Needham Love

Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor

Person interviewed: Needham Love

1014 W. Seventeenth Street, Little Rock, Arkansas

Age: 80, or older

"Old Joe Love sold us to old Jim McClain, Meridian, Mississippi, and

old McClain brought us down on the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi.

That was during the War. It was down there on a big old plantation

where the cane was high as this house. I was born in Alabama. When the

War started, he brought us all down to Meridian and sold us. He sold

me in my mother's arms.

"We cut down all that cane and woods and cleared up the place on the

Tallahatchie. We did all that before we learned we was free.

"They built log houses for the white and black. They sealed the white

folks' houses and chinked the colored folks'. They didn't have but one

house for the white folks. There was only one white person down there

and that was old Jim McClain. Just come down there in time of harvest.

He lived in Lexington the rest of the time. He told his people, 'When

I die, bury me in a bale of cotton.' One time he got sick and they

thought he would die. They gathered all the hands up and all the

people about the place. There was about three hundred. He come to his

senses and said, 'What's all these people doing here?'

"His son said, 'Papa, they thought you was goin' to die and they come

up to see you.'

"And he said to his son, 'Well, I ain't dead yet. Tell 'em to git back

on the job, and chop that cotton.'

"I did not have any work to do in slavery time. When the War ended I

was only five years old. But I played the devil after the War though.

When the slaves were freed, I shouted, but I ain't got nothin' yet. I

learned a lot though. My father used to make a plow or a harrow. They

made cotton in those days. Potatoes ain't no 'count now. In them days,

they made potatoes so good and sweet that they would gum up your

hands. Mothers used to make good old ash cakes. Used to have

pot-liquor with grease standin' up on it. People don't know nothin'

now. Don't know how to cook.

"My father's name was Joe Love and my mother's name was Sophia. I

don't know any of my grandparents. All of them belonged to old Joe

Love. I never did know any of them. I know my father and mother--my

mammy and pappy--that's what we called 'em in them days.

"Old man Joe would go out sometimes and come in with a hog way in the

night. He was a cooper--made water buckets, pans to make bread up in

and things like that. Mammy would make us git up in the night and

clean our mouths. If they didn't, children would laugh at them the

next day and say the spiders had been biting your mouth, 'cause we

were sposed to had so much grease on our mouths that the spiders would

swing down and bite them.

"I professed religion when I was sixteen years old. It was down in the

Free Nigger Bend where my father had bought a little place on the

public road between Greenwood and Shellmount.

"I married that fall. My father had died and I had got to be a man.

Done better then than I do since I got old. I had one cow and my

mother let me have another. I made enough money to buy a pair of mules

and a wagon. My wife was willing to work. She would go out and git

some poke greens and pepper and things and cook them with a little

butter. Night would come, we'd go out and cut a cord of wood. Got

'long better then than people do now.

"I began preaching soon as I joined the church. I began at the

prayer-meetings. I preached for forty-seven years before I fell. I've

had two strokes. It's been twenty-eight years or more since I was able

to work for myself.

"I have heard about the pateroles but I never did know much about

them. I have heard my father talk about them. He never would get a new

suit and go to town but what they would catch him out and say, 'You

got a pass?' He would show it to them, and they would sit down and

chew old nasty tobacco and spit the juice out on him all over his


"The Ku Klux never did bother us any. Not after I got the knowledge to

know what was what. They was scared to bother people 'cause the

niggers had gone and got them some guns and would do them up.

"Old Jim McClain had one son who was bad. He used to jump on the

niggers an' 'buse and beat them up. The niggers got tired of it and he

started gittin' beat up every time he started anything and they didn't

have no more trouble.

"Jim McClain didn't mistreat his niggers. The boys did after he was

dead though. He died way after slavery. If a nigger went off his place

and stole a cow or a hog or something, you better not come 'round

there and try to do nothin' about it. Jim McClain would be right there

to protect him.

"When he died, the horses could hardly pull him up the hill. He wanted

to stay back down there in the bottoms where that cotton was.

"When I got to realizing, it was after freedom. But they had slavery

rules then. There was one old woman who used to take care of the

children while their parents were working in the fields. Sometimes it

would be a week before I would see my mother and father. Children

didn't set up then and look in old folks' faces like they do now. They

would go to bed early. Wake up sometimes way in the middle of the

night. Old folks would be holding a meeting and singing and praying.

"They used to feed the children pot-liquor and bread and milk.

Sometimes a child would find a piece of meat big as your two fingers

and he would holler out, 'Oh look, I got some meat.'

"Fourth of July come, everybody would lay by. Niggers all be gathered

together dancing and the white folks standin' 'round lookin' at them.

"Right after the surrender, I went to night school a little, but most

of my schooling was got by the plow. After I come to be a minister I

got a little schooling.

"I can't get about now. I have had two strokes and the doctor says for

me not to go about much. I used to be able to go about and speak and

the churches would give me something, but since this new 'issue' come

out, theology and dogology and all such as that, nobody cares to pay

any 'tention to me. Think you are crazy now if you say 'amen.' Don't

nobody carry on the church now but three people--the preacher, he

preaches a sermon; the choir, he sings a song; and another man, he

lifts a collection. People go to church all the years now and never

pray once.

"I get some help from the Welfare. They used to pay me ten dollars

pension. They cut me down from ten to eight. And now they cut me down

to four. They cut the breath out of me this time.

"I got some mighty good young brothers never pass me up without givin'

me a dime or fifteen cents. Then I got some that always pass me up and

never give me nothing. I have built churches and helped organize

churches from here back to Mississippi.

"I don't know what's goin' to become of our folks. All they study is

drinking whiskey and gamblin' and runnin' after women. They don't

care for nothin'. What's ruinin' this country is women votin'. When a

woman comes up to a man and smiles at him, he'll do what she wants him

to do whether it's right or wrong.

"The best part of our preachers is got so they are dishonest. Stealing

to keep up automobiles. Some of them have churches that ain't no

bigger than this room."

Interviewer's Comment

The statements of Needham Love like those of Ella Wilson are not

consistent on the subject of age. It is evident, however, that he is

eighty years old or older. He thinks so. He has memories of slave

times. He has some old friends who think him older.

Ned Walker Neely Gray facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail