Omelia Thomas

Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor

Person interviewed: Omelia Thomas

519 W. Ninth Street, Little Rock, Arkansas

Age: About 70

Occupation: Making cotton and corn

"I was born in Louisiana--in Vidalia. My mother's name was Emma Grant.

My father's name was George Grant. My mother's name before she married

was Emma Woodbridge. I don't know the names of my grand folks. I heard

my mother say that my grandmother was named Matilda Woodbridge. I never

got to see her. That is what I heard my mother say.

"I don't know the names of my mother's master, and I don't know the

names of my father's white folks.

"My father was George Grant. He served in the War. I think they said

that he was with them when Vicksburg surrendered. My father has said

that he was really named George LaGrande. But after he enlisted in the

War, he went by the name of George Grant. There was one of the officers

by that name, and he took it too. He was shot in the hip during the War.

When he died, he still was having trouble with that wound. He was on the

Union side. He was fighting for our freedom. He wasn't no Reb. He'd tell

us a many a day, 'I am part of the cause that you are free.' I don't

know where he was when he enlisted. He said he was sold out from

Louisville--him and his brother.

"I never did hear him say that he was whipped or treated bad when he was

a slave. I've heard him tell how he had to stand up on dead people to

shoot when he was in the War.

"My brother started twice to get my father's pension, but he never was

able to do anything about it. They made away with the papers somehow

and we never did get nothin'. My father married a second time before he

died. When he died, my stepmother tried to get the pension. They writ

back and asked her if he had any kin, and she answered them and said no.

She hid the papers and wouldn't let us have 'em--took and locked 'em

up somewheres where we couldn't find 'em. She was so mean that if she

couldn't get no pension, she didn't want nobody else to get none.

"I don't know just when I was born, nor how old I am. When I come to

remember anything, I was free. But I don't know how old I am, nor when

it was.

"I heard my father speak of pateroles. Just said that they'd ketch you.

He used to scare us by telling us that the pateroles would ketch us. We

thought that was something dreadful.

"I never heard nothin' about jayhawkers. I heard something about Ku Klux

but I don't know what it was.

"My father married my mother just after the War.

"I been married twice. My first husband got killed on the levee. And the

second is down in the country somewheres. We are separated.

"I don't get no help from the Welfare, wish I did. I ain't had no money

to get to the doctor with my eyes."

Interviewer's Comments

The old lady sat with her eyes nearly closed while I questioned her and

listened to her story. Those eyes ran and looked as though they needed

attention badly. The interview was conducted entirely on the porch as

that of Annie Parks. Traffic interrupted; friends interrupted; and a

daughter interrupted from time to time. But this daughter, while a

little suspicious, was in no degree hostile. The two of them referred

me to J.T. Tims, who, they said, knew a lot about slavery. His story is

given along with this one.

I got the impression that the old lady was born before the War, but

I accepted her statement and put her down as born since the War and

guessed her age as near seventy. She was evidently quite reserved about

some details. Her father's marriage to her mother after the War would

not necessarily mean that he was not married to her slave fashion before

the War. She didn't care so much about giving any story, but she was

polite and obliging after she had satisfied herself as to my identity

and work.

Olivier Blanchard Omelia Thomas facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail