Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor
Person interviewed: J.L. Smith
1215 Pulaski Street, Little Rock, Arkansas
"I was born in 1862 in the month of September on the fifteenth. I
was born at a place they call Indian Bay on White River down here
in Arkansas. My mother was named Emmaline Smith and she was born in
Tennessee. I don't know really now what county or what part of the
state. My father's name was John Smith. He was born in North Carolina.
I don't know nothing about what my grandfather's name and grandmother's
names were. I never saw them. None of my folks are old aged as I am. My
father was sixty years old when he died and my mother was only younger
Experience of Father
"I heard my father say that he helped get out juniper timber in North
Carolina. The white man me and my sister worked with after my father
died was the man my father worked with in the juniper swamp. His name
was Alfred Perry White. As long as he lived, we could do work for him.
We didn't live on his place but we worked for him by the day. He is dead
now--died way back yonder in the seventies. There was the Brooks and
Baxter trouble in 1874, and my father died in seventy-five. White lived
a little while longer.
"My father was married twice before he married my mother. He had two
sets of children. I don't know how many of them there were. He had
four children by my mother. He had only four children as far as I can
"I don't know how my father and my mother met up. They lived in the same
plantation and in the same house. They were owned by the same man when
freedom came. I don't know how they got together. I have often wondered
about that. One from Tennessee and the other from North Carolina, but
they got together. I guess that they must have been born in different
places and brought together through being bought and sold.
"My mother was a Murrill. My father was a Cartwright. My father's
brother Lewis was a man who didn't take nothing much from anybody, and
he 'specially didn't like to take a whipping. When Lewis' master wanted
to whip him, he would call his mother--the master's mother--and have her
whip him, because he figured Uncle Lewis wouldn't hit a woman.
"I have six children altogether. Two of them are dead. There are three
girls and one boy living. The oldest is fifty-seven; the next, fifty;
and the youngest, forty-eight. The youngest is in the hospital for
nervous and mental diseases. She has been there ever since 1927. The
oldest had an arm and four ribs broken in an auto accident last January
on the sixteenth of the month. She didn't get a penny to pay for her
trouble. I remember the man did give her fifteen cents once. The truck
struck her at the alley there and knocked her clean across the street.
She is fifty-seven years old and bones don't knit fast on people that
old. She ain't able to do no work yet. All of my daughters are out of
work. I don't know where the boy is. He is somewheres up North.
"I have seen some old log houses that they said the slaves used to live
in. I was too young to notice before freedom. I have seen different
specimens of houses that they lived in. One log house had a plank house
builded on to the end of it. The log end was the one lived in during
slavery times and the plank end was built since. That gal there of mine
was born in the log end. There were round log houses and sawed log
houses. The sawed log houses was built out of logs that had been squared
after the tree had been cut down, and the round log houses was built out
of logs left just like they was when they was trees. There's been quite
an improvement in the houses since I was a kid.
"I have heard my father and mother talking among themselves and their
friends, but they never did tell me nothing about slave times. They
never did sit down and talk to me about it. When they'd sit down and
start talkin', it would always be, 'Now you children run on out and play
while we old folks sit here and talk.' But from time to time, I would be
sitting on the floor playing by myself and they would be talking 'mongst
themselves and I would hear them say this or that. But I never heered
them say what they et in slave times.
"My father worked in the juniper swamp in North Carolina, like I told
you. I think I heard my mother say she cooked. Most I ever heard them
say was when they would get with some one else and each would talk about
"I heard my mother say that her mistress used to take a fork and stick
it in her head--jog it up and down against her head. I don't know how
hard she punched her. My mother was very gray--all her hair was gray and
she wasn't old enough for that. I reckon that was why.
How Freedom Came
"I don't remember how freedom came. They were refugeed--I call it
that--my father and mother were. My sister was born in Texas, and they
were back in Arkansas again when I was born. I was born and raised right
here in Arkansas. They were running from one place to the other to keep
the Yankees from freeing the slaves. I never even heard them say where
they were freed. I don't know whether it was here or in Texas.
Right After the War
"I have no knowledge of what they did right after the War. The first
thing I remember was that they were picking cotton in Pine Bluff or near
there. It was a smoky log house I had to stay in while they were out in
the field and the smoke used to hurt my eyes awful.
Ku Klux and Patrollers
"I don't remember nothing about the Ku Klux. I heard old folks say
they used to have passes to keep the pateroles from bothering them. I
remember that they said the pateroles would whip them if they would
catch them out without a pass. When I first heard of the Ku Klux Klan,
I thought that it was some kind of beast the folks was talking about. I
didn't hear nothing special they did.
"When I got old enough, I worked a farm--picked cotton, hoed, plowed,
pulled corn--all such things. That is about all I ever did--farming.
Farming was always my regular occupation. I never did anything else--not
for no regular thing.
"I married in 1879. My father and mother married each other too after
freedom. I remember that. It was when the government was making all
those that had been slaves marry. I have been married just the one time.
My wife died in April 1927.
"I am not able to do anything now. I don't even tote a chair across the
room, or spade up the ground for a garden, or hoe up the weeds in it. I
am ruptured and the doctor says it is the funniest rupture he ever seen.
He says that there's a rupture and fat hanging down in the rupture. They
have to keep me packed with ice all the time. The least little thing
brings it down. I can't hold myself nor nothing. Have to wear something
under my clothes.
"I don't get a pension."
Smith is sensitive about his first name--doesn't like to give it--and
about his condition. He doesn't like to mention it or to have it
He has an excellent memory for some things and a rather poor one for
some others. He got angry when his granddaughter supplied data about his
wife which he apparently could not recall.
His physical condition is deplorable and his circumstances extremely
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