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Gus Clark

From: Mississippi

Mississippi Federal Writers
Slave Autobiographies

Howison, Mississippi]

Uncle Gus Clark and his aged wife live in a poverty-stricken deserted
village about an eighth of a mile east of Howison.

Their old mill cabin, a relic of a forgotten lumber industry, is
tumbling down. They received direct relief from the ERA until May, 1934,
when the ERA changed the dole to work relief. Uncle Gus, determined to
have a work card, worked on the road with the others until he broke down
a few days later and was forced to accept direct relief. Now, neither
Gus nor Liza is able to work, and the only help available for them is
the meager State Old Age Assistance. Gus still manages to tend their
tiny garden.

He gives his story:

"I'se gwine on 'bout eighty-five. 'At's my age now. I was born at
Richmond, Virginny, but lef' dare right afte' de War. Dey had done
surrendered den, an' my old marster doan have no mo' power over us. We
was all free an' Boss turned us loose.

"My mammy's name was Judy, an' my pappy was Bob. Clark was de Boss's
name. I doan 'member my mammy, but pappy was workin' on de railroad
afte' freedom an' got killed.

"A man come to Richmond an' carried me an' pappy an' a lot of other
niggers ter Loos'anna ter work in de sugar cane. I was little but he
said I could be a water boy. It sho' was a rough place. Dem niggers
quar'l an' fight an' kills one 'nother. Big Boss, he rich, an' doan 'low
no sheriff ter come on his place. He hol' cou't an' settle all 'sputes
hisself. He done bury de dead niggers an' put de one what killed him
back to work.

"A heap of big rattlesnakes lay in dem canebrakes, an' dem niggers shoot
dey heads off an' eat 'em. It didn' kill de niggers. Dem snakes was fat
an' tender, an' fried jes lak chicken.

"Dere in Loos'anna we doan get no pay 'til de work is laid by. Den we'se
paid big money, no nickels. Mos' of de cullud mens go back to where dey
was raised.

"Dat was afte' freedom, but my daddy say dat de niggers earn money on
Old Boss' place even durin' slav'ry. He give 'em every other Sat'dy fer
deyse'ves. Dey cut cordwood fer Boss, wimmens an' all. Mos' of de mens
cut two cords a day an' de wimmens one. Boss paid 'em a dollar a cord.
Dey save dat money, fer dey doan have to pay it out fer nothin'. Big
Boss didn' fail to feed us good an' give us our work clo'es. An' he paid
de doctor bills. Some cullud men saved enough to buy deyse'ves frum
Boss, as free as I is now.

"Slav'ry was better in some ways 'an things is now. We allus got plen'y
ter eat, which we doan now. We can't make but fo' bits a day workin' out
now, an' 'at doan buy nothin' at de sto'. Co'se Boss only give us work
clo'es. When I was a kid I got two os'berg[FN: Osnaberg: the cheapest
grade of cotton cloth] shirts a year. I never wo' no shoes. I didn' know
whut a shoe was made fer, 'til I'se twelve or thirteen. We'd go rabbit
huntin' barefoot in de snow.

"Didn' wear no Sunday clo'es. Dey wa'nt made fer me, 'cause I had
nowhere ter go. You better not let Boss ketch you off'n de place, less'n
he give you a pass to go. My Boss didn' 'low us to go to church, er to
pray er sing. Iffen he ketched us prayin' er singin' he whupped us. He
better not ketch you with a book in yo' han'. Didn' 'low it. I doan know
whut de reason was. Jess meanness, I reckin. I doan b'lieve my marster
ever went to church in his life, but he wa'nt mean to his niggers, 'cept
fer doin' things he doan 'low us to. He didn' care fer nothin' 'cept

"Dere wa'nt no schools fer cullud people den. We didn' know whut a
school was. I never did learn to read.

"We didn' have no mattresses on our beds like we has now. De chullun
slep' under de big high beds, on sacks. We was put under dem beds 'bout
eight o'clock, an' we'd jes better not say nothin' er make no noise
afte' den. All de cullud folks slep' on croker sacks full of hay er

"Did I ever see any niggers punished? Yessum, I sho' has. Whupped an'
chained too. Day was whupped 'til de blood come, 'til dey back split all
to pieces. Den it was washed off wid salt, an' de nigger was put right
back in de fiel'. Dey was whupped fer runnin' away. Sometimes dey run
afte' 'em fer days an nights with dem big old blood houn's. Heap o'
people doan b'lieve dis. But I does, 'cause I seed it myse'f.

"I'se lived here forty-five years, an' chipped turpentine mos' all my
life since I was free.

"I'se had three wives. I didn' have no weddin's, but I mar'ied 'em
'cordin to law. I woan stay with one no other way. My fust two wives is
dead. Liza an' me has been mar'ied 'bout 'leven years. I never had but
one chile, an' 'at by my fust wife, an' he's dead. But my other two
wives had been mar'ied befo', an' had chullun. 'Simon here,' pointing to
a big buck of fifty-five sitting on the front porch, 'is Liza's oldest

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