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Amanda Mccray

From: Florida

American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)

Pearl Randolph, Field Worker
Madison, Florida
November 13, 1936


Mrs. McCray was sitting on her porch crooning softly to herself and
rocking so gently that one might easily have thought the wind was
swaying her chair. Her eyes were closed, her hands incredibly old and
workworn were slowly folding and unfolding on her lap.

She listened quietly to the interviewer's request for some of the "high
lights" of her life and finally exclaimed: "Chile, why'ny you look among
the living fer the high lights?"

There was nothing resentful in this expression; only the patient
weariness of one who has been dragged through the boundaries of a
yesterday from which he was inseparable and catapulted into a present
with which he has nothing in common. After being assured that her life
story was of real interest to some one she warmed up and talked quite
freely of the life and times as they existed in her day.

How old was she? She confessed quite frankly that she never "knowed" her
age. She was a grownup during the Civil War when she was commandered by
Union soldiers invading the country and employed as a cook. Her owner,
one Redding Pamell, possessed a hundred or more slaves and was,
according to her statement very kind to them. It was on his plantation
that she was born. Amanda McCray is one of several children born to
Jacob and Mary Williams, the latter being blind since Amanda could

Children on the Pamell plantation led a carefree existence until they
were about 12 years of age, when they were put to light chores like
carrying water and food, picking seed from cotton lint (there were no
cotton gins), and minding the smaller children. They were duly schooled
in all the current superstitions and listened to the tales of ghosts and
animals that talked and reasoned, tales common to the Negro today.
Little Mandy believes to this day that hogs can see the wind and that
all animals talk like men on Christmas morning at a certain time.
Children wore moles feet and pearl buttons around their necks to insure
easy teething and had their legs bathed in a concoction of wasp nest and
vinegar if they were slow about learning to walk. This was supposed to
strengthen the weak limbs. It was a common occurence to see a child of
two or three years still nursing at the mother's breast. Their masters
encouraged the slaves to do this, thinking it made strong bones and

At Christmas time the slave children all trouped to "de big house" and
stood outside crying "Christmas gift" to their master and mistress. They
were never disappointed. Gifts consisted mostly of candies, nuts and
fruits but there was always some useful article of clothing included,
something they were not accustomed to having. Once little Mandy received
a beautiful silk dress from her young mistress, who knew how much she
liked beautiful clothes. She was a very happy child and loved the dress
so much that she never wore it except on some special occasion.

Amanda was trained to be a house servant, learning to cook and knit from
the blind mother who refused to let this handicap affect her usefulness.
She liked best to sew the fine muslins and silks of her mistress, making
beautiful hooped dresses that required eight and ten yards of cloth and
sometimes as many as seven petticoats to enhance their fullness.

Hoops for these dresses were made of grape-vines that were shaped while
green and cured in the sun before using. Beautiful imported laces were
used to trim the petticoats and pantaloons of the wealthy.

The Pamell slaves had a Negro minister who could hold services any time
he chose, so long as he did not interfere with the work of the other
slaves. He was not obliged to do hard menial labors and went about the
plantation "all dressed up" in a frock coat and store-bought shoes. He
was more than a little conscious of this and was held in awe by the
others. He often visited neighboring plantations to hold his services.
It was from this minister that they first heard of the Civil War. He
held whispered prayers for the success of the Union soldiers, not
because freedom was so desirable to them, but for other slaves who were
treated so cruelly. There was a praying ground where "the grass never
had a chancet ter grow fer the troubled knees that kept it crushed

Amanda was an exceptionally good cook and so widespread was this
knowledge that the Union soldiers employed her as a cook in their camp
for a short while. She does not remember any of their officers and
thinks they were no better nor worse than the others. These soldiers
committed no depredations in her section except to confiscate whatever
they wanted in the way of food and clothing. Some married southern

Mr. Pamell made land grants to all slaves who wanted to remain with him;
few left, so kind had he been to them all.

Life went on in much the same manner for Amanda's family except that the
children attended school where a white teacher instructed them from a
"blue back Webster." Amanda was a young woman but she managed to learn
to read a little. Later they had colored teachers who followed much the
same routine as the whites had. They were held in awe by the other
Negroes and every little girl yearned to be a teacher, as this was about
the only professional field open to Negro women at that time.

"After de war Negroes blossomed out with fine phaetons (buggies) and
ceiled houses, and clothes--oh my!"

Mrs. McCray did not keep up with the politics of her time but remembers
hearing about Joe Gibbs, member of the Florida Legislature. There was
much talk then of Booker T. Washington, and many thought him a fool for
trying to start a school in Alabama for Negroes. She recalls the Negro
post master who served two or three terms at Madison. She could not give
his name.

There have been three widespread "panics" (depressions) during her
lifetime but Mrs. McCray thinks this is the worst one. During the Civil
War, coffee was so dear that meal was parched and used as a substitute
but now, she remarked, "you can't hardly git the meal for the bread."

Her husband and children are all dead and she lives with a niece who is
no longer young herself. Circumstances are poor here. The niece earns
her living as laundress and domestic worker, receiving a very poor wage.
Mrs. McCray is now quite infirm and almost blind. She seems happiest
talking of the past that was a bit kinder to her.

At present she lives on the northeast corner of First and Macon Streets.
The postoffice address is #11, Madison, Florida.


1. Personal interview with Amanda McCray, First and Macon Streets,
Madison, Florida

Next: Henry Maxwell

Previous: Edward Lycurgas

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