[MRS. JULIA RUSH, MR. GEORGE LEONARD, MR. HENRY HOLMES, MR. ELLIS
STRICKLAND, MR. SAM STEVENS, JOE (a boy)]
The Negro folklore as recounted below was secured from the following
persons: Mrs. Julia Rush (an ex-slave) who lives at 878 Coleman Street,
S.W.; Mr. George Leonard (a very intelligent elderly person) whose
address is 148 Chestnut Avenue N.E.; and Mr. Henry Holmes (an ex-slave);
Mr. Ellis Strickland; Mr. Sam Stevens and a young boy known only as Joe.
The latter named people can be found at the address of 257 Old Wheat
Street, N.E. According to these people this lore represents the sort of
thing that their parents and grandparents believed in and at various
times they have been heard to tell about these beliefs.
VOODOO AND CONJURE
Mr. Leonard says: "In dem days de old folks b'lieved in witch-craft and
conjure and sicha stuff like dat. Dey b'lieved dat an old person could
punish anybody by taking a piece of chip and spitting on it and den dey
would throw it on 'em. Dey said dat in two weeks time maggots would be
"I have seen 'em take a black cat an' put 'im in a sack an' den dey took
'im an' put 'im in a pot of boiling hot water alive. Man de cat would
almos' tear dat pot up tryin' to git out. After dey had cooked all de
meat off de cat dey took one of his bones (I don't know which one of
'em) and put it crossways in their front teeth while dey mumbled
somethin' under their breath an' den dey took dis bone an' throwed it
'cross de right shoulder an' when dey went an' picked it up an' put it
in their pocket it was supposed to give 'em de bes' kind of luck. Dey
could say or do anything dey wanted to an' ole marster couldn't hit
Regarding the Black cat's bone Mr. Strickland told the following story
which he says he once heard an old man tell his father:
"You goes out in de valley in de woods an' you takes a live black cat
an' throws 'im in a pot of boiling water. You boils 'im 'till he gits
done all to pieces an' den you takes all de bones an' throws 'em in de
creek an' de one dat floats up de creek is de one to use. You takes dis
bone an' draws it through your teech an' gits all de meat off an' den
you can take dat bone an' do all kinds of majic. You can talk to folks
an' dey can't see you. You can even disappear an' come right back. It
takes a good 'un to do dat (get a black cat's bone). While you's boilin'
de cat dat thunder an' lightnin' look like it goin' tear up de face of
de earth--you can even see de wind which is like a red blaze of fire."
Continuing Mr. Strickland says: "Some of de roots dat dey used to bring
'im luck an' to trick folks wid wuz Rattle-Snake Marster, and John de
Conquerer. John de Conquerer is supposed to conquer any kind of trouble
you gits intuh. Some folks says dat you can tote it in your pocket an'
have good luck.
"I once knowed a woman who had some lodestone dat she uster work. She
could take men an' dere wives apart an' den put 'em back together again.
She say dat she had killed so many folks (by the use of conjure and
majic etc.) dat she did'nt know whether she would ever git fit fer
forgiveness. She sold She sold herself to de devil fer twenty years."
"Aint nuthin wrong wid folks all de time when dey thinks dey is
tricked," says Mr. Strickland. "I had a friend named Joe once an' he
uster fool 'roun wid roots an' stuff like dat. One day he heard about a
man who had promised to pay five-hundred dollars to anybody dat could
cure him of de misery in his stomach. He thought somebody had "tricked"
him by puttin' a snake in 'im. Joe stayed wid 'im fer two days an' he
did'nt git no better an' so he went out de nex' day an' bought a rubber
snake an den he come back an' give de man some medecine to make 'im
vomit. When he comited Joe throwed de snake in de can an' den he said to
de man: "Dere it is, I knowed somebody had fixed you." De man said: "Dey
tol' me somebody had put a snake in me." Joe took de snake an' done away
wid it an' de nex' day de man wuz up walkin' 'roun. He never did know
how he had been fooled an' Joe made de five-hundred dollars."
According to Mrs. Rush the wife of the colored foreman on her master's
plantation was always working with roots. She says "One day I come in
fum de field to nurse my baby an' when I got to my house dere was dis
woman standing at my door." I said to her: "Name o' God Aunt Candis (dat
wus her name) whut is you doin'?" She wus makin' all kings of funny
motions when I come up on her. If you aint scared of 'em dey can't do
nuthin to you. When I hollored at her de sweat broke out on her face. By
dis time I had stayed away fum de field too long an' I knowed I wus
goin' to git a whippin' but Candis gimme some of de roots she had in her
mouth an'in her pockets. She tol' me to put piece of it in my mouth an'
chew it. When I got near de overseer I was to spit some of de juice
towars him an' I would'nt git a whippin'. I tied a piece of it 'roun my
waist an' put some in my trunk too. I did'nt git a whippin' when I got
to de field but when I went to look fer de root 'roun my waist it wus
gone. When I went back to de house dat night de other piece was gone
too. I aint seed it fum dat day to dis. De rest of de women on de
plantation honored Candis but I did'nt. Dey say dat folks like dem can
put stuff down fer you to walk in er set in or drink an' dat dey can fix
you lie dat. But dey can't do nuthin' wid you if you aint scared of
"Not so long ago a woman whut uster live back of me tried to do sumpin'
to me after we had a fuss. I woke up one mornin' an' looked out by my
back fence an' dere wus a lotsa salt an' sulphur an' stuff all 'roun de
yard. De other women wus scared fer me but I wus'nt."
Several of my informants say that salt can be used as a weapon of
conjure. According to Joe salt may be used to make a gambler lose all of
his money. To do this all that is necessary is to stand behind the
person to be conjured and then sprinkle a small amount of salt on his
back. From that instant on he will lose money. Joe has also seen a woman
use the following method to make her male friend remain at home: "She
taken some salt an' pepper an' sprinkled it up an' down de steps," says
Joe, "an' den she taken a plain eatin' fork an' stuck it under de door
steps an' de man stayed right in de house until she moved de fork."
Mr. Stevens says: "If you want to fix somebody all you got to do is to
sprinkle some salt an' petter 'roun 'em an' it'll make 'em bus' dere
brains out. If you wants to make 'em move you go out to de grave yard
an' stick your hand down in de middle of a grave an' git a handful of
dat red graveyard dirt an' den you comes back an' sprinkles it 'roun
dere door an' dey's gone, dey can't stay dere. Another conjuration is
fer a woman to make three waves over a man's head. I saw one do dat
Another method used to fix or conjure people, according to Mrs. Rush, is
to take a lizard and parch it. The remains must be put in something that
the person is to eat and when the food is eaten the individual will be
conjured. Mr. Holmes says if a black cat's tail is tied on someone's
doorknob it will "cut dey luck off."
Silver money tied around the leg will ward off the effects of conjure.
Mrs. Rush says if you are feeling ill and you wish to determine whether
or not someone has been trying to conjure you or not just take a silver
coin and place it in your mouth. If it turns black somebody is working
conjure on you. "I knowed a man who went to Newnan to see his mother who
wus sick," stated Mrs. Rush. "She wus so sick dat she could'nt tell whut
wus de matter wid her an' so her son took a silver quarter an' put it in
her mouth an' it turned as black as a kettle."
Says Mr. Holmes: "If anybody comes to your house an' you don't want 'em
dere, when dey leaves you take some salt an' throw it at 'em when dey
gits out of hearin' you cuss at 'em an' dey won't never come back
Following are some songs that used to be sung about conjure, etc.:
"Mother, make my bed down
I will freely lie down,
Mother, make my bed down
I will freely lie down"
"Ransom, my son, what did she give you to eat?
Ransom, my son, what did she give you to eat?
"Red head (parched lizard) and speckle back
Oh, make my bed down I will freely lie down."
"I'm goin' to pizen (poison) you, I'm goin' to pizen you,
I'm jus' sick an' tired of de way you do,
I'm goin' to sprinkle spider legs 'roun yo' bed
an' you gonna wake up in de mornin' an find yourself dead"
"You beat me an' you kick me an' you black my eyes,
I'm gonna take dis butcher knife an' hew you down to my size,
You mark my words, my name is Lou,
You mind out what I say, I'm goin' to pizen you."
POSITIVE CURES AND CONTROLS
Mrs. Rush says that backache can be cured by rubbing a hot iron up and
down the afflicted person's back.
Asafetida tied around the neck will prevent smallpox.
Risings can be cured by rubbing them with a poultice made from
To prevent a fall while walking from one side of a creek to the other on
a log, place a small stick crosswise in the front-teeth and no mishap
Hold the mouth full of water while peeling onions and the onion juice
will not get in the eyes.
If a man wishes to make a woman fall in love with him all that he has to
do is to take some of her hair, tie it up, and then throw it in running
water. In a short while she will fall deeply in love with him.
A man may also cause a woman to fall in love with him by letting her
drink whiskey in which he has allowed "Gin-Root" to soak.
If a woman wishes to make a man fall in love with her she has only to
take the small bow usually found in the back of a man's cap on the
sweatband, or the bow usually found on the band of the man's hat. After
this has been secured it must be taken and worn under her clothes next
to her body.
Mrs. Betty Brown of 74 Butler Street, N.E. says that when people die
angry with someone they usually come back after death in the form of a
witch and then they ride the person that they were angry with at the
time of their death.
According to Mr. Favors who lives at 78 Raymond Street, when a witch
rides anyone it is a sign that a man, a woman, or a dog, is after that
Mrs. Julia Rush says: "De old folks uster call witches hags. Dey wus
some kind of sperrits (spirits) an' dey would ride anybody. My
grandmother uster sleep wid de sissors under her pillow to keep 'em
"I once heerd a woman dat a witch come to a house one night an' took her
skin off an' went through de key hole. Somebody foun' de skin an'
sprinkled salt on it an' when de witch come out she could'nt git in de
skin an' she started saying: 'Skinny, Skinny, don't you know me?'"
Regarding witches Mr. Leonard made the following statement: "The old
folks b'lieved dat any house a person died in was "hainted" and dat de
dead person's spirit was a witch dat would come back at night. They used
to put a pan of salt on de corpse to keep it fum purgin' an' to keep de
witches away. They burned lamps all night long fer about three weeks
after de person was dead an' they sprinkled salt an' pepper 'roun too to
keep de witches away."
Another informant claims that if a person sleeps with his or her shoes
under the bed the witches are liable to ride him.
Mr. Strickland says that when the witches are riding anyone if that
person can say any three words of the Bible such as: "Lord have mercy,"
or "Jesus save me" the witch will stop riding.
APPARITIONS AND GHOSTS
Mr. Henry Holmes claims that he has seen the Jack O'Lantern and that at
one time he even followed it. He says: "One night me an' two more
fellows followed de Jack O'Lantern. It looked like a light in a house or
sumpin. We did'nt know where we wus until de nex' mornin' an' when we
did find ourselfs we wus at home. All de while we followed it it jus'
kep' goin' further an' further until it jus' vanished."
According to Mr. Leonard the Jack O'Lantern is a light that comes out of
the swamps at night and after getting in front of a person it will lead
him on and on. The old folks also used to think that the vapor seen
rising out of the swamps at night were ghosts. One night he and his
grandfather were walking down the railroad tracks when suddenly his
grandfather said: "Stand back dere George don't you see dat man walkin'
'long dere wid no head?" He says, however, that he himself failed to see
any such thing.
According to both Mrs. Brown and Mrs. [Rush?] people who are born with
cauls (a kind of a veil) over their eyes are able to see ghosts.
CUSTOMS CONCERNING COURTSHIP AND MARRIAGE
Mr. Leonard says that a young man wishing to accompany a young woman to
her home always spoke in the following manner: "Dear kind Miss, if you
have no objection of my being your protection, I'm going in your
direction." It was in this manner that he asked her to allow him to
escort her home.
For several years after freedom was declared it was the custom for the
bride and the groom to jump over the broom together before they were
pronounced man and wife.
The best time to hunt 'possums is on a cloudy night just before the
break of day. All of the big ones are out then Mr. Favors claims.
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