnin. Yo sho better not be cotch er tryin ter learn
no readin er writin. Our Marster neber eben lowed dat, en iffen er
nigger wus ter be foun whut cud write, den right straight dey wud chop
his fore finger offen dat han whut he write wid. Dar warnt no sich er
thing es no schools fer de niggers till atter de surrender.

"Endurin er de war, dar warnt no fightin tuk place roun whar us libed,
en de onliest Yankees dat I eber seed wus in Greenville atter de
surrender. I sho wus sprized when I seed dem Yankees, kass I neber
knowed whut sort er lookin thing dat er Yankee wus. No Sir, Cap'n, I
neber knowed dat er Yankee wus er man jes lak my white folks till I seed
dem in Greenville, but yo know Cap'n er Yankee looks jes lak yo is, only
he do talk funny en fast, mo so dan de kine er white folks dat I is
always been er roun.

"Dar warnt nary one er old Marsters niggers whut lef him eben when dey
set free, dat is dey did'n lebe him fer two er three years eny way, but
atter den sum of em started ter driftin er roun en hirin er roun er
bout. When de surrender cum, Old Marster tole em all dat dey free en kin
go iffen dey want ter go, en effen dey want ter go dat he gib em sum
grub ter go on. Marster wus er good man en iffen he war libin ter day, I
wud sho quit dis place en go on wid him, whar-sum-eber he want me ter

"No Sir, Cap'n, de niggers dey did'n know what de war wus gwine on fer,
en dey did'n know dat dey free till dere marsters tole em, whilst dey
wus wantin ter be free all right. Atter us wus free, de white folks hab
ter teach us jes lak yo teach er chile.

"Dem Klu Klux whut dey brought on atter de surrender wus sho pizen. Dey
wus white mens. Dats whut dey wus, en all dressed up in dem long white
garments wid er red cross on em en ridin er big hoss. Dey wus atter dem
niggers whut dey claim is mean en zerted dey marsters en went en tuk up
wid de Yankees. When dem Klu Klux fust cum in operation de niggers think
dat dey is hants er spirits, till dey fine out dat dey warnt nuthin but
white mens wid dem garments on em. Dem Klux wud cotch er nigger dat dey
want en pin he haid down ter de groun wid er forked stick en one wud
hold him whilst de others whip im wid er strop er a lash. Yes sir,
Cap'n, dem Klu Klux sho did dis-encourage de niggers er heap.

"Plenty er de white mens whut wus mustered in ter de war wud tek er
nigger wid em ter wait on em en ter tend ter de hosses en de sich eber
whut dey want done, en I sho did want ter go wid Marse Hampton, en mebbe
dat I cud tek care of im. Marse Hampton want me ter go wid him too en
try ter swade Old Marster ter let me go, but Old Marster sey dat he hab
ter hab me dar at home ter help mek de crops so's dat he kin send corn
en meat ter de sojers. De day dat Marse Hampton lebe, he cum down ter de
quarters fer ter tell all de niggers good-bye, en he sey ter me 'Abe,' he
called me Abe, 'I gwine off ter dat war en kill out dat whole crowd er
Yankees, en den I'se cumin bak en gwine ter Georgia en buy me er farm
whar I kin git rich mekin cotton en terbakker. Yo know yo is my nigger
en yo gwine ter Georgia wid me, when I goes'. Hit sho did hurt me when
Marse Hampton got kilt kase I lubed dat white man. He wus good ter me.

"In my dreams at night I kin yit see Marse Hampton, en er heap er times
in de day when I is by myself er hoein de cotton he talks ter me plain
so's I kin understand, en he ax me iffin I is yit en still er good
nigger, en tell me ter not be dis-encouraged. Cap'n de Bible is right
when hit sey dat, 'De young mens dream dreams en de old uns see de

"I kin jes natchally feel spirits, Cap'n, I sho don't spute dat. I is
skeered ter spute hit. When yo is gwine long de road en feel sum warm
air, den dat is whar de spirits hes jes been. De wings er de daid has
done fanned dat air till hits hot, en when I is gwine er long en hits
dat hot air, den I knows dat sum spirit er hant hes been er long dat
same route, kase hit sho is hants in dis worl, yit en still dey don't
walk en act lak natchal people.

"Yes Sir, Cap'n, I kin tell yo sum er dem old songs whut de niggers used
ter sing in de slabery times. Dis is sum of em:"

Black Judy wus er good gal,
En Black Judy wus er bad gal too.

Mus Jesus bear de cross alone
and all de worl go free?
Oh Brother don't stay away
Oh Blackslider, don't stay away.

My old Mistis promised me
dat when she died, she gwine set me free,
But she lived so long en got so po
dat she lef me diggin wid er garden ho.

Wheel er bout en do er bout
en jump Jim Crow.
Ebery time I do er bout
I do jes so.

Yo can't do wrong en git by
no matter how hard yo try.
Yo kin do lak you please
en feel at yo ease
But you can't do wrong en git by.

Next: Betty Harris

Previous: Eda Harper

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