Henry Nelson

Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor

Person interviewed: Henry Nelson

904 E. Fifth Street, Little Rock, Arkansas

Age: About 70

"My name is Henry Nelson. I was born in Arkansas--Crittenden County near

Memphis, Tennessee. I was born not far from Memphis but on this side.

"My mother's name was Adeline Taylor. That was her old slavery folks'

name. She was a Taylor before she married my father--Nelson. My father's

first name was Green. I don't remember none of my grandparents. My

father's mother died before I come to remember and I know my mother's

mother died before I could remember.

"My father was born in Mississippi--Sardis, Mississippi--and my mother

was a Tennesseean--Cartersville[HW:?] Tennessee, twenty-five miles

above Memphis. [HW: Carter, in Carter County, about 35 m. north of

Memphis, but no Cartersville.] [TR: moved from bottom of following


"After peace was declared, they met in Tennessee. That was where my

mother was born, you know. They fell in love with one another in Shelby

County, and married there. My mother had been married once before during

slavery time. She had been made to marry by her master. Her first

husband was named Eli. He was my oldest sister's father. Him and my

mother had the same master and missis. She was made to marry him. She

was only thirteen years old when she married him. She was fine and stout

and her husband was fine and stout, and they wanted more from that

stock. I don't know how old he was but he was a lot older than she was.

He was a kind of an elderly man. She had just one child by him--my

oldest sister, Georgia. She was only married a short time before freedom


"My father farmed. He was always a farmer--raised cotton and corn. My

mother was a farmer too. Both of them--that is both of her

husbands--were farmers.

"My mother and father used to go off to places to dance and the

pateroles would get after them. You had to have a pass to go off your

place and if you didn't have a pass, they would make you warm. Some of

them would get caught sometimes and the pateroles would whip them. They

would sure got whipped if they didn't have a pass.

"The old master come out and told them they were free when peace was

declared. He said, 'You are free this morning--free as I am.'

"Right after the War, my mother come further down in Tennessee, and that

is how she met my father where she was when she was married. They went

farming. They farmed on shares--sharecropped. They were on a big place

called Ensley place. The man that owned the place was called Nuck


"My mother and father didn't have no schooling. I never heard that they

were bothered by the Ku Klux.

"She didn't live with her first husband after slavery. She left him when

she was freed. She never did intend to marry him. She was forced to


Interviewer's Comment

Nelson evidently rents rooms. A yellow sallow-faced, cadaverous, and

dissatisfied looking "gentleman" went into the house eyeing me

suspiciously as he passed. In a moment he was out again interrupting the

old man with pointless remarks. In--out again--standing over me--peering

on my paper in the offensive way that ill-bred people have. He

straightened up with a disgusted look on his face. He couldn't read


"What's that you're writin'?"


"What's that about?"


"History uv whut?"


"He don't know nothin' about slavery."

"Thank you. However, if he says he does, I'll just continue to listen to

him if you don't mind."

"Humph," and the "yellow gentleman" passed in.

Out again--eyeing both the old man and me with disgust that was

unconcealed. To him, "You don't know whutchu're doin'."

Deep silence by all. Exit the yellow brother.

To the old man, I said, "Is that your son?"

"Lawd, no, that's jus' a roomer."

Out came the yellow brother again. "See here, Uncle, if you want me to

fix that fence you'd bettuh come awn out heah now. It's gettin' dark."

I closed my notebook and arose. "Don't let me interfere with your

program, Brother Nelson."

The old man settled back in his chair. His eyes inspected the sky, his

jaw "sorta" set. The yellow brother looked at him a minute and passed


Five minutes later. Enter, the Madam. She also was of the yellow variety

with the suspicious and spiteful look of an undersized black Belgian

police dog. A moment of silence--a word to him.

"You don't know whutchu're doin'." Silence all around. To me, "You're

upsettin' my work."

I arose. "Madam, I'm sorry."

The old man spoke, "You ain't keepin' me from nothin'."

"Well, I said, you've given me a nice start; I'll come again and get the


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