G W Hawkins


Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor

Person interviewed: G. W. Hawkins

1114 Appianway, Little Rock, Arkansas

Age: 73

"I was born in Lamar County, Vernon, Alabama, January 1, 1865. I was a

slave only four months.

"My father was Arter Hawkins and my mother was named Frances. My

grandmother on my mother's side was Malvina. I forget the name of my

great-grandmother, but I believe it was Elizabeth. She was one hundred

nine years old and I was twelve years old then. Her mind was just like a

little sparrow floating in the air. That was my great-grandmother on my

mother's side. My grandfather on my father's side was named Alec Young.

My mother's father was named Eliza Wright.

"My mother's people were the Hawkins, and my father's were the Yanceys.

"My father and mother were farmers, and ran whiskey stills. There wasn't

any revenue on whiskey then. The first revenue ever paid on whiskey was

ten cents. The reason I remember that so well was that a fellow named

John Hayman ran a still after the revenue was put on the stuff. Finally

they caught him. They fined him.

"My folks farmed right after freedom and they farmed in slavery time.

They didn't raise no cotton. They raised corn and wheat and such as that

in Alabama. Alabama is good for cotton, corn, wheat, tobacco, or

anything you want to grow. It is the greatest fruit country in the


"Right after freedom, my folks continued to farm till they all played


[HW: Insert on P. 9]

"I came out here after I got grown. I just took a notion to go somewhere

else. I have been in Arkansas forty-eight years. I first lived in

Forrest City. Stayed there six years and did carpenter work. I have been

a carpenter all my life--ever since I was about sixteen years old. I

went to Barton, Arkansas and stayed there two years and then came here.

I have supported myself by carpenter work ever since I came here. I

helped build the Frisco Road from Potts Camp to the Alabama River. That

is the other side of Jefferson County in Alabama.

"I haven't asked for the old folks pension--can't get no one to believe

that I am old enough for one thing. Can't get it nohow. It is for

destitute people. I can't get under the security because they say I am

too old for that. I'm too much of a worker to get old age assistance and

too old to be allowed to put up tax to become eligible for old age


"I never went to school. I just got an old blue back speller and taught

myself how to read and write with what I picked up here and there from

people I watched. That's one way a man never fails to learn--watching

people. That's the only way our forefathers had to learn. I learned

arithmetic the same way. I never considered I was much at figuring but I

took a contract from a man who had all kinds of education and that man

said I could do arithmetic better than he could.

"I belong to the A. M. E. Church. I have been a member of it for

forty-one years.

"I have three boys living and one stepdaughter. But she feels like she

is my own. I don't make any difference. I never have whipped my

children. I had one child--a girl--that died when she was eight months

old. I taught all my boys the carpenter trade, and they all work and

stay right here at home with me."

Living Conditions during and Immediately after Slavery

"There are two quarters that I used to visit with my grandmother when I

was a little boy. The boss's house was built so that he could stand on

the porch of his house and see anything on the place, even in the slave

quarters. The houses were all built out of logs. The roof was put on

with what they called rib poles. They built the cable and cut each beam

shorter than the other. They laid the boards across them and put a big

log on top of them to weight them down, so that the wind couldn't blow

the planks off. They were home-made planks. They didn't have no nails.

They had nothing but dirt floors.

"Where the men folks were thrifty when they wanted to, they would go out

at night and split the logs into slabs and then level them as much as

they could and use those for floors. All the colored folks' were split

log floors if there were any floors at all. There was no lumber then.

The planks were made with whipsaws and water-mills. I was a grown man

before I ever saw a steam mill. The quarters that I saw were those that

were built in slave time.

"If cracks were too big, they would put a pole in the crack and fill up

the rest of it with mud--that is what they called chink and dob. The

doors were hung on wooden hinges. They would bore a hole through the

hinge and through the door and put a wooden pin in it in place of

screws. There wasn't a nail or a screw in the whole house when it was

finished. They did mortise and tenon joints--all frame houses. Where we

use nails now, if they had to, they would bore a hole and drive in a

pin--wooden pin."


"The colored folks would put a post out from the corner and bore a hole

and put the other end in it. They wouldn't have any slats but would just

lay boards across the side and put wheat or oat straw on the boards.

The women made all the quilts. What I mean, they carded the rolls, spun

the thread--spun it on an old hand-turned wheel--and then they would

reel it off of the broach onto the reel and make hanks out of it. Then

they would run it off on what they called quills. Then it would go

'round a big pin and come out with the threads separated. Then they

would run through something like a comb and that would make the cloth.

"It was the rule in slave time to card one hundred rolls. Sometimes they

would be up till after twelve o'clock at night. They carded that in one

night and spun it the next night. Start with old cotton just like it

come from the gin. Card it one night and spin it the next. Done wool and

cotton the same way. One hundred rolls carded gave enough threads to

make a yard of cloth.

"In them days they tasked everybody to the limit."


"For stoves they used an iron pot on a big fire. In the kitchen, they

had a fireplace built ten feet wide. They had things they called pot

racks hung down from the chimney, and they would hang pots on them. They

put the pots on those hooks and not on the logs. When they baked bread

they would use iron skillets--North Carolina people called them spiders.

They would put an iron lid on them and put fire over the top and

underneath the skillet and bake good bread. I mean that old-time bread

was good bread. They baked the light bread the same way. They baked

biscuits once a week. Sunday mornings was about the only time you ever

got them."

Food in General (Slaves)

"In slavery times they had all kinds of meat--more than they have now--,

vegetables and fruits too. They raised them themselves. There wasn't no

food issued. Didn't need to be. One cook cooked it all in one kitchen

and they all sat around the same big old long table long as a house. All

the hands ate at the same table and in the same room and at the same


"The way they fed the children, they took pot-liquor or bean soup or

turnip liquor or the juice from anything they boiled and poured it out

in a great big wooden bowl and let all the children get 'round it like

so many cats and they would just tip their hands in it and eat what they

wanted. Of course they had all the milk they wanted because everybody

raised cows. I didn't have to undergo this myself, but this was what

they had to undergo at the places where my grandmother took me to visit."


"A colored boy had to be more than twelve years old before he wore a

pair of pants. He wore nothing but a long shirt that come down to his

knees. The hands in slave time wore homemade shirts. All clothes were

homemade--pants and coats and dresses and stockings and everything. The

shoes were made out of harness leather. Tanned and made right by hand at

home. I have seen tanning vats and yards two blocks square."


"You had to get a pass from owners to go out at night. If you had a pass

and the pateroles found you, it was all right if you hadn't overstayed

the time that was written on it. If you didn't have a pass or if you had

overstayed your time, it was still all right if you could outrun the

pateroles. That held before freedom and it held a long time after

freedom. The pateroles were still operating when I was old enough to

remember those old quarters. They didn't break them up for a long time.

I remember them myself. I don't mean the Ku Klux. The Ku Klux was a

different thing altogether. The Ku Klux didn't exist before the War. I

don't know where they got the name from--I don't know whether they give

it to themselves or the people give it to them. But the Ku Klux came

after the War and weren't before it."

Ku Klux Influence on Negroes

"The Ku Klux Klan weren't just after Negroes. They got after white folks

and Negroes both. I didn't think they were so much after keeping the

Negro from voting as some other things.

"There was one colored fellow in Alabama--I think his name was Egbert

Bondman--that wasn't influenced. He was a politician and they got after

him one time. He lived about six miles south of Vernon in Lamar County,

Alabama. He went down to the hole where they watered their horses and

stretched an old cable wire across the road just high enough to trip up

their horses. He hid in the woods and cut down on them with his shotgun

when they came up. I hear there was one more scramble when those horses

commenced stumbling, and those men started running through the forest to

get away from that shot.

"I remember one night my mother woke me up, and I looked out and there

was a lot of the Ku Klux riding down the road. They had on long white

robes and looked like a flock of geese in the dark.

"The main thing the Ku Klux seemed to try to do, it seemed to me, was to

try to keep the colored folks obedient to their former masters and to

keep the white folks from giving them too much influence. And they

wanted to stop the white men that ran after colored women.

"But they didn't last long. They whipped a fellow named Huggins in the

early seventies, and he was a government man. After that government men

camped on their trail, and they didn't amount to much."

Slave Breeding

"The thing they were fighting began in slavery. There were slave men

kept that forced slave women to do what they wanted to do. And if the

slave women didn't do it, the masters or the overseers whipped them till

they did. The women were beat and made to go to them. They were big fine

men, and the masters wanted the women to have children by them. And

there were some white men, too, who forced the slave women to do what

they wanted to. Some of them didn't want to stop when slavery stopped."

Slave Tasks and Hours of Work

"I've told you the slaves were tasked to the limit. The hours of the

slave hands--if it was summer time--he must be in the field when the sun

rose. And he must come home and eat his dinner and get back in the field

and stay till the sun went down. In the winter time he must be out there

by the time it was light enough to see the work and stay out till it was

just too dark to see the work with just enough time out to stop and eat

his dinner. This was just after slavery that I remember. But the hours

were the same then. The average on cotton picking was two hundred pounds

a day. Pulling fodder was a hundred bundles. Gathering corn and such as

that was all they could do."

Wages just after Freedom

"The average wage that a man got for twenty-six days' work--twenty-six

days were counted a working month--was eight dollars and board for the

month. That was the average wage for work like that. That is the way

they worked then."

This Matter of Slave Clothes Again

"Clothes!!! They didn't know nothing 'bout underclothes. They didn't

wear them just after the War, and I know they didn't before the War--not

in my part of Alabama. That's the reason why they say the Negro is cold

natured. He didn't have anything on. I have seen many a boy picking and

chopping cotton on a cold autumn day with nothing on but his shirt. In

his bare feet too. He got one pair of shoes a year and he didn't get no

more. When he wore them out, he didn't have any till the next year.

"When I was a boy I have seen many a young lady walk to church with her

shoes flung over her shoulders and wait till she got nearly there before

she would put them on. She didn't want to wear them out too soon.

"I didn't have to undergo this myself.

"When I was ten years old, my job was to drive a [HW: ox] team

twenty-six miles, and it took me two days to go and two days to come and

one day to load and unload--five days. The team was loaded with cotton

going and anything coming back. We used to get salt from some place near

New Orleans. We would drive ox teams down there, put in on order, wait

till they dipped the water out of the lake, boiled the salt out of it,

and packed it up. There was no such thing as mining salt like they do

now. It would take from August first till about the middle of September

to get it. Ox team won't make more than about twelve miles a day. The

people would make up a wagon train and go and come together. People in

those days didn't believe a horse would pull anything but a buggy, so

they used steers mostly for heavy pulling. They ran all gins and

thrashers by horse power and the running gear was all made out of wood.

A lot of people say you couldn't make a wooden cotton press that would

pack a bale of cotton. You can make a wooden press that will break a

bale in two. Of course the gin was made out of metal. But they made the

press out of wood."

Slave Schooling

"The slaves were not allowed to learn anything. Sometimes one would be

shrewd enough to get in with the white children and they would teach him

his a-b-c's, and after he learnet to spell he would steal books and get

out and learn the rest for himself."

How Freedom Came

"The way I heard it the owners called their slaves up and told them they

was free. They give them their choice of leaving or staying. Most of

them stayed."

First Crop after Freedom

"In 1865, when the slaves were freed, they acknowledged they were free

in May in Alabama. All that was free and would stay and help them make

their crops, they give them one-tenth. That is, one-tenth went to all

the hands put together. Of course if they had a lot of hands that

wouldn't be much. Then again, it might be a good deal. I know about that

by hearing the old people talk about it."


"I'll tell you my opinions some other time. I think the young people are

beyond control. I don't have any trouble with mine. I never have had any

trouble with them."

Frozie Moss Game Emanuel facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail