Henry Green


Interviewer: Watt McKinney

Person interviewed: Henry Green

Barton, Arkansas

Age: 90

Uncle Henry Green, an ex-slave ninety years of age, is affectionately

known throughout a large part of Phillips County as "Happy Day". This

nickname, acquired in years long past, was given him no doubt partly on

account of his remarkably happy disposition, but mainly on account of

his love for the old religious song, "Happy Day", that Uncle Henry has

enjoyed so long to sing and the verses of which his voice still carries

out daily over the countryside each morning promptly at daybreak and

again at sundown.

Uncle Henry and his old wife, Louisa, live with Uncle Henry's sister,

Mattie Harris, herself seventy-five years of age, on a poor forty acre

farm that Mattie owns in the Hyde Park community just off the main

highway between Walnut Corner and West Helena. Henry acts as janitor at

the Lutherian Church at Barton and the three do such farming as they are

able on the thin acres and with the few dollars that they receive each

month from the Welfare Board together with the supplies furnished them

at the Relief Office these three old folks are provided with the bare

necessities sufficient to sustain them.

Uncle Henry, his wife and sister Mattie are the most interesting of the

several ex-slave Negroes in this county whom it has been my pleasure and

good fortune to interview. As I sat with them on the porch of their old,

rambling log house the following incidents and account of their lives

were given with Uncle Henry talking and Mattie and Louisa offering

occasional explanations and corrections:

"Yes sir, Boss Man, my right name is Henry Green but eberybody, dey all

calls me 'Happy Day'. Dat is de name whut mos' all calls me fer so long

now dat heap of de folks, dey don't eben know dat my name is sho nuf

Henry Green. I sho ain't no baby, Boss Man, kase I is been here er long

time, dat I is, and near as I kin cum at hit I is ninety years old er

mo, kase Mattie sey dat de lady in de cote-house tell her dat I is

ninety-fo, en dat wuz three years er go. I is er old nigger, Boss Man,

en er bout de onliest old pusson whut is lef er round here in dis part

of de county. I means whut is sho nuf old, en what wuz born way bak in

de slabery times, way fo de peace wuz 'clared.

"Us wuz borned, dat is me en sister Mattie, er way bak dere in Souf

Alabama, down below Montgomery, in de hills, en on de big place whut our

ole marster, William Green, had, en whar de tanyard wuz. Yo see, old

marster, he runned er big tanyard wid all de res of he bizness, whar dey

tan de hides en mek de shoes en leather harness en sich lak, en den too,

marster, he raise eberything on de place. All whut he need fer de

niggers en he own fambly, lak cotton, wheat, barley, rice en plenty hogs

en cows. Iffen peace hadn't er been 'clared en Marse Billy hadn't er

died I wuz gwine ter be Marse Billy's property, kase I wuz already

willed ter Marse Billy. Marse Billy wuz old Marster William Green's

oldest son chile, en Marse Billy claimed me all de while. Marse Billy,

he went off to de War whar he tukkin sik en died in de camp, 'fore he

cud eben git in de fitin.

"Atter de War wuz ober en peace cum, my grandmammy en my grandpappy, dey

cum en got my mammy en all us chillun en tuk us wid dem ter Montgomery,

en dat wuz whar us wuz when dem two Yankee mens immigrated us here ter

Arkansas. Dey immigrated er bout er hundred head er niggers at de same

time dat us cum. My grandpappy en my grandmammy, dey didn't belong ter

old Marster William Green. I jist don't know whut white folks dey did

belong ter, but I knows dat dey sho cum en got my mammy en us chillun.

Old marster, he neber mine dem er leavin' en tole 'em dat dey free, en

kin go if us want ter go, en when us left old marster gib mammy ten

bushels er corn en some hog heads en spareribs en tole her ter bring de

chillun bak er gin 'fore long kase he gwine ter gib all de chillun some

shoes at de tanyard, but us neber did go bak ter git dem shoes kase we

wuz immigrated soon atter den.

"No sir, Boss Man, we don't know nuthin' 'bout who our pappy wuz. Dar

wuzn't no niggers much in slabery times whut knowed nuthin' 'bout dey

pappys. Dey jes knowed who dey mammys is. Dats all dey knowed 'bout dat.

Us neber hab no pappy, jes er mammy whut wuz name Emily Green.

"Boss Man, yo see how black I is en kinky dat my hair is en yo can see

dat me en sister Mattie is sho pure niggers wid no brown in us. Well, yo

know one thing, Boss Man, en dis is sho whut my mammy done tole us er

heap er times, en dat is dat when I wuz born dat de granny woman runned

ter old mis en tell her ter cum en look at dat baby whut Emily done

gibed birth ter, and dat I wuz nigh 'bout white en hed straight hair en

blue eyes, en when old mis seed me dat she so mad dat she gib mammy er

good stroppin kase I born lak dat but hit warn't long atter I born 'fore

I gits black, en old mis see den dat I er pure nigger, en den she tell

mammy dat she sorry dat she stropped her 'bout me being white en er

habin blue eyes en straight hair. No sir, Boss Man, I jes don't know how

cum I change but dat sho is whut mammy did tell us. Sister Mattie, she

know dat.

"Yes sir, Boss Man, I kin tell you all er bout de old slabery times, en

cordin ter whut I'se thinkin', en fer as me myself is, wid de times so

tight lak dey is now days wid me, and all de time be er stud'in' 'bout

how ter git er long, hit wud be er heap better fer hit to be lak hit wuz

den, kase us neber hed nuthin ter worry 'bout den cept ter do dat whut

we wuz tole ter do, en all de eatin' en de cloes wuz gib ter us. Our

marster trained us up right, fer ter do our wuk good en ter obey whut de

white folks sey en ter sho be polite to de white folks, en atter us lef

old marster den our mammy she trained us de same way, en we is always

polite, kase manners is cheap.

"All de nigger chillun in slabery time wore slips, bofe de gals en de

boys. Dere wuzn't no breeches fer de little ones eben atter dey git old

enuf ter wuk en go ter de fiel's, dey still wear dem slips, en dey used

ter feed us outen dem big wooden bowls whut dey mix de bread up in, wid

sometimes de pot-likker, en sometimes mostly wid de milk, en de chillun,

dey go atter dat grub en git hit all ober dey faces en dey hands en dey

slips en er bout de time dey git through eatin' de old mis she cum out

en when dey through old mis, she hab 'em ter wash dey hands en faces

nice en clean.

"On dem Sundays dat de marster want all de niggers ter go ter church fer

de preachin', he send dem all de order ter wash up good en clean en put

on dey clean cloes en git ready fer de preachin', en fust ter cum up dar

whar he waitin' ter see dat dey look good en nice en clean, en when us

git up dar ter de house lookin' fresh en good, de marster's folks, dey

talk lak dis ter one er nudder; dey sey: 'Look er here at my nigger,

Henry, dat boy is lookin' fine. He is gwine ter be er big healthy man en

er good wukker,' en atter dey all done looked all de niggers ober dey

tell 'em ter be gwine on ter de church en dey go on en sit in de bak

behine all de white folks en hear de white man preach. Dar wuzn't no

nigger preachers in dem days dat I ever seed.

"Now I know dat yo has heard of dem paddyrollers. Well, I tell yo, Boss

Man, dem paddyrollers, dey wuz bilious. Dey wuz de mens whut rid out on

de roads at night ter see dat all dem niggers whut wuz out en off dey

marster's places hed er pass from dey marsters. Dem paddyrollers, dey

wud stop er nigger whut dey find out at night en sey, 'Boy, whar yo

gwine? En is yo got yo pass?' En de Lawd help dem niggers whut dey cotch

widout dat pass. Iffen er nigger be cotch out et night widout de pass

writ down on de paper frum he marster, en dem paddyrollers cotch him,

dat nigger sho haf ter do sum good prayin' en pretty talkin' er else dey

tek him ter whar dey got four stobs drove down in de groun en dey tie he

hans en feet ter dem stobs en den ware him out wid er big heaby strop.

De mostest reason dat sometimes de niggers out at night is on account

dey courtin' some gal whut libes on some udder place. When yo see de

paddyrollers er comin' en yo ain't got no pass writ down on de paper en

yo don't want ter git er stroppin, den de onliest thing fer yo ter do is

ter run en try ter git on yer marster's place 'fore dey git yo, er try

ter dodge 'em er somepin lak dat. Iffen de paddyrollers got dem nigger

hounds wid 'em when de nigger break en run, den de onliest thing dat de

nigger kin do den is ter wuk de conjure. He kin wuk dat conjure on dem

hounds in seberal different ways. Fust, he kin put er liddle tuppentine

on he feet er in he shoe, en er lot er times dat will frow de hounds off

de track, er else, iffen he kin git er hold er some fresh dirt whar er

grabe ain't been long dug, en rub dat on he feet, den dat is er good

conjure, en mo dan dat iffen he kin git ter catch er yearlin calf by der

tail en step in de drappins whar dat calf done runned er long wid him

er holdin' on ter de tail, den dat is a sho conjure ter mak dem hounds

lose de track, en dat nigger kin dodge de paddyrollers.

"Lak I sey, Boss Man, 'bout de onliest thing dat de niggers in slabery

time wud lebe de place at night fer, wud be dey courtin', en mostly den

on er Wednesday er Saturday night, so I gwine ter tell yo how dey

sometimes dodge de paddyrollers whilst dey courtin' dere wimmens at

night. Yo see, mos' all de wimmens, dey be er wukkin at night on dey

tasks dat dere old mis gib 'em ter do, er weavin' er de cloth. Dese

wimmens wud be er settin' 'roun de fire weavin' de cloth en de nigger be

dar too er courtin' de gal, en all ter once here cum dem paddyrollers,

some at de front door en some at de back door, en when de wimmens er

hear 'em er comin', dey raise er loose plank in de flo whut dey done

made loose fer dis bery puppus, en de nigger he den drap right quick

down 'neath de flo twix de jists, en de wimmens den slap de plank right

bak in place on top er de man ter hide him, so iffen de paddyrollers

does come in dat dey see dat dere ain't no man in dar. Dat wuz de way

dat de niggers used ter fool 'em heap er times.

"I 'members dem days well when de War gwine on yit I neber did see no

Yankee mens er tall, en de closest dat us eber cumbed ter see de Yankees

wuz dat time when old marster hed de horn blowed ter signal de niggers

ter git de kerrige hosses en de milk cows off ter de woods kase he had

done heard dat de Yankees wuz er cumin, but dey missed us en dem

Yankees, dey neber find old marster's place. I seed some of our sojer

mens do, once, atter us lef old marster en go ter Montgomery wid our

grandpappy. Dese sojer mens, dey come in ter town on de train bak frum

de War whar dey been fitin fer so long, en dey happy en singin', dey so

glad dat peace done 'clared. Hit wuz er whole train full er dem Fedrit

sojers, en dey wimmens en chilluns all dere er huggin' en er kissin' 'em

ginst dey git off de train en gibin 'em cakes en sich good things ter


"Yes sir, Boss Man, de niggers wuz treated good in slabery times en wuz

trained up right, ter wuk, en obey, en ter hab good manners. Our old

marster, he neber wud sell er nigger en he feed 'em good, en dey lub en

'spected him. Yo sho hed better 'spect him, en iffen yo didn't dat strop

wud be er flyin'. All er old marster's niggers wuz good multiplyin'

peoples. Dey sho wuz, en dey raise big famblies. Dats one thing whut er

woman hed ter be in dem days er she sho be sold quick. Iffen she ain't

er good multiplier dey gwine ter git shut er her rail soon. Day tuk

extra pains wid dem good multiplyin' wimmins too en neber gib dem no

heaby wuk ter do no mo dan weavin' de cloth er sich roun de place.

"Whilst our old marster, he neber sell no niggers, de speculators, dey

hab 'em fer sale er plenty, en I has seed 'em er passin' in de road en

er long string er gwine ter de place whar de sale gwine ter be. 'Fore

dey git ter de sale place dey roach dem niggers up good jes lak dey

roach er mule, en when dey put 'em on de block fer de white mens ter bid

de price on 'em den dey hab 'em ter cut de shines en de pidgeon wing fer

ter show off how supple dey is, so dey bring de bes' price.

"Dey neber hed no farm bells in slabery times fer ter ring en call de

hans in en outen de fiel's. Dey hed horns whut dey blowed early en late.

De wuk wud go on till hit so dark dat dey can't see. Den de horn wud

blow en de niggers all cum in en git dey supper, en cook dey ash cakes

in de fire whut dey build in dey own cabins. Boss Man, is yo eber et er

ash cake? I don't 'spects dat yo know how ter mek one er dem ash cakes.

I gwine ter tell yo how dat is done. Fust yo git yo some good home groun

meal en mix hit well wid milk er water en a liddle salt an bakin'

powder whut yo mek outen red corn cobs, den yo pat dem cakes up right

good en let 'em settle, den put 'em in de hot ashes in de fireplace en

kiver 'em up good wid some mo hot ashes en wait till dey done, en Boss

Man, yo sho is got er ash cake dat is fitten ter eat. Dats de way dat us

made 'em in slabery times en de way dat us yit meks 'em. Us didn't know

whut white bread wuz in de old days, hardly, 'ceptin sometimes 'roun de

marster's kitchen er nigger wud git er hold of er biscuit. All de bread

dat de slabe niggers git wud be made outen cornmeal er dem brown shorts

whut de marsters gib 'em in de rashions.

"Us wuz all well fed do in slabery times en kept in good fat condition.

Ebery once in er while de marster wud hab er cow kilt en de meat

'stributed out mongst de folks en dey cud always draw all de rashions

dat dey need.

"Dey used ter hab dem big corn shuckin's too in de old days. De corn wud

be piled up in er pile es big es er house en all de han's wud be

scattered out roun' dat pile er corn shuckin' fas' as dey cud, en atter

dey done shucked dat pile er corn, ole marster wud hab two big hogs kilt

en cooked up in de big pots en kittles, en den dem niggers wud eat en

frolic fer de longes', mekin music wid er hand saw en er tin pan, en er

dancin', en laffin, en cuttin' up, till dey tired out. Dem wuz good

days, Boss Man. I sho wish dat I cud call dem times bak ergin. De

marsters whut hed de big places en de slabe niggers, dey hardly do no

wuk er tall, kase dey rich wid niggers en lan', en dem en dey famblies

don't hab no wuk ter do, so de old marsters en de young marsters, dey

jes knock erbout ober de country on dey hosses, en de young misses en de

old misses, dey ride er bout in de fine kerrige wid de coachman er doin'

de drivin'. Dey hab de oberseers ter look atter de mekin er de crops,

so de bosses, dey jes sort er manage, en see dat de bizness go on de

right way.

"De marsters en de misses, dey look atter dere niggers good do en see

dat dey keep demselves clean en 'spectible, en try ter keep de disease

outen 'em. Ebery Monday mornin' dey gib 'em all er little square, brown

bottle er bitters fer dem ter take dat week. Dat wuz dere medicine, but

iffen er nigger do git sick, den dey sent fer de doctor right er way en

hab de doctor ter 'zamine de sick one en sey, 'Doctor, kin you do dat

nigger eny good?' er 'Do whut yo kin fer dat nigger, Doctor, kase he is

er valuable han' en wuth muney.'

"I neber wuz sick none do in my life, but I jes nathally been kilt, near

'bout, one time in de gin when my head git cotched twixt de lever en de

band wheel en Uncle Dick hed ter prize de wheel up offen my head ter git

me loose, en dat jes nigh 'bout peeled all de skin offen my head. Old

marster, he gib me er good stroppin fer dat too. Dat wuz fer not

obeyin', kase he hed done tole all us young niggers fer ter stay 'way

frum de gin house.

"I wuzn't gwine ter be trained up ter wuk in de fiel's, I wuz trained

ter be er pussonal servant ter de marster, en sister Mattie, she wuz

gwine ter be trained up ter be er house woman, en so wuz my old woman,

Louisa, kase her mammy wuz er house woman herself fer her white folks in

South Carolina, so I rekkin dats de reason us always thought we so much

en better 'en de ginral run er niggers.

"Yes sir, Boss Man, de niggers is easy fooled. Dey always is been dat

way, en we wuz fooled er way frum Alabama ter Arkansas by dem two Yankee

mens, Mr. Van Vleet en Mr. Bill Bowman, whut I tole yo er bout, dat

brung dat hundred head er folks de time us cum. Dey tole us dat in

Arkansas dat de hogs jes layin' er roun already baked wid de knives en

de forks stickin' in 'em ready fer ter be et, en dat dere wuz fritter

ponds eberywhars wid de fritters er fryin' in dem ponds er grease, en

dat dar wuz money trees whar all yo hed ter do wuz ter pik de money

offen 'em lak pickin' cotton offen de stalk, en us wuz sho put out when

us git here en fine dat de onliest meat ter be hed wuz dat whut wuz in

de sto, en dem fritters hed ter be fried in de pans, en dat dar warn't

no money trees er tall. Hit warn't long 'fore my grandpappy en my

grandmammy, dey lef 'en went bak ter Alabama, but my mammy en us

chillun, we jes stayed on right here in Phillips County whar us been

eber since, en right en dat room right dar wuz whar us old mammy died

long years er go.

"Well, Boss Man, yo done ax me en I sho gwine ter tell yo de truf. Yes

sir, I sho is voted, en I 'members de time well dat de niggers in de

cotehouse en de Red Shirts hab ter git 'em out. Dat wuz de bes' thing

dat dey eber do when dey git de niggers outen de cotehouse en quit 'em

frum holdin' de offices, kase er nigger not fit ter be no leader. I

neber cud wuk under no nigger. I jes nathally neber wud wuk under no

nigger. I jist voted sich er length er time, en when de Red Shirts, dey

say dat er nigger not good enuf ter vote, en dey stopped me frum votin',

en I don't mess wid hit no mo.

"Yes sir, Boss Man, I blebe dat de Lawd lef' me here so long fer some

good puppose, en I sho hopes dat I kin stay here fer er heap er mo

years. I jes nathally lubes de white folks en knows dat dey is sho gwine

ter tek care of old 'Happy Day', en ain't gwine ter let me git hurt.

"De young niggers in dis day sho ain't lak de old uns. Dese here young

niggers is jes nathally de cause of all de trubble. Dey jes ain't been

raised right en ter be polite lak de old ones, lak me, I don't hold it

er gin yo, kase, mebbe yo pappy en yo mammy owned my pappy en my mammy

in slabery times en whupped 'em, kase I 'spects dat dey needed all de

punishment whut dey got. All de education whut I got, Boss Man, is jes

ter wuk, en obey, en ter lib right.

"I knows dat I ain't here far many mo years, Boss Man, en I sho hopes

dat I kin git ter see some of my marsters, de Greens, ergin, 'fore I

goes. I ain't neber been back since I lef, en I ain't neber heard frum

none of 'em since I been in Arkansas, en I know en cose dat all de old

uns is gone by now, but I 'spects dat some of de young uns is lef yit. I

wud sho lak ter go back dar ter de old place whar de tanyard wuz, but I

neber wud hab dat much money ter pay my way on de train, en den, I don't

rekkin dat I cud fine de way nohow. I wud git some of de white folks ter

write er letter back dar fer me iffen I know whar ter send hit, er de

name of some of my young marsters whut mebbe is dar still. Yes sir, Boss

Man, I sho hopes dat I kin see some of dem white folks ergin, en dat

some of dese days dey will fine me. Yo know I is de janitor at de church

at Walnut Corner whar de two hard roads cross, en whar all de cars cum

by. De cars, dey cum by dar frum eberywhars, en so ebery Sunday morning

atter I gits through er cleanin' up de church, I sets down on de bench

dar close ter Mr. Gibson's sto, whar dey sell de gasolene en de cold

drinks, en whar de cars cum by frum eberywhar, en I sets dar er lookin'

at all dem white folks er passin' in dey cars, en sometimes dey stop fer

ter git 'em some gasolene er sumpin, en I says ter myself dat mebbe one

er my young marsters sometimes gwine ter be in one of dem cars, en gwine

ter drive up dar er lookin' fer me. Er heap er times when de cars stop

dar will be er white gentman in de cars whut git out en see me a settin'

dar on de bench, en he sey, 'Uncle, yo is rail old, ain't yo?' An den he

ax me my name en whar I borned at, en er heap er times dey buy me er

cigar. Well, Boss Man, dats how cum I sets on dat bench dar at de road

crossin' at Walnut Corner ebery Sunday, mos' all day, atter I gits

through er cleanin' up de church, jes settin' dar watchin' dem cars cum

by en 'spectin one of dese days fer one of my young marsters ter drive

up en ter fine me er settin' dar waitin' fer him, en when he cum, iffen

he do, I know dat he sho gwine ter tek me back home wid him."

Henry Gladney Henry H Buttler facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail