Betty Johnson

Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor

Person interviewed: Betty Johnson

1920 Dennison Street, Little Rock, Arkansas

Age: 83

[Date Stamp: MAY 11 1938]

"I was born in Montgomery, Alabama, within a block of the statehouse.

We were the only colored people in the neighborhood. I am eighty-three

years old. I was born free. I have never been a slave. I never met any

slaves when I was small, and never talked to any. I didn't live near

them and didn't have any contacts with them.

"My father carried my mother to Pennsylvania before I was born and set

her free. Then he carried her back to Montgomery, Alabama, and all her

children were born free there.

"We had everything that life needed. He was one of the biggest

planters around in that part of the country and did the shipping for


"My mother's name was Josephine Hassell. She had nine children. All of

them are dead except three. One is in Washington, D. C.; another is in

Chicago, Illinois, and then I am here. One of my brothers was a mail

clerk for the government for fifty years, and then he went to

Washington and worked in the dead letter office.

"My father taken my oldest brother just before the Civil War and

entered him in Yale and he stayed there till he finished. Later he

became a freight conductor and lost his life when his train was caught

in a cyclone. That's been years ago.

"My sisters in Washington and Chicago are the only two living besides

myself. All the others are dead. All of them were government workers.

My sister in Washington has four boys and five girls. My sister in

Chicago has two children--one in Detroit and one in Washington. I am

the oldest living.

"We never had any kind of trouble with white people in slave time, and

we never had any since. Everybody in town knowed us, and they never

bothered us. The editor of the paper in Montgomery got up all our

history and sent the paper to my brother in Washington. If I had saved

the paper, I would have had it now. I don't know the name of the

paper. It was a white paper. I can't even remember the name of the


"We were always supported by my father. My mother did [HW: ?] do

nothing at all except stay home and take care of her children. I had a

father that cared for us. He didn't leave that part undone. He did his

part in every respect. He sent every child away to school. He sent two

to Talladega, one to Yale, three to Fiske, and one to Howard


"I don't remember much about how freedom came to the slaves. You see,

we didn't live near any of them and would not notice, and I was young

anyway. All I remember is that when the army came in, everybody had a

stick with a white handkerchief on it. The white handkerchief

represented peace. I don't know just how they announced that the

slaves were free.

"We lived in as good a house as this one here. It had eight rooms in

it. I was married sixty years ago. My husband died two years ago. We

were married fifty-eight years. Were the only colored people here to

celebrate the fiftieth anniversary. (She is mistaken in this; Waters

McIntosh has been married for fifty-six years and he and his wife are

still making it together in an ideal manner--ed.) I am the mother of

eight children; three girls are living and two boys. The rest are


"I married a good man. Guess there was never a better. We lived

happily together for a long time and he gave me everything I needed.

He gave me and my children whatever we asked for.

"I was sick for three years. Then my husband took down and was sick

for seven years before he died.

"I belong to the Holiness Church down on Izard Street, and Brother

Jeeter is my pastor."


Betty Johnson's memory is accurate, and she tells whatever she wishes

to tell without hesitation and clearly. She leaves out details which

she does not wish to mention evidently, and there is a reserve in her

manner which makes questioning beyond a certain point impertinent.

However, just what she tells presents a picture into which the details

may easily be fitted.

Her husband is dead, but he was evidently of the same type she is. She

lives in a beautiful and well kept cottage. Her husband left a similar

house for each of her three children. The husband, of course, was

colored. It is equally evident that the father was white.

Although my questions traveled into corners where they evidently did

not wish to follow, the mother and son, who was from time to time with

her, answered courteously and showed no irritation.

Betty Hodge Betty Krump facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail