Henry Kirk Miller

Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor

Person interviewed: Henry Kirk Miller [HW: Same as H.K. Miller]

1513 State Street, Little Rock, Arkansas

Age 87 [HW: 86]

"I am eighty-six years old-eighty-six years and six months. I was born

July 25, 1851. I was a slave. Didn't get free till June 1865. I was a

boy fifteen years old when I got free.

"I have been living in this house fifty years. I have been living in

Arkansas ever since 1873. That makes about sixty-five years.

"The engineer who got killed in that wreck the other day (a wreck which

occurred February 7, 1938, Monday morning at three and in which the

engineer and five other people were killed) came right from my town,

Fort Valley, Georgia. I came here from there in 1873. I don't know

anybody living in Fort Valley now unless it's my own folks. And I don't

'spect I'd know them now. When I got married and left there, I was only

twenty-one years old.

Parents and Relatives

"My mother and father were born in South Carolina. After their master

and missis married they came to Georgia. Back there I don't know. When I

remember anything they were in Georgia. They said they came from South

Carolina to Georgia. I don't know how they came. Both of my parents were

Negroes. They came to Arkansas ahead of me. I have their pictures." (He

carried me into the parlor and showed me life-sized bust portraits of

his mother and father.)

"There were eighteen of us: six boys and twelve girls. They are all dead

now but myself and one sister. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia. I am older

than she is.


"I am a caterer. I have been serving the Scottish Rite Masons in their

annual reunion every six months for forty-one years. We are going to the

Seventh Street Entrance this Friday. One of the orders will have a

dinner and I am going down to serve it. I served the dinner for Teddy

Roosevelt there, thirty years ago. This Roosevelt is a cousin of his.


"My parents' master was named Wade. When he died, I was so little that

they had to lift me up to let me see into the coffin so I could look at

him. I went to his daughter. My name is after my father's father. My

grandfather was named Miller. I took his name. He was a white man.

"Wade's daughter was named Riley, but I keep my grandfather's name. My

mother and father were then transferred to the Rileys too, and they took

the name of Riley. It was after freedom that I took the name Miller from

my original people. Haven Riley's father was my brother." (Haven Riley

lives in Little Rock and was formerly an instructor at Philander Smith

College. Now he is a public stenographer and a private teacher.)

"Wade owned all of my brothers and sisters and parents and some of my

kin--father's sister and brother. There might have been some more I

can't remember. Wade was a farmer.

"I remember once when my mother and father were going to the field to

work, I went with them as usual. That was before Wade died and his

daughter drew us.

"My wife died six years ago. If she had lived till tomorrow, she would

have been married to me sixty years. She died on the tenth of February

and we were married on the sixth. We just lacked five years of being

married sixty years when she died.


"For food, I don't know anything more than bread and meat. Meal, meat,

molasses were the only rations I saw. In those times the white people

had what was known as the white people's house and then what was known

as nigger quarters. The children that weren't big enough to work were

fed at the white people's house. We got milk and mush for breakfast.

When they boiled cabbage we got bread and pot-liquor. For supper we got

milk and bread. They had cows and the children were fed mostly on milk

and mush or milk and bread. We used to bake a corn cake in the ashes,

ash cake, and put it in the milk.

"The chickens used to lay out in the barn. If we children would find the

nests and bring the eggs in our missis would give us a biscuit, and we

always got biscuits for Christmas.

Houses in the Negro Quarters

"In the nigger quarters there were nothing but log houses. I don't

remember any house other than a log house. They'd just go out in the

woods and get logs and put up a log house. Put dirt and mud or clay in

the cracks to seal it. Notch the logs in the end to hitch them at

corners. Nailed planks at the end of the logs to make a door frame.

"My people all ate and cooked and lived in the same room. Some of the

slaves had dirt floors and some of them had plank floors.

"Food was kept in the house in a sort of box or chest, built in the wall

sometimes. Mostly it was kept on the table.

"In cooking they had a round oven made like a pot only the bottom would

be flat. It had an iron top. The oven was a bought oven. It was shaped

like a barrel. The top lifted up. Coal was placed under the oven and a

little on top.

Tables and Chairs

"Tables were just boards nailed together. Nothing but planks nailed

together. I don't remember nothing but homemade benches for chairs. They

sometimes made platted or split-bottom chairs out of white oak. Strips

of oak were seven feet long. They put them in water so they would bend

easily and wove them while they were flexible and fresh. The whole chair

bottom was made out of one strip just like in caning. Those chairs were

stouter than the chairs they make now."

(To be continued) [TR: No continuation found.]

Henry James Trentham Henry Lee facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail