Nely Gray

Interviewer: Mrs. Bernice Bowden

Person interviewed: Nely Gray

821 E. 18th Avenue, Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Age: 84

Occupation: Does a little quilting

"Yes ma'm, I was sold from Richmond, Virginia. Dr. Jenkins bought my

mother when I was a little girl walkin' and talkin'. Put me up on the

block and sold me too. I was bout three years old.

"Dr. Jenkins was mighty good to his hands. Say he was goin' to raise his

little darkies up back of his chair. He thought lots of his colored


"I member seein' the Rebels ridin' horses, three double, down the road

time of the war. I used to run off from mama to the county band--right

where the roundhouse is now. Mama used to have to come after me. You

know I wasn't no baby when I shed all my teeth durin' slavery days.

"Yankee soldiers? Oh Lord--seed em by fifties and hundreds. Used to pint

the gun at me jest to hear me holler and cry. I was scared of em. They

come in and went in Dr. Jenkins' dairy and got what they wanted. And

every morning they'd blow that bugle, bugle as long as a broom handle.

Heard em blow 'Glory, Glory Hallelujah'. I liked to hear em blow it.

"Yankees marched all up and down the river road. They'd eat them navy

beans. I used to see where they throwed em in the fence corner. Saw so

many I don't like em now. They called em navy beans and I called em

soldier beans.

"I member it well. I'm a person can remember. Heap a folks tell what

other folks see but I tell what I see. Don't tell what nobody told me

and what I heard.

"I member when they had the battle in Pine Bluff. We was bout three

miles from here when they fit-up here. I member all of it.

"They started to send us to Texas and we got as far as the ravine when

they heard the Yankees wasn't comin' so we went back home.

"I stayed round the house with the white folks and didn't know what

nothin' was till after surrender. We stayed with Dr. Jenkins for a week

or two after surrender, then a man come and took my mother down in the

country. I don't know what she was paid--she never did tell us her


"I was mama's onliest girl and she worked me day and night. Hoed and

picked cotton and sewed at night. Mama learned me to knit and I used to

crochet a lot. She sure learned me to work and I ain't sorry.

"I worked in the field till I come out to marry a railroad man. I never

went to school but two or three months in my life directly after

freedom. My husband was a good scholar and he learned me how to read and

write. I learned my daughter how to read and write so when she started

to school they didn't have to put her in the chart class. When she was

six years old she could put down a figger as quick as you can.

"Been married four times and they's all dead now. Ain't got nobody but

myself. If it wasn't for the white folks don't know what I'd do.

"I used to cook for Dr. Higginbotham when she had company. She couldn't

do without old Nely. One time she sent for me to cook some hens. I

soaked em in soda water bout an hour and fried em and you couldn't tell

em from friers.

"I'm weak in my limbs now but I believe in stirrin'. Welfare helps me

but I quilts for people. Yes'm, I stirs--if I didn't I just couldn't

stand it.

"This here younger generation is gone. They ain't goin'--they's gone.

Books ain't done no good. I used to teach the Bible lesson once a week,

but I don't fool with em now. Ain't got no manners--chews gum and


"I got great grand children lives in Houston and they don't give me a

penny. I don't know what I'd do if twasn't for the Welfare.

"Used to wash and iron. I've ironed twenty shirts in one-half a day."

Nelson Denson Nettie Henry facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail