IKE DERRICOTTE, Age 78
554 Hancock Avenue
Miss Grace McCune
Mrs. Sarah H. Hall
John N. Booth
Federal Writers' Project
Residencies 6 & 7
August 19, 1938
[TR: One page of this interview was repeated in typescript; where there
was a discrepancy, the clearer version was used.]
Ike Derricotte's brown-painted, frame bungalow, well back from the
street, faces a wide grassy yard where tall pecan trees provide summer
shade and winter nuts.
A mulatto woman answered the knock at the front door. Her long,
straight, white hair was neatly arranged in a low-pinned coil at the
back of her head. Her print frock and white shoes were immaculate. "Yes
Mam, Ike is at home," was the answer to the inquiry for her husband.
"Jus' have a seat on de porch here 'cause it's so much cooler dan inside
de house, and I'll call Ike. He's jus' piddlin' 'round de back yard dis
Almost at once a tall, well-built man of gingercake color appeared. He
wore an old black cap, blue work shirt, blue wool trousers, and black
shoes. "Howdy-do, Miss! Did you want to see me?" was his greeting. His
eyes sparkled when he learned that we wished to record the story of his
life. "Yes Mam, I'll be glad to tell you what I kin," he promised, "and
Miss, I'll jus' bet I kin tell you somepin dat very few folks kin say
'bout dem old days. I was born right here on dis same street, and I'm
still livin' on it, but dis house and lot ain't my birthplace. When I
was born, dis section was mostly in woods. Jus' look at it now; houses
has been built up and down both sides of what was den jus' de big road.
Times has changed in lots of ways since dem days.
"My mother's name was Myra, and she was a laundry 'oman owned by Mr.
Stevens Thomas. Mr. Thomas was one of de biggest merchants in Athens dem
days. He owned de square between Thomas Street and Wall Street, and it
s'tended back to Clayton Street.
"William Derricotte was my father, and he belonged to Col. Robert
Thomas. My father spent most of his time beautifyin' de yards 'round de
big house, and in dese days and times he would be called a landscape
gardener. Dey jus' called 'em yard boys den. Atter Pa and Ma was
married, Marster Stevens sold Ma to Marster Robert, so dat dey could be
together. Mr. Robert Thomas' place was right up dis same old street,
whar de Y.W.C.A. is now, and right dar is whar I was born. Dat was in
1860, a long time ago; and lots of things has happened since den. Lots
of people has moved away and lots more has died out, 'til dere ain't
many of de folks left here dat lived in Athens den. De Thomases,
Dorseys, and Phinizys was some of de oldest families here.
"I was too little to know much about de war but, little as I was, dere's
one thing dat's still as fresh in my memory now as den, and dat's how
people watched and waited to hear dat old Georgia train come in. Not
many folks was able to take de papers den, and de news in 'em was from
one to two weeks old when dey got here. All de men dat was able to fight
was off at de front and de folks at home was anxious for news. De way
dat old train brought 'em de news was lak dis: if de southern troops was
in de front, den dat old whistle jus' blowed continuously, but if it
was bad news, den it was jus' one short, sharp blast. In dat way, from
de time it got in hearin', evvybody could tell by de whistle if de news
was good or bad and, believe me, evvybody sho' did listen to dat train.
"Times was hard durin' de war but from what I've heared de folks dat was
old folks den say, dey warn't near as bad here as in lots of other
places. Yes Mam! Sho' I kin 'member dem Yankees comin' here, but dat was
atter de war was done over. Dey camped right here on Hancock Avenue.
Whar dey camped was mostly woods den, and deir camp reached nearly all
de way to whar Milledge Avenue is now. Us chillun was scared to death of
dem soldiers and stayed out of deir way all us could. My Marster, Mr.
Stevens Thomas, hid all of his family's silver and other valuables dat
could be put out of sight, for dem Yankees jus' went 'round takin'
whatever dey wanted. Dey stole all kinds of food out of de homes, went
into de smokehouses and got hams, and cotched up de chickens. Dey jus'
reached out and tuk what dey wanted and laughed about it lak dey hadn't
"Dem Yankees brought de smallpox here wid 'em and give it to all de
Athens folks, and dat was somepin awful. Folks jus' died out wid it so
bad. Dey built a hospital what dey called de 'pest house' out whar de
stockade is now. It was rough and small but I reckon it helped some. It
warn't near large enough for all de folks dat was sick wid smallpox at
one time, and so dey finally got to whar dey used it jus' for de colored
folks, 'cause it seemed dat smallpox went harder wid dem dan wid de
"When de war ended us didn't leave Mr. Stevens Thomas. Ma kept on
cookin' and wukin' 'round de house, and Pa wuked lots for other folks,
larned to do brick-work, build walls, and things lak dat. Atter he got
to be a brickmason he allus had plenty to do.
"Marbles was de favorite game of de chillun dem days but us never got to
play much lak chillun does dese days, 'cause times was so hard right
atter de war dat as soon as chillun got big enough dey had to go to wuk.
Some of our very best times was at de old swimmin' hole. Us dammed up
dat little crick right back of whar de Seaboard Depot is now and it made
a fine pool to swim in. It was cool for it was shady off down dar in de
woods, and us spent many a hour dar on days as hot as dis one is. When
dey missed us at home, dat was de fust place dey thought of when dey
come to hunt us. I had some mighty good times in dat crick and I
couldn't begin to count de duckin's I got dar and de whuppin's my Ma and
Pa give me for stayin' so long.
"De biggest time in all de year was de Commencement Day; evvybody got
busy and fixed up for dat. My Marster allus had lots of company at
commencement times, and us had de most good things to eat. Out in town
dey was 'pared for it too. Tables was all along de sidewalks whar you
could buy any kind of 'freshments you wanted. Course dere warn't as many
kinds of 'freshments den as dey has now, but dere was allus plenty of de
strong sort. One time durin' commencement week, Ma give me a whole
quarter to spend. I was de happiest and de richest boy in dis town;
jus' had more money to spend dan anybody, and I walked de streets from
one table to another tryin' to see whar I was gwine to spend all dat
money." Here, Ike laughed heartily. "Miss," he said, "you jus' never
could guess what I spent all dat money for. I bought a whole quarter's
worth of ginger-cakes and lit out for de swimmin' hole. Us chillun had a
fine time down at de swimmin' hole dat day. De Cobbs and Lumpkins owned
all dat land in dar 'round our swimmin' hole den. Dey owned from de
Catholic Church straight through to College Avenue.
"I mighty well 'member de fust wuk I ever done. I was still jus' a
little fellow when Miss Belle Brumby told Ma she wanted me for a butler
boy and dat she would pay me $2.50 a month. I jus' jumped up and down
and begged her to let me wuk for Miss Belle. Why, I jus' knowed I would
git rich right away, 'cause $2.50 was a mighty lot of money." Ike
laughed as he said: "How many boys would wuk for dat pay for a week now,
let alone a whole month? Ma did let me wuk for Miss Belle and I was
happy, but I know my Mist'ess had a time wid me 'cause, when I got on
dat white coat dey let me wear to wait on de table, I knowed more dan
evvybody else put together and dere couldn't nobody tell me how to keep
de flies off de table. Miss Belle is one fine 'oman, dey jua' don't come
no finer and no better.
"When I was fourteen my Pa hired me out to be a shoemaker. De shop whar
I was 'prenticed was down on Broad Street, jus' about whar de Bernstein
Furniture Store is now. Dat old buildin' was tore down long years ago
and evvything 'long dar is changed now. De Athens Hardware Store is de
only Broad Street business of dem days dat has stood in de same place
and endured through all dese years.
"When I went to wuk for Mr. Joe Barry in his shoe shop on Jackson
Street, right in back of whar Mr. Lee Morris' store is now, I felt lak I
had got to be a real sho' 'nough important shoemaker. I wuked for him
'bout 12 or 14 years. He was a good man to wuk for and he was de only
shoemaker I ever knowed to git rich at his trade; he really did make
money in dat shop. I've been a shoemaker ever since 1874, but I never
have been able to git far ahead. In spite of all our trouble for 85
years atter de war, it seems to me dat times was much better den dan dey
is now. Course, folks didn't make as much den as dey does now.
Carpenters, bricklayers, shoemakers, in fact 'most any kind of laborers
who got from $1.00 to $1.50 a day thought dey had fine wages den. Boys
was paid from $2.50 to $5.00 a month. Cooks got $5.00 to $6.00 a month,
and of course, dey got deir meals whar dey wuked. Sometimes odds and
ends of old clothes was give to 'em, and dey got along very well, even
if most of 'em did have families and big families at dat. Folks could
live on less den 'cause things was cheaper. You could git meal for 50c a
bushel; side meat was 5c to 6c a pound; and you could git a 25-pound
sack of flour for 50c. Wood was 50c a load. House rent was so cheap dat
you didn't have to pay over $3.00 a month for a 2 or 3 room house, and
lots of times you got it cheaper. Most evvybody wore clothes made out of
homespun cloth and jeans, and dey didn't know nothin' 'bout ready-made,
store-bought clothes. Dem clothes what dey made at home didn't cost very
much. Livin' was cheap, but folks lived mighty well in dem days.
"Us has been married more dan 50 years and dey has all been happy years.
Us has had our troubles and hard luck, but dey come to evvybody. De Lord
has been mighty good to us, 'specially in lettin' us be together so
long. It was what you might call a case of love at fust sight wid us. I
was visitin' down at Camak, Georgia at Christmastime. She lived at
Sparta, and was spendin' Christmas at Camak too, but I didn't see her
'til I was 'bout to leave for Athens. I jus' thought I never could go
'way atter I fust seed her, but I did, and I didn't git to see her again
for 12 long months. Us writ to one another all dat year and got married
at Christmastime, one year from de time us fust met.
"Us has still got dat old pen I used when I writ and axed her to marry
me; I'd lak to show it to you. 'Scuse me please whilst I goes in de
house to git it." Soon Ike returned. "Ain't it a sight?" he proudly
exclaimed as he displayed the relic. "I made it up myself in December
1886 and it got her consent to marry me, so I'se kept it ever since. My
wife and me wouldn't part wid it for nothin'." The wooden pen staff is
very smooth as though from long usage except at the tip end, where it
appears to have been gnawed. It looks very much as though Ike may have
chewed on it as he wrote that all important letter. The iron pen point,
much too large to fit the standard grooves of the ordinary pen staff,
was placed on the staff and tightly wrapped. After 52 years of service
the pen point and its staff are still in good condition. Ike has the
Prince Albert coat that he wore on his wedding day and he insists that
it looks and fits as well now as it did on the occasion of his marriage.
"I'm keepin' de coat and pen for our chillun," he declared.
Before resuming the conversation, Ike went back in the house to put the
treasured pen away. In a few moments he returned. "God has been good to
us," he said, "for He let us have all nine of our chillun 'til dey was
grown up. Us wuked mighty hard to raise 'em and give all of 'em a good
education. Dat was somepin us couldn't have when us was growin' up and
I'm thankful to be able to say dat us was able to send 'em all to
college. Four of our chillun has gone on ahead to de next world, and de
five dat's left is scattered from place to place; none of 'em is wid us
now, but dey don't forgit us. Dey writes to us and visits us often and
us goes to see dem. One son is goin' mighty well as a lawyer in
Washin'ton, D.C., and our baby lives in New York City. It's been 'bout 3
years now since my daughter Juliette died atter a automobile wreck near
Dalton, Georgia. Did you know 'bout Juliette? She give her life to wuk
for de Y.W.C.A., and she went all over de world tryin' to make things
better for de young women of our race. Somebody writ a memorial book
'bout her. I wish dere was a copy of dat book here for you to see, but
it was borrowed from us and it ain't been returned.
"Did you know I had jus' come back from Washin'ton, whar I visited dat
lawyer son of mine? He sends for me nearly evvy summer and I enjoy
visitin' dar, but I wouldn't lak to live up dar 'cause dem folks ain't
lak our own southern people. I must say dey is mighty nice and good to
me when I goes dar though. Once when I was dar somebody told me dat if I
wanted to have a good time I mustn't let nobody know I was a Georgian
'cause dey said dat de northerners don't lak our State. De rest of de
time I was dar on dat visit I tuk partic'lar pleasure in tellin'
evvybody how proud I was of my State and my home.
"Dat reminds me of Miss Sally Hodgson. She was in de North, and one
evenin' she was tryin' to tell de folks up dar dat de southern people
warn't as bad as some of de Yankees had said dey was, and dat de white
folks down South didn't mistreat de colored folks. Miss Sally said dat
de very next mornin' de papers up dar was full of news 'bout de lynchin'
of 8 Negroes in one night at Watkinsville. If you had knowed Miss Sally,
you would know how funny dat was," Ike laughed. "She said atter dat dere
warn't no way she could convince dem folks up dar dat Georgia was a good
place to live in.
"Us had some good friends in de North and sometimes dey comes down here
to see us. One of my wife's friends, a 'oman wid a lot of education has
jus' gone back to Philadelphia atter a visit here in our home. Us
travels a good deal and us has found dat de world ain't so large but dat
us is allus runnin' up against somebody dat us knows wherever us goes.
"Sometimes when you is in a strange place it's mighty handy to find
somebody you have knowed a long time ago. I 'member one time when I was
visitin' in Washin'ton and wanted to git a glimpse of de President. I
didn't say nothin' to nobody 'bout what was on my mind, but atter my son
went to his wuk in de mornin' I slipped off to de capitol widout tellin'
nobody whar I was gwine. I found a waitin' room outside de President's
office and I made up my mind I would set dar 'til de President had to go
out for dinner or to go home for supper. I never thought about he might
have a side door he could come and go from widout usin' de door to de
waitin' room. Atter I had set dar in dat waitin' room de best part of
two days watchin' for de President, somebody said: 'Howdy, Uncle Ike!
What is you doin' here in de President's waitin' room?' I looked up and
dar stood Albon Holsey. He had growed up in Athens. He was de boy dey
'signed to wait on President Taft when he was at Miss Maggie Welch's
home for a day and night in January 'fore he was inaugurated. I bet
Albon is still got dat $5.00 Mr. Taft give him de mornin' he left
Athens, but he don't need to spend it now 'cause folks say he got rich
off of his chain of stores for colored folks, and anyhow he's got a fine
job dese days. Well, I s'plained to Albon dat I was jus' waitin' to git
a peep at de President whenever he happened to pass through dat room.
Albon he smiled sort of wise-like. He tuk out one of his cyards and writ
sompin on it, and axed a lady to take it right in to de President. She
warn't gone 2 minutes 'fore she come back and said: 'De President will
see Mr. Holsey and his friend now.' I was wuss skeered dan I has ever
been at any other time in my life. Us walked in and I was 'fraid de
President could hear my knees knockin' together, and my heart was
beatin' so fast and loud it seemed to me lak it was 'bout to bust. De
President spoke to us and when he found out dat I was from Athens, he
axed me lots of questions. He said dat he was interested in Athens. Soon
Albon said us must be goin' and when us got out of dar I was right weak,
but I was might proud and happy to think de President had tuk time to
talk pleasant lak wid a pore old Negro shoemaker.
"Another time in Washin'ton a friend of my son's tuk me to a club one
night whar some of de richest of our race is members. Dat night I met a
man who had went to school wid de Mr. Teddy Roosevelt dat was President
atter Mr. McKinley; den I met another Negro dat had been a classmate of
President Hoover and one dat went to school wid President Franklin D.
Roosevelt. It's right strange how dey all heads for Washin'ton, D.C. to
"Athens has allus been a real quiet town, and dere never was no real
serious trouble here 'tween de races, not even when Matt Davis and Pink
Morton was Postmasters here. People was allus predictin' trouble 'bout
dat, but de folks here was too level-headed for dat. Dey knowed dey
could straighten out deir own troubles widout havin' to fly off de
handle in a race riot, and so dey 'tended to deir own business' and de
races got along all right through it all.
"Atter all, Athens is a good place to live in. Here us has de best
neighbors in de world; dey's allus ready to look atter one another in
times of sickness and trouble. Wid de kind of good, Christian folks dat
lives here, Athens is bound to go ahead."
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