Abram Harris


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.

Abner Jordan Absolom Jenkins facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail