John N Booth



450 4th Street

Athens, Georgia

Written by:

Miss Grace McCune [HW: (White)]


Edited by:

Mrs. Sarah H. Hall



John N. Booth

District Supervisor

Federal Writers' Project

Residencies 6 & 7

Augusta, Ga.

August 5, 1938

Alternate rain and sunshine had continued for about 10 days and the

ditches half filled with water, slippery banks of red clay, and the

swollen river necessitating a detour, added to the various difficulties

that beset the interviewer as she trudged through East Athens in search

of Neal Upson's shabby, three-room, frame house. A magnificent water oak

shaded the vine-covered porch where a rocking chair and swing offered a

comfortable place to rest.

"Good mornin', Miss," was the smiling greeting of the aged Negro man who

answered a knock on the front door. "How is you? Won't you come in? I

would ax you to have a cheer on the porch, but I has to stay in de house

cause de light hurts my eyes." He had hastily removed a battered old

felt hat, several sizes too large for him, and as he shuffled down the

hall his hair appeared almost white as it framed his black face. His

clean, but faded blue overalls and shirt were patched in several places

and heavy brogans completed his costume. The day was hot and humid and

he carefully placed two chairs where they would have the advantage of

any breeze that might find its way through the open hallway.

"Miss, I'se mighty glad you come today," he began, "cause I does git so

lonesome here by myself. My old 'oman wuks up to de court'ouse, cookin'

for de folkses in jail, and it's allus late when she gits back home.

'Scuse me for puttin' my old hat back on, but dese old eyes jus' can't

stand de light even here in the hall, less I shades 'em."

When asked to tell the story of his life, he chuckled. "Lawsy, Missy,"

he said. "Does you mean dat you is willin' to set here and listen to old

Neal talk? 'Tain't many folkses what wants to hear us old Niggers talk

no more. I jus' loves to think back on dem days 'cause dem was happy

times, so much better'n times is now. Folkses was better den. Dey was

allus ready to holp one another, but jus' look how dey is now!

"I was borned on Marster Frank Upson's place down in Oglethorpe County,

nigh Lexin'ton, Georgy. Marster had a plantation, but us never lived dar

for us stayed at de home place what never had more'n 'bout 80 acres of

land 'round it. Us never had to be trottin' to de sto' evvy time us

started to cook, 'cause what warn't raised on de home place, Marster had

'em raise out on de big plantation. Evvything us needed t'eat and wear

was growed on Marse Frank's land.

"Harold and Jane Upson was my Daddy and Mammy; only folkses jus' called

Daddy 'Hal.' Both of 'em was raised right der on de Upson place whar dey

played together whilst dey was chillun. Mammy said she had washed and

sewed for Daddy ever since she was big enough, and when dey got grown

dey jus' up and got married. I was deir only boy and I was de baby

chile, but dey had four gals older'n me. Dey was: Cordelia, Anna,

Parthene, and Ella. Ella was named for Marse Frank's onliest chile,

little Miss Ellen, and our little Miss was sho a good little chile.

"Daddy made de shoes for all de slaves on de plantation and Mammy was

called de house 'oman. She done de cookin' up at de big 'ouse, and made

de cloth for her own fambly's clothes, and she was so smart us allus had

plenty t'eat and wear. I was little and stayed wid Mammy up at de big

'ouse and jus' played all over it and all de folkses up der petted me.

Aunt Tama was a old slave too old to wuk. She was all de time cookin'

gingerbread and hidin' it in a little trunk what sot by de fireplace in

her room. When us chillun was good Aunt Tama give us gingerbread, but if

us didn't mind what she said, us didn't git none. Aunt Tama had de

rheumatiz and walked wid a stick and I could git in dat trunk jus' 'bout

anytime I wanted to. I sho' did git 'bout evvything dem other chillun

had, swappin' Aunt Tama's gingerbread. When our white folkses went off,

Aunt Tama toted de keys, and she evermore did make dem Niggers stand

'round. Marse Frank jus' laughed when dey made complaints 'bout her.

"In summertime dey cooked peas and other veg'tables for us chillun in a

washpot out in de yard in de shade, and us et out of de pot wid our

wooden spoons. Dey jus' give us wooden bowls full of bread and milk for


"Marse Frank said he wanted 'em to larn me how to wait on de white

folkses' table up at de big 'ouse, and dey started me off wid de job of

fannin' de flies away. Mist'ess Serena, Marse Frank's wife, made me a

white coat to wear in de dinin' room. Missy, dat little old white coat

made me git de onliest whuppin' Marse Frank ever did give me." Here old

Neal paused for a hearty laugh. "Us had comp'ny for dinner dat day and I

felt so big showin' off 'fore 'em in dat white coat dat I jus' couldn't

make dat turkey wing fan do right. Dem turkey wings was fastened on long

handles and atter Marster had done warned me a time or two to mind what

I was 'bout, the old turkey wing went down in de gravy bowl and when I

jerked it out it splattered all over de preacher's best Sunday suit.

Marse Frank got up and tuk me right out to de kitchen and when he got

through brushin' me off I never did have no more trouble wid dem turkey


"Evvybody cooked on open fireplaces dem days. Dey had swingin' racks

what dey called cranes to hang de pots on for bilin'. Dere was ovens for

bakin' and de heavy iron skillets had long handles. One of dem old

skillets was so big dat Mammy could cook 30 biscuits in it at one time.

I allus did love biscuits, and I would go out in de yard and trade Aunt

Tama's gingerbread to de other chilluns for deir sheer of biscuits. Den

dey would be skeered to eat de gingerbread 'cause I told 'em I'd tell on

'em. Aunt Tama thought dey was sick and told Marse Frank de chilluns

warn't eatin' nothin'. He axed 'em what was de matter and dey told him

dey had done traded all deir bread to me. Marse Frank den axed me if I

warn't gittin' enough t'eat, 'cause he 'lowed dere was enough dar for

all. Den Aunt Tama had to go and tell on me. She said I was wuss dan a

hog atter biscuits, so our good Marster ordered her to see dat li'l Neal

had enough t'eat.

"I ain't never gwine to forgit dat whuppin' my own daddy give me. He had

jus' sharpened up a fine new axe for hisself, and I traded it off to a

white boy named Roar what lived nigh us when I seed him out tryin' to

cut wood wid a sorry old dull axe. I sold him my daddy's fine new axe

for 5 biscuits. When he found out 'bout dat, he 'lowed he was gwine to

give me somepin to make me think 'fore I done any more tradin' of his

things. Mist'eas, let me tell you, dat beatin' he give me evermore was

a-layin' on of de rod.

"One day Miss Serena put me in de cherry tree to pick cherries for her,

and she told me not to eat none 'til I finished; den I could have all I

wanted, but I didn't mind her and I et so many cherries I got sick and

fell out of de tree. Mist'ess was skeered, but Marse Frank said: 'It's

good enough for him, 'cause he didn't mind.'

"Mammy never did give me but one whuppin' neither. Daddy was gwine to de

circus and I jus' cut up 'bout it 'cause I wanted to go so bad. Mist'ess

give me some cake and I hushed long as I was eatin', but soon as de last

cake crumb was swallowed I started bawlin' again. She give me a stick of

candy and soon as I et dat I was squallin' wuss dan ever. Mammy told

Mist'ess den det she knowed how to quiet me and she retch under de bed

for a shoe. When she had done finished layin' dat shoe on me and put it

back whar she got it, I was sho willin' to shet my mouth and let 'em all

go to de circus widout no more racket from me.

"De fust school I went to was in a little one-room 'ouse in our white

folkses' back yard. Us had a white teacher and all he larnt slave

chillun was jus' plain readin' and writin'. I had to pass Dr.

Willingham's office lots and he was all de time pesterin' me 'bout

spellin'. One day he stopped me and axed me if I could spell 'bumble bee

widout its tail,' and he said dat when I larnt to spell it, he would

gimme some candy. Mr. Sanders, at Lexin'ton, gimme a dime onct. It was

de fust money I ever had. I was plumb rich and I never let my Daddy have

no peace 'til he fetched me to town to do my tradin'. I was all sot to

buy myself a hat, a sto-bought suit of clothes, and some shoes what

warn't brogans, but Missy, I wound up wid a gingercake and a nickel's

wuth of candy. I used to cry and holler evvy time Miss Serena went off

and left me. Whenever I seed 'em gittin' out de carriage to hitch it up,

I started beggin' to go. Sometimes she laughed and said; 'All right

Neal.' But when she said, 'No Neal,' I snuck out and hid under de

high-up carrigge seat and went along jus' de same. Mist'ess allus found

me 'fore us got back home, but she jus' laughed and said: 'Well, Neal's

my little nigger anyhow.'

"Dem old cord beds was a sight to look at, but dey slept good. Us

cyarded lint cotton into bats for mattresses and put 'em in a tick what

us tacked so it wouldn't git lumpy. Us never seed no iron springs dem

days. Dem cords, criss-crossed from one side of de bed to de other, was

our springs and us had keys to tighten 'em wid. If us didn't tighten 'em

evvy few days dem beds was apt to fall down wid us. De cheers was

homemade too and de easiest-settin' ones had bottoms made out of rye

splits. Dem oak-split cheers was all right, and sometimes us used cane

to bottom de cheers but evvybody laked to set in dem cheers what had

bottoms wove out of rye splits.

"Marster had one of dem old cotton gins what didn't have no engines. It

was wuked by mules. Dem old mules was hitched to a long pole what dey

pulled 'round and 'round to make de gin do its wuk. Dey had some gins in

dem days what had treadmills for de mules to walk in. Dem old treadmills

looked sorter lak stairs, but most of 'em was turned by long poles what

de mules pulled. You had to feed de cotton by hand to dem old gins and

you sho had to be keerful or you was gwine to lose a hand and maybe a

arm. You had to jump in dem old cotton presses and tread de cotton down

by hand. It tuk most all day long to gin two bales of cotton and if dere

was three bales to be ginned us had to wuk most all night to finish up.

"Dey mixed wool wid de lint cotton to spin thread to make cloth for our

winter clothes. Mammy wove a lot of dat cloth and de clothes made out of

it sho would keep out de cold. Most of our stockin's and socks was knit

at home, but now and den somebody would git hold of a sto-bought pair

for Sunday-go-to-meetin' wear.

"Colored folkses went to church wid deir own white folkses and sot in de

gallery. One Sunday us was all settin' in dat church listenin' to de

white preacher, Mr. Hansford, tellin' how de old debbil was gwine to git

dem what didn't do right." Here Neal burst into uncontrollable laughter.

His sides shook and tears ran down his face. Finally he began his story

again: "Missy, I jus' got to tell you 'bout dat day in de meetin' 'ouse.

A Nigger had done run off from his marster and was hidin' out from one

place to another. At night he would go steal his somepin t'eat. He had

done stole some chickens and had 'em wid him up in de church steeple

whar he was hidin' dat day. When daytime come he went off to sleep lak

Niggers will do when dey ain't got to hustle, and when he woke up

Preacher Hansford was tellin' 'em 'bout de debbil was gwine to git de

sinners. Right den a old rooster what he had stole up and crowed so loud

it seemed lak Gabriel's trumpet on Judment Day. Dat runaway Nigger was

skeered 'cause he knowed dey was gwine to find him sho, but he warn't

skeered nuffin' compared to dem Niggers settin' in de gallery. Dey jus'

knowed dat was de voice of de debbil what had done come atter 'em. Dem

Niggers never stopped prayin' and testifyin' to de Lord, 'til de white

folkses had done got dat runaway slave and de rooster out of de steeple.

His marster was der and tuk him home and give him a good, sound


"Slaves was 'lowed to have prayermeetin' on Chuesday (Tuesday) and

Friday 'round at de diffunt plantations whar deir marsters didn't keer,

and dere warn't many what objected. De good marsters all give deir

slaves prayermeetin' passes on dem nights so de patterollers wouldn't

git 'em and beat 'em up for bein' off deir marster's lands. Dey 'most

nigh kilt some slaves what dey cotch out when dey didn't have no pass.

White preachers done de talkin' at de meetin'houses, but at dem Chuesday

and Friday night prayermeetin's, it was all done by Niggers. I was too

little to 'member much 'bout dem meetin's, but my older sisters used to

talk lots 'bout 'em long atter de war had brung our freedom. Dere warn't

many slaves what could read, so dey jus' talked 'bout what dey had done

heared de white preachers say on Sunday. One of de fav'rite texties was

de third chapter of John, and most of 'em jus' 'membered a line or two

from dat. Missy, from what folkses said 'bout dem meetin's, dere was sho

a lot of good prayin' and testifyin', 'cause so many sinners repented

and was saved. Sometimes at dem Sunday meetin's at de white folkses'

church dey would have two or three preachers de same dey. De fust one

would give de text and preach for at least a hour, den another one would

give a text and do his preachin', and 'bout dat time another one would

rise up and say dat dem fust two brudders had done preached enough to

save 3,000 souls, but dat he was gwine to try to double dat number. Den

he would do his preachin' and atter dat one of dem others would git up

and say: 'Brudders and Sisters, us is all here for de same and only

purpose--dat of savin' souls. Dese other good brudders is done preached,

talked, and prayed, and let the gap down; now I'm gwine to raise it. Us

is gwine to git 'ligion enough to take us straight through dem pearly

gates. Now, let us sing whilst us gives de new brudders and sisters de

right hand of fellowship. One of dem old songs went sort of lak dis:

'Must I be born to die

And lay dis body down?'

"When dey had done finished all de verses and choruses of dat dey


'Amazin' Grace, How sweet de sound

Dat saved a wretch lak me.'

"'Fore dey stopped dey usually got 'round to singin':

'On Jordan's stormy banks I stand,

And cast a wishful eye,

To Canaan's fair and happy land

Whar my possessions lie.'

"Dey could keep dat up for hours and it was sho' good singin', for dat's

one thing Niggers was born to do--to sing when dey gits 'ligion.

"When old Aunt Flora come up and wanted to jine de church she told 'bout

how she had done seed de Hebenly light and changed her way of livin'.

Folkses testified den 'bout de goodness of de Lord and His many

blessin's what He give to saints and sinners, but dey is done stopped

givin' Him much thanks any more. Dem days, dey 'zamined folkses 'fore

dey let 'em jine up wid de church. When dey started 'zaminin' Aunt

Flora, de preacher axed her: 'Is you done been borned again and does you

believe dat Jesus Christ done died to save sinners?' Aunt Flora she

started to cry; and she said: 'Lordy, Is He daid? Us didn't know dat. If

my old man had done 'scribed for de paper lak I told him to, us would

have knowed when Jesus died?" Neal giggled. "Missy," he said, "ain't dat

jus' lak one of dem old-time Niggers? Dey jus' tuk dat for ign'ance and

let her come on into de church.

"Dem days it was de custom for marsters to hire out what slaves dey had

dat warn't needed to wuk on deir own land, so our marster hired out two

of my sisters. Sis' Anna hired to a fambly 'bout 16 miles from our

place. She didn't lak it dar so she run away and I found her hid out in

our 'tater 'ouse. One day when us was playin' she called to me right low

and soft lak and told me she was hongry and for me to git her somepin

t'eat but not to tell nobody she was dar. She said she had been dar

widout nothin' t'eat for several days. She was skeered Marster might

whup her. She looked so thin and bad I thought she was gwine to die, so

I told Mammy. Her and Marster went and brung Anna to de 'ouse and fed

her. Dat pore chile was starved most to death. Marster kept her at home

for 3 weeks and fed her up good, den he carried her back and told dem

folkses what had hired her dat dey had better treat Anna good and see

dat she had plenty t'eat. Marster was drivin' a fast hoss dat day, but

bless your heart, Anna beat him back home dat day. She cried and tuk on

so, beggin' him not to take her back dar no more dat he told her she

could stay home. My other sister stayed on whar she was hired out 'til

de war was over and dey give us our freedom.

"Daddy had done hid all Old Marster's hosses when de yankees got to our

plantation. Two of de ridin' hosses was in de smokehouse and another

good trotter was in de hen 'ouse. Old Jake was a slave what warn't right

bright. He slep' in de kitchen, and he knowed whar Daddy had hid dem

hosses, but dat was all he knowed. Marster had give Daddy his money to

hide too, and he tuk some of de plasterin' off de wall in Marster's room

and put de box of money inside de wall. Den he fixed dat plasterin' back

so nice you couldn't tell it had ever been tore off. De night dem

yankees come, Daddy had gone out to de wuk 'ouse to git some pegs to fix

somepin (us didn't have no nails dem days). When de yankees rid up to de

kitchen door and found Old Jake right by hisself, dat pore old fool was

skeered so bad he jus' started right off babblin' 'bout two hosses in de

smoke'ouse and one in de hen 'ouse, but he was tremblin' so he couldn't

talk plain. Old Marster heared de fuss dey made and he come down to de

kitchen to see what was de matter. De yankees den ordered Marster to git

'em his hosses. Marster called Daddy and told him to git de hosses, but

Daddy, he played foolish lak and stalled 'round lak he didn't have good

sense. Dem sojers raved and fussed all night long 'bout dem hosses, but

dey never thought 'bout lookin' in de smoke'ouse and hen 'ouse for 'em

and 'bout daybreak dey left widout takin' nothin'. Marster said he was

sho proud of my Daddy for savin' dem good hosses for him.

[TR: 'Horses saved' written in margin.]

"Marster had a long pocketbook what fastened at one end wid a ring. One

day when he went to git out some money he dropped a roll of bills dat he

never seed, but Daddy picked it up and handed it back to him right away.

Now my Daddy could have kept dat money jus' as easy, but he was a

'ceptional man and believed evvbody ought to do right.

"Aunt Tama's old man, Uncle Griff, come to live wid her on our place

atter de war was over. 'Fore den he had belonged to a man named

Colquitt.[HW: !!] Marster pervided a home for him and Aunt Tama 'til dey

was both daid. When dey was buildin' de fust colored Methodist church in

dat section Uncle Griff give a whole hundred dollars to de buildin'

fund. Now it tuk a heap of scrimpin' for him to save dat much money

'cause he never had made over $10 a month. Aunt Tama had done gone to

Glory a long time when Uncle Griff died. Atter dey buried him dey come

back and was 'rangin' de things in his little cabin. When dey moved dat

little trunk what Aunt Tama used to keep gingerbread in, dey found jus'

lots of money in it. Marster tuk keer of dat money 'til he found Uncle

Griff's own sister and den he give it all to her.

"One time Marster missed some of his money and he didn't want to 'cuse

nobody, so he 'cided he would find out who had done de debbilment. He

put a big rooster in a coop wid his haid stickin' out. Den he called all

de Niggers up to de yard and told 'em somebody had been stealin' his

money, and dat evvybody must git in line and march 'round dat coop and

tetch it. He said dat when de guilty ones tetched it de old rooster

would crow. Evvybody tetched it 'cept one old man and his wife; dey jus'

wouldn't come nigh dat coop whar dat rooster was a-lookin' at evvybody

out of his little red eyes. Marster had dat old man and 'oman sarched

and found all de money what had been stole.

"Mammy died about a year atter de war, and I never will forgit how

Mist'ess cried and said: 'Neal, your mammy is done gone, and I don't

know what I'll do widout her.' Not long atter dat, Daddy bid for de

contract to carry de mail and he got de place, but it made de white

folkses mighty mad, 'cause some white folkses had put in bids for dat

contract. Dey 'lowed dat Daddy better not never start out wid dat mail,

'cause if he did he was gwine to be sorry. Marster begged Daddy not to

risk it and told him if he would stay dar wid him he would let him have

a plantation for as long as he lived, and so us stayed on dar 'til Daddy

died, and a long time atter dat us kept on wukin' for Old Marster.

"White folkses owned us back in de days 'fore de war but our own white

folkses was mighty good to deir slaves. Dey had to larn us 'bedience

fust, how to live right, and how to treat evvybody else right; but de

best thing dey larned us was how to do useful wuk. De onliest time I

'member stealin' anything 'cept Aunt Tama's gingerbread was one time

when I went to town wid Daddy in de buggy. When us started back home a

man got in de seat wid Daddy and I had to ride down in de back of de

buggy whar Daddy had hid a jug of liquor. I could hear it slushin'

'round and so I got to wantin' to know how it tasted. I pulled out de

corncob stopper and tuk one taste. It was so good I jus' kep' on tastin'

'til I passed out, and didn't know when us got home or nuffin else 'til

I waked up in my own bed next day. Daddy give me a tannin' what I didn't

forgit for a long time, but dat was de wussest drunk I ever was. Lord,

but I did love to follow my Daddy.

"Folkses warn't sick much in dem days lak dey is now, but now us don't

eat strong victuals no more. Us raked out hot ashes den and cooked good

old ashcakes what was a heap better for us dan dis bread us buys from de

stores now. Marster fed us plenty ashcake, fresh meat, and ash roasted

'taters, and dere warn't nobody what could out wuk us.

"A death was somepin what didn't happen often on our plantation, but

when somebody did die folkses would go from miles and miles around to

set up and pray all night to comfort de fambly of de daid. Dey never

made up de coffins 'til atter somebody died. Den dey measured de corpse

and made de coffin to fit de body. Dem coffins was lined wid black

calico and painted wid lampblack on de outside. Sometimes dey kivvered

de outside wid black calico lak de linin'. Coffins for white folkses was

jus' lak what dey had made up for deir slaves, and dey was all buried in

de same graveyard on deir own plantations.

"When de war was over dey closed de little one-room school what our good

Marster had kept in his back yard for his slaves, but out young Miss

Ellen larnt my sister right on 'til she got whar she could teach school.

Daddy fixed up a room onto our house for her school and she soon had it

full of chillun. Dey made me study too, and I sho did hate to have to go

to school to my own aister for she evermore did take evvy chance to lay

dat stick on me, but I s'pects she had a right tough time wid me. When

time come 'round to celebrate school commencement, I was one proud

little Nigger 'cause I never had been so dressed up in my life before.

I had on a red waist, white pants, and a good pair of shoes; but de

grandest thing of all 'bout dat outfit was dat Daddy let me wear his

watch. Evvybody come for dat celebration. Dere was over 300 folks at dat

big dinner, and us had lots of barbecue and all sorts of good things

t'eat. Old Marster was dar, and when I stood up 'fore all dem folks and

said my little speech widout missin' a word, Marster sho did laugh and

clap his hands. He called me over to whar he was settin' and said: 'I

knowed you could larn if you wanted to.' Best of all, he give me a

whole dollar. [TR: 'for reciting a speech' written in margin.] I was

rich den, plumb rich. One of my sisters couldn't larn nothin'. De only

letters she could ever say was 'G-O-D.' No matter what you axed her to

spell she allus said 'G-O-D.' She was a good field hand though and a

good 'oman and she lived to be more dan 90 years old.

"Now, talkin' 'bout frolickin', us really used to dance. What I means,

is sho 'nough old-time break-downs. Sometimes us didn't have no music

'cept jus' beatin' time on tin pans and buckets but most times Old Elice

Hudson played his fiddle for us, and it had to be tuned again atter evvy

set us danced. He never knowed but one tune and he played dat over and

over. Sometimes dere was 10 or 15 couples on de floor at de same time

and us didn't think nothin' of dancin' all night long. Us had plenty of

old corn juice for refreshment, and atter Elice had two or three cups of

dat juice, he could git 'Turkey in de Straw' out of dat fiddle lak

nobody's business.

"One time a houseboy from another plantation wanted to come to one of

our Saddy night dances, so his marster told him to shine his boots for

Sunday and fix his hoss for de night and den he could git off for de

frolic. Abraham shined his marster's boots 'till he could see hisself in

'em, and dey looked so grand he was tempted to try 'em on. Dey was a

little tight but he thought he could wear 'em, and he wanted to show

hisself off in 'em at de dance. Dey warn't so easy to walk in and he was

'fraid he might git 'em scratched up walkin' through de fields, so he

snuck his Marster's hoss out and rode to de dance. When Abraham rid up

dar in dem shiny boots, he got all de gals' 'tention. None of 'em wanted

to dance wid de other Niggers. Dat Abraham was sho sruttin' 'til

somebody run in and told him his hoss had done broke its neck. He had

tied it to a limb and sho 'nough, some way, dat hoss had done got

tangled up and hung its own self. Abraham begged de other Nigger boys to

help him take de deid hoss home, but he had done tuk deir gals and he

didn't git no help. He had to walk 12 long miles home in dem tight

shoes. De sun had done riz up when he got dar and it warn't long 'fore

his Marster was callin': 'Abraham, bring, me my boots.' Dat Nigger would

holler out: 'Yas sah! I'se a-comin'. But dem boots wouldn't come off

'cause his foots had done swelled up in 'em. His marster kept on callin'

and when Abraham seed he couldn't put it off no longer, he jus' cut dem

boots off his foots and went in and told what he had done. His marster

was awful mad and said he was a good mind to take de hide off Abraham's

back. 'Go git my hoss quick, Nigger, 'fore I most kills you,' he yelled.

Den Abraham told him: 'Marster I knows you is gwine to kill me now, but

your hoss is done daid.' Den pore Abraham had to out and tell de whole

story and his marster got to laughin' so 'bout how he tuk all de gals

away from de other boys and how dem boots hurt him dat it looked lak he

never would stop. When he finally did stop laughin' and shakin' his

sides he said: 'Dat's all right Abraham. Don't never let nobody beat

your time wid de gals.' And dat's all he ever said to Abraham 'bout it.

"When my sister got married, us sho did have a grand time. Us cooked a

pig whole wid a shiny red apple in its mouth and set it right in de

middle of de long table what us had built out in de yard. Us had

evvything good to go wid dat pig, and atter dat supper, us danced all

night long. My sister never had seed dat man but one time 'fore she

married him.

"My Daddy and his cousin Jim swore wid one another dat if one died 'fore

de other dat de one what was left would look atter de daid one's fambly

and see dat none of de chillun was bound out to wuk for nobody. It

warn't long atter dis dat Daddy died. I was jus' fourteen, and was

wukin' for a brick mason larnin' dat trade. Daddy had done been sick a

while, and one night de fambly woke me up and said he was dyin'. I run

fast as I could for a doctor but Daddy was done daid when I got back. Us

buried him right side of Mammy in de old graveyard. It was most a year

atter dat 'fore us had de funeral sermon preached. Dat was de way

folkses done den. Now Mammy and Daddy was both gone, but old Marster

said us chillun could live dar long as us wanted to. I went on back to

wuk, 'cause I was crazy to be as good a mason as my Daddy was. In

Lexin'ton dere is a rock wall still standin' 'round a whole square what

Daddy built in slavery time. Long as he lived he blowed his bugle evvy

mornin' to wake up all de folkses on Marse Frank's plantation. He never

failed to blow dat bugle at break of day 'cep on Sundays, and evvybody

on dat place 'pended on him to wake 'em up.

"I was jus' a-wukin' away one day when Cousin Jim sent for me to go to

town wid him. Missy, dat man brung ne right here to Athens to de old

courthouse and bound me out to a white man. He done dat very thing atter

swearin' to my Daddy he wouldn't never let dat happen. I didn't want to

wuk dat way, so I run away and went back home to wuk. De sheriff come

and got me and said I had to go back whar I was bound out or go to jail.

Pretty soon I runned away again and went to Atlanta, and dey never

bothered me 'bout dat no more.

"De onliest time I ever got 'rested was once when I come to town to see

'bout gittin' somebody to pick cotton for me and jus' as I got to a

certain Nigger's house de police come in and caught 'em in a crap game.

Mr. McCune, de policeman, said I would have to go 'long wid de others to

jail, but he would help me atter us got der and he did. He 'ranged it so

I could hurry back home.

"'Bout de best times us had in de plantation days was de corn shuckin's,

log rollin's and syrup cookin's. Us allus finished up dem syrup cookin's

wid a candy pullin'.

"Atter he had all his corn gathered and put in big long piles, Marster

'vited de folkses from all 'round dem parts. Dat was de way it was done;

evvybody holped de others git de corn shucked. Nobody thought of hirin'

folkses and payin' out cash money for extra wuk lak dat. Dey 'lected a

gen'ral to lead off de singin' and atter he got 'em to keepin' time wid

de singin' de little brown jug was passed 'round. When it had gone de

rounds a time or two, it was a sight to see how fast dem Niggers could

keep time to dat singin'. Dey could do all sorts of double time den when

dey had swigged enough liquor. When de corn was all shucked dey feasted

and den drunk more liquor and danced as long as dey could stand up. De

logrollin's and candy pullin's ended de same way. Dey was sho grand good


"I farmed wid de white folkses for 32 years and never had no trouble wid

nobody. Us allus settled up fair and square and in crop time dey never

bothered to come 'round to see what Neal was doin', 'cause dey knowed

dis Nigger was wukin' all right. Dey was all mighty good to me. Atter I

got so old I couldn't run a farm no more I wuked in de white folkses'

gyardens and tended deir flowers. I had done been wukin' out Mrs. Steve

Upson's flowers and when she 'come to pay, she axed what my name was.

When I told her it was Neal Upson she wanted to know how I got de Upson

name. I told her Mr. Frank Upson had done give it to me when I was his

slave. She called to Mr. Steve and dey lak to have talked me to death,

for my Marse Frank and Mr. Steve's daddy was close kinfolkses.

"Atter dat I wuked deir flowers long as I was able to walk way off up to

deir place, but old Neal can't wuk no more. Mr. Steve and his folkses

comes to see me sometimes and I'se allus powerful glad to see 'em.

"I used to wuk some for Miss Mary Bacon. She is a mighty good 'oman and

she knowed my Daddy and our good Old Marster. Miss Mary would talk to me

'bout dem old days and she allus said: 'Neal, let's pray,' 'fore I left.

Miss Mary never did git married. She's one of dem solitary ladies.

"Now, Missy, how come you wants to know 'bout my weddin'? I done been

married two times, but it was de fust time dat was de sho 'nough 'citin'

one. I courted dat gal for a long, long time while I was too skeered to

ax her Daddy for her. I went to see her evvy Sunday jus' 'termined to ax

him for her 'fore I left, and I would stay late atter supper, but jus'

couldn't git up nerve enough to do it. One Sunday I promised myself I

would ax him if it kilt me, so I went over to his house early dat

mornin' and told Lida, dat was my sweetheart's name--I says to her: 'I

sho is gwine to ax him today.' Well, dinnertime come, suppertime come,

and I was gittin' shaky in my jints when her Daddy went to feed his hogs

and I went along wid him. Missy, dis is de way I finally did ax him for

his gal. He said he was goin' to have some fine meat come winter. I axed

him if it would be enough for all of his fambly, and he said: 'How come

you ax dat, boy?' Den I jus' got a tight hold on dat old hog pen and

said: 'Well, Sir, I jus' thought if you didn't have enough for all of

'em, I could take Lida.' I felt myself goin' down. He started laughin'

fit to kill. 'Boy,' he says, 'Is you tryin' to ax for Lida? If so, I

don't keer 'cause she's got to git married sometime.' I was so happy I

left him right den and run back to tell Lida dat he said it was all


"Us didn't have no big weddin'. Lida had on a new calico dress and I

wore new jeans pants. Marster heared us was gittin' married dat day and

he sont his new buggy wid a message for us to come right dar to him. I

told Lida us better go, so us got in dat buggy and driv off, and de rest

of de folkses followed in de wagon. Marster met us in front of old Salem

Church. He had de church open and Preacher John Gibson waitin' der to

marry us. Us warn't 'spectin' no church weddin', but Marster said dat

Neal had to git married right. He never did forgit his Niggers. Lida

she's done been daid a long time, and I'se married again, but dat warn't

lak de fust time."

By now, Neal was evidently tired out but as the interviewer prepared to

leave, Neal said: "Missy, I'se sho got somepin to tell my old 'oman when

she gits home. She don't lak to leave me here by myself. I wish dere was

somebody for me to talk to evvyday, for I'se had sich a good time today.

I don't s'pect it's gwine to be long 'fore old Neal goes to be wid dem I

done been tellin' you 'bout, so don't wait too long to come back to see

me again."

John Lynch John Nelson facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail