Mary Jane Mattie Mooreman

Interviewer: Mary D. Hudgins

Person Interviewed: Mrs. Mary Jane (Mattie) Mooreman

Home: with son

Age: 90

"Yes, ma'am. I've been in Hot Springs, been in Hot Springs 57 years.

That's a long time. Lots of changes have come--I've seen lots of changes

here--changed from wooden sidewalks and little wood buildings.

"Your name's Hudgins? I knew the Hudginses--knew Miss Nora well. What's

that? Did I know Adeline? Did I know Adeline! Do you mean to tell me

she's still alive? Adeline! Why Miss Maud," (addressing Mrs. Eisele, for

whom she works--and who sat nearby to help in the interview) "Miss

Maude, I tell you Adeline's WHITE, she's white clean through!" (see

interview with Adeline Blakeley, who incidentally is as black as "the

ace of spades"--in pigmentation.) "Miss Maude, you never knew anybody

like Adeline. She bossed those children and made them mind--just like

they was hers. She took good care of them." (Turning to the interviewer)

"You know how the Hudgins always was about their children. Adeline

thought every one of 'em was made out of gold---made out of pure GOLD.

"She made 'em mind. I remember once, she was down on Central Avenue with

Ross and he did southing or other that, wasn't nice. She walked over to

the umbrella stand, you remember how they used to have umbrellas for

sale out in front of the stores. She grabbed an umbrella and she whipped

Ross with it--she didn't hurt him. Then she put it back in the stand

and said to the man who ran the store, 'If that umbrella's hurt, just

charge it to Harve Hudgins.' That's the way Adeline was. So she's still

alive. Law how I'd like to see her. Bring me a picture of her. Oh Miss

Mary, I'd love to have it.

"Me? I was born on Green river near Hartford, Kentucky. Guess I was

about a year and a half, from what they told me when my mistress

married. Don't know how she ever met my master. She was raised in a

convent and his folks lived a long way from hers. But anyhow she did.

She was just 13 when she married. The man she married was named Charles

Mooreman M-O-O-R-E-M-A-N. They had a son called Charles Wycliff

Mooreman. He was named for his mother's people. I got a son I called

Charles Wycliff too. He works at the Arlington. He's a waiter. They say

he looks just like me. Mr. Charles Wycliff Mooreman--back in Kentucky.

I still gets letters from him.

"Miss Mary I guess I had a pretty easy time in slavery days. They was

good to us. Besides I was a house niggah." (Those who have been "house

niggahs" never quibble at the word slave or negro. A subtle social

distinction brewed in the black race to separate house servants from

field hands as far as wealthy planters from "poor white trash.".) "Once

I heard a man say of my mother, 'You could put on a white boiled shirt

and lie flat down on the floor in her kitchen and not get dirty.'"

"Cook? No, ma'am!" (with dignity and indignation) "I never cooked until

after I was married, and I never washed, never washed so much as a rag.

All I washed was the babies and maybe my mistress's feet. I was a lady's

maid. I'd wait on my mistress and I'd knit sox for all the folks. When

they would sleep it was our duty--us maids--to fan 'em with feathers

made out of turkey feathers--feather fans. Part of it was to keep 'em

cool. Then they didn't have screens like we have today. So part of it

was to keep the flies off. I remember how we couldn't stomp our feet to

keep the flies from biting for fear of waking 'em up.

"No, Miss Mary, we didn't get such, good food. Nobody had all the kinds

of things we have today. We had mostly buttermilk and cornbread and fat

meat. Cake? 'Deed we didn't. I remember once they baked a cake and Mr.

Charles Wycliff--he was just a little boy--he got in and took a whole

fistful out of the cake. When Miss found out about it, she give us all

doses of salts--enough to make us all throw up. She gave it to all the

niggahs and the children--the white children. And what did she find out?

It was her own child who had done it.

"Yes ma'am we learned to read and write. Oh, Miss Maude now--I don't

want to recite. I don't want to." (But she did "Twinkle, Twinkle Little

Star" and "The Playful Kitten"--the latter all of 40 lines.) "I think, I

think they both come out of McGuffey's second Reader. Yes ma'am I

remember's McGuffey's and the Blueback speller too.

"No, Miss Mary, there wasn't so much of the war that was fought around

us. I remember that old Master used to go out in the front yard and

stand by a locust tree and put his ear against it. He said that way he

could hear the cannon down to Bowling Green. No, I didn't never hear any

shooting from the war myself.

"Yes ma'am, the Confederates used to come through lots. I remember how

we used to go to the spring for water for 'em. Then we'd stand with the

buckets on our heads while they drank--drank out of a big gourd. When

the buckets was empty we'd go back to the spring for more water.

"Once the Yankees come by the place. It was at night. They went out to

the quarters and they tried to get 'em to rise up. Told 'em to come on

in the big house and take what they wanted. Told 'em to take anything

they wanted to take, take Master's silver spoons and Miss' silk dress.

'If they don't like it, we'll shoot their brains out,' they said. Next

morning they told Master. He got scared and moved. At that time we was

living at Cloverport.

"It was near the end of the war and we was already free, only we didn't

know it. He moved on up to Stephensport. That's on the Ohio too. He took

me and a brother of mine and another black boy. While we was there I

remember he took me to a circus. I remember how the lady--she was

dressed in pink come walking down a wire--straight on down to the

ground. She was carrying a long pole. I won't never forget that.

"Not long afterwards I was married. We was all free then. My husband

asked my master if he could marry me. He told him 'You're a good man.

You can come and live on my farm and work for me, but you can't have

Mattie.' So we moved off to his Master's farm.

"A little while after that his Master bought a big farm in Arkansas. He

wanted to hire as many people as he could. So we went with him. He

started out well, but the first summer he died. So everything had to be

sold. A man what come down to bid on some of the farm tools and

stock--come to the auction, he told us to come on up to Woodruff county

and work for him. We was there 7 years and he worked the farm and I took

care of myself and my babies. Then he went off and left me.

"I went in to Cotton Plant and started working there. Finally he wrote

me and tried to get me to say we hadn't never been married. Said he

wanted to marry another woman. The white folks I worked for wouldn't let

me. I'd been married right and they wouldn't let me disgrace myself by

writing such a letter.

"Finally I came on to Hot Springs. For a while I cooked and washed. Then

I started working for folks, regular. For 9 years, tho, I mostly washed

and ironed.

"I came to Hot Springs on the 7th of February--I think it was 57 years

ago. You remember Miss Maud--it was just before that big hail storm. You

was here, don't you remember--that hail storm that took all the windows

out of all the houses, tore off roofs and swept dishes and table-cloths

right off the tables. Can't nobody forget that who's seen it.

"Miss Mary, do you know Miss Julia Huggins? I worked for her a long

time. Worked for her before she went away and after she came back.

Between times I cooked for Mrs. Button (Burton--but called Button by

everyone) Housley. When Miss Julia come back she marches right down to

Mrs. Housley's and tells me she wants me to work for her again. 'Can't

get her now,' says Mrs. Housley, 'Mattie's done found out she's black.'

But anyhow I went to see her, and I went back to work for her, pretty

foxy Miss Julia was.

"I been working for Mrs. Eisele pretty near twenty five years. Saw her

children grow up and the grand children. Lancing, he's my heart. Once

when Mr. and Mrs. Eisele went to see Mrs. Brown, Lancing's mother, they

took me with them. All the way to Watertown, Wisconsin. There wasn't any

more niggas in the town and all the children thought I was somthing to

look at. They'd come to see me and they'd bring their friends with 'em.

Once while we was there, a circus come to town. The children wanted me

to see it. Told me there was a negro boy in it. Guess they thought it

would be a treat to me to see another niggah. I told 'em, 'Law, don't

you think I see lots, lots more than I wants, everyday when I is at


"It used to scare me. The folks would go off to a party or a show and

leave me alone with the baby. No, Miss Mary, I wasn't scared for myself.

I thought somebody might come in and kidnap that baby. No matter how

late they was I'd sit on the top step of the stairs leading

upstairs--just outside the door where Lansing was asleep. No matter what

time they come home they'd find me there. 'Why don't you go on in your

bedroom and lie down?' they'd ask me. 'No,' I'd tell 'em, 'somebody

might come in, and they would have to get that baby over my dead body.'

"Jonnie, that's my daughter" (Mrs. D.G. Murphy, 338 Walnut Street, a

large stucco house with well cared for lawn) "she wants me to quit work.

I told her, 'You put that over on Mrs. Murphy--you made her quit work

and took care of her. What happened to her? She died! You're not going

to make me old.'

"Twice she's got me to quit work. Once, she told me it was against the

law. Told me there was a law old folks couldn't work. I believed her and

I quit. Then I come on down and I asked Mr. Eisele" (an important

business executive and prominent in civic affairs, [HW: aged 83]) "He

rared back and he said, 'I'd like to see anybody stop me from working.'

So I come on back.

"Another time, it was when the old age pensions come in. They tried to

stop me again. Told me I had to take it. I asked Mr. Eisele if I could

work just the same. 'No,' he says 'if you take it, you'll have to quit

work.' So I stamped my foot and I says, 'I won't take nobody's pension.'

"The other day Jonnie called up here and she started to crying. Lots of

folks write her notes and say she's bad to let me work. Somebody told

her that they had seen me going by to work at 4 o'clock in the morning.

It wasn't no such. I asked a man when I was on the way and it was 25

minutes until 5. Besides, my clock had stopped and I couldn't tell what

time it was. Yes, Miss Mary, I does get here sort of early, but then I

like it. I just sit in the kitchen until the folks get up.

"You see that picture over there, it's Mr. Eisele when he was 17. I'd

know that smiling face anywhere. He's always good to me. When they go

away to Florida I can go to the store and get money whenever I need it.

But it's always good to see them come back. Miss Maud says I'm sure to

go to Heaven, I'm such a good worker. No, Miss Mary, I'm not going to

quit work. Not until I get old."

Mary Jane Hardrige Mary Jane Wilson facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail