Joe Clinton

Interviewer: Watt McKinney

Person interviewed: Joe Clinton, Route 2, Marvell, Arkansas

Age: 86

"Uncle Joe" Clinton, on ex-Mississippi slave, lives on a small farm that

he owns a few miles north of Marvell, Arkansas. His wife has been dead

for a number of years and he has only one living child, if indeed his

boy, Joe, who left home fifteen years ago for Chicago and from whom no

word has been received since, is still alive. Due to the infirmities of

age "Uncle Joe" is unable to work and obtains his support from the

income received off the small acreage he rents each year to the Negro

family with whom he lives. Seated in an old cane-bottomed chair "Uncle

Joe" was dozing in the warm sunshine of on afternoon in early October as

I passed through the gate leading into the small yard enclosing his

cabin. Arousing himself on my approach, the old Negro offered me a

chair. I explained the purpose of my visit and this old man told me the

following story:

"I'se now past eighty-six year ole an' was borned in Panola County,

Mississippi 'bout three miles from Sardis. My ole mars was Mark

Childress, en he sure owned er heap of peoples, womens an' mens bofe, en

jus' gangs of chillun. I was real small when us lived in Panola County;

how-some-ever I riccolect it well when us all lef' dar and ole mars sold

out his land and took us all to de delta where he had bought a big

plantation 'bout two or three miles wide in Coahoma County not far from

Friar Point. De very place dat my mars bought and dat us moved to is

what dey call now, de 'Clover Hill Plantation'. De fust year dat us

lived in de delta, us stayed on de place what dey called de 'Swan Lake

Place'. Dat place is over dere close to Jonestown and de very place dat

Mr. Billy Jones and his son John bought, en dats zackly how come dat

town git its name. It was named for Mr. John Jones.

"My mars, Mark Childress, he never was married. He was a bachelor, en

I'se tellin' you dis, boss, he was a good, fair man and no fault was to

be found wid him. But dem overseers dat he had, dey was real mean. Dey

was cruel, least one of them was 'bout de cruelest white man dat I is

ever seen. Dat was Harvey Brown. Mars had a nephew what lived with him

named Mark Sillers. He was mars' sister's son and was named for my mars.

Mr. Mark Sillers, he helped with de runnin' of the place en sich times

dat mars 'way from home Mr. Mark, he the real boss den.

"Mr. Harvey Brown, the overseer, he mean sure 'nough I tell you, and de

onliest thing that keep him from beatin' de niggers up all de time would

be old mars or Mr. Mark Sillers. Bofe of dem was good and kind most all

de time. One time dat I remembers, ole mars, he gone back to Panola

County for somepin', en Mr. Mark Sillers, he attendin' de camp meeting.

That was de day dat Mr. Harvey Brown come mighty nigh killin' Henry.

I'll tell you how dat was, boss. It was on Monday morning that it

happened. De Friday before dat Monday morning, all of de hands had been

pickin' cotton and Mr. Harvey Brown didn't think dat Henry had picked

enough cotton dat day en so he give Henry er lashin' out in de field.

Dat night Henry, he git mad and burn up his sack and runned off and hid

in de canebrake 'long de bayou all of de nex' day. Mr. Harvey, he missed

Henry from de field en sent Jeff an' Randall to find him and bring him

in. Dey found Henry real soon en tell him iffen he don't come on back to

de field dat Mr. Harvey gwine to set de hounds on him. So Henry, he

comed on back den 'cause de niggers was skeered of dem wild bloodhounds

what they would set on 'em when dey try to run off.

"When Henry git back Mr. Harvey say, 'Henry, where your sack? And how

come you ain't pickin' cotton stid runnin' off like dat?' Henry say he

done burnt he sack up. Wid dat Mr. Harvey lit in to him like a bear,

lashin' him right and left. Henry broke en run den to de cook house

where he mammy, 'Aunt Mary', was, en Mr. Harvey right after him wid a

heavy stick of wood dat he picked up offen de yard. Mr. Harvey got Henry

cornered in de house and near 'bout beat dat nigger to death. In fact,

Mr. Harvey, he really think too dat he done kilt Henry 'cause he called

'Uncle Nat' en said, 'Nat, go git some boards en make er coffin for dis

nigger what I done kilt.'

"But Henry wasn't daid though he was beat up terrible en they put him in

de sick house. For days en days 'Uncle Warner' had to 'tend to him, en

wash he wounds, en pick de maggots outen his sores. Dat was jus' de way

dat Mr. Harvey Brown treated de niggers every time he git a chanct. He

would even lash en beat de wimmens.

"Ole mars had a right good size house in dar 'mongst de quarters where

dey kept all de babies en right young chillun whilst dey mammies workin'

in de fields pickin' en hoein' time. Old 'Aunt Hannah', an old granny

woman, she 'tend to all dem chillun. De chillun's mammies, dey would

come in from de fields about three times er day to let de babies suck.

Dere was er young nigger woman name Jessie what had a young baby. One

day when Jessie come to de house to let dat baby suck, Mr. Harvey think

she gone little too long. He give her a hard lashin'.

"Ole mars had a big cook house on de plantation right back in behind he

own house en twix his house en de nigger's quarters. Dat was where all

de cookin' done for all de niggers on de entire place. Aunt Mary, she de

head cook for de mars en all of de niggers too. All of de field hands

durin' crop time et dey breakfast en dey dinners in de field. I waited

on de table for mars en sort er flunkyed 'round da house en de quarters

en de barns, en too I was one of de young darkies what toted de buckets

of grub to de field hands.

"Ole mars had a house on de place too dat was called de 'sick house'.

Dat was where dem was put dat was sick. It was a place where dey was

doctored on en cared for till dey either git well er die. It was er sort

er hospital like. 'Uncle Warner', he had charge of de sick house, en he

could sure tell iffen you sick er not, or iffen you jus' tryin' to play

off from work.

"My pappy, he was named Bill Clinton en my mammy was named Mildred. De

reason how come I not named Childress for my mars is 'cause my pappy, he

named Clinton when mars git him from de Clintons up in Tennessee

somewhere. My mars, he was a good man jus' like I'm tellin' you. Mars

had a young nigger woman named Malinda what got married to Charlie

Voluntine dat belonged to Mr. Nat Voluntine dat had a place 'bout six

miles from our place. In dem days iffen one darky married somebody offen

de place where dey lived en what belonged to some other mars, dey didn't

git to see one annudder very often, not more'n once a month anyway. So

Malinda, she got atter mars to buy Charlie. Sure 'nough he done that

very thing so's dem darkies could live togedder. Dat was good in our


"When any marryin' was done 'mongst de darkies on de place in dem days,

dey would first hab to ask de mars iffen dey could marry, en iffen he

say dat dey could git married den dey would git ole 'Uncle Peyton' to

marry 'em. 'Course dere wasn't no sich thing as er license for niggers

to marry en I don't riccolect what it was dat 'Uncle Peyton' would say

when he done de marryin'. But I 'members well dat 'Uncle Peyton', he de

one dat do all of de marryin' 'mongst de darkies.

"My mars, he didn't go to de War but he sure sent er lot er corn en he

sent erbout three hundred head er big, fat hogs one time dat I 'members.

Den too, he sent somepin like twenty er thirty niggers to de Confedrites

in Georgia. I 'members it well de time dat he sent dem niggers. They was

all young uns, 'bout grown, en dey was skeered to death to be leavin' en

goin' to de War. Dey didn't know en cose but what dey gwine make 'em

fight. But mars tole 'em dat dey jus' gwine to work diggin' trenches en

sich; but dey didn't want to go nohow en Jeff an' Randall, they runned

off en come back home all de way from Georgia en mars let 'em stay.

"Boss, you has heered me tellin' dat my mars was er good, kine man en

dat his overseer, Mr. Harvey Brown, was terrible cruel, en mean, en

would beat de niggers up every chance he git, en you ask me how come it

was dat de mars would have sich a mean man er working for him. Now I'se

gwine to tell you de reason. You know de truth is de light, boss, an'

dis is de truth what I'se gwine to say. Mars, he in love with Mr. Harvey

Brown's wife, Miss Mary, and Miss Mary's young daughter, she was mars'

chile. Yas suh, she was dat. She wasn't no kin er tall to Mr. Harvey

Brown. Her name was Miss Markis, dats what it was. Mars had done willed

dat chile er big part of his property and a whole gang of niggers. He

was gwine give her Tolliver, Beckey, Aunt Mary, Austin, an' Savannah en

er heap more 'sides dat. But de War, it come on en broke mars up, en all

de darkies sot free, en atter dat, so I heered Mr. Harvey Brown en Miss

Mary, and de young lady Miss Markis, dey moved up North some place en I

ain't never heered no more from dem.

"Mr. Clarke and Mrs. Clarke what de town of Clarksdale is named for, dey

lived not far from our place. I knowed dem well. Albert, one of mars'

darkies, married Cindy, one of Mr. Clarke's women. General Forrest, I

know you is heered of him. I speck he 'bout de bes' general in de War.

He sure was a fine looking man en he wore a beard on he face. De

general, he had a big plantation down dere in Coahoma County where he

would come ever so offen. A lot of times he would come to our place en

take dinner wid ole mars, en I would be er waitin' on de table er takin'

dem de toddies on de front gallery where dey talkin' 'bout day bizness.

"Boss, you axed me if dey was any sich thing in slavery times as de

white men molestin' of de darky wimmen. Dere was a heap of dat went on

all de time an' 'course de wimmens, dey couldn't help deyselves and jus'

had to put up wid it. Da trouble wasn't from de mars of de wimmens I'se

ever knowed of but from de overseers en de outside white folks. Of

course all dat couldn't have been goin' on like it did without de mars

knowin' it. Dey jus' bound to know dat it went on, but I'se never heered

'bout 'em doin' nothin' to stop it. It jus' was dat way, en dey 'lowed

it without tryin' to stop all sich stuff as dat. You know dat niggers is

bad 'bout talkin' 'mongst demselves 'bout sich en sich er goin' on, and

some of mars' darkies, dey say dat Sam and Dick, what was two real light

colored boys, dat us had was mars' chillun. Dat was all talk. I nebber

did believe it 'cause dey nebber even looked like mars en he nebber

cared no more for dem dan any of the rest of de hands."

Joe Barnes Joe Golden facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail