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Perry Sid Jemison

From: Ohio

WPA in Ohio
Federal Writers' Project
Written by Bishop & Isleman
Edited by Albert I. Dugen [TR: also reported as Dugan]

Jefferson County, District #2

PERRY SID JEMISON [TR: also reported as Jamison]
Ex-Slave, 79 years

(Perry Sid Jemison lives with his married daughter and some of his
grand-children at 422 South Sixth Street, Steubenville, O.)

"I wuz borned in Perry County, Alabama! De way I remember my age is, I
was 37 years when I wuz married and dat wuz 42 years ago the 12th day of
last May. I hed all dis down on papers, but I hab been stayin' in
different places de last six years and lost my papers and some heavy
insurance in jumpin' round from place to place.

"My mudders name wuz Jane Perry. Father's name wuz Sid Jemison. Father
died and William Perry was mudders second husband.

"My mudder wuz a Virginian and my father was a South Carolinian. My
oldest brodder was named Sebron and oldest sister wuz Maggie. Den de
next brudder wuz William, de next sister wuz named Artie, next Susie.
Dats all of dem.

"De hol entire family lived together on the Cakhoba river, Perry County,
Alabama. After dat we wuz scattered about, some God knows where.

"We chillun played 'chicken me craner crow'. We go out in de sand and
build sand houses and put out little tools and one thing and another in

"When we wuz all together we lived in a log hut. Der wuz a porch in
between and two rooms on each side. De porch wuz covered over--all of it
wuz under one roof.

"Our bed wuz a wooden frame wid slats nailed on it. We jus had a common
hay mattress to sleep on. We had very respectable quilts, because my
mudder made them. I believe we had better bed covers dem days den we hab
des days.

"My grandmother wuz named Snooky and my grandfather Anthony. I thought
der wasn't a better friend in all de world den my grandmother. She would
do all she could for her grandchildren. Der wuz no food allowance for
chillun that could not work and my grandmother fed us out of her and my
mudders allowance. I member my grandmudder giving us pot-licker, bread
and red syrup.

"De furst work I done to get my food wuz to carry water in de field to
de hands dat wuz workin'. De next work after dat, wuz when I wuz large
enough to plow. Den I done eberything else that come to mind on de farm.
I neber earned money in dem slave days.

"Your general food wuz such as sweet potatoes, peas and turnip greens.
Den we would jump out and ketch a coon or possum. We ate rabbits,
squirrels, ground-hog and hog meat. We had fish, cat-fish and scale
fish. Such things as greens, we boil dem. Fish we fry. Possum we parboil
den pick him up and bake him. Of all dat meat I prefar fish and rabbit.
When it come to vegetables, cabbage wuz my delight, and turnips. De
slaves had their own garden patch.

"I wore one piece suit until I wuz near grown, jes one garment dat we
called et dat time, going out in your shirt tail. In de winter we had
cotton shirt with a string to tie de collar, instead of a button and
tie. We war den same on Sunday, excepting dat mudder would wash and iron
dem for dat day.

"We went barefooted in de summer and in de winter we wore brogan shoes.
Dey were made of heavy stiff leather.

"My massa wuz named Sam Jemison and his wife wuz named Chloe. Dey had
chillun. One of the boys wuz named Sam after his father. De udder wuz
Jack. Der wuz daughter Nellie. Dem wuz all I know bout. De had a large
six room building. It wuz weather boarded and built on de common order.

"Dey hed 750 acres on de plantation. De Jemisons sold de plantation to
my uncle after the surrender and I heard him say ever so many times that
it was 750 acres. Der wuz bout 60 slaves on de plantation. Dey work hard
and late at night. Dey tole me dey were up fore daylight and in de
fields til dark.

"I heard my mudder say dat the mistress was a fine woman, but dat de
marse was rigied [TR: rigid?].

"De white folks did not help us to learn to read or write. De furst
school I remember dat wuz accessbile was foh 90 days duration. I could
only go when it wuz too wet to work in de fields. I wuz bout 16 years
when I went to de school.

"Der wuz no church on de plantation. Couldn't none of us read. But after
de surrender I remember de furst preacher I ebber heard. I remember de
text. His name was Charles Fletcher. De text was "Awake thou dat
sleepeth, arise from de dead and Christ will give you life!" I remember
of one of de baptizing. De men dat did it was Emanuel Sanders. Dis wuz
de song dat dey sing: "Beside de gospel pool, Appointed for de poor."
Dat is all I member of dat song now.

"I heard of de slaves running away to de north, but I nebber knew one to
do it. My mudder tole me bout patrollers. Dey would ketch de slaves when
dey were out late and whip and thress dem. Some of de owners would not
stand for it and if de slaves would tell de massa he might whip de
patrollers if he could ketch dem.

"I knowed one colored boy. He wuz a fighter. He wuz six foot tall and
over 200 pounds. He would not stand to be whipped by de white man. Dey
called him Jack. Des wuz after de surrender. De white men could do
nothin' wid him. En so one day dey got a crowd together and dey shoot
him. It wuz a senation[TR: sensation?] in de country, but no one was
arrested for it.

"De slaves work on Saturday afternoon and sometimes on Sunday. On
Saturday night de slaves would slip around to de next plantation and
have parties and dancin' and so on.

"When I wuz a child I played, 'chicken me craner crow' and would build
little sand houses and call dem frog dens and we play hidin' switches.
One of de play songs wuz 'Rockaby Miss Susie girl' and 'Sugar Queen in
goin south, carrying de young ones in her mouth.'

"I remember several riddles. One wuz:

'My father had a little seal,
Sixteen inches high.
He roamed the hills in old Kentuck,
And also in sunny Spain.
If any man can beat dat,
I'll try my hand agin.'

"One little speech I know:

'I tumbled down one day,
When de water was wide and deep
I place my foot on the de goose's back
And lovely swam de creek.'

"When I wuz a little boy I wuz follin' wid my father's scythe. It fell
on my arm and nearly cut if off. Dey got somethin' and bind it up.
Eventually after a while, it mended up.

"De marse give de sick slaves a dose of turpentine, blue mass, caromel
and number six.

"After de surrender my mother tole me dat the marse told de slaves dat
dey could buy de place or dey could share de crops wid him and he would
rent dem de land.

"I married Lizzie Perry, in Perry County Alabama. A preacher married us
by the name of John Jemison. We just played around after de weddin' and
hed a good time til bedtime come, and dat wuz very soon wid me.

"I am de father of seven chillun. Both daughters married and dey are
housekeepers. I have 11 grandchillun. Three of dem are full grown and
married. One of dem has graduated from high school.

"Abraham Lincoln fixed it so de slaves could be free. He struck off de
handcuffs and de ankle cuffs from de slaves. But how could I be free if
I had to go back to my massa and beg for bread, clothes and shelter? It
is up to everybody to work for freedom.

"I don't think dat Jefferson Davus wuz much in favor of liberality. I
think dat Booker T. Washington wuz a man of de furst magnitude. When it
come to de historiance I don't know much about dem, but according to
what I red in dem, Fred Douglas, Christopher Hatton, Peter Salem, all of
dem colored men--dey wuz great men. Christopher Hatton wuz de furst
slave to dream of liberty and den shed his blood for it. De three of dem
play a conspicuous part in de emancipation.

"I think it's a good thing dat slavery is ended, for God hadn't intended
there to be no man a slave.

"My reason for joining de church is, de church is said to be de furst
born, the general assembly of the living God. I joined it to be in the
general assembly of God.

"We have had too much destructive religion. We need pure and undefiled
religion. If we had dat religion, conditions would be de reverse of that
dey are."

(Note: The worker who interviewed this old man was impressed with his
deep religious nature and the manner in which there would crop out in
his conversation the facile use of such words as eventually, general,
accessible, etc. The interview also revealed that the old man had a
knowledge of the scripture. He claims to be a preacher and during the
conversation gave indications of the oratory that is peculiar to old
style colored preachers.)

Word Picture of PERRY SID JAMISON and his Home

[TR: also reported as Jemison]

Mr. Jamison is about 5'2" and weighs 130 pounds. Except for a slight
limp, caused by a broken bone that did not heal, necessitating the use
of a cane, he gets around in a lively manner. He takes a walk each
morning and has a smile for everybody.

Mr. Jamison is an elder in the Second Baptist Church and possesses a
deep religious nature. In his conversation there crops out the facile
use of such words as "eventually", "general", "accessible", and the
like. He has not been engaged in manual labor since 1907. Since then he
has made his living as an evangelist for the colored Baptist church.

Mr. Jamison says he does not like to travel around without something
more than a verbal word to certify who and what he is. He produced a
certificate from the "Illinois Theological Seminary" awarding him the
degree of Doctor of Divinity and dated December 15, 1933, and signed by
Rev. Walter Pitty for the trustees and S. Billup, D.D., Ph.D. as the
president. Another document was a minister's license issued by the
Probate court of Jefferson county authorizing him to perform marriage
ceremonies. He has his ordination certificate dated November 7, 1900, at
Red Mountain Baptist Church, Sloss, Alabama, which certifies that he was
ordained an elder of that church; it is signed by Dr. G.S. Smith,
Moderator. Then he has two letters of recommendation from churches in
Alabama and Chicago.

That Mr. Jamison is a vigerous preacher is attested by other ministers
who say they never knew a man of his age to preach like he does.

Mr. Jamison lives with his daughter, Mrs. Elizabeth Cookes, whose
husband is a WPA worker. Also living in the house is the daughter's son,
employed as a laborer, and his wife. Between them all, a rent of $28.00
a month is paid for the house of six rooms. The house at 424 S. Seventh
Street, Steubenville, is in a respectable part of the city and is of the
type used by poorer classes of laborers.

Mr. Jamison's wife died June 4, 1928, and since then he has lived with
his daughter. In his conversation he gives indication of a latent
oratory easily called forth.

Next: Julia King

Previous: George Jackson

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