Charlotte E Stephens

Interviewer: Beulah Sherwood Hagg

Person interviewed: Mrs. Charlotte E. Stephens

1420 West 15th Street, Little Rock, Arkansas

Age: 83

I was born right here in Little Rock. My father was owned by a splendid

family--the Ashleys. The family of Noah Badgett owned my mother and the

children. Pardon me, madam, and I shall explain how that was. In many

cases the father of children born in slavery could not be definitely

determined. There was never a question about the mother. From this you

will understand that the children belonged to the master who owned the

mother. This was according to law.

My father's family name was Andrews. How did it happen that it was not

Ashley?... Oh, my dear, you have been misinformed about all slaves

taking the name of the master who owned them when peace came.... No,

madam. My father was named William Wallace Andrews after his father,

who was an English gentleman. He had come to Missouri in early days and

owned slaves.... Yes, my grandfather was white. The Ashleys brought my

father to Arkansas Territory when they came. They always permitted him

to keep his family name. Many other masters did the same.

From the standpoint of understanding between the white and colored

races, Little Rock has always been a good place to live. The better

class families did not speak of their retainers as slaves; they were

called servants. Both my parents were educated by their masters. Besides

being a teacher and minister my father was a carpenter and expert

cabinet worker.

The first school for Negroes in Little Rock was opened in 1863 and was

taught by my father. I went to school to him. A few months later there

came from the north a company of missionary teachers and opened a school

which I attended until 1867. My father was a minister of the Methodist

Episcopal church for colored people on what is now Eighth and Broadway.

He also had a chapel on the property of Mr. Ashley. You probably know

that during slavery days the slaves belonged to and attended the same

church as their white folks. They sat in the back, or in a balcony built

for them. My father was considered the founder of Wesley Chapel, which

was Methodist Episcopal. From that time until this day I have been a

member of that church. Seventy-three years, I think it is. Before the

break came in the Methodist church, you know, it was all the same, north

and south. After the division on account of slavery the Methodist church

in the south had the word "south" attached. For a long time my father

did not realize that. In 1863 he and his church went back into the

original Methodist church.

In 1867 the Society of Friends--we called them Quakers--came and erected

a large two-story schoolhouse at Sixth and State streets. It was called

Union school. When it was built it was said by the Quakers that it was

to be for the use of colored children forever, but within a year or two

the city bought the property and took charge of the school. As far as

I can now recall, white and colored children never did attend the same

school in Little Rock. There have always been separate schools for the

races. I am able to remember the names of the first teachers in the

Quaker school; J.H. Binford was the principal and his sister taught the

primary department. Other teachers were Miss Anna Wiles (or Ware), Miss

Louise Coffin, Miss Lizzie Garrison, and Sarah Henley.

I was about 11 years old when peace came and was living with my mother

and the other children on the Badgett plantation about 7 miles east of

Little Rock. Mother did laundry and general house work. Being a small

child, all that was asked of me was to run errands and amuse the little

white children. Madam, if I could tell you the great difference between

slave owners it would help you in understanding conditions of today

among the colored people. Both my father and my mother had peculiar

privileges. The Ashley family were exceptional slave owners; they

permitted their servants to hire their time. There was class

distinction, perhaps to greater extent than among the white people. Yes,

madam, the slaves who lived in the family with master and mistress were

taught just about the same as their own children. At any rate, they

imitated them in all matters; to speak with a low voice, use good

English, the niceties of manners, good form and courtesy in receiving

and attending guests.

I began teaching in Little Rock schools when I was 15 years old and am

still teaching. In all, it is 69 years, and my contract is still good.

My first experience as a teacher, (as I told you I was fifteen) was by

substituting for a teacher in that first Missionary school, in 1869. For

some reason, she did not return, and the School Board appointed me in

her place. After one year I was given leave of absence to attend Oberlin

College in Ohio. I spent three years there, but not in succession. When

my money would give out I would come home and the School Board would

provide work for me until I could earn enough to carry me through

another term. I finished at Oberlin in 1873. I extended my work through

courses at Normal schools and Teacher's Institutes. I have taken lecture

courses in many colleges, notably the University of California in 1922.

I have taught all grades from the first to the twelfth. My principal

work, for the last 35 years, however, has been high school Latin and

English and Science.

At present I am serving as librarian at the Senior high school and

Junior College. I have twice served as principal of city schools in

Little Rock. First at Capitol Hill. The Charlotte E. Stephens school at

18th and Maple was named in my honor. I have a book I have kept for 68

years regarding those first schools, and I'm told it is the only one

in existence. I also have the first monthly report card ever issued in

Little Rock. Mr. Hall (Superintendent of Little Rock City Schools) has

asked me to will it to the School Board.

I could recall many interesting events of those early schools for the

colored race. Old, old slaves came, desiring to learn to read and spell.

They brought the only books they could find, many of which proved to be

almanacs, paper bound novels discarded by their mistress and ancient

dictionaries, about half of which might be missing.

Yes, madam, I do remember that the emancipated slaves were led to

believe they would be given property and have just what their masters

had been accustomed to enjoy. I remember hearing my mother tell, in

later years, that she really had expected to live as her mistress had;

having some one to wait upon her, plenty of money to spend, ride in a

carriage with a coachman. But she always added that the emancipated ones

soon found out that freedom meant more work and harder than they had

ever done before.

What did they work at? Pardon me please for so often reminding you of

conditions of that time. Few of the trades workers were white. Brick

makers and brick layers, stone masons, lathers, plasters,--all types of

builders were of the freed men. You must remember that slaves were the

only ones who did this work. Their masters had used their labor as their

means of income. Not all slaves were in the cotton fields, as some

suppose. The slave owners of towns and villages had their slaves learn

skilled trade occupations and made a great deal of money by their

earnings. The Yankee soldiers and the many Northern people who lived

here hired the freed men and paid them. Quite soon the colored people

were buying homes. Many were even hired by their former masters and paid

for the work they formerly did without pay under slavery.

I remember Bill Read and Dave Lowe. They had been coachmen before

freedom. By combining their first savings, they bought a hack, as it was

called. It was more of a cab. For all those who did not have private

conveyances, this was the only way of getting about town. It was Little

Rock's first taxi-cab business, I should say. Bill and Dave made a

fortune; they had a monopoly of business for years and eventually had

enough cabs to take the entire population to big evening parties,

theater, and all places where crowds would gather.

No, madam, I do not recall that we had any inconvenience from the Ku

Klux Klan. If they made trouble in Little Rock I do not now remember it.

I did hear that out in the country they drove people from their homes.

Yes, madam, I do remember, quite distinctly, the times when colored men

were voted into public offices. John C. Corbin was State Superintendent

of Public Instruction. Phillips county sent two colored men to the

legislature; they were W.H. Gray and H.H. White, both from Helena.

J.E. Bush of this city followed M.W. Gibbs as Police Judge. After

reconstruction when all colored people were eliminated from public life

all these people returned to their trade.

I was 22 when I married. My husband was a teacher but knew the carpenter

trade. During the time that Negroes served in public office he served as

deputy sheriff and deputy constable. He was with me for 41 years before

his death; we raised a family of six children and gave each one a

college education.

Now, you have asked my opinion of present conditions of the younger

generation. It seems to me they are living in an age of confusion; they

seem to be all at sea as to what they should get for themselves. I do

know this. In some respects the modern frankness is an improvement over

the old suppression and repression in the presence of their elders.

At the same time, I think the young people of today lack the proper

reverence and respect for age and the experience it brings as a guide

for them. During my long years of teaching I have had opportunity to

study this question. I am still making a study of the many phases of

modern life as it affects the young people. I do not like the trend

of amusements of today; I would like for our young people to become

interested in things more worth while; in a higher type of amusement.

Conditions of morality and a lack of regard for conventions is

deplorable. Smoking among the girls has increased the common use of

liquor between the sexes.

Did you ask me about the voting restrictions for the colored race in

this State? I will tell you frankly that I think the primary law here is

unjust; most unjust. We are citizens in every other respect; the

primary voting privilege should be ours also. This restriction has been

explained as coming down from "the grandfather clause" inserted in early

legislation. I cannot give you the exact wording of the clause but

the substance was that no person whose ancestor--grandfather--was not

entitled to vote before 1863 should have the right to the ballot.

Of course it is readily seen that this clause was written purely for the

purpose of denying the vote to the colored people.

Perhaps, madam, my talk has been too much along educational lines. You

asked me about my life since freedom came and how I have lived to the

present time. I have had the blessed privilege of being a teacher--of

doing the work I love best of all in the world to do. I have written the

story of my life work; it is all ready to be published. I have written

"The Story of Negro Schools in Little Rock" and "Memoirs of Little

Rock." Madam, I have written, I suppose, what would amount to volumes

for our church papers and local Negro newspaper. My daughter was, at one

time, editor of the Womens' Page. No, I'm indeed sorry that I have not

kept a scrapbook of such writings. In these latter years my friends

scold me for having destroyed all the papers as fast as they were read.

The most of the news in the articles, however, I have used in the

manuscripts of the books I hope to have published.

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