Clay Reaves

Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson

Person interviewed: Clay Reaves, (light mulatto, large man)

Palestine, Arkansas

Age: 80

"I will be eighty years old my next birthday. It will be July 6th.

Father was bought from Kentucky. I couldn't tell you about him. He

stayed on the Reaves place that year, the year of the surrender, and

left. He didn't live with mother ever again. I never did hear no reason.

He went on Joe Night's farm. He left me and a sister older but there was

one dead between us. Mother raised us. She stayed on with the Reaves two

years after he left. The last year she was there she hired to them. The

only thing she ever done before freedom was cook and weave. She had her

loom in the kitchen. It was a great big kitchen built off from the house

and a portico joined it to the house. I used to lay up under her loom.

It was warm there in winter time. I was the baby. I heard mother say

some things I remember well.

"She said she was never sold. She said the Reaves said her children need

never worry, they would never be sold. We was Reaves from back yonder.

Mother's grandfather was a white man. She was a Reaves and her children

are mostly Reaves. She was light. Father was about, might be a little

darker than I am (mulatto). At times she worked in the field, but in

rush time. She wove all the clothes on the place. She worked at the loom

and I lay up under there all day long. Mother had three girls and five


"Mr. Reaves, we called him master, had two boys in the army. He was a

real old man. He may have had more than two but I know there was two

gone off. The white folks lived in sight of the quarters. Their house

was a big house and painted white. I've been in there. I never seen no

grand parents of mine that I was allowed to claim kin with.

"When I got up some size I was allowed to go see father. I went over to

see him sometimes. After freedom he went to where his brothers lived.

They wanted him to change his name from Reaves to Cox and he did. He

changed it from James Reaves to James Cox. But I couldn't tell you if

at one time they belong to Cox in Kentucky or if they belong to Cox in

Tennessee or if they took on a name they liked.

"I kept my name Reaves. I am a Reaves from start to finish. I was raised

by mother and she was a Reaves. Her name was Olive Reaves. Her old

mistress' name was Charlotte Reaves, old master was Edmond Reaves. Now

the boys I come to know was John, Bob; girls, Mary and Jane. There was

older children. Mother was a sensible, obedient woman. Nobody ever

treated her very wrong. She was the only one ever chastised me. They

spoiled me. We got plenty plain rations. I never seen nobody married

till after the surrender. I seen one woman chastised. I wasn't close. I

never learned what it was about. Old Master Reaves was laying it on.

"Mother moved to New Castle, Tennessee from Mr. Reaves' place. We

farmed--three of us. We had been living southeast of Boliver, Tennessee,

in Hardeman County. I think my kin folks are all dead. Father's other

children may be over in Tennessee now. Yes, I know them. Mother died

over at Palestine with me. She always lived with me. I married twice,

had one child by each wife. Both wives are dead and my children are


"Mother said I had three older brothers went to the Civil War and never

come back home. She never heard from them after they went off. I don't

know but it was my understanding that they was to be soldiers. I don't

recollect them.

"Mother got so she wasn't able to work in the field several years before

she died. She worked in the field long as she was able. She lived with

me all my whole life till she died. But I farmed. Some years we done

well and some years we jess could live. I farmed all my life but a few

years. I love farm life. It is independent living. I mean you are about

your own man out there. I work my garden out at my shop now. I make

baskets and bottom chairs at Palestine. A few years I kept Mrs.

Wilkerson's yard and garden. Her husband died and she moved off to

Memphis. They did live at Palestine.

"I heard it said that Reaves said he could keep his own farm. The Ku

Klux never bothered us. I have heard a lot of things but I am telling

you what I know. I don't know nothing about the Civil War nor the Ku

Klux. I was most too small a boy at that time to know much.

"I used to vote. Can't write my name. Don't fool with it.

"I went to school on rainy days. I went a few other days. People used

to have to work. I always wanted to work. I piddle around all the time

working now. I went to colored teachers all together. I can read a


"I had a brother-in-law in Arkansas. I heard a lot of talk. I come on

a visit and stayed three months. I went back and moved here. I come to

this State--over at Palestine--March 11, 1883 on Sunday. I have a good

recollection, or I think I have for my age. I've lived a pretty sensible

life, worked hard but had good health. If I had another life to live now

I would go to the farm. I love farm life.

"I chop wood, garden, go in the woods get my splints for baskets,

chairs. I live by myself. I eat out some with I call them kin. They are

my sister's children. I get some help, $10 and commodities.

"When I did vote I voted Republican or I thought I did. But now if I did

vote, I might change up. Times have changed.

"I don't know much about the young generation. I do talk with

them--some. They are coming up in a changed time. I wouldn't talk

against the colored race of people. Some of them work--are good. Some

don't. I think some will not work. Maybe they would. I come to know

mighty little about them--no more than I know about the white girls and

boys. I see them on the streets about as much as I ever see colored

folks anywhere."

Clay Bobbit Clayborn Gantling facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail