James Henry Stith

Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor

Person interviewed: James Henry Stith

2223 W. Nineteenth Street

Little Rock, Arkansas

Age: 72

"I was born la Sparta in Hancock County, Georgia, in January 26, 1866.

My father was named William Henry Stith, and I was a little tot less

than two years old when my mother died. My father has called her name

often but I forget it. I forget the names of my father's father, too,

and of mother's people. That is too far back.

"My father was born in 1818. He was born in Georgia. His master was

named W.W. Simpson. He had a master before Simpson. Simpson bought him

from somebody else. I never can remember the man's name.


"The first houses I saw in Georgia were frame or brick houses. There

weren't any log houses 'round where I was brought up. Georgia wasn't a

log house state--leastwise, not the part I lived in. In another part

there were plenty of sawmills. That made lumber common. You could get

longleaf pine eighty to ninety feet long if you wanted it. Some little

towns didn't have no planing mills and you would have to send to Augusta

or to Atlanta for the planing work or else they would make planed lumber

by hand. I have worked for four and five weeks at a time dressing

lumber--flooring, ceiling, siding, moldings, and so on.

"My father was still with Simpson when I remembered anything. At that

time the house we lived in was a weatherboarded house just like the ones

we live in now. It was a house that had been built since freedom. Old

man Simpson sent for my father and told him to build a house for himself

on the grounds. My father had been with Simpson for so long and had done

so much work for him during slave time that Simpson didn't want to do

without him. He supplied all the lumber and materials for my father.

During slave time, Simpson had hired my father out to the other planters

when he had nothing for him to do in the line of building on his own

plantation. He had had him to superintend his grist mill. All that was

in slavery time. My father was a highly skilled laborer. He could do a

lot of other things besides building. So when freedom came, he wanted

my father 'round him still. They both fished and hunted. He wanted my

father to go fishing with him and keep him company. My father was a

carpenter of the first class, you see, even in slave time. That was all

he done. He was brought up to be a carpenter and did nothing but that

all his time. My daddy was a mighty good mechanic.

Good Master

"My daddy's master was a very good and kind one. My father was not under

any overseer. He worked directly under his master.

"I remember one incident he told me. His master hired a new overseer who

hung around for a bit watching my father. Finally, my father asked him,

'Now, what are you able to do?' The overseer answered. 'Why, I can see

all over and whip all over, and that's as much as any damn man can do.'

"Nobody was allowed to touch my father. He never had no trouble with

the pateroles either. Old man Simpson didn't allow that. He was a free

agent. When he wasn't working for Simpson, he was working for the next

big farmer, and then the next one, and then the next one, and old man

Simpson got wages for his work. Sometimes he worked a contract. Old man

Simpson couldn't afford to have him handicapped in his going and coming.

He could go whenever he wanted to go, and come back whenever he got

ready, with a pass or without one. His time was valuable.

"The reason why so many slaves suffered as much as they did as a rule

was not because of the masters but because of the poor white trash

overseers. I know of several rich white women that had slaves that

wouldn't allow them to be mistreated. They would fire four and five

overseers to keep their slaves from being mistreated.

Mean Masters

"But there were some mean masters. I have heard that right there in

Georgia there was one white planter--I think it was Brantley---who put

one of his slaves that had been unruly in a packing screw and ran it

down on him till he mashed him to death. The cotton screw was the thing

they pressed cotton bales in. They run it down by steam now, but then,

they used to run it down with two mules. They tell a lot of things like

that on Brantley. Of course, I couldn't personally know it, but I know

he was mighty mean and I know the way he died.

Bushwhacking the Ku Klux

"He belonged to the paterole gang and they went out after the Negroes

one night after freedom. The Negroes bushwhacked them and killed four or

five of them. They give it out that the men that was killed had gone to

Texas. Brantley was one of the killed ones. The pateroles was awful bad

at that time. Ku Klux they called them after the War, but they was the

same people. I never heard of the Klan part till this thing come up

that they have now. They called them Ku Klux back when I was a boy. My

stepmother carried me over to Brantley's house the night he got killed.

So I know the Texas he went to. That was in '69 or '70. He lived about a

mile from us and when he got killed, she carried me over to see him just

like we would have gone to see any other neighbor.

"The Negroes were naturally afraid of the Ku Klux but they finally got

to the place where they were determined to break it up. They didn't have

no ropes, but they would take grapevines and tie them across the road

about breast high when a man would be on horseback. The Ku Klux would

run against these vines and be knocked off their horses into the road

and then the bushwhackers would shoot them. When Ku Klux was killed in

this manner, it was never admitted; but it was said that they had gone

to Texas. There was several of them went to Texas one night.


"There weren't many amusements in slave times. They had dances with

fiddle music. There was mighty few darkies could get out to go to dances

because the pateroles was so bad after them. I don't know of any other

amusements the slaves had. They were playing baseball when I was born.

There were boys much older than I was already playing when I was old

enough to notice, so I think they must have known about it in slave

time. They didn't play much in that way because they didn't have time.

Slaves who Bought Themselves

"I have heard tell of some Negroes that was thrifty and got money enough

from side work to buy themselves. They had to go North then because they

couldn't live in the South free. I don't remember their names just now.


"The slaves had church. Sometimes they had church at one another's

house. I don't think they ever built them a church house. But they could

go to the white folks' church if they wanted to.

How Freedom Came

"My daddy's master told my father he was free. He told him that in 1865.

He told him that he was free to do as he pleased, that he could come

when he pleased and go when he pleased. 'Course, he told him he wanted

him to stay around him--not to go off.


"I have heard my father speak of soldiers, but they were too busy 'round

Atlanta and up that way to git down where my father was. They don't seem

to have bothered his town. They never made my father do any labor in the

army neither. My father was mixed Indian, white, and Negro.


"Slaves had to get the consent of their masters to marry. Sometimes

masters would want them to go and would even buy the woman they wanted

to keep them contented on the plantation. Sometimes the masters wouldn't

do anything but let them visit. They would marry--what they called

marriage in those days--and the husband would have to git permission

from his master to go visit his wife and git permission from her master

to come there. He would go on Saturday night and get back in time for

his work on Monday morning. It was just like raising stock and mating


"I have been married fifty-one years. I have been married twice though.

My first wife died in 1900. I have been married to my second wife

thirty-four years last April. Those were real marriages.


"I can't say much along these lines. The chance to make a living looks

so dark I can't see much of a future. Things seem to be getting worse.

Nearly everybody I talk with, white or colored, seems to think the same.

It is like Senator Glass said. 'If Congress would close up and go home

at once, times would get better.' People don't know what kind of fool

law Congress is going to make and they are not going to spend much

money. I don't think Mr. Roosevelt's pump priming will do much good

because you must keep adding to it or it will go away.

"I don't think much of the young people. These nineteenth or twentieth

century Negroes is something fierce I'm telling you.

Vocational Experiences

"I am a carpenter. I wish I wasn't. The depression has made it so that

the Negroes get very little to do. What they have they give to their

own people. They don't have much for nobody. Even if the nigger gets

something, he gets very little out of it. But the main trouble is there

isn't anything to do.

"I have been a carpenter for fifty-four years. I have been here

fifty-one years. I have never had no trouble earning a living till now.

I can't do it now. The biggest obstacle of the success of the Negro

carpenter is that Negroes don't have the money to build with. They must

get the money from the white man. The white man, on the other hand, if

he lets out the money for the building, has the say-so on who will

do it, and he naturally picks out another white man. That keeps the

majority of Negroes out of work as far as carpentry is concerned. It

does in a time like this. When times is better, the white man does not

need to be so tight, and he can divide up."

James Henry Nelson James Jackson facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail