Austin Pen Parnell

Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor

Person interviewed: Austin Pen Parnell

4314 W. Seventeenth Street, Little Rock, Arkansas

Age: 73

Occupation: Carpenter

Birth and General Fact About Life

"I was born April fifteenth, 1865, the day Lincoln was assassinated, in

Carroll County, Mississippi, about ten miles from Grenada. It's about

half the distance between Grenada and Carrollton. Carrollton is our

county seat but we went to Grenada more than we went to Carrollton.

"When I got older, I moved to Grenada and I come from there here. I was

about thirty-five years old when I moved to Grenada. About 160 acres of

land in Grenada was mine. I bought it, but heirs claimed the place and I

had to leave. I had no land then, only a lot here and I came over here

to look it over. A lady had come to Mississippi selling property and she

had a plat which she said was in Little Rock not far from the capitol.

Her name was Mrs. Putman. The place was on the other side of the

Fourche. But I didn't know that until I came here. She misguided me. I

came to Arkansas and looked at the lot and didn't want it. I made a trip

over here twice before I settled on living in Little Rock. I told the

others who had bought property from her the truth about its location.

They asked me and I hate to lie. I didn't knock; I just answered

questions and didn't volunteer nothing. They all quit making their

payments, Just like I did. My land had a rock on it as big as a bale of


"Mr. Herring thought hard of me because I told the others the truth. I

went into the office one day and Mr. Herring said, 'Parnell, I

understand you have been knocking on me.' I said, 'Well, I'll tell you,

Mr. Herring, if telling the truth about things is knocking on them, I

certainly did.' He never said anything more about it, and I didn't


"I rented a place on Twelfth and Maple and then rented around there two

or three times, and finally bought a place at 3704 West Twelfth Street.

I moved to Little Rock March 18, 1911. That was twenty-seven years ago.


"My father was named Henry Parnell. He died in the year 1917 in the time

of the great war. He was ninety-five years old when he died. His master

had the same name. My mother's name was Priscilla Parnell. She belonged

to the same family as he did. They married before freedom. My father was

a farmer and my mother was a housewife and she'd work in the field too.

"My grandmother on my mother's side was named Hester Parnell. I don't

know what her husband's name was. My mother, father, and grandmother

were all from North Carolina. My grandmother did house and field work.


"My mother and father lived in a two-room house hewed out of big

logs--great big logs. The logs were about four inches thick and twelve

inches wide. It didn't take many of them to build a wall--about ten or

twelve of them on a side. They were notched down so as to almost come

together. They chinked up the cracks with mud and covered it with a


"I laid in bed many a night and looked up through the cracks in the

roof. Snow would come through there when it snowed and cover the bed

covers. We thought you couldn't build a roof so that it would keep out

rain and snow, but we were mistaken. Before you would make a fire in

them days, you had to sweep out the snow so that it wouldn't melt up in

the house and make a mess. But we kept healthy just the same. Didn't

have no pneumonia in those days.

"The house had two rooms about eight feet apart. The rooms were

connected by a hall which we called a gallery in those days. The hall

was covered by the same roof as the house and it had the same floor. The

house sot east and west and had a chimney in each end. The chimneys were

made out of sticks and mud. I can build a chimney now like that.

"It was large at the bottom and tapered at the top. It was about six or

seven feet square at the bottom. It grew smaller as it went toward the

top. You could get a piece of wood three and a half or four feet long in

the boddom of it. Sometimes the wood would be too large to carry and you

would just have to roll it in.

"The floors was boards about one by twelve. There were two doors in each

room--one leading outside and the other to the hall. If there were any

windows, I can't remember them. We didn't need no windows for


"This was the house that I remember first after freedom. I remember

living in it. That was about seven or eight years after freedom. My

father rented it from the big man named Alf George for whom he worked.

Mr. George used to come out and eat breakfast with us. We'd get that

hoecake out of the ashes and wash it off until it looked like it was as

clean as bread cooked in a skillet. I have seen my grandmother cook a

many a one in the fire. We didn't use no skillet for corn bread. The

bread would have a good firm crust on it. But it didn't get too hard to

eat and enjoy.

"She'd take a poker before she put the bread in and rake the ashes off

the hearth down to the solid stone or earth bottom, and the ashes would

be banked in two hills to one side and the other. Then she would put the

batter down on it; the batter would be about an inch thick and about

nine inches across. She'd put down three cakes at a time and let 'em

stay there till the cakes were firm--about five minutes on the bare hot

hearth. They would almost bake before she covered them up. Sometimes she

would lay down as many as four at a time. The cakes had to be dry before

they were covered up, because if the ashes ever stuck to them while they

were wet, there would be ashes in them when you would take them out to

eat. She'd take her poker then and rake the ashes back on the top of the

cakes and let 'em stay there till the cakes were done. I don't know just

how long--maybe about ten or twelve minutes. She knew how long to cook

them. Then she'd rake down the hearth gently, backward and forward, with

the poker till she got down to them and then she'd put the poker under

them and lift them out. That poker was a kind of flat iron. It wasn't a

round one. Then we'd wash 'em off like I told you and they be ready to


"Mr. George would eat the ash cake and drink sweet milk. 'Auntie, I want

some of that ash cake and some of that good sweet milk.' We had plenty

of cows.

"Two-thirds of the water used in the ash cake was hot water, and that

made the batter stick together like it was biscuit dough. She could put

it together and take it in her hand and pat it out flat and lay it on

the hearth. It would be just as round! That was the art of it!

"When I go back to Mississippi, I'm going back to that house again. I

don't remember seeing the house I was born in. But I was told it was an

ordinary log house just like those all the other slaves had,--just a

one-room log house.


"My father went to the War. He was on the Confederate side. They carried

him there as a worker. They cut down all the timber 'round the place

where they were to keep the Yankee gunboats from shelling them and

knocking the logs down on them. But them Yankees were sharp. They stayed

away till everything got dry as a chip. Then they come down and set all

that wood afire with their shells, and the wind seemed to be in their

favor. The Rebels had to get away from there.

"He got sick before the War closed and he had to come home. His young

master and the other folks stayed there four or five months longer. His

young master was named Tom. When Tom came home, he waited about five or

six months before he would tell them they was free. Then he said, 'You

all free as I am. You can stay here if you want or you can go. You are

free.' They all got together and told him that if he would treat them

right he wouldn't have to do no work. They would stay and do his work

and theirs too. They would work the land and he would give them their

part. I don't know just what the agreement was. I think it was about a

third. Anyway, they worked on shares. When the landlord furnished a team

usually it was halves. But when the worker furnished his own team, it

was usually two-thirds or three-fourths that the worker got. But none of

them owned teams at that time. They were just turned loose. We stayed

there with them people a good while. I don't know just how long, but it

was several years.

Catching a Hog

"One time a slave went to steal a hog. I don't know the name of the man;

I just hear my father tell what happened, and I'm repeating it. It was a

great big hog and kind of wild. His plan to catch the hog was to climb a

tree and carry a yeer of corn up the tree and at the same time he'd

carry a long rope. He had put a running noose in the end of the rope and

laid it on the ground and shelled the corn into the ring. He had the

other end of the rope tied around himself; he was up the tree. About the

time he got the noose pulled up around the hog so that he could tighten

up on it, he dropped his hat and scared the hog. The hog didn't know he

was around until the hat fell, and the falling of the hat scared it so

that it made a big jump and ran a little ways off. That jerked the man

out of the tree. Him falling scared the hog a second time and got him to

running right. He was a big stout hog, and the man's weight didn't hold

him back much. The man didn't know what to do to stop the hog. The hog

was running draggin' him along, snatching him over logs. There was

nothin' else he could do, so he tried prayer. But the hog didn't stop.

Seemed like even the Lord couldn't stop him. Then he questioned the

Lord; he said, 'Lawd, what sawt [HW: sort] of a Lawd is you? You can

stop the wind; you can stop the rain; you can stop the ocean; but you

can't stop this hog.'

"The hog ran till he came to a big ditch. He jumped the ditch, but the

man fell in it, and that compelled the hog to stop. The man's hollering

made somebody hear him and come and git him loose from the hog. He was

so glad to git loose, he didn't mind losing the hog and gettin'

punished. He didn't get the hog. He just got a lot of bruises. I don't

remember just how they punished him.

Ku Klux Klan

"Once after the War there was a lot of colored people at a prayer

meeting. It was in the winter and they had a fire. The Ku Klux come up.

They just stood outside the door, but the people thought they were

coming in and they got scared. They didn't know hardly how to get out.

One man got a big shovelful of hot coals and ashes out of the fireplace

and threw it out over them, and while they was dusting off the ashes and

coals, the niggers all got away.


"I remember my father telling tales about the patrollers, but I can't

remember them just now. There was an old song about them. Part of it

went like this:

'Run, nigger, run

The pateroles'll get you.

That nigger run

That nigger flew

That nigger bust

His Sunday shoe.

Run, nigger, run

The pateroles'll get you.'

That's all I know of that. There is more to it. I used to hear the boys

sing it, and I used to hear 'em pick it out on the banjo and the guitar.

Old Massa Goes 'Way

"Old massa went off one time and left the niggers. He told 'em that he

was goin' to New York. He jus' wanted to see what they would do if they

thought he was away. The niggers couldn't call the name New York, and

they said, 'Old massa's gone to PhilameYawk.'

"They went in the pantry and got everything they wanted to eat. And they

had a big feast. While they were feasting, the old man came in disguised

as a tramp--face smutty and clothes all dirty and raggedy. They couldn't

tell who he was. He walked up just as though he wanted to eat and begged

the boys for something to eat. The boys said to him, 'Stan' back, you

shabby rascal, you; if'n they's anything left, you get some; if'n

they ain't none left, you get none. This is our time. Old massa done

gone to PhilameYawk and we're having a big time.'

"After they were through, they did give him a little something but they

still didn't know him. I never did learn the details about what happened

after they found out who the tramp was. My father told me about it.

Whipping a Slave

"I heard my father say his old master give him two licks with a whip

once. Him and another man had been off and they came in. Master drove up

in a double surrey. He had been to town and had bought the boys a pair

of boots apiece. He told them as he got out of the surrey to take his

horses out and feed them. My father's friend was there with him and he

said: 'Le's get our boots before we feed the horses.' After that the

master walked out on the porch and he had on crying boots. The horses

heard them squeaking and they nickered.

"Master said, 'Henry, I thought I told you to feed them horses. Henry

was so taken aback that he couldn't say a thing. Henry was my father,

you know. Master went and got his cowhide. He said, 'Are you going to

obey my orders?' About the time he said that, he hit my father twice

with the cowhide, and my father said, 'Oh pray, master, oh pray,' and he

let him go. He beat the other fellow pretty bad because he told him to

'Le's get the boots first.'

"Old master would get drunk sometimes and get on the niggers and beat

them up. He would have them stark naked and would be beating them. Then

old missis would come right out there and stop him. She would say, 'I

didn't come all the way here from North Carolina to have my niggers beat

up for nothin'.' She'd take hold of the cowhide, and he would have to

quit. My father had both her picture and the old man's.


"I can remember how my mother used to pray out in the field. We'd be

picking cotton. She would go off out there in the ditch a little ways.

It wouldn't be far, and I would listen to her. She would say to me:

'Pray, son,' and I would say, 'Mother, I don't know how to pray,' and

she would say, 'Well, just say Lord have mercy.' That gave me religious

inclinations. I cultivated religion from that time on. I would try to

pray and finally I learned. One day I was out in the field and it was

pouring down rain, and I was standing up with tears in my eyes trying to

pray as she taught me to. We weren't picking cotton then. I was just

walking out. My mother was dead. I would be walking out and whenever I

would get the notion I would stop right there and go to praying.

"In slave times, they would have a prayer meeting out in some of the

places and they would turn a pot down out in front of the door. It would

be on a stick or something and raised up a short distance from the

ground so that it wouldn't set flat on the ground. It seems that that

would catch the sound and keep it right around there. They would sing

that old song:

'We will camp awhile in the wilderness

And then I'm going home.'

I don't know any more of the words of that song.

Early Schooling

"I started to school when I was about six or seven years old. I didn't

get to school regular because my father had plenty of work and he had a

habit of taking me out to help him when he needed me in his work.

"My first teacher was a white man named Jones. I don't remember his

first name. He was a northerner and a Republican. He taught in the

public school with us. His boy, John, and his girl, Louisa, went to the

same school, and were in classes with us. The kids would beat them up

sometimes but he didn't cut up about it. He was pretty good man.

"After him, I had a colored man named M.E. Davis as a teacher. He would

say to my father, 'Henry, that is a bright boy; he will be a credit to

you if you will keep him at school and give him a chance. Don't make him

lose so much time.' My father would say, 'Yes, that is right.' But as

soon as another job came up, he would keep me out again.

"I soon got so my learning was a help to him in his work. Whenever any

figuring was to be done, I had to do it if it was done right. He never

had a chance to get any schooling and he couldn't figure well. So they

used to beat him out of plenty when he would work for them. One day we

had picked cotton for a white man and when the time came to pay off, the

man paid father, but I noticed that he didn't give him all he should

have. I didn't say anything while we was standing there but after we got

away I said, 'Papa, he didn't give you the right money.'

"Papa said, 'How much should he have given me?'

"I told him, and he said to me, 'Will you say that to him?'

"I said, 'Yes, papa.'

"He turned 'round and we went on back to the place and pa said, 'My boy

says you didn't pay me all that was comin' to me.'

"The white man turned to me at once and said, 'How much was coming to


"I told him.

"He said, 'What makes you think that?'

"I said, 'We picked so many pounds of cotton at so much per hundred

pounds, and that would amount to so many dollars and so many cents.'

"When I said that, he fell over on the ground and like to killed his

self laughing. He counted out the right money to my father and said,

'Henry, you better watch that little skinny-eyed nigger; he knows


Present Support

"I don't got anything from the government. I live by what little I make

at odd jobs."

Note: In this interview this man used correct English most of the time

and the interview is given in his own words. Lapses into dialect will be


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