Alice Johnson

Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor

Person interviewed: Alice Johnson

601 W. Eighth Street, Little Rock, Arkansas

Age: 77

"You want to know what they did in slavery times! They were doin' jus'

what they do now. The white folks was beatin' the niggers, burning 'em

and boilin' 'em, workin' 'em and doin' any other thing they wanted to

do with them. 'Course you wasn't here then to know about nigger dogs

and bull whips, were you? The same thing is goin' on right now. They

got the same bull whips and the same old nigger dogs. If you don't

believe it, go right out here to the county farm and you find 'em

still whippin' the niggers and tearing them up and sometimes lettin'

the dogs bite them to save the bull whips.

"I was here in slavery time but I was small and I don't know much

about it 'cept what they told me. But you don't need to go no further

to hear all you want to know. They sont you to the right place. They

all know me and they call me Mother Johnson. So many folks been here

long as me, but don't want to admit it. They black their hair and

whiten their faces, and powder and paint. 'Course it's good to look

good all right. But when you start that stuff, you got to keep it up.

Tain't no use to start and stop. After a while you got that same color

hair and them same splotches again. Folks say, 'What's the matter, you

gittin so dark?' Then you say, 'Uh, my liver is bad.' You got to keep

that thing up, baby.

"I thank God for my age. I thank God He's brought me safe all the way.

That is the matter with this world now. It ain't got enough religion.

"I was born in Mississippi way below Jackson in Crystal Springs. That

is on the I. C. Road near New Orleans. The train that goes there goes

to New Orleans. I was bred and born and married there in Crystal

Springs. I don't know just when I was born but I know it was in the

month of December.

"I remember when the slaves were freed. I remember the War 'cause I

used to hear them talking about the Yankees and I didn't know whether

they were mules or horses or what not. I didn't know if they was

varmints or folks or what not. I can't remember whether I seen any

soldiers or not. I heard them talking about soldiers, but I didn't see

none right 'round where we was.

"Now what good's that all goin' to do me? It ain't goin' to do me no

good to have my name in Washington. Didn't do me no good if he stuck

my name up on a stick in Washington. Some of them wouldn't know me.

Those that did would jus' say, 'That's old Alice Johnson.'

"Us old folks, they don't count us. They jus' kick us out of the way.

They give me 'modities and a mite to spend. Time you go and get lard,

sugar, meat, and flour, and pay rent and buy wood, you don't have

'nough to go 'round. Now that might do you some good if you didn't

have to pay rent and buy wood and oil and water. I'll tell you

something so you can earn a living. Your mama give you a education so

you can earn a living and you earnin' it jus' like she meant you to.

But most of us don't earn it that way, and most of these educated

folks not earnin' a livin' with their education. They're in jail

somewheres. They're walkin' up and down Ninth Street and runnin' in

and out of these here low dives. You go down there to the penitentiary

and count those prisoners and I'll bet you don't find nary one that

don't know how to read and write. They're all educated. Most of these

educated niggers don't have no feeling for common niggers. 'They just

walk on them like they wasn't living. And don't come to 'em tellin'

them that you wanting to use them!

"The people et the same thing in slavery time that they eat now. Et

better then 'n they do now. Chickens, cows, mules died then, they

throw 'em to the buzzards. Die now, they sell 'em to you to eat.

Didn't eat that in slavery time. Things they would give to the dogs

then, they sell to the people to eat now. People et pure stuff in

slavery. Don't eat pure stuff now. Got pure food law, but that's all

that is pure.

"My mother's name was Diana Benson and my father's name was Joe Brown.

That's what folks say, I don't know. I have seen them but I wasn't

brought up with no mother and father. Come up with the white folks and

colored folks fust one and then the other. I think my mother and

father died before freedom. I don't know what the name of their master

was. All my folks died early.

"The fus' white folks I knowed anything about was Rays. They said that

they were my old slave-time masters. They were nice to me. Treated me

like they would their own children. Et and slept with them. They

treated me jus' like they own. Heap of people say they didn't have no

owners, but they got owners yet now out there on that government farm.

"The fus' work I done in my life was nussing. I was a child then and I

stayed with the white folks' children. Was raised up in the house with

'em. I was well taken care of too. I was jus' like their children.

That was at Crystal Springs.

"I left them before I got grown and went off with other folks. I never

had no reason. Jus' went on off. I didn't go for better because I was

doing better. They jus' told me to come and I went.

"I been living now in Arkansas ever since 1911. My husband and I

stayed on to work and make a living. I take care of myself. I'm not

looking for nothin' now but a better home over yonder--better home

than this. Thank the Lawd, I gits along all right. The government

gives me a check to buy me a little meat and bread with. Maybe the

government will give me back that what they took off after a while. I

don't know. It takes a heap of money to feed thousands and millions of

people. When the check comes, I am glad to git it no matter how little

it is. Twarn't for it, I would be in a sufferin' condition.

"I belong to the Arch Street Baptist Church. I been for about twenty

years. I was married sixteen years to my first husband and

twenty-eight to my second. The last one has been dead five years and

the other one thirty-six years. I ain't got none walkin' 'round. All

my husbands is dead. There ain't nothin' in this quitin' and goin' and

breakin' up and bustin' up. I don't tell no woman to quit and don't

tell no man to quit. Go over there and git 'nother woman and she will

be wuss than the one you got. When you fall out, reason and git

together. Do right. I stayed with both of my husbands till they died.

I ain't bothered 'bout another one. Times is so hard no man can take

care of a woman now. Come time to pay rent, 'What you waiting for me

to pay rent for? You been payin' it, ain't you?' Come time to buy

clothes, 'What you waitin' for me to buy clothes for? Where you

gittin' 'um from before you mai'd me?' Come time to pay the grocery

bill, 'How come you got to wait for me to pay the grocery bill? Who

been payin' it?' No Lawd, I don't want no man unless he works. What

could I do with him? I don't want no man with a home and bank account.

You can't git along with 'im. You can't git along with him and you

can't git along with her."

Alice Hutcheson Alice Lewis facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail