Ike Derricotte



554 Hancock Avenue

Athens, Georgia

Written by:

Miss Grace McCune


Edited by:

Mrs. Sarah H. Hall



John N. Booth

District Supervisor

Federal Writers' Project

Residencies 6 & 7

Augusta, Georgia

August 19, 1938

[TR: One page of this interview was repeated in typescript; where there

was a discrepancy, the clearer version was used.]

Ike Derricotte's brown-painted, frame bungalow, well back from the

street, faces a wide grassy yard where tall pecan trees provide summer

shade and winter nuts.

A mulatto woman answered the knock at the front door. Her long,

straight, white hair was neatly arranged in a low-pinned coil at the

back of her head. Her print frock and white shoes were immaculate. "Yes

Mam, Ike is at home," was the answer to the inquiry for her husband.

"Jus' have a seat on de porch here 'cause it's so much cooler dan inside

de house, and I'll call Ike. He's jus' piddlin' 'round de back yard dis


Almost at once a tall, well-built man of gingercake color appeared. He

wore an old black cap, blue work shirt, blue wool trousers, and black

shoes. "Howdy-do, Miss! Did you want to see me?" was his greeting. His

eyes sparkled when he learned that we wished to record the story of his

life. "Yes Mam, I'll be glad to tell you what I kin," he promised, "and

Miss, I'll jus' bet I kin tell you somepin dat very few folks kin say

'bout dem old days. I was born right here on dis same street, and I'm

still livin' on it, but dis house and lot ain't my birthplace. When I

was born, dis section was mostly in woods. Jus' look at it now; houses

has been built up and down both sides of what was den jus' de big road.

Times has changed in lots of ways since dem days.

"My mother's name was Myra, and she was a laundry 'oman owned by Mr.

Stevens Thomas. Mr. Thomas was one of de biggest merchants in Athens dem

days. He owned de square between Thomas Street and Wall Street, and it

s'tended back to Clayton Street.

"William Derricotte was my father, and he belonged to Col. Robert

Thomas. My father spent most of his time beautifyin' de yards 'round de

big house, and in dese days and times he would be called a landscape

gardener. Dey jus' called 'em yard boys den. Atter Pa and Ma was

married, Marster Stevens sold Ma to Marster Robert, so dat dey could be

together. Mr. Robert Thomas' place was right up dis same old street,

whar de Y.W.C.A. is now, and right dar is whar I was born. Dat was in

1860, a long time ago; and lots of things has happened since den. Lots

of people has moved away and lots more has died out, 'til dere ain't

many of de folks left here dat lived in Athens den. De Thomases,

Dorseys, and Phinizys was some of de oldest families here.

"I was too little to know much about de war but, little as I was, dere's

one thing dat's still as fresh in my memory now as den, and dat's how

people watched and waited to hear dat old Georgia train come in. Not

many folks was able to take de papers den, and de news in 'em was from

one to two weeks old when dey got here. All de men dat was able to fight

was off at de front and de folks at home was anxious for news. De way

dat old train brought 'em de news was lak dis: if de southern troops was

in de front, den dat old whistle jus' blowed continuously, but if it

was bad news, den it was jus' one short, sharp blast. In dat way, from

de time it got in hearin', evvybody could tell by de whistle if de news

was good or bad and, believe me, evvybody sho' did listen to dat train.

"Times was hard durin' de war but from what I've heared de folks dat was

old folks den say, dey warn't near as bad here as in lots of other

places. Yes Mam! Sho' I kin 'member dem Yankees comin' here, but dat was

atter de war was done over. Dey camped right here on Hancock Avenue.

Whar dey camped was mostly woods den, and deir camp reached nearly all

de way to whar Milledge Avenue is now. Us chillun was scared to death of

dem soldiers and stayed out of deir way all us could. My Marster, Mr.

Stevens Thomas, hid all of his family's silver and other valuables dat

could be put out of sight, for dem Yankees jus' went 'round takin'

whatever dey wanted. Dey stole all kinds of food out of de homes, went

into de smokehouses and got hams, and cotched up de chickens. Dey jus'

reached out and tuk what dey wanted and laughed about it lak dey hadn't

been stealin'.

"Dem Yankees brought de smallpox here wid 'em and give it to all de

Athens folks, and dat was somepin awful. Folks jus' died out wid it so

bad. Dey built a hospital what dey called de 'pest house' out whar de

stockade is now. It was rough and small but I reckon it helped some. It

warn't near large enough for all de folks dat was sick wid smallpox at

one time, and so dey finally got to whar dey used it jus' for de colored

folks, 'cause it seemed dat smallpox went harder wid dem dan wid de

white folks.

"When de war ended us didn't leave Mr. Stevens Thomas. Ma kept on

cookin' and wukin' 'round de house, and Pa wuked lots for other folks,

larned to do brick-work, build walls, and things lak dat. Atter he got

to be a brickmason he allus had plenty to do.

"Marbles was de favorite game of de chillun dem days but us never got to

play much lak chillun does dese days, 'cause times was so hard right

atter de war dat as soon as chillun got big enough dey had to go to wuk.

Some of our very best times was at de old swimmin' hole. Us dammed up

dat little crick right back of whar de Seaboard Depot is now and it made

a fine pool to swim in. It was cool for it was shady off down dar in de

woods, and us spent many a hour dar on days as hot as dis one is. When

dey missed us at home, dat was de fust place dey thought of when dey

come to hunt us. I had some mighty good times in dat crick and I

couldn't begin to count de duckin's I got dar and de whuppin's my Ma and

Pa give me for stayin' so long.

"De biggest time in all de year was de Commencement Day; evvybody got

busy and fixed up for dat. My Marster allus had lots of company at

commencement times, and us had de most good things to eat. Out in town

dey was 'pared for it too. Tables was all along de sidewalks whar you

could buy any kind of 'freshments you wanted. Course dere warn't as many

kinds of 'freshments den as dey has now, but dere was allus plenty of de

strong sort. One time durin' commencement week, Ma give me a whole

quarter to spend. I was de happiest and de richest boy in dis town;

jus' had more money to spend dan anybody, and I walked de streets from

one table to another tryin' to see whar I was gwine to spend all dat

money." Here, Ike laughed heartily. "Miss," he said, "you jus' never

could guess what I spent all dat money for. I bought a whole quarter's

worth of ginger-cakes and lit out for de swimmin' hole. Us chillun had a

fine time down at de swimmin' hole dat day. De Cobbs and Lumpkins owned

all dat land in dar 'round our swimmin' hole den. Dey owned from de

Catholic Church straight through to College Avenue.

"I mighty well 'member de fust wuk I ever done. I was still jus' a

little fellow when Miss Belle Brumby told Ma she wanted me for a butler

boy and dat she would pay me $2.50 a month. I jus' jumped up and down

and begged her to let me wuk for Miss Belle. Why, I jus' knowed I would

git rich right away, 'cause $2.50 was a mighty lot of money." Ike

laughed as he said: "How many boys would wuk for dat pay for a week now,

let alone a whole month? Ma did let me wuk for Miss Belle and I was

happy, but I know my Mist'ess had a time wid me 'cause, when I got on

dat white coat dey let me wear to wait on de table, I knowed more dan

evvybody else put together and dere couldn't nobody tell me how to keep

de flies off de table. Miss Belle is one fine 'oman, dey jua' don't come

no finer and no better.

"When I was fourteen my Pa hired me out to be a shoemaker. De shop whar

I was 'prenticed was down on Broad Street, jus' about whar de Bernstein

Furniture Store is now. Dat old buildin' was tore down long years ago

and evvything 'long dar is changed now. De Athens Hardware Store is de

only Broad Street business of dem days dat has stood in de same place

and endured through all dese years.

"When I went to wuk for Mr. Joe Barry in his shoe shop on Jackson

Street, right in back of whar Mr. Lee Morris' store is now, I felt lak I

had got to be a real sho' 'nough important shoemaker. I wuked for him

'bout 12 or 14 years. He was a good man to wuk for and he was de only

shoemaker I ever knowed to git rich at his trade; he really did make

money in dat shop. I've been a shoemaker ever since 1874, but I never

have been able to git far ahead. In spite of all our trouble for 85

years atter de war, it seems to me dat times was much better den dan dey

is now. Course, folks didn't make as much den as dey does now.

Carpenters, bricklayers, shoemakers, in fact 'most any kind of laborers

who got from $1.00 to $1.50 a day thought dey had fine wages den. Boys

was paid from $2.50 to $5.00 a month. Cooks got $5.00 to $6.00 a month,

and of course, dey got deir meals whar dey wuked. Sometimes odds and

ends of old clothes was give to 'em, and dey got along very well, even

if most of 'em did have families and big families at dat. Folks could

live on less den 'cause things was cheaper. You could git meal for 50c a

bushel; side meat was 5c to 6c a pound; and you could git a 25-pound

sack of flour for 50c. Wood was 50c a load. House rent was so cheap dat

you didn't have to pay over $3.00 a month for a 2 or 3 room house, and

lots of times you got it cheaper. Most evvybody wore clothes made out of

homespun cloth and jeans, and dey didn't know nothin' 'bout ready-made,

store-bought clothes. Dem clothes what dey made at home didn't cost very

much. Livin' was cheap, but folks lived mighty well in dem days.

"Us has been married more dan 50 years and dey has all been happy years.

Us has had our troubles and hard luck, but dey come to evvybody. De Lord

has been mighty good to us, 'specially in lettin' us be together so

long. It was what you might call a case of love at fust sight wid us. I

was visitin' down at Camak, Georgia at Christmastime. She lived at

Sparta, and was spendin' Christmas at Camak too, but I didn't see her

'til I was 'bout to leave for Athens. I jus' thought I never could go

'way atter I fust seed her, but I did, and I didn't git to see her again

for 12 long months. Us writ to one another all dat year and got married

at Christmastime, one year from de time us fust met.

"Us has still got dat old pen I used when I writ and axed her to marry

me; I'd lak to show it to you. 'Scuse me please whilst I goes in de

house to git it." Soon Ike returned. "Ain't it a sight?" he proudly

exclaimed as he displayed the relic. "I made it up myself in December

1886 and it got her consent to marry me, so I'se kept it ever since. My

wife and me wouldn't part wid it for nothin'." The wooden pen staff is

very smooth as though from long usage except at the tip end, where it

appears to have been gnawed. It looks very much as though Ike may have

chewed on it as he wrote that all important letter. The iron pen point,

much too large to fit the standard grooves of the ordinary pen staff,

was placed on the staff and tightly wrapped. After 52 years of service

the pen point and its staff are still in good condition. Ike has the

Prince Albert coat that he wore on his wedding day and he insists that

it looks and fits as well now as it did on the occasion of his marriage.

"I'm keepin' de coat and pen for our chillun," he declared.

Before resuming the conversation, Ike went back in the house to put the

treasured pen away. In a few moments he returned. "God has been good to

us," he said, "for He let us have all nine of our chillun 'til dey was

grown up. Us wuked mighty hard to raise 'em and give all of 'em a good

education. Dat was somepin us couldn't have when us was growin' up and

I'm thankful to be able to say dat us was able to send 'em all to

college. Four of our chillun has gone on ahead to de next world, and de

five dat's left is scattered from place to place; none of 'em is wid us

now, but dey don't forgit us. Dey writes to us and visits us often and

us goes to see dem. One son is goin' mighty well as a lawyer in

Washin'ton, D.C., and our baby lives in New York City. It's been 'bout 3

years now since my daughter Juliette died atter a automobile wreck near

Dalton, Georgia. Did you know 'bout Juliette? She give her life to wuk

for de Y.W.C.A., and she went all over de world tryin' to make things

better for de young women of our race. Somebody writ a memorial book

'bout her. I wish dere was a copy of dat book here for you to see, but

it was borrowed from us and it ain't been returned.

"Did you know I had jus' come back from Washin'ton, whar I visited dat

lawyer son of mine? He sends for me nearly evvy summer and I enjoy

visitin' dar, but I wouldn't lak to live up dar 'cause dem folks ain't

lak our own southern people. I must say dey is mighty nice and good to

me when I goes dar though. Once when I was dar somebody told me dat if I

wanted to have a good time I mustn't let nobody know I was a Georgian

'cause dey said dat de northerners don't lak our State. De rest of de

time I was dar on dat visit I tuk partic'lar pleasure in tellin'

evvybody how proud I was of my State and my home.

"Dat reminds me of Miss Sally Hodgson. She was in de North, and one

evenin' she was tryin' to tell de folks up dar dat de southern people

warn't as bad as some of de Yankees had said dey was, and dat de white

folks down South didn't mistreat de colored folks. Miss Sally said dat

de very next mornin' de papers up dar was full of news 'bout de lynchin'

of 8 Negroes in one night at Watkinsville. If you had knowed Miss Sally,

you would know how funny dat was," Ike laughed. "She said atter dat dere

warn't no way she could convince dem folks up dar dat Georgia was a good

place to live in.

"Us had some good friends in de North and sometimes dey comes down here

to see us. One of my wife's friends, a 'oman wid a lot of education has

jus' gone back to Philadelphia atter a visit here in our home. Us

travels a good deal and us has found dat de world ain't so large but dat

us is allus runnin' up against somebody dat us knows wherever us goes.

"Sometimes when you is in a strange place it's mighty handy to find

somebody you have knowed a long time ago. I 'member one time when I was

visitin' in Washin'ton and wanted to git a glimpse of de President. I

didn't say nothin' to nobody 'bout what was on my mind, but atter my son

went to his wuk in de mornin' I slipped off to de capitol widout tellin'

nobody whar I was gwine. I found a waitin' room outside de President's

office and I made up my mind I would set dar 'til de President had to go

out for dinner or to go home for supper. I never thought about he might

have a side door he could come and go from widout usin' de door to de

waitin' room. Atter I had set dar in dat waitin' room de best part of

two days watchin' for de President, somebody said: 'Howdy, Uncle Ike!

What is you doin' here in de President's waitin' room?' I looked up and

dar stood Albon Holsey. He had growed up in Athens. He was de boy dey

'signed to wait on President Taft when he was at Miss Maggie Welch's

home for a day and night in January 'fore he was inaugurated. I bet

Albon is still got dat $5.00 Mr. Taft give him de mornin' he left

Athens, but he don't need to spend it now 'cause folks say he got rich

off of his chain of stores for colored folks, and anyhow he's got a fine

job dese days. Well, I s'plained to Albon dat I was jus' waitin' to git

a peep at de President whenever he happened to pass through dat room.

Albon he smiled sort of wise-like. He tuk out one of his cyards and writ

sompin on it, and axed a lady to take it right in to de President. She

warn't gone 2 minutes 'fore she come back and said: 'De President will

see Mr. Holsey and his friend now.' I was wuss skeered dan I has ever

been at any other time in my life. Us walked in and I was 'fraid de

President could hear my knees knockin' together, and my heart was

beatin' so fast and loud it seemed to me lak it was 'bout to bust. De

President spoke to us and when he found out dat I was from Athens, he

axed me lots of questions. He said dat he was interested in Athens. Soon

Albon said us must be goin' and when us got out of dar I was right weak,

but I was might proud and happy to think de President had tuk time to

talk pleasant lak wid a pore old Negro shoemaker.

"Another time in Washin'ton a friend of my son's tuk me to a club one

night whar some of de richest of our race is members. Dat night I met a

man who had went to school wid de Mr. Teddy Roosevelt dat was President

atter Mr. McKinley; den I met another Negro dat had been a classmate of

President Hoover and one dat went to school wid President Franklin D.

Roosevelt. It's right strange how dey all heads for Washin'ton, D.C. to


"Athens has allus been a real quiet town, and dere never was no real

serious trouble here 'tween de races, not even when Matt Davis and Pink

Morton was Postmasters here. People was allus predictin' trouble 'bout

dat, but de folks here was too level-headed for dat. Dey knowed dey

could straighten out deir own troubles widout havin' to fly off de

handle in a race riot, and so dey 'tended to deir own business' and de

races got along all right through it all.

"Atter all, Athens is a good place to live in. Here us has de best

neighbors in de world; dey's allus ready to look atter one another in

times of sickness and trouble. Wid de kind of good, Christian folks dat

lives here, Athens is bound to go ahead."

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