Betty Curlett

Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson

Person interviewed: Betty Curlett, Hazen, Arkansas

Age: 66

[-- -- 1938]

"I can tell you all about my kin folks. My mama's owners was Mars John

Moore and Miss Molly Moore. They come from Virginia and brought Grandma

Mahaley and Grandpa Tom.

"Mr. Daniel Johnson went to North Carolina and bought Alice and John and

their family. When he brought them to Mississippi, they come in a hack.

It was snowing and cold. It took em so long to came they take turns

walkin'. Grandma was walking long wid the hack and somewhere she cut

through and climbed over a railin' fence. She lost her baby outer her

quilts and went on a mile fore she knowed bout it. She say, 'Lawd,

Master Daniel, if I ain't lost my baby.' They stopped the hack and she

went back to see where her baby could be. She knowed where she got out

the hack and she knowed she had the baby then. Fore she got to the fence

she clum over, she seed her baby on the snow. She said the sun was warm

and he was well wrop up. That all what saved em. She shuck him round

till she woke him up. She was so scared he be froze. When he let out

cryin' she knowed he be all right. She put him in the foot of the hack

mong jugs of hot water what they had to keep em warm. She say he never

had a cold from it. Well, that was John, my papa, what she lost in de

snow. Grandma used to set and tell us that and way I can member it was

my own papa she be talkin' bout.

"Papa was raised up by the Johnson family and mama by the Moore family.

Den Alice Moore had em marry her and John Johnson. Their plantations

joined, and joined Judge Reid's (or Reed's) place. We all had a big time

on them three farms. They was good to their niggers but Mr. ---- they

said whooped his niggers awful heep.

"Ed Amick was Mars Daniel Johnson's overseer. He told him he wanted his

slaves treated mighty good and they was good. Yes ma'am, they was good

to em!! We had a plenty to eat. Every Saturday they killed a lamb, a

goat or a yearlin' and divided up mong his folks and the niggers. Us

childen would kill a peafowl and they let us eat em. White folks didn't

eat em. They was tender seem like round the head.

"Miss Evaline was Mars Daniel's sister. She was a old maid. Miss

Evaline, Aunt Selie old nigger woman and Brittain old nigger man done

nuthin' but raise chickens, geese, guineas, ducks, pigeons. They had a

few turkeys and peafowls all the time. When they stewed chicken it was

stewed in a big black pot they kept to cook fowls in. They fry chicken

in a pot er grease then turn drap sweet biscuit bread in. They put eggs

in it, too. They call it marble cakes. Then they pour sweet milk in the

bottom grease and make good gravy. When they rendered up lard they

always made marble cakes. They cut marble cakes all kind er shapes and

twisted em round like knots and rings. They take em up in big pans big

as dish pans.

"We had plenty to eat and plenty flannel and cotton check dresses.

Regular women done our quiltin' and made our dresses. She made our

dresses plain waist, full gathered skirt and buttons down the backs on

our waist.

"I was named for Miss Betty Johnson. Mars Daniel bought me books. I slip

and tear ABC's outen every book he buy for me. Miss Betty say A-B-C-D; I

say after her. She say, 'Betty, you ain't lookin' on the book.' I say,

'Miss Betty, I hear Miss Cornelia's baby woke up. Agin Miss Betty--she

was my young mistress--ABC's me sayin' em long wid her. I say, 'Miss

Betty, I smell ginger bread, can't I go git a piece?' She say,

'Betty--I'm so sorry I name you fer me. I wish I named Mary.' I say,

'Then you name Mary Betty an' give me nother name.' Miss Betty git me

down agin to sayin' the ABC's, I be lookin' off. She say, 'Betty, you

goin' to be a idiot.' I say, 'That what I wanter be--zactly what I

wanter be.' I didn't know what a idiot was then.

"I took up crocheting. Miss Cornelia cut me some quilt pieces. She say

'Betty that's her talent' bout me. Miss Betty say, 'If she goin' to be

mine I want her to be smart.' Miss Mary lernt my sister Mary fast.

"When I was bout fifteen I was goiner to the nigger school. I wanted to

go to the white school wid Miss Mag. Miss Betty say, 'Betty, that white

woman would whoop you every day.' I take my dinner in a bucket and go on

wid Mary. I'd leave fore the teacher have time to have my lesson and git

in late. The teacher said, 'Betty, Miss Cornelia and Miss Betty say they

want you to be smart and you up an' run off and come in late, and do all

sorts er ways. Ain't you shamed?'

"They had a big entertainment. Miss Betty learned me a piece to

say--poetry. I could lern it from sayin' it over wid Miss Betty. They

bought me and Mary our fust calico dresses. I lack to walked myself to

death. I was so proud. It had two ruffles on the bottom of the skirt and

a shash tied at the waist behind. We had red hats wid streamers hanging

down the back. The dresses was red and black small checks. Mary lernt

her piece at school. We had singing and speeches and a big dinner at the

school closin'.

"Mr. John Moore went to war and was killed at the beginnin' of the first

battle soon as he got there. They had a sayin, 'You won't last as long

as John Moore when he went to war.'

"Mr. Criss Moore was kickin' a nigger boy. Old Miss say, 'Criss, quit

kickin' him, you hurt him.' He say, 'I ain't hurtin' him, I'm playin'

wid him!' White boys played wid nigger boys when they come round the

house. Glad to meet up to get to play.

"Mr. Criss Moore, Jr. (John Moore's grandson) is a doctor way up North

and so is Mr. Daniel Johnson, Jr. One of em in Washington I think. I

could ask Miss Betty Carter when I go back to Mississippi.

"When I left Mississippi Mr. Criss hated to see me go. Mr. Johnson say,

'I wanted all our niggers buried on our place.' He say to Jim, my

husband, 'Now when she die you let me know and I'll help bring her back

and bury her in the old graveyard.' When my papa died Mr. Johnson had

the hearse come out and get him and take him in it to the graveyard. He

was buried by mama and nearly all the Johnson, Moore, and Reed (or Reid)

niggers buried there. My husband is buried here (Hazen, Arkansas) but he

was a Curlett.

"Papa set out apple trees on the old Johnson place, still bearin'

apples. The old farm place is forty-eight miles from Tupelo and three

miles from Houlka, Mississippi.

"My mother had eighteen children and I had sixteen but all mine dead now

but three. Mama's ma and grandpapa Haley had twenty-two children. Yes

ma'am, they sho did have plenty to eat. Mars Daniel say to his wife,

'Cornelia, feed my niggers.' That bout last he said when he went off to

war. Mars Green, Daniel, and Jimmie three brothers. Three Johnson

brothers buried their gold money in stone jars and iron cookin' pots

fore they left and went to war.

"When the fightin' stopped, people was so glad they rung and rung the

farm bells and blowed horns--big old cow horns. When Mars Daniel come

home he went to my papa's house and says, 'John, you free.' He says, 'I

been free as I wanter be whah I is.' He went on to my grandpa's house

and says, 'Toby, you are free!' He raised up and says, 'You brought me

here frum Africa and North Carolina and I goiner stay wid you long as

ever I get sompin to eat. You gotter look after me!' Mars Daniel say,

'Well, I ain't runnin' nobody off my place long as they behave.'

Purtnigh every nigger sot tight till he died of the old sets. Mars

Daniel say to grandpa, 'Toby, you ain't my nigger.' Grandpa raise up an'

say, 'I is, too.'

"They had to work but they had plenty that made em content. We had good

times. On moonlight nights somebody ask Mars Daniel if they could have a

cotton pile, then they go tell Mars Moore and Judge Reid (or Reed). They

come, when the moon peep up they start pickin'. Pick out four or five

bales. Then Mars Daniel say you come to the house. Ring the bell. Then

we have a big supper--pot of chicken, stew and sweet potatoes roasted.

Have a wash pot full of molasses candy to pull and all the goobers we

could eat.

"Then we had three banjos. The musicians was William Word, Uncle Dan

Porter, and Miles Porter. Did we dance? Square dance. Then if somebody

been wantin' to marry they step over the broom and it be nounced they

married. You can't get nobody--colored folks I mean--to step over a

broom; they say it bad luck. If it fall and they step over they step

back. They say if somebody sweep under your feet you won't marry that

year. Folks didn't visit round much. They had some place to go they went

but they had to work. They work together and done mighty little--idle

vistin'. Folks took the knitting long visting lest it be Sunday.

"White women wouldn't nurse their own babies cause it would make their

breast fall. They would bring a healthy woman and a clean woman up to

the house. They had a house close by. She would nurse her baby and the

white baby, too. They would feed her everything she wanted. She didn't

have to work cause the milk would be hot to give the babies. Dannie and

my brother Bradford, and Mary my sister and Miss Maggie nursed my mama.

Rich women didn't nurse their babies, never did, cause it would cause

their breast to be flat.

"My papa was the last slave to die. Mama died twelve months fore he

died. I was born after freedom but times changed mighty little mama and

papa said. Grandma learned me to cut doll dresses and Miss Cornelia

learned me to sew and learned Aunt Joe (a ex-slave Negro here in town)

to play Miss Betty's piano. She was their house girl. Yes ma'am, when I

was small girl she was bout grown. Aunt Joe is a fine cook. Miss

Cornelia learnt her how. I could learned to played too but I didn't want

to. I wanted to knit and crochet and sew. Miss Cornelia said that was my

talent. I made wrist warmers and lace. Sister Mary would spin. She spun

yarn and cotton thread. They made feather beds. Picked the geese and

sheared the sheep. I got my big feather bed now.

"When I married, Miss Betty made my weddin' dress. We had a preacher

marry us at my home. My mama give me to Miss Betty and they raised me. I

was the weaslingest one of her children. She give me to Miss Betty. Now

she wants me to come back. I think I go back Christmas and stay. Miss

Betty is old and feeble now. I got three children living here in Hazen

now. All I got left.

"The men folks did all go off, white and black, and vote. I don't know

how they voted. Now, honey, you know I don't know nothing bout voting.

"Times is so changed. Conditions so changed that I don't know if the

young generation is improved much. They learn better but it don't do em

no more good. It seems like it is the management that counts. That is

the reason my grandpa didn't want to leave Mars Daniel Johnson's. He was

a good manager and Miss Betty is a good manager. We don't know how to

manage and ain't got much to manage wid. That the way it looks to me.

Some folks is luckier than others."

Betty Coleman Betty Curlett facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail