Bernice Wilburn

Circumstances of Interview


NAME OF WORKER--Bernice Bowden

ADDRESS--1006 Oak Street, Pine Bluff, Arkansas

DATE--November 3, 1938


[TR: Repetitive information deleted from subsequent pages.]

1. Name and address of informant--Moses Mitchell, 117 Worthen Street

2. Date and time of interview--November 1, 1938, 1:00 p.m.

3. Place of interview--117 Worthen Street, Pine Bluff, Arkansas

4. Place and address of person, if any, who put you in touch with

informant--Bernice Wilburn, 101 Miller Street, Pine Bluff, Arkansas

5. Name and address of person, if any, accompanying you--None

6. Description of room, house, surroundings, etc.--A frame house

(rented), bare floors, no window shades; a bed and some boxes and three

straight chairs. In an adjoining room were another bed, heating stove,

two trunks, one straight chair, one rocking chair. A third room, the

kitchen, contained cookstove and table and chairs.

Text of Interview

"I was born down here on White River near Arkansas Post, August, 1849. I

belonged to Thomas Mitchel and when they (Yankees) took Arkansas Post,

our owners gathered us up and my young master took us to Texas and he

sold me to an Irishman named John McInish in Marshall for $1500. $500 in

gold and the rest in Confederate money. They called it the new issue.

"I was twelve years old then and I stayed in Texas till I was

forty-eight. I was at Tyler, Texas when they freed us. When they took us

to Texas they left my mother and baby sister here in Arkansas, down here

on Oak Log Bayou. I never saw her again and when I came back here to

Arkansas, they said she had been dead twenty-eight years. Never did hear

of my father again.

"I'm supposed to be part Creek Indian. Don't know how much. We have one

son, a farmer, lives across the river. Married this wife in 1873.

"My wife and I left Texas forty-one years ago and came back here to

Arkansas and stayed till 1922. Then we went to Chicago and stayed till

1930, and then came back here. I'd like to go back up there, but I guess

I'm gettin' too old. While I was there I preached and I worked all the

time. I worked on the streets and the driveways in Lincoln Park. I was

in the brick and block department. Then I went from there to the asphalt

department. There's where I coined the money. Made $6.60 in the brick

and block and $7.20 a day in the asphalt. Down here they don't know no

more about asphalt than a pig does about a holiday. A man that's from

the South and never been nowhere, don't know nothin', a woman either.

"Yes ma'm, I'm a preacher. Just a local preacher, wasn't ordained. The

reason for that was, in Texas a man over forty-five couldn't join the

traveling connection. I was licensed, but of course I couldn't perform

marriage ceremonies. I was just within one step of that.

"I went to school two days in my life. I was privileged to go to the

first free school in Texas. Had a teacher named Goldman. Don't know what

year that was but they found out me and another fellow was too old so

they wouldn't let us go no more. But I caught my alphabet in them two

days. So I just caught what education I've got, here and there. I can

read well--best on my Bible and Testament and I read the newspapers. I

can sorta scribble my name.

"I've been a farmer most of my life and a preacher for fifty-five years.

I can repair shoes and use to do common carpenter work. I can help build

a house. I only preach occasionally now, here and there. I belong to the

Allen Temple in Hoboken (East Pine Bluff).

"I think the young generation is gone to naught. They're a different cut

to what they was in my comin' up."

Interviewer's Comment

This man and his wife live in the outskirts of West pine Bluff. They

receive a small sum of money and commodities from the County Welfare

Department. He has a very pleasant personality, a good memory and

intelligence above the ordinary. Reads the Daily Graphic and Arkansas

Gazette. Age 89. He said, "Here's the idea, freedom is worth it all."

Personal History of Informant

1. Ancestry--Father, Lewis Mitchell; Mother, Rhoda Mitchell

2. Place and date of birth--Oak Log Bayou, White River, near Arkansas

Post, Ark.

3. Family--Wife and one grown son.

4. Places lived in, with dates--Taken to Texas by his young master and

sold in Marshall during the war. Lived in Tyler, Texas until forty-eight

years of age; came back to Arkansas in 1897 and stayed until 1922; went

to Chicago and lived until 1930; back to Jefferson County, Arkansas.

5. Education, with dates--Two days after twenty-one years of age. No


6. Occupations and accomplishments, with dates--Farmer, preacher, common

carpenter, cobbler, public work on streets in Chicago, farmed and

preached until he went to Chicago in 1922. The he worked in the

maintenance department of city streets of Chicago and of Lincoln Park,


7. Special skills and interests--Asphalt worker

8. Community and religious activities--Licensed Methodist Preacher. No

assignment now.

9. Description of informant--Five feet eight inches tall; weight, 165

pounds, nearly bald. Very prominent cheek bones. Keen intelligence.

Neatly dressed.

10. Other points gained in interview--Reads daily papers; knowledge of

world affairs.

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