Molly Brown

Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson

Person Interviewed: Molly Brown

Age: 90 or over Brinkley, Ark.

One morning early I (Irene Robertson) got off the bus and started up

Main Street. I hadn't gone far before I noticed a small form of a woman.

She wore men's heavy shoes, an old dark dress and a large fringed woolen

shawl; the fringe was well gone and the shawl, once black, was now brown

with age. I passed her and looked back into her face. I saw she was a

Negro, dark brown. Her face was small with unusually nice features for a

woman of her race. She carried a slick, knotted, heavy walking stick--a

very nice-looking one. On the other arm was a rectangular split basket

with wires run through for a handle and wrapped with a dirty white rag

to keep the wire from cutting into her hand or arm.

I stopped and said, "Auntie, could you direct me to Molly Brown's


"I'm her," she replied.

"Well, I want to go home with you."

"What you want to go out there for?"

"I want you to tell me about times when you were a girl," I said.

"I'm not going home yet. I got to get somethin' for dinner."

"Well, you go ahead and I'll follow along."

"Very well," she said.

I window shopped outside, and I noticed she had a box of candy, but it

was a 25c box and had been opened, so I thought it may be nearly

anything just put in the box. The next store she went into was a

nice-looking meat market and grocery combined, I followed in behind her.

A nice-looking middle-aged man gave her a bundle that was large enough

to hold a 50c meat roast. It was neatly tied, and the wrapping paper was

white, I observed. She thanked him. She turned to me and said, "Give me

a nickel."

I said, "I don't have one." Then I said teasingly, "Why you think I have

a nickel?"

She said, "You look like it."

I opened my purse and gave her a dime. She went over to the bread and

picked up a loaf or two, feeling it. The same man said, "Let that


The old woman slowly went on out. I was amazed at his scolding. Then he

said to me, "She begs up and down this street every day, cold or hot,

rain or shine, and I have to watch her from the time she enters that

door till she leaves. I give her scrap meat," he added.

"How old is she?"

"She was about fifty years old sixty years ago when she came to

Brinkley. She is close to a hundred years. People say she has been here

since soon after the town started." He remarked, "She won't spend that

dime you gave her."

"Well, I will go tell her what to buy with it," I replied.

I hurried out lest I loose her. She had gained time on me and was

crossing the Cotton Belt Ry. tracks. I caught up with her before she

went into a small country grocery store on #70 highway. She had passed

several Negro stores, restaurants, etc, "I want a nickel's worth of

meal, please, sir."

I said, "Auntie, buy a dime's worth of meal."

"I don't want but a nickel's worth." The man handed it to her to put in

the basket. "Give me a piece candy." The merchant gave her a nice hard

stick. She broke it half in to and offered me a piece.

I said, "No, thank you, Auntie." She really wanted me to have it, but I

refused it.

She blowed her nose on her soiled old white underskirt. She wormed and

went on out.

I asked the merchant "How old is she?"

"Bless her heart, I expect she is ninety years old or more. I give her

some hard candy every time she comes in here. I give her a lot of

things. She spends her money with me."

Then I asked if she drew an Old Age Pension.

He said, "I think she does, but that is about 30c and it runs out before

she gets another one. She begs a great deal."

I lagged behind. The way she made her way across the Broadway of America

made me scringe. I crossed and caught up with her as she turned off to a

path between a garage and blacksmith shop.

I said, "Auntie, let me take your basket." She refused me. I said, "May

I carry your meal or your meat?"

"I don't know you." she said shortly.

A jolly man at the side of the garage heard me. I said, "I'm all right,

am I not" to the man.

He said, "Aunt Molly, let her help you home. She is all right. I'm


I followed the path ahead of her. When we turned off across a grassy

mesa the old woman said, "Here," and handed over her basket. I carried

it. When we got to her house across a section of hay land at least a

mile from town, she said, "Push that door open and go to the fire."

An old Negro man, not her husband and no relation, got a very

respectable rocking chair for me. He had a good fire in the fireplace.

The old woman sat on a tall footstool. She was so cold.

She said, "Bring me some water, please."

A young yellow boy stepped out and gave her a cup of water. She drank it

all. She put the meat bones and scrap meat on the coals in an iron pot

in some water. She had the boy scald the meal, sprinkle salt in it and

add a little cold water to it. He put it in an iron pan and put a heavy

iron lid over it. The kettle was iron. The boy set it aside and put the

bread on hot embers. She sat down and said, "I'm hungry."

I said, "Auntie, what have you in that box?"

She reached to her basket, untied some coins from the corner of the

soiled rag--three pennies and a nickel. She untied her ragged hose--she

wore two pairs--tied above the knee with a string, and slipped the money

to the foot and in her heavy shoes. It looked safe. Then the old Negro

man came in with an armfull of scrub wood and placed it by the fireplace

on the floor.

He said, "The Government sent me here to live and take care of Aunt

Molly. She been sick. I build her fires, and me and that boy wait on


I asked, "Is the boy kin".

He said, "No'm, she's all alone."

He went away and the boy went away. The old woman called them and

offered them candy. She had twelve hard pieces of whitish, stale

chocolate candy in the box. The boy refused and went away, but the old

man took three pieces. I observed it well, when she passed it to me, for

worms. I refused it. It seemed free from bugs though. She ate greedily

and the old man went away.

We were alone and she was warm. She talked freely till the old Negro man

returned at one o'clock for dinner. Notwithstanding the fact the meal

hadn't been sifted and the meat not washed, it looked so brown and nice

in two pones and the meat smelled so good I left hurriedly before I

weakened, for I was getting hungry from the aroma.

"I was born at Edgefield County, South Carolina, and lived there till

after I married."

"Did you have a wedding?"

"I sure did."

"Tell me about it."

"I married at home, at night, had a supper, had a nice dance."

"You did?"

"I did."

"Did a colored man marry you?"

"Colored preacher--Jim Woods."

"Did he say the ceremony?"

"He read it out of a little book."

"Did you have a nice supper?"

"Course I did! White folks helped fix my weddin' supper. Had turkey,

chickens, baked shoat, pies and cake--a table piled up full. Mama helped

cook it. It was all cooked on fireplace.

"How were you dressed?"

"Dressed like folks dressed to marry."

"How was that?"

"I wore three or four starched underskirts trimmed in ruffles and a

white dress over em. I wore a long lacy vail of net."

"Did you go away?"

"I lived close to my ma and always lived close bout her. I was called a

first class lady then."

"You were."

"My parents name Tempy Harris and Albert Harris. She was a cook. He was

a farmer. They had five children. The reason I come to Arkansas was

cause brother Albert and Caroline come here and kept writin' for us to

come. My folks belong to the Harrises. I don't know nothin' bout

em--been too long--and I never fooled round their houses. Some my folks

belong to the Joneses. They kinfolks of the Harrises.

"No, I never saw no one sold nor hung neither.

"Remember grandpa. His daddy was a white man. His wife was a black

woman. Mama was a brown woman like I is.

"I ain't had narry child. My mother died here in this house. Way me an

my husband paid for the house, he farmed for Jim Black and Mr. Gunn. I

cooked for Jim Woodfin. Then I run a roomin' house till four years ago.

Four years ago I went to South Carolina to see my auntie. Her name

Julia. They all had more 'n I had. She'd dead now. All of em dead bout

it. She was a light woman--Julia. Her pa was a white man; her ma a light

woman. Julia considered wealthy.

"I don't know nothin' bout freedom. I seen the soldiers. I seen both

kinds. The white folks was good to us. We stayed on. Then we went to

Albany, Georgia. We lived there a long time--lived in Florida a long

time, then come here.

"The Joneses and Harrises had two or three families all I know. They

didn't have no big sight of land. They was good to us. I picked up

chips, put em in the boxes. Picked em up in my dress, course; I fetched

up water. We had rocked wells and springs, too. We lived with man named

Holman in Georgia. We farmed. I used to be called a smart woman, till I

done got not able. My grandpa was a white man; mama's pa.

"What I been doin' from 1864-1937? What ain't I done! Farmin', I told

you. Buildin' fences was common. Feedin' hogs, milkin' cows, churnin'.

We raised hogs and cows and kept somethin' to eat at home. I knit sox. I

spin. I never weaved. Folks wore clothes then. They don't wear none now.

Pieced quilts. Could I sew? Course I did! Got a machine there now.

(pointed to an old one.)

"I never seen no Ku Klux. I hid if they was about. I sure did hear bout

em. They didn't never come on our place.

"I told you I never knowed when freedom come on.

"I went to school in South Carolina. I went a little four or five years.

I could read, spell, cipher on a slate. Course I learned to write.

Course I got whoopins; got a heap o' whoopins. People tended to childern

then. What kind books did we have? I read and spelled out of the Blue

Back Speller. We had numbers on our slates. The teacher set us copies.

We wrote with soapstone. Some teachers white and some colored.

"Well, course I got a Bible. (disgusted at the question). I go to church

and preachin' every Sunday. Yes. ma'am, now.

"I don't study votin'. I don't vote. (disgusted). I reckon my husband

and pa did vote. I ain't voted.

"Course I go to town. I go to keep from gettin' hungry.

"Me and this old man get demodities and I get some money.

"I told you I don't bother young folks business. I thought I told you I

don't. If I young I could raise somethin' at home that the reason I go

hungry. I give down. I know I do get hungry.

"One thing I didn't tell you. I made tallow candles when I was a young


"I don't know nothin' bout that Civil War."

Mollie Williams Molly Finley facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail