Henry Coleman

Project 1885-1

From Field Notes.

Spartanburg, Dist. 4

April 29, 1937

Edited by:

Elmer Turnage


"I wuz born in Fairfield, dat is over yonder across Broad River, you

knos what dat is, don't you? Yes sir, it wuz on Marse Johnson D.

Coleman's plantation. And he had a plantation! Dese niggers here in

Carlisle--and niggers is all dey is too--dey don't know what no

plantation is. When I got big enough fer to step around, from de very

fus, my maw took me in de big house. It still dat, cep it done bout fell

down now, to what it wuz then. But some of Marse's folks, dey libs down

dar still. Den you see, dey is like dese white folks up 'round here now.

Dey ain't got no big money like dey had when I wuz a runnin' up. Time I

got big enough fer to run aroun' in my shirt tail, my maw, she lowed one

night to my paw, when he wuz settin by de fire, dat black little nigger

over dar, he got to git hissef some pants kaise I'se gwine to put him up

over de white fokes table. In dem times de doos and winders, dey nebber

had no screen wire up to dem like dey is now. Fokes didn't know nothin

bout no such as dat den. My Marster and all de other big white fokes,

dey raised pea fowls. Is yu ebber seed any? Well, ev'y spring us little

niggers, we coch dem wild things at night. Dey could fly like a buzzard.

Dey roosted up in de pine trees, right up in de tip top. So de Missus,

she hab us young uns clam up dar and git 'em when dey first took roost.

Us would clam down and my maw, she would pull de long feathers out'n de

tails. Fer weeks de cocks, dey wouldn't let nobody see 'em if dey could

help it. Dem birds is sho proud. When dey is got de feathers, dey jus

struts on de fences, and de fences wuz rail in dem days. If'n dey could

see dereself in a puddle o' water after a rain, dey would stay dar all

day a struttin' and carring on like nobody's business. Yes sir, dem wuz

purty birds. After us got de feathers, de Missus, she'ud low dat all de

nigger gals gwine to come down in de wash house and make fly brushes.

Sometime de Missus 'ud gib some of de gals some short feathers to put in

dere Sunday hats. When dem gals got dem hats on, I used to git so

disgusted wid 'em I'd leave 'em at church and walk home by my sef.

Anyway, by dat time all de new fly brushes wuz made and de Missus, she

hab fans make from de short feathers for de white fokes to fan de air

wid on hot days. Lawdy, I'se strayed fur from what I had started out fer

to tell you. But I knowed dat you young fokes didn't know nothin' bout

all dat. In dem days de dining room wuz big and had de windows open all

de summer long, and all de doos stayed streched too. Quick as de mess of

victuals began to come on de table, a little nigger boy was put up in de

swing, I calls it, over de table to fan de flies and gnats off'en de

Missus' victuals. Dis swing wuz just off'n de end of de long table. Some

of de white fokes had steps a leadin' up to it. Some of 'em jus had de

little boys maws to fech de young'uns up dar till dey got fru; den dey

wuz fetched down again.

"Well, when I got my pants, my maw fetched me in and I clumb up de steps

dat Marse Johnson had, to git up in his swing wid. At fus, dey had to

show me jus how to hole de brush, kaise dem peacock feathers wuz so

long, iffen you didn't mind your bizness, de ends of dem feathers would

splash in de gravy er sumpin nother, and den de Missus table be all

spattered up. Some o' de Marsters would whorp de nigger chilluns fer dat

carelessness, but Marse Johnson, he always good to his niggers. Mos de

white fokes good to de niggers round bout whar I comes from.

"It twad'nt long for I got used to it and I nebber did splash de

feathers in no rations. But iffen I got used to it, I took to agoin to

sleep up thar. Marse Johnson, he would jus git up and wake me up. All de

white fokes at de table joke me so bout bein' so lazy, I soon stop dat

foolishness. My maw, she roll her eyes at me when I come down atter de

marster had to wake me up. Dat change like ever thing else. When I got

bigger, I got to be house boy. Dey took down de swing and got a little

gal to stand jus 'hind de Missus' chair and fan dem flies. De Missus low

to Marse Johnson dat de style done change when he want to know how come

she took de swing down. So dat is de way it is now wid de wimmen, dey

changes de whole house wid de style; but I tells my chilluns, ain't no

days like de ole days when I wuz a shaver.

"Atter de war, I come up to Shelton and got to de 'P' Hamilton place. I

wuz grown den. I seed a young girl dar what dey called 'Evvie'. Her paw,

he had b'longed to de Chicks, so dats who she wuz, Evvie Chick. Dar she

sets in dat room by de fire. Now us got 'leven chilluns. Dey is

scattered all about. Dey is good to us in our ole age. Us riz 'em to

obey de Lawd and mine us. Dats all dey knows, and iffen fokes would do

dat now, dey wouldn't have no sassy chilluns like I sees here in


"Evvie, what year wuz it we got married? Yes, dat's right. It wuz de

year of de 'shake'. Is you heerd bout de 'shake'? Come out here Evvie

and les tell him dat, kaise dese young fokes doan know nothin'. It wuz

dark, and we wuz eatin' supper, when sumpin started to makin' de dishes

fall out'n de cupboard. At fus we thought it wuz somebody a jumpin' up

and down on de flo. Den we knowed dat it wuz sumpin else er makin' dem

dishes fall out o' de cupboard. At fus we thought it wuz Judgment day,

kaise ev'ry thing started fallin' worser and worser. De dishes fell so

fast you couldn't pick'em up. Some of us went down to de spring. De

white fokes, dey come along wid us and dey make us fetch things from de

big house, like fine china dat de Missus didn't want to git broke up.

She tole us dat it wuz er earthquake and it wasn't no day o' Judgment.

Anyway, we lowed de white fokes might be wrong, so us niggers started to

a prayin', and den all de niggers on de plantation dat heerd us, well de

come along and jined wid us in de prayin' and singin'. Us wuz all a

shakin' mos as bad as de earth wuz, kaise dat wuz a awful time dat we

libbed through fer bout twenty minutes--de white fokes lowed it lasted

only ten, but I ain't sho about dat. When we got back to de big house,

de cupboard in de kitchen had done fell plum' down. In de nigger houses,

de chimneys mos all fell in, and de chicken houses ev'rywhar wuz shuck

down. While we wuz a lookin' aroun, and de wimmen fokes, dey wuz a

takin' on mightily another shake come up. Us all took fer de spring

agin; dis one lasted bout long as de first one. Us prayed and sung and

shouted dis time. It sho stopped de earth a shakin' and a quiverin'

some, kaise dat thing went on fer a whole week; ceptin de furs two wuz

de heaviest. All de other ones wuz lighter. Iffen it hadn't been fur us

all a beggin' de Lawd fer to sho us his mercy, it ain't no tellin' how

bad dem shakes would er been. Miss Becky Levister, you know her, she

live up yander in your uncle John's house now, she wuz wid us. She wuz

jus a little girl den. Her paw wuz Mr. Kelly. He died for ever you wuz

born. Not long ago I seed her. She lowed to me, 'uncle Henry, do you

recollect in de time o' de shake? Lacken she think I'd fergit such as

dat. It wuz in de time o' de worsest things dis ole nigger is ebber seed

hisself, and I is gwine on 82 now. Miss Becky, she wuz a settin' in her

car wid some one drivin' her, but she ain't fergot dis ole nigger. If I

is up town and Miss Becky, she ride by, she look out and lows' 'Howdy

uncle Henry', and I allus looks up and raises my hat. I likes mannerable

white fokes, mysef, and den, I likes mannerable niggers fer as dat goes.

Some of dese fokes, now both white--I hates to say it--and niggers, dey

trys to act like dey ain't got no sense er sumpin'. But you know one

thing I knos real fokes when I sees dem and dey can't fool me."

Aunt Evvie tells the following story about her father, Rufus Chick. The

story is known by all of the reliable white folks of the surrounding

neighborhood also: "My paw, Rufus Chick, lived on the Union side of

Broad River, the latter days of his life. Maj. James B. Steadman had

goats over on Henderson Island that my paw used to care for. He went

over to the Island in a batteau. One afternoon, he and four other

darkies were going over there when the batteau turned over. The four

other men caught to a willow bush and were rescued. My paw could not

swim, and he got drowned. For three weeks they searched for his body,

but they never did find it. Some years after, a body of a darky was

found at the mouth of the canal, down near Columbia. The body was

perfectly petrified. This was my paw's body. The canal authorities sent

the body to a museum in Detroit. It was January 11, 1877 when my father

got drowned.

"When I wuz a young fellow I used to race wid de horses. I wuz de swifes

runner on de plantation. A nigger, Peter Feaster, had a white horse of

his own, and de white fokes used to bet amongst de selves as much as

$20.00 dat I could outrun dat horse. De way us did, wuz to run a hundred

yards one way, turn around and den run back de hundred yards. Somebody

would hold de horse, and another man would pop de whip fer us to start.

Quick as de whip popped, I wuz off. I would git sometimes ten feet ahead

of de horse 'fore dey could git him started. Den when I had got de

hundred yards, I could turn around quicker dan de horse would, and I

would git a little mo' ahead. Corse wid dat, you had to be a swift man

on yer feets to stay head of a fas horse. Peter used to git so mad when

I would beat his ole horse, and den all de niggers would laf at him

kaise de white fokes give me some of de bettin money. Sometimes dey

would bet only $10.00, sometimes, $15 or $20. Den I would race wid de

white fokes horses too. Dey nebber got mad when I come out ahead. After

I got through, my legs used to jus shake like a leaf. So now, I is gib

plum out in dem and I tributes it to dat. Evvie, she lowed when I used

to do dat after we wuz married, dat I wuz gwine to give out in my legs,

and sho nuf I is."

"Uncle" Henry says that his legs have given out in the bone.

Source: Henry Coleman and his wife, Evvie, of Carlisle, S. C.

Interviewer: Caldwell Sims, Union, S. C.

Henry Clay Moorman Henry Davis facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail