Manuel Johnson



Minnie Branham Stonestreet



Seventy-four year old Manuel Johnson, "about de younges'" of the nine

children of Milford and Patsey Johnson, is a tall ebony-black old man

with the whitest hair and the roundest, merriest face. He lives in

Washington, but even at his age he farms.

Although he was too young to remember much about slavery, Uncle Manuel

recalls the happy old plantation days: "My Pa an' Ma cum frum ole

Virgin'y five years befo' de Wah, Jedge Harris here in Wilkes County

went up ter Virgin'y an' bo't dem frum de Putnams an' bro't 'em home wid

him. You know, Miss, in dem days us niggers wuz bo't an' sole lak dey

does mules ter-day. I wuz borned down on de Harris place de same year

Miss Carrie (the youngest Harris daughter) wuz--we's de same year's

chillun, dat's de onlies' way I knows how ole I is, Miss Harris tole me.

"Jedge Harris had er lot ov slaves--I specks I kin name er hunderd now,

dey all lived in log cabins in de Quarters an' wuz happy an' well took

keer ov as dey could be. De white folks took me in de house when I wuz

leetle an' raised me kase dey wanted me fer er house boy. I waited on de

table, washed dishes, an' atter I got big 'nough, I milked de cows. I et

in de kitchen out'n young Marse Jimmie's plate. I tho't so much ov him

I allus et out'n de same plate he did. We sho' had er plenty ov

ev'ything good too. All de y'uther niggers cooked an' et in de cabins. I

wuz gittin' 'long in years 'fo' I knowed you could buy meat in a sto'.

Yassum, us lived well on dat plantation--had plenty ter eat an' ter

wear. Miss Cornelia--(the oldest Harris daughter)--made all my clothes.

De nigger wimmens spun an' wove, but I never paid dem much mind when I

wuz er comin' on. I 'member hearin' dem talk 'bout dyin' de cloth out er

bark an' things dey got out'n de woods. Jes' so I had somethin' ter wear

I never tho't how hard dey had ter wuk ter mak hit.

"I lived on de Harris plantation wid dem 'til I wuz nineteen years ole

an' I allus felt lak I belonged ter dem--dey wuz so good ter me. When I

fust could 'member, Miss Cornelia would git on ole Ruben, dat wuz her

saddle horse, an' mak me git up behind her an den she'd go anywhere she

wanted ter go. 'Nough times she took me ter ole Mt Zion Church wid her.

"No nigger wuz ever 'lected on de Harris place. Ef we wuz sick er needed

sumthin' us got hit. Ef we wuz real sick de horseback doctor cum. In dem

days de doctors rid 'roun' in de country on horseback an' took medicine

wid em. Ef we warn't so sick de ole white folks cum ter see us an'

'scribed fer us. Dey use ter mak us little niggers take hoehound tea an'

fat lightwood tea fer coles. Dat lightwood tea is er good medicine, I

takes hit lots ov times now when I has er cole. Us had ter take Garlic

water--no'm, not Garlic and whiskey, but jes' plain Garlic water, an'

hit wuz a bad dose too. Dey give us candy made out'n Jerusalem oak an'

sugar, dat warn't so bad."

Uncle Manuel said when he first could remember the negroes had services

in their cabins at night. "Chairback" preachers went around from one

plantation to another holding services and much good was done. "On

Sunday evenings, our Mistess called all us little folks up to de house

an' read de Bible to us an' tole us Bible stories an' talked ter us

'bout livin' right. I 'members dat jes' as good."

When asked about the funerals and marriages when he first remembered,

Uncle Manuel said: "Dey keeps dead folks out too long now. When I wuz

comin' on, ef somebody died lak terday, dey wuz buried ter-morrer'. Dere

wuz a settin' up an' prayer service dat night, de body wuz put in er

plain home-made coffin blacked wid blackin' an' speerits turpentine, an'

when de waggin cum ter take de body ter de buryin' groun' ev'ybody went

out behin' de corpse singin' some good ole song lak 'Amazin' Grace' an'

'Hark Frum de Tomb'. Den dey went on ter de grave an' had a little

service tellin' 'bout how de departed 'un had gone ter peace an'

rest--dere warn't no long 'ictionary lak dey has now--none ov dese great

long sermons an' gwines on--ev'ybody had jes' er common funeral an' hit

wuz so much better.

"My Marster wuz a Jedge so he married all his niggers whut got married.

He married lots ov y'uther couples too. I 'members dat dey use ter cum

fer him ter marry dem."

Uncle Manuel said he tried superstitions and signs, but they didn't

"prosper me none", so he gave up all he knew except the weather signs,

and he plants his crops by the moon. "I watches de fust twelve days ov

de New Year an' den I kin tell jes' whut weather ev'y mont' ov de year

gwine ter bring. Dat's de way mens mak almanacs. 'Course I ain't got no

edercation--nuver been ter school in my life--but dat's my fault kase I

could have went, but long 'bout den I wuz so mannish I wouldn't go an'

ev'y day I wishes I had er went so I could read now, but I didn't have

sense 'nough den ter want ter learn."

About planting crops, Uncle Manuel advises: "Plant ev'ything dat makes

under de groun' lak 'taters, goobers, tunips an' sich, on de dark ov de

noon; plant ev'ything dat makes on top de groun' on light nights. Plant

yo' crap on de waste ov de moon an' dat crap sho' gwine ter waste er

way, an' dat's de truf, I ain't nuver seed hit fail yit. Plant corn on

de full ov de moon an' you'll have full good-made years, plant on de

growin' ov de moon an' you'll have a full growed stalk, powerful stalks,

but de years won't be fulled out. I pays 'tention to dem signs, but as

fer all dese y'uthers, dey ain't nothin' ter dem, 'cept meetin' er cat,

I jes' has ter turn clean er 'roun' when I meets er cat an' dat turns de

bad luck dat hit means, er way."

Uncle Manuel grew sad as he recalled the good old days long gone. He

made an unusual statement for one of his race when he said: "Mistess, ef

somebody had er thousan' dollars in one han' an' in de y'uther a pass

fer me ter go back to dem ole days an' axed me which 'un I'de tak', I'de

go back to dem ole days an' live de rest ov my life. Dere aint' nothin'

to dese times now--nothin' 'cept trubble, peoples is livin' so fast, dey

don't tak' no time ter stop an' 'sider, dey jes' resh right into

trubble. I use ter drive oxen--four ov 'em--an' dey took me 'long all

right. I'se plowed oxen too, now yu nuver see 'un kase dey's too slow;

hit's autymobiles an' gas-run things, no'm, folks don't 'sider on de

ways ov life lak dey use ter.

"Why is I livin' so long? Dat's easy--I'se 'onest, ain't nuver stole,

nuver been in no trubble ov any kin', been nigh ter death two times, but

I'se been spared kase I jes' ain't lived out my days yit. I'se on

borrowed time, I knows dat, but dat ain't worryin' me none. An' I tell

yu somthin' else; I ain't botherin' none over dis ole age pensun

business fer I'se gwine ter wok on pensun er no pensun. No mam, I ain't

gwine ter set back an' 'speck no govermint ter feed me long as I kin'

scratch er 'roun'. I got wuk ter do--I got mo' wuk ter do an' gwine ter

do hit long as I'se able."

It was easy to see from Uncle Manuel's manner he meant every word he

said about "wuk". An independent old soul, and a good example to the

younger ones of his race.

Mandy Tucker Margaret Bryant facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail