Emma Sanderson

Interviewer: Mary D. Hudgins

Person Interviewed: Emma Sanderson

Home: 617 Wade Street, Hot Springs.

Aged: 75

"Emma Sanderson"--"Wade Street". That was all the prospective

interviewer could learn. "Emma Sanderson--ex-slave!" "Wade Street"--"Why

it's way off that way. You go sort of thatta way, and then thatta way."

A city map disclosed no Wade Street. Maps belonging to a local

abstractor helped not a whit. "Insurance maps are in more detail."

someone advised, "Wade Street," mused the young woman at the desk, "I've

heard of it. We have written a policy for someone there." The head of

the department was new to the city, but he was eager to help. After

about five minutes search--from wall maps to bound volumes of blocks

and back again it appeared that "Wade Street" more frequently known as

"Washington Street" meanders wanderingly from Silver Street, in the

colored section out to the "Gorge addition" inhabited by low economic

level whites.

Down Malvern Avenue (Hot springs' Beale Street) went the interviewer. On

she went past the offices of a large Chicago packing house. For better

then a block she trudged by dilapidated shops which a few seasons back

had housed one of the key transient centers of the U.S.A. Down the

street she walked, pausing for a moment to note that coffee colored

faces decorated the placards in the beauty shop window--two well groomed

mulatto girls sitting inside, evidently operators. Her course took her

past sandwich joints and pool halls. Nails, she noted as she drifted

along, had been driven into the projection beneath the plate glass

window of the brick bank (closed during the depression--a building and

bank built, owned and operated by negro capital) to keep loungers away.

The colored theater (negroes are admitted only to the balconies of

theaters in Hot Springs--one section of the balcony at the legitimate

theater) she noticed was now serving as a religious gathering place. The

well built and excellently maintained Pythian Bath house (where the hot

waters are made available to colored folk) with the Alice Eve Hospital

(45 beds, 5 nurses, 2 resident physicians--negro doctors thruout the

town cooperating--surgical work a specialty) stood out in quiet dignity.

For the rest, buildings were an indiscriminate hodge-podge of homes,

apartment houses, shacks, and chain groceries. At the corner where "the

street turns white" the interviewer turned east.

The Langston High School (for colored--with a reputation for turning out

good cooks, football players and academicians) stands on Silver Street.

A few paces from the building the interviewer met a couple of plump

colored women laughing and talking loudly.

"I beg your pardon," was her greeting, "can you tell me where Wade

Street is?" They could and did. They were so frankly interested in

knowing why the white women wanted Emma Sanderson that she told them

her mission. They were not taken aback--there was no servility--no

resentment they were frankly charmed with the idea. Their directions for

finding Mrs. Sanderson became even more explicit.

When the proper turn off was found the question of Wade versus

Washington Street was settled. A topsy-turvy sign at the intersection

announced that Wade Street was ahead. Emma Sanderson's grandson lived a

couple of blocks down the road.

Only the fact that she could hear someone inside moving about kept the

interviewer hammering on the door. Finally she was rewarded by a voice.

"Is that somebody a' knockin'?" In a moment the door opened. The

question, "Were you a slave" no matter how delicately put is a difficult

one to ask, but Mrs. Sanderson was helpful, if doubtful that her story

would do much good. "I was just so little when it all happened." But the

interviewer was invited in and placed in a chair near the fire.

"No ma'am. He ain't my grandson--I's the third grandmother. No son, you

ain't three--you's five. Don't you remember what I told you? Yes, he

stays with me, ma'am. I take care of him while the rest of 'em works.

"It's hard for me to remember. I was just so little. Yes, ma'am, I was

born a slave--but I was so little. Seems to me like I remember a big,

big house. We was sort of out in the country---out from Memphis. I know

there was my father and my mother and my uncles and my aunts. I know

there was that many. How many more of us old man Doc Walker had--I just

don't know. They must have took good care of us tho. My mother was a

house nigrah.

"When the war was ready to quit they gave us our pick. We could stay on

and work for wages or we could go. The folks decided that the'd go on in

to Memphis. My Mother and Father didn't live together none after we went

to town. First I lived with Mother and then when she died my Father took

me. My mother died when I was 9. She worked at cooking and washing. When

I was big enough I went to school. I kept on going to school after my

Father took me. He died when I was about 15. By that time I was old

enough to look out after myself.

"What did I do? I stayed in folkses houses. I cooked and I washed. Then

when I was about 16, I married. After that I had a man to take care of

me. He was a carpenter.

"We been here in Hot Springs a long time--you maybe heared of

Sanderson--he took up platering and he was good too. How long I been in

Hot Springs--law I don't know--'cept I was a full grown women when we


"I's had four children--all of 'em is dead. I lives with my grandson.

The little fellow, he'll be old enough to go to school in a year or two.

A dime for him ma'am--an' 2 cents besides? Now son you keep the dime and

you can spend the pennies. I always tries to teach him to save. Then

when he gets big he'll know what to do."

Dining room and living room joined one another by means of a high and

wide arch. The stove was sensibly set up in this passage. Both rooms

were comfortably furnished with products which had in all probability

been bought new. The child stood close by thruout the entire

conversation. There was no whit of timidity about him, nor was he the

least impertinent. He was frankly interested and wanted to know what was

being said. He received the dime and the pennies with a pleasant grin

and a (grandmother prompted) "Thank you". But the gift didn't startle

him. Dimes must have been a fairly usual part of his life. But a few

minutes before the interviewer left she dropped her pencil. It was new

and long and yellow. The child's eyes clung to it as he returned it.

"Would you like to have it." the young woman asked, "would you like a

pencil of your very own, to draw with?" Would he! The child's whole face

beamed. Dimes were as nothing compared to shiney new pencils. The third

grandchild was overjoyed with his new plaything. Ella Sanderson was

delighted with her great grandchild's pleasure. The interviewer received

a warm and friendly "Good-bye".

Emma Oats Emma Stone facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail