Alex Smith

Henrietta Karwowski, Field Worker

Federal Writers' Project

St. Joseph County--District #1

South Bend, Indiana



127 North Lake Street

South Bend, Indiana

Mr. and Mrs. Alex Smith, an eighty-three year old negro couple were

slaves in Kentucky near Paris, Tennessee, as children. They now reside

at 127 North Lake Street, on the western limits of South Bend. This

couple lives in a little shack patched up with tar paper, tin, and wood.

Mrs. Elizabeth Smith, the talkative member or the family is a small

woman, very wrinkled, with a stocking cap pulled over her gray hair. She

wore a dress made of three different print materials; sleeves of one

kind, collar of another and body of a third. Her front teeth were

discolored, brown stubs, which suggested that she chews tobacco.

Mr. Alex Smith, the husband is tall, though probably he was a well built

man at one time. He gets around by means of a cane. Mrs. Smith said that

he is not at all well, and he was in the hospital for six weeks last


The wife, Elizabeth or Betty, as her husband calls her, was a slave on

the Peter Stubblefield plantation in Kentucky, the nearest town being

Paris, Tennessee, while Mr. Smith was a slave on the Robert Stubblefield

plantation nearby.

Although only a child of five, Mr. Smith remembers the Civil War,

especially the marching of thousands of soldiers, and the horse-drawn

artillery wagons. The Stubblefields freed their slaves the first winter

after the war.

On the Peter Stubblefield plantation the slaves were treated very well

and had plenty to eat, while on the Robert Stubblefield plantation Mr

Smith went hungry many times, and said, "Often, I would see a dog with a

bit of bread, and I would have been willing to take it from him if I had

not been afraid the dog would bite me."

Mrs. Smith was named after Elizabeth Stubblefield, a relative of Peter

Stubblefield. As a child of five years or less, Elizabeth had to spin

"long reels five cuts a day," pick seed from cotton, and cockle burrs

from wool, and perform the duties of a house girl.

Unlike the chores of Elizabeth, Mr. Smith had to chop wood, carry water,

chop weeds, care for cows, pick bugs from tobacco plants. This little

boy had to go barefoot both summer and winter, and remembers the

cracking of ice under his bare feet.

The day the mistress and master came and told the slaves they were free

to go any place they desired, Mrs. Smith's mother told her later that

she was glad to be free but she had no place to go or any money to go

with. Many of the slaves would not leave and she never witnessed such

crying as went on. Later Mrs. Smith was paid for working. She worked in

the fields for "wittels" and clothes. A few years later she nursed

children for twenty-five cents a week and "wittels," but after a time

she received fifty cents a week, board and two dresses. She married Mr.

Smith at the age of twenty.

Mr Smith's father rented a farm and Mr. Smith has been a farmer all his

life. The Smith couple have been married sixty-four years. Mrs. Smith

says, "and never a cross word exchanged. Mr. Smith and I had no


The room the writer was invited into was a combination bed-room and

living room with a large heating stove in the centre of the small room.

A bed on one side, a few chairs about the room. The floor was covered

with an old patched rug. The only other room beside this room was a very

small kitchen. The whole home was shabby and poor.

The only means of support the family has is a government old age pension

which amounts to about fourteen dollars a month.

Their little shack is situated in the center of a large lot around which

a very nice vegetable garden is planted. The property belongs to Mr.

Harry Brazy, and the old couple does not pay rent or taxes and they may

stay there as long as they live, "which is good enough for us," says

Mrs. Smith.

As the writer was leaving Mrs. Smith said, "I like to talk and meet

people. Come again."

Alex Murdock Alex Woods facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail