Interviewer: Bernice Bowden
Person interviewed: J.H. Beckwith
619 North Spruce Street, Pine Bluff, Arkansas
"No ma'm I was not born in the time of slavery. I was sixty-eight last
Friday. I was born November 18, 1870 in Johnson County, North Carolina.
"My mother was born in Georgia and her name was Gracie Barum. Father was
born in North Carolina. His name was Rufus Beckwith. He belonged to
Doctor Beckwith and mother, I think, belonged to Tom Barum. Barum was
just an ordinary farmer. He was just a second or third class
farmer--just poor white folks. I think my mother was the only slave he
"My father had to walk seven miles every Saturday night to see my mother,
and be back before sunrise Monday.
"My parents had at least three or four children born in slavery. I know
my father said he worked at night and made shoes for his family.
"My father was a mulatto. He had a negro mother and a white father. He
had a mechanical talent. He seemed to be somewhat of a genius. He had a
productive mind. He could do blacksmithing, carpenter work, brick work
and shoe work.
"Father was married twice. He raised ten children by each wife. I think
my mother had fifteen children and I was the the thirteenth child. I am
the only boy among the first set, called to the ministry. And there was
one in the second set. Father learned to read and write after freedom.
"After freedom he sent my oldest brother and sister to Hampton, Virginia
and they were graduated from Hampton Institute and later taught school.
They were graduated from the same school Booker T. Washington was. He
got his idea of vocational education there.
"I haven't had much education. I went as far as the eighth grade. The
biggest education I have had was in the Conference.
"I joined the Little Rock General Conference at Texarkana in 1914. This
was the Methodist Episcopal, North, and I was ordained as a deacon and
later an elder by white bishops. Then in 1930 I joined the African
"By trade I am a carpenter and bricklayer. I served an apprentice under
my father and under a German contractor.
"I used to be called the best negro journeyman carpenter between Monroe,
Louisiana and Little Rock, Arkansas.
"I made quite a success in my trade. I have a couple of United States
Patent Rights. One is a brick mold holding ten bricks and used to make
bricks of concrete. The other is a sliding door. (See attached drawings)
[TR: Drawings missing.]
"I was in the mercantile business two and one-half years in Sevier
County. I sold that because it was too confining and returned to the
carpenter's trade. I still practice my trade some now.
"I have not had to ask help from anyone. I have helped others. I own my
home and I sent my daughter to Fisk University where she was graduated.
While there she met a young man and they were later married and now live
in Chicago. They own their home and are doing well.
"In my work in the ministry I am trying to teach my people to have
higher ideals. We have to bring our race to that high ideal of race
integrity. I am trying to keep the negro from thinking he is hated by
the upper class of white people. What the negro needs is
self-consciousness to the extent that he aspires to the higher
principles in order to stand on an equal plane in attainment but not in
a social way.
"At present, the negro's ideals are too low for him to visualize the
evils involved in race mixture. He needs to be lifted in his own
estimation and learn that a race cannot be estimated by other races--by
anything else but their own ideals.
"The younger generation is off on a tangent. They'll have to hit
something before they stop.
"The salvation of our people--of all people--white and colored, is
leadership. We've got to have vision and try to give the people vision.
Not to live for ourselves but for all. The present generation is
selfish. The life should flow out and as it flows out it makes room for
more life. If it does not flow out, it congeals and ferments.
Selfishness is just like damming a stream.
"I think Woodrow Wilson won the World War with his fourteen points of
democracy. If the people of foreign countries had not that old
imperialism sentiment, the Jew would not be where he is today."
This man is the best informed and most sensible negro I have
interviewed. In the room where I interviewed him, were a piano, a radio,
many ferns, a wool rug, chairs, divan, and a table on which were books
including a set of the Standard History of the World. I asked if he had
read the history and he replied, "Not all of it but I have read the
volumes pertaining to the neolithic age."
On the walls were several pictures and two tapestries.
The house was a good frame one and electric current was used.
Jf Boone Jh Curry