Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson
Person interviewed: John Johnson
R.F.D., Clarendon, Arkansas
"I was born sixteen miles on the other side of Jackson, Tennessee. The
old mistress was Miss Sally, and old master was Mr. Steve Johnson,
same name as mine. My papa's name was Louis Johnson but my mama
belonged to the Conleys and befo' she married papa her name was Martha
Conley. My folks fur as I knowed was field hands. They stayed on at
Johnsons and worked a long time after freedom. I was born just befo'
freedom. From what I heard all of my folks talkin' the Ku Klux 'fected
the colored folks right smart, more than the war. Seemed 'bout like
two wars and both of 'em tried their best to draw in the black race.
The black race wanted peace all the time. It was Abraham Lincoln whut
wanted to free the black race. He was the President. The first war was
'bout freedom and the war right after it was equalization. The Ku Klux
muster won it cause they didn't want the colored folks have as much as
they have. I heard my folks say they knowed some of the Ku Klux. They
would get killed sometimes and then you hear 'bout it. They would be
nice as pie in day time and then dress up at night and be mean as they
could be. They wanted the colored folks think they was hants and
monsters from the bad place. All the Yankees whut wanted to stay after
they quit fighting, they run 'em out wid hounds at night. The Ku Klux
was awful mean I heard 'em say. Mr. Steve Johnson looked after all his
hands. All that stayed on to work for him. He told 'em long as they
stayed home at night and behave 'em selves they needn't be scared.
They wanter go out at night they had to have him write 'em a pass.
Jess like slavery an' they were free.
"The master didn't give 'em nuthin'. He let 'em live in his
houses--log houses, and he had 'em fed from the store stead of the
smoke house. He give 'em a little money in the fall to pay 'em. 'Bout
all the difference they didn't get beat up. If they didn't work he
would make 'em leave his place.
"That period--after the Civil War, it sure was hard. It was a
de'pression I'll tell you. I never seed a dollar till I was 'bout
grown. They called 'em 'wagon wheels.' They was mighty scarce. Great
big heavy pieces of silver. I ain't seed one fer years. But they used
to be some money.
"Lady, whut you wanter know was fo my days, fo I was born. My folks
could answered all dem questions. There was 4 girls and 6 boys in my
"Course I did vote. I used to have a heap a fun on election day. They
give you a drink. It was plentiful I tell you. I never did drink much.
I voted Republican ticket. I know it would sho be too bad if the white
folks didn't hunt good canidates. The colored race got too fur behind
to be able to run our govmint. Course I mean education. When they git
educated they ain't studyin' nuthin' but spendin' all they make and
havin' a spreein' time. Lady, that is yo job. The young generation
ain't carin' 'bout no govinment.
"The present conditions--that's whut I been tellin' you 'bout. It is
hard to get work heap of the time. When the white man got money he
sure give the colored man and woman work to do. The white man whut
live 'mong us is our best friend. He stand by our color the best. It
is a heap my age, I reckon, I can't keep in work. Young folks can pick
up work nearly all time.
"I started to pay fer my home when I worked at the mill. I used to
work at a shoe and shettle mill. I got holt of a little cash. I still
tryin' to pay fer my home. I will make 'bout two bales cotton this
year. Yes maam they is my own. I got a hog. I got a garden. I ain't
got no cow.
"No maam I don't get no 'sistance from the govmint. No commodities--no
nuthin'. I signed up but they ain't give me nuthin'. I think I am due
it. I am gettin' so no account I needs it. Lady, I never do waste no
money. I went to the show ground and I seed 'em buyin' goobers and
popcorn. I seed a whole drove of colored folks pushin' and scrouging
in there so feared they wouldn't get the best seat an' miss somepin.
Heap of poor white people scrouging in there too all together. They
need their money to live on fo cold weather come. Ain't I tellin' you
right? I sho never moved outer my tracks. I never been to a show in my
life. Them folks come in here wid music and big tent every year. I
never been to a show in my life. That what they come here fur, to get
the cotton pickin' money. Lady, they get a pile of money fore they
leave. Course folks needs it now.
"When I had my mules and rented I made most and next to that when I
farmed for a fourth. When I was young I made plenty. I know how cotton
an' corn is made now but I ain't able to do much work, much hard work.
The Bible say twice a child and once a man. My manhood is gone fur as
"I like mighty well if you govmint folks could give me a little
'sistance. I need it pretty bad at times and can't get a bit."
Next: Letha Johnson
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