Orleans Finger

Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor

Subject: Ex-slavery

[May 11 1938]

Person Interviewed: Orleans Finger [TR: In text of interview, Orleana]

Negro (Apparently octoroon or quadroon)

Address: 2804 West Fifteenth Street, Little Rock, Arkansas.

Occupation: Formerly field hand and housekeeper

Age: 79

[TR: Personal information moved from bottom of first page.]

Birth, Family, and Master

"I was born in Mississippi in Tippa County not far from the edge of

Tennessee. I wasn't raised in Arkansas, but all my children was raised

here. I really don't know just where in Tippa county I was born. My

mother's name was Ann Toler. Toler was my step father. My real father, I

don't know. My mother never told me nothin' bout him and I don't know

that; I can't tell what I don't know.

"My grandfather on my mother's side was Captain Ellis. That is the one

come after me when I was small to carry me back to my folks. I didn't

know him, and I said 'I don't want to go 'way with them strange

Niggers'. He's dead now. They're all dead long ago. I have got children

over fifty years old myself. I am the mother of nine children--three of

them living. One of the living ones is Arthur Finger. He lives in St.

Louis. I expected to hear from him today, but didn't. Cornelius Finger.

(He is a brownskin boy, spare made), lives in Palestine, Arkansas, near

Forrest City. Arthur is my baby boy. Elmira was my baby girl. She's the

one you met. She's married and has children of her own.

"Captain Ellis' wife was named Minerva. She was my mother's mother.

She's been dead years. I got children older than she was when she died.

She died in Mississippi. I got a cousin named Molly Spight. She's dead.

My mother's sister was named Emmaline; she is dead now too.

"My mother was colored. I don't know nothin' about my father, and my

mother never taught me nothin' 'bout him.

"My step father and mother were both field hands. They worked in the


"I don't know just when I was born, but I am just sure that it was

before the war. I remember hearing people talk about things in the war.

"My mother's master was named Whitely, I think, because she was named

Whitley before she married.

"I have been married three times. The first man I married was 'Lijah

Gibbs. The second time I married, I married Joe Finger. The third time I

married Will Reese. He warn't no husband at all. They're all dead. Folks

always called me Finger after my second husband died, because I didn't

live with my third husband long.


"They had log houses. You would never see no brick chimney nor nothing

of that kind. The logs were notched down and kinda kivered flat--no roof

like now. They might have rafters on them, but the top was almost flat.

Wouldn't be any steep like they is now. In them times they wouldn't have

many rooms. Sometimes they would have two. They wouldn't have so many

windows. Just old dirt chimneys. They'd take and dig a hole and stick

sticks up in it. Then they'd make up the dirt and put water in it and

pull grass and mix it in the dirt. They'd build a frame on the sticks

and then put the mud on. The chimney couldn't catch fire till the house

got old and the mud would fall off. When it got old and the mud got to

fallin off, then they would be a fire. I've seen that since I been in


"Sometimes they would get big rocks and put them inside the fireplace to

take the place of bricks. You could get rocks in the forest.


"Used to have ropes and they would cord the bed stead. The cords would

act in place of springs. When you move you would have a heap of trouble

because all that would have to be undone and done up again. You have to

take the cords out and them put it together again. The cords would be

run through the sides of the bed and stuck in with pegs.

"They used to have spinning wheels and looms. They made clothes and they

made the cloth for the clothes and they spun the thread they made the

cloth our of. They'd card and spin the thread. There's lots of other

things I can't remember.

War Memories

"The Yankess used to come in and have the people cook for them. They'd

kill chickens and geese and things. The old people used to take their

horses out and tie them out in the woods--hiding them out to keep the

Yankees from getting them. The Yankees would ride up, take a good horse

and leave the old worn-out one.

"There never was any fighting round where I lived. None of my folks was

soldiers in the war.

Right After the War

"I don't remember just what my folks did right after the war. They were

field hands and I guess they did that. My mother worked in the field

that's all I know.

Life Since the War

"I have been in Arkansas a long time. I have been here ever since I left

Mississippi. My first marriage was in Mississippi. The second and last

ones was in Arkansas--Forrest City. My second husband had been dead

since 1921. I don't know that I count Reese. We married in June and

separated in September. He's dead now, and I don't hold nothin' against


"I am not able to work now. I do a little 'round the house and dig a

little in the garden. I haven't worked in the field since way before

1921. I don't get no help at all from the Welfare. My daughter does what

she can for me. I always have lived before I ever heard about the old

age pension and I suppose God will take care of me yet somehow.

Cured by Prayer

"I'm puny and no'count. Aint able to do much. But I was crippled. I had

a hurting in my leg and I couldn't walk without a stick. Finally, one

day I went to go out and pick some turnips. I was visiting my son in

Palestine. My leg hurt so bad that I talked to the Lord about it. And it

seemed to me, he said 'Put down your stick.' I put it down and I aint

used it since. I put it down right thar and I aint used it since. God is

a momentary God. God knowed what I wanted and he said, 'Put down that

sick,' and I aint been crippled since. It done me so much good. Looks

like to me when I get to talking about the Lord, aint nobody a stranger

to me.

"I know I been converted but that made me stronger. My son is a siner.

He knowed about how I was crippled. He said you ought use your stick. He

didn't know what to think about it. Young folks don't believe because

they aint had no experience with prayer and they don't know what can


"I done told you all I know. I don't want to tell you anything I don't

know. If you don't know nothing, it is best to say you don't."

Everything which Orleana Finger states has the earmarks of being true.

There are a great many things which she does not state which I believe

that she could state if she wished. She evidently has a long list of

things which she things should be unmentioned. She has two magic phrases

with which she dismisses all subjects which she does not wich to


"I don't remember that."

"I better quit talking now before I start lying."

Orelia Alexie Franks Oscar Felix Junell facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail