Liza Mention



Written and Edited By:

Leila Harris


John N. Booth

Federal Writers' Project

Augusta, Georgia

March 25, 1938

"Come right in. Have a seat. I'll be glad to tell you anything I can

'bout dem early days", said Liza Mention. "Course I warn't born till de

second year atter freedom, so I don't 'member nothin' 'bout all dat

fightin' durin' de war. I'se sho' glad I warn't born in slavery from

what I heared 'em tell 'bout dem patterollers ketchin' and beatin' up

folks." Liza's house, a 2-room hut with a narrow front porch, stands in

a peaceful spot on the edge of the Wilson plantation at Beech Island,

South Carolina. A metal sign on the door which revealed that the

property is protected by a theft insurance service aroused wonder as to

what Liza had that could attract a burglar. The bedroom was in extreme

disorder with clothing, shoes, bric-a-brac, and just plain junk

scattered about. The old Negress had been walking about the sunshiny

yard and apologized for the mess by saying that she lived alone and did

as she pleased. "Folks says I oughtn't to stay here by myself," she

remarked, "but I laks to be independent. I cooked 25 years for de Wilson

fambly and dey is gonna let me have dis house free 'til I die 'cause I

ain't able to do no work."

Liza's close-fitting hat pinned her ears to her head. She wore a dress

that was soiled and copiously patched and her worn out brogans were

several sizes too large. Ill health probably accounts for this

untidiness for, as she expressed it, "when I gits up I hate to set down

and when I sets down, I hates to git up, my knees hurts me so," however,

her face broke into a toothless grin on the slightest provocation.

"I wuz born up on de Reese's place in McDuffie County near Thomson,

Georgia. When I wuz chillun us didn't know nothin' 'bout no wuk," she

volunteered. "My ma wuz a invalis (invalid) so when I wuz 6 years old

she give me to her sister over here at Mr. Ed McElmurray's place to

raise. I ain't never knowed who my pa wuz. Us chaps played all de time

wid white chillun jus' lak dey had all been Niggers. Chillun den didn't

have sense lak dey got now; us wuz satisfied jus' to play all de time. I

'members on Sundays us used to take leaves and pin 'em together wid

thorns to make usselves dresses and hats to play in. I never did go to

school none so I don't know nothin' 'bout readin' and writin' and

spellin'. I can't spell my own name, but I think it begins wid a M.

Hit's too late to study 'bout all dat now 'cause my old brain couldn't

learn nothin'. Hit's done lost most all of what little I did know.

"Back in dem times, folkses cooked on open fireplaces in winter time and

in summer dey built cook stands out in de yard to set de spiders on, so

us could cook and eat outdoors. Dere warn't no stoves nowhar. When us

wuz hard up for sompin' green to bile 'fore de gyardens got goin' good,

us used to go out and git wild mustard, poke salad, or pepper grass. Us

et 'em satisfactory and dey never kilt us. I have et heaps of kinds of

diffunt weeds and I still eats a mess of poke salad once or twice a year

'cause it's good for you. Us cooked a naked hunk of fat meat in a pot

wid some corn dumplin's.

"De grown folks would eat de meat and de chilluns would sit around on de

floor and eat de potlikker and dumplin's out of tin pans. Us enjoyed dat

stuff jus' lak it had been pound cake.

"Dances in dem days warn't dese here huggin' kind of dances lak dey has

now. Dere warn't no Big Apple nor no Little Apple neither. Us had a

house wid a raised flatform (platform) at one end whar de music-makers

sot. Dey had a string band wid a fiddle, a trumpet, and a banjo, but

dere warn't no guitars lak dey has in dis day. One man called de sets

and us danced de cardrille (quadrille) de virginia reel, and de 16-hand

cortillion. When us made syrup on de farm dere would always be a candy

pullin'. Dat homemade syrup made real good candy. Den us would have a

big time at corn shuckin's too.

"I don't believe in no conjuration. Ain't nobody never done nothin' to

me but I have seed people dat other folks said had been hurt. If

somebody done somethin' to me I wouldn't know whar to find a root-worker

to take it off and anyways I wouldn't trust dem sort of folks 'cause if

dey can cyore you dey can kill you too.

"I'se a member of de Silver Bluff Baptist Church, and I been goin' to

Sunday School dar nearly ever since I can 'member. You know dey say

dat's de oldest Nigger church in de country. At fust a white man come

from Savannah and de church wuz built for his family and dey slaves.

Later dere wuz so many colored members de white folks come out and built

another house so de niggers could have de old one. When dat ole church

wuz tore down, de colored folks worshipped for a long time in a goat

house and den in a brush arbor.

"Some folks calls it de Dead River Church 'cause it used to be near Dead

River and de baptisin' wuz done dar for a long time. I wuz baptised dar

myself and I loves de old spot of ground. I has tried to be a good

church member all my life but it's hard fer me to get a nickel or a dime

for preacher money now."

When asked if people in the old days got married by jumping over a broom

she made a chuckling sound and replied: "No, us had de preacher but us

didn't have to buy no license and I can't see no sense in buyin' a

license nohow, 'cause when dey gits ready to quit, dey just quits."

Liza brought an old Bible from the other room in which she said she kept

the history of the old church. There were also pictures from some of her

"white folks" who had moved to North Carolina. "My husband has been daid

for 40 years," she asserted, "and I hasn't a chile to my name, nobody to

move nothin' when I lays it down and nobody to pick nothin' up. I gets

along pretty well most of de time though, but I wishes I could work so I

would feel more independent."

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