Dicey Thomas

Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor

Person interviewed: Mrs. Dicey Thomas

2500 Center Street, Little Rock, Arkansas

Age: About 82

"I was born in Barbour County, Alabama. When I was born, the white folks

kept the children's age, not that of their parents. When the Yankees

came through our white folks' plantation, the white folks was hiding

away things.


"My father was named Ben See. See was my maiden name. Thomas comes from

my marriage.


"It was about twelve o'clock when the Yankees came through, because we

had just gone to bring the bowls. They used to serve us out of these

gourds and wooden spoons. Me and another little girl had gone to get

some bowls and spoons and when we got back the Yankees were swarming

over the place. They said, 'You are free. Go where you please.'

"My mother had a little baby. The old women would tend to this baby and

we would sit and rock the cradle till mother would come. I know I wasn't

very old, because I didn't do anything but sit and rock the baby. I had

just gotten big enough to carry the bowls.

"When the Yankees came through they stole Ben See's horse and brought

him out here in Arkansas. In those days, they used to brand horses.

Some woman out here in Arkansas recognized the horse by his brand and

wrote to him about it. He came out and got the horse. We had gone by

that time.

Visiting the Graves

"Ben See used to take the little darkies to the cemetery and show them

where their master and missis was laying. He never would sell none of

his father's slaves.

The Slave Block

"He would buy other slaves and sell them though. He used to buy little

kids that couldn't walk. Maybe some big white man would come that would

want to buy a nigger. He used to have servants in the yard and he would

have the slaves he'd bought saved up. One of the yard servants would

catch a little nigger with his head all knotty and filled with twigs. He

would swinge the hair and the little nigger would yell, but he wouldn't

be hurt.

"He had a block built up high just like a meat block out in the yard.

He would have the yard man bring the little niggers out and put them on

this block. I don't know nothing about their parents, who they were nor

where they were. All I know he would have this child there what he'd

done bought.

"If there would be about five or six come in, here's this nigger sitting

up here. Here's a lot of folks waitin' to buy him. One would say, 'I bid

so much.' Another would say, 'I bid so much.' That would go on till the

biddin' got as high as it would go. Then the little nigger would go to

the highest bidder if the bid suited master.

"My mother and father didn't know their age. The white folks kept the

ages, and that was something they didn't allow the slaves to handle. I

must have been four or five years old when my mother was in the field,

because I wasn't allowed to take the baby out of the cradle but just to

sit and rock it.


"When I come to Arkansas, stages was running from Little Rock down

toward Pine Bluff. Jesse James robbed the Pine Bluff train. That about

the first train came in. They cut down the trees across the train track.

They had a wooden gun and they went in there and robbed that train with

it. They sent him to the pen and he learned a trade making cigars.

"The Union Station was just like that hillside. It was just one street

in the town. I don't know what year nor nothing about it because when I

came here it was just like somebody didn't have any sense.


"The slave quarter was a row of houses. The plantation was high land.

The houses were little log houses with one room. They had fire arches.

They would hang pots over the fire. They would have spiders that you

call ovens. You would put coals on top of the spider and you would put

them under it and you could smell that stuff cooking! The door was in

the top of the spider and the coals would be on top of the door.

"You couldn't cook nothin' then without somebody knowin' it. Couldn't

cook and eat in the back while folk sit in the front without them

knowin' it. They used to steal from the old master and cook it and they

would be burning rags or something to keep the white folks from smelling


The riding boss would come round about nine o'clock to see if you had

gone to bed or not. If they could steal a chicken or pig and kill and

cut it up, this one would take a piece and that one would take a piece

and they would burn the cotton to keep down the scent. The rider would

come round in June and July too when they thought the people would be

hunting the watermelons.

"When the soldiers came, the niggers run and hid under the beds and the

soldiers came and poked their bayonets under the bed and shouted, 'Come

on out from under there. You're free!'

Destructiveness of Soldiers

"The soldiers would tear down the beehives and break up the smoke

houses. They wasn't tryin' to git nothin' to eat. They was just

destroying things for devilment. They pulled all the stoppers out of the

molasses. They cut the smoked meat down and let it fall in the molasses.


"Every Saturday, they would give my father and his wife half a gallon of

molasses, so much side meat. And then they would give half a bushel of

meal I reckon. Whatever they would give they would give 'em right out of

the smoke house. Sweet potatoes they would give. Sugar and coffee they'd

make. There wasn't nothing 'bout buying no sugar then.

How the Day Went

"The riding boss would come round before the day broke and wake you up.

You had to be in the field before sun-up--that is the man would. The

woman who had a little child had a little more play than the man,

because she had to care for the child before she left. She had to carry

the child over to the old lady that took care of the babies. The cook

that cooked up to the big house, she cooked bread and milk and sent it

to the larger children for their dinner. They didn't feed the little

children because their mothers had to nurse them. The mother went to the

field as soon as she cared for her child. She would come back and nurse

the child around about twice. She would come once in the morning about

ten o'clock and once again at twelve o'clock before she ate her own

lunch. She and her husband ate their dinner in the field. She would come

back again about three p.m. Then you wouldn't see her any more till dark

that night. Long as you could see you had to stay in the field. They

didn't come home till sundown.

"Then the mother would go and get the children and bring them home. She

would cook for supper and feed them. She'd have to go somewheres and get

them. Maybe the children would be asleep before she would get all that

done. Then she would have to wake them up and feed them.

"I remember one time my sister and me were laying near the fire asleep

and my sister kicked the pot over and burned me from my knee to my foot.

My old master didn't have no wife, so he had me carried up to the house

and treated by the old woman who kept the house for him. She was a

slave. When I got so I could hobble around a little, he would sometimes

let the little niggers come up to the house and I would get these big

peanuts and break them up and throw them out to them so he could have

fun seeing them scramble for them.

"After the children had been fed, the mother would cook the next day's

breakfast and she would cook the next day's dinner and put it in the

pail so that everything would be ready when the riding boss would come

around. Cause when he came, it meant move.

The Old Lady at the Big House

"The old lady at the big house took care of the gourds and bowls. The

parents didn't have nothing to do with them. She fed the children that

was weaned. Mother and daddy didn't have nothing to do with that at

noontime because they was in the field. White folks fed them corn bread

and milk. Up to the big house besides that, she didn't have anything to

do except take care of things around the house, keep the white man's

things clean and do his cooking.

"She never carried the gourds and bowls herself. She just fixed them.

The yard man brought them down to the quarters and we would take them

back. She wash them and scrape them till they was white and thin as

paper. They was always clean.

"She wasn't related to me. I couldn't call her name to save my life.


"We come from Barbour, Alabama with a trainful of people that were

immigrating. We just chartered a train and came, we had so many. Of all

the old people that came here in that time, my aunt is the oldest. You

will find her out on Twenty-fourth Street and Pulaski. She has been my

aunt ever since I can remember. She must be nearly a hundred or more.


"When we had the patrollers it was just like the white man would have

another white man working for him. It was to see that the Negroes went

to bed on time and didn't steal nothing. But my master and missis never

allowed anybody to whip their slaves.

What the Slaves Expected and Got

"I don't know what the slaves was expecting to get, but my parents when

they left Ben See's place had nothing but the few clothes in the house.

They didn't give em nothing. They had some clothes all right, enough to

cover themselves. I don't know what kind or how much because I wasn't

old enough to know all into such details.

"When we left Ben See's plantation and went down into Alabama, we left

there on a wagon. Daddy was driving four big steers hitched to it. There

was just three of us children. The little boy my mother was schooling

then, it died. It died when we went down betwixt New Falls and

Montgomery, Alabama. I don't know when we left Alabama nor how long we

stayed there. After he was told he was free, I know he didn't make nare

another crop on Ben See's plantation.


"My father, when he left from where we was freed, he went to hauling

logs for a sawmill, and then he farmed. He done that for years, driving

these old oxen. He mostly did this logging and my mother did the


"I can't tell you what kind of time it was right after the Civil War

because I was too young to notice. All our lives I had plenty to eat.

When we first came to Arkansas we stopped at old Mary Jones down in

Riceville, and then we went down on the Gates Farm at Biscoe. Then we

went from there to Atkins up in Pope County. No, he went up in the sand

hills and bought him a home and then he went up into Atkins. Of course,

I was a married woman by that time.

"I married the second year I came to Arkansas, about sixty-two or

sixty-three years ago. I have lived in Little Rock about thirty-two or

thirty-three years. When I first came here, I came right up here on

Seventeenth and State streets.


"I never voted. For twenty years the old white lady I stayed with looked

after my taxes. None of my friends ever voted. I ain't got nothing but

some children and they ain't never been crazy enough to go to anybody's



"I have two brothers dead and a sister. My mother is dead. I am not sure

whether or not my father is dead. The Ku Klux scared him out of Atkins,

and he went up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and I ain't never heard of him since.

I don't know whether he is dead or not.

"I have raised five children of my own.

Ku Klux Klan

"These Ku Klux, they had not long ago used to go and whip folks that

wasn't doing right. That was mongst the white people and the colored.

Comer that used to have this furniture store on Main Street, he used to

be the head of it, they say.

"I used to work for an old white man who told me how they done. They

would walk along the street with their disguises hidden under their

arms. Then when they got to the meeting place, they would put their

disguises on and go out and do their devilment. Then when they were

through, they would take the disguise off again and go on back about

their business, Old man Wolf, he used to tell me about it.


"I nursed for every prominent doctor in Little Rock,--Dr. Judd, Dr.

Flynch, Dr. Flynn, Dr. Fly, Dr. Morgan Smith, and a number of others."

Diana Rankins Dilly Yelladay facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail