Campbell Armstrong Interviewed By Samuel S Taylor
Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor
Person interviewed: Campbell Armstrong
802 Schiller Street, Little Rock, Arkansas
[HW: Boys liked corn shuckings]
"I couldn't tell you when I was born. I was born a good while before
freedom. I was a boy about ten years old in the time of the Civil War.
That would make me about eighty-five or six years old.
"My father's name was Cy Armstrong. My mother's name was Gracie
Armstrong. I don't know the names of my grandparents. They was gone when
I got here. My sister died right there in the corner of the next room.
House and Furniture
"I used to live in an old log house. Take dirt and dob the cracks. The
floors were these here planks. We had two windows and one door. That was
in Georgia, in Houston County, on old Dempsey Brown's place. I know
him--know who dug his grave.
"They had beds nailed up to the side of the house. People had a terrible
time you know. White folks had it all. When I come along they had it and
they had it ever since I been here. You didn't have no chance like folks
have nowadays. Just made benches and stools to sit on. Made tables out
of planks. I never saw any cupboards and things like that. Them things
wasn't thought about then. The house was like a stable then. But them
log houses was better than these 'cause the wind couldn't get through
Work as a Boy
"I wasn't doin' nothin' but totin' water. I toted water for a whole year
when I was a boy about eight years old. I was the water boy for the
field hands. Later I worked out in the fields myself. They would make me
sit on my mammy's row to help keep her up.
"You better not say you were free them days. If you did, they'd tell you
to get out of there. You better not stop on this side of the Mason Dixie
Line either. You better stop on the other side. Whenever a nigger got so
he couldn't mind, they'd take him down and whip him. They'd whip the
free niggers just the same as they did the slaves.
"You see that broom there? They just lay that broom down and step over
it. That was all the marriage they knowed about.
"The boys used to just get down and raise a holler and shuck that corn.
Man, they had fun! They sure liked to go to those corn shuckings. They
danced and went on. They'd give 'em whiskey too. That's all I know about
"They'd weigh the stuff out and give it to you and you better not go
back. They'd give you three pounds of meat and a quart of meal and
molasses when they'd make it. Sometimes they would take a notion to give
you something like flour. But you had to take what they give you. They
give out the rations every Saturday. That was to last you a week.
"I was at a ball one night. They had fence rails in the fire. Patroller
knocked at the door, stepped in and closed it behind him. Nigger pulled
a rail out of the fire and stuck it 'gainst the patroller and that
patroller stepped aside and let that nigger get by. Niggers used to tie
ropes across the road so that the patrollers' horses would trip up.
"I never seed any mulattoes then. That thing is something that just come
up. Old Dempsey Brown, if he seed a white man goin' 'round with the
nigger women on his place, he run him away from there. But that's gwine
on in the full now.
"That ought not to be. If God had wanted them people to mix, he'd have
mixed 'em. God made 'em red and white and black. And I'm goin' to stay
black. I ain't climbed the fence yet and I won't climb it now. I don't
know. I don't believe in that. If you are white be white, and if you are
black be black. Children need to go out and play but these boys ought
not to be 'lowed to run after these girls.
"Your overseer carried their straps with them. They had 'em with 'em all
the time. Just like them white folks do down to the County Farm. Used to
use a man just like he was a beast. They'd make him lay down on the
ground and whip him. They'd had to shoot me down. That is the reason I
tend to my business. If he wouldn't lay down they'd call for help and
strap him down and stretch him out. Put one man on one arm and another
on the other. They'd pull his clothes down and whip the blood out of
him. Them people didn't care what they done since they didn't do right.
"When I first heard them talking about freedom, I didn't know what
freedom was. I was there standin' right up and looking at 'em when they
told us we was free. And master said, 'You all free now. You can go
where you want to.'
"They never give you a thing when they freed you. They give you some
work to do. They never looked for nothin' only to go to work. The white
folks always had the best of it.
"When Abe Lincoln first freed 'em, they all stood together. If this one
was ill the others went over and sit up with him. If he needed something
they'd carry it to him. They don't do that now. They done well then. As
soon as they quit standing together then they had trouble.
"Fellow said to me, 'Campbell, I want you to split up them blocks and
pile 'em up for me.' I said, 'What you goin' to pay me?' He said, 'I'll
pay you what is right.' I said, 'That won't do; you have to tell me what
you goin' to give me before I start to work.' And he said to me, 'You
can git to hell out of here.'
Selling and Buying Slaves
"They'd put you up on the block and sell you. That is just what they'd
do--sell you. These white folks will do anything,--anything they want to
do. They'd take your clothes off just like you was some kind of a beast.
"You used to be worth a thousand dollars then, but you're not worth two
bits now. You ain't worth nothin' when you're free.
"They used to come to my place in droves. Wagons would start coming in
in the morning and they wouldn't stop coming in till two or three in the
evening. They'd just be travelin' to keep out the way of the Yankees.
They caught old Jeff Davis over in Twiggs County. That's in Georgia.
Caught him in Buzzard's Roost. That was only about four or five miles
from where I was. I was right down yonder in Houston County. Twigg
County and Houston County is adjoinin'. I never saw any of the soldiers
but they was following them though.
"I have seen plenty of niggers voting. I wasn't old enough to vote in
Georgia. I come in Arkansas and I found out how the folks used
themselves and I come out that business. They was selling themselves
just like cattle and I wouldn't have nothing to do with that.
"I knew Jerry Lawson, who was Justice of Peace. He was a nigger, a
low-down devil. Man, them niggers done more dirt in this city. The
Republicans had this city and state. I went to the polls and there was
very few white folks there. I knew several of them niggers--Mack
Armstrong, he was Justice of Peace. I can't call the rest of them.
Nothing but old thieves. If they had been people, they'd been honest.
Wouldn't sell their brother. It is bad yet. They still stealin' yet.
"That's another devil. Man, I'll tell you we seen terrible times. I
don't know nothing much about 'em myself. I know one thing. Abe Lincoln
said, 'Kill him wherever you see him.'
Self-Support and Support of Aged Slaves in Slave Times
"A white man asked me how much they givin' me. I said, 'Eight dollars.'
He said, 'You ought to be gittin' twenty-five.' I said, 'Maybe I ought
to be but I ain't.'
"I ain't able to do no work now. I ain't able to tote that wood hardly.
I don't git as much consideration as they give the slaves back yonder.
They didn't make the old people in slavery work when they was my age. My
daddy when he was my age, they turned him out. They give him a rice
patch where he could make his rice. When he died, he had a whole lot of
rice. They stopped putting all the slaves out at hard labor when they
got old. That's one thing. White folks will take care of their old ones.
Our folks won't do it. They'll take a stick and kill you. They don't
recognize you're human. Their parents don't teach them. Folks done quit
teaching their children. They don't teach them the right thing no more.
If they don't do, then they ought to make them do.
"I been here about twenty years in Little Rock. I went and bought this
place and paid for it. Somebody stole seventy-five dollars from me right
here in this house. And that got me down. I ain't never been able to git
"I paid a man for what he did for me. He said, 'Well, you owe me fifteen
cents.' When he got done he said, 'You owe me fifty cents.' You can't
trust a man in the city.
"I was living down in England. That's a little old country town. I come
here to Little Rock where I could be in a city. I done well. I bought
"I reckon I lived in Arkansas about thirty years before I left and come
here to Little Rock. When I left Georgia, I come to Arkansas and settled
down in Lonoke County, made crops there. I couldn't tell you how long I
stayed there. I didn't keep no record of it at all. I come out of Lonoke
County and went into Jefferson.
"Man, I was never in such shape as I am in now. That devilish stock law
killed me. It killed all the people. Nobody ain't been able to do
nothin' since they passed the stock law. I had seventy-five hogs and
twenty cows. They made a law you had to keep them chickens up, keep them
hogs up, keep them cows up. They shoots at every right thing, and the
wrong things they don't shoot at. God don't uphold no man to set you up
in the jail when you ain't done nothin'. You didn't have no privilege
then (slave time), and you ain't got none now."
Camilla Jackson Campbell Davis