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Prince Johnson

From: Mississippi

Prince Johnson, Ex-slave, Coahoma County
Mrs. Carrie Campbell
Rewrite, Pauline Loveless
Edited, Clara E. Stokes

Clarksdale, Mississippi

"Yes mam, I sho' can tell you all 'bout it 'cause I was dere when it all
happened. My gran'pa, Peter, gran'ma, Millie, my pa, John, an' my ma,
Frances, all come from Alabama to Yazoo County to live in de Love
fam'ly. Dey names was Dennis when day come, but, after de custom o' dem
days, dey took de name of Love from dey new owner. Me an' all o' my
brothers an' sisters was born right dere. Dey was eleven head o' us. I
was de oldes'. Den come Harry, John, William, Henry, Phillis, Polly,
Nellie, Virginny, Millie, an' de baby, Ella.

"Us all lived in de quarters an' de beds was home made. Dey had wooden
legs wid canvas stretched 'crost 'em. I can't 'member so much 'bout de
quarters 'cause 'bout dat time de young miss married Colonel Johnson an'
moved to dis place in Carroll County. She carried wid her over one
hund'ed head o' darkies.

"Den us names was changed from Love to Johnson. My new marster was sure
a fine gent'man. He lived in a big two-story white house dat had big
white posts in front. De flowers all' roun' it jus' set it off.

"Marster took me for de house boy. Den I sho' carried my head high.
He'd say to me, 'Prince does you know who you is named for?' An' I'd say
to him, 'Yes sir. Prince Albert.' An' den he'd say to me, 'Well, always
carry yo'se'f lak he did.' To dis good day I holds myse'f lak Marster

"On certain days o' de week one o' de old men on de place took us house
servants to de fiel' to learn us to work. Us was brought up to know how
to do anything dat come to han'. Marster would let us work at odd times
for outsiders an' us could use de money for anything us pleased. My
gran'ma sol' 'nough corn to buy her two feather beds.

"Us always had plenty t'eat. De old folks done de cookin' for all de
fiel' han's, 'cept on Sund'y when ever' fam'ly cooked for dey ownse'fs.
Old Mis' 'ud come over ever' Sund'y mornin' wid sugar an' white flour.
Us 'ud mos' ingen'ally have fish, rabbits, 'possums, or coons. Lord,
chil'! Dem 'possums was good eatin'. I can tas' 'em now.

"Folks dese days don't know nothin' 'bout good eatin'. My marster had a
great big garden for ever'body an' I aint never seen such 'taters as
growed in dat garden. Dey was so sweet de sugar 'ud bus' right th'ough
de peelin' when you roasted 'em in de ashes.

"Old Aunt Emily cooked for all de chillun on de place. Ha'f a hour by de
sun, dey was all called in to supper. Dey had pot likker an' ash cake
an' such things as would make 'em grow.

"Chillun den didn' know nothin' 'bout all de fancy ailments what chillun
have now. Dey run an' played all day in dey shirt tails in de summer
time. When winter come dey had good warm clo'es[FN: clothes] same as us
older ones.

"One day Marster's chillun an' de cullud chillun slipped off to de
orchard. Dey was jus' a-eatin' green apples fas' as dey could when 'long
come de master, hisse'f. He lined 'em all up, black an' white alike, an'
cut a keen switch. Twant a one in dat line dat didn' git a few licks.
Den he called de old doctor woman an' made 'er give 'em ever' one a dose
o' medicine. Dey didn' a one of' em git sick.

"Marster an' Old Mis' had five chillun. Dey is all dead an' gone now,
an' I's still here. One o' his sons was a Supreme Judge 'fore he died.

"My folks was sho' quality. Marster bought all de little places 'roun'
us so he wouldn' have no po' white trash neighbors. Yes sir! He owned
'bout thirty-five hund'ed acres an' at leas' a hund'ed an' fifty slaves.

"Ever' mornin' 'bout fo' 'clock us could hear dat horn blow for us to
git up an' go to de fiel'. Us always quit work 'fore de sun went down
an' never worked at night. De overseer was a white man. His name was
Josh Neighbors, but de driver was a cullud man, 'Old Man Henry.' He
wasn't 'lowed to mistreat noboby. If he got too uppity dey'd call his
han', right now. De rule was, if a Nigger wouldn' work he mus' be sol'.
'Nother rule on dat place was dat if a man got dissati'fied, he was to
go to de marster an' ask him to put 'im in his pocket.' Dat meant he
wanted to be sol' an' de money he brought put in de marster's pocket. I
aint never known o' but two askin' to be 'put in de pocket.' Both of
'em was sol'.

"Dey had jails in dem days, but dey was built for white folks. No cullud
person was ever put in one of 'em 'til after de war. Us didn' know
nothin' 'bout dem things.

"Course, Old Mis' knowed 'bout 'em, 'cause she knowed ever'thing. I
recollec' she tol' me one day dat she had learnin' in five diffe'ent

"None o' us didn' have no learnin' atall. Dat is us didn' have no book
learnin'. Twant no teachers or anything lak dat, but us sho' was taught
to be Christians. Ever'thing on dat place was a blue stockin'
Presbyterian. When Sund'y come us dressed all clean an' nice an' went to
church. Us went to de white folks' church an' set in de gal'ry.

"Us had a fine preacher. His name was Gober. He could sho' give out de
words o' wisdom. Us didn' have big baptisins lak was had on a heap o'
places, 'cause Presbyterians don't go down under de water lak de Baptis'
do. If one o' de slaves died he was sho' give a gran' Christian fun'al.
All o' us mourners was on han'. Services was conducted by de white

"Old Mis' wouldn' stan' for no such things as voodoo an' ha'nts. When
she 'spected[FN: inspected] us once a week, you better not have no charm
'roun' yo' neck, neither. She wouldn' even 'low[FN: allow] us wear a bag
o' asfittidy[FN: asafetida]. Mos' folks b'lieved dat would keep off
sickness. She called such as dat superstition. She say us was 'lightened
Christian Presbyterians, an' as such us mus' conduc' ourse'fs.

"Nobody worked after dinner on Satu'd'y. Us took dat time to scrub up
an' clean de houses so as to be ready for 'spection Sund'y mornin'. Some
Satu'd'y nights us had dances. De same old fiddler played for us dat
played for de white folks. An' he sho' could play. When he got dat old
fiddle out you couldn' keep yo' foots still.

"Christ'mus was de time o' all times on dat old plantation. Dey don't
have no such as dat now. Ever' chil' brought a stockin' up to de Big
House to be filled. Dey all wanted one o' de mistis' stockin's, 'cause
now she weighed nigh on to three hund'ed pounds. Candy an' presents was
put in piles for ever' one. When dey names was called dey walked up an'
got it. Us didn' work on New Year's Day. Us could go to town or anywhere
us wanted to.

"De mos' fun was de corn shuckin'. Dey was two captains an' each one
picked de ones he wanted on his side. Den de shuckin' started. You can't
make mention o' nothin good dat us didn' have t'eat after de shuckin'. I
still studies' bout dem days now.

"Dey was big parties at de white folks' house, me, all dressed up wid
taller[FN: tallow] on my face to make it shine, a-servin' de gues'es[FN:

"One time, jus' when ever'thing was a-goin' fine, a sad thing happened.
My young mistis, de one named for her ma, ups an' runs off wid de son o'
de Irish ditch digger an' marries 'im. She wouldn' a-done it if dey'd
a-let 'r marry de man she wanted. Dey didn' think he was good 'nough for
her. So jus' to spite' em, she married de ditch digger's son.

"Old Mis' wouldn' have nothin' more to do wid 'er, same as if she warnt
her own chil'. But I'd go over to see 'er an' carry milk an' things out
o' de garden.

"It was pitiful to see my little miss poor. When I couldn' stan' it no
longer I walks right up to Old Mis' an' I says, 'Old Mis', does you know
Miss Farrell aint got no cow.' She jus' act lak she aint hear'd me, an'
put her lips together dat tight. I couldn' do nothin' but walk off an'
leave her. Pretty soon she called, 'Prince!' I says, 'Yes mam.' She
says, 'Seein' you is so concerned 'bout Miss Farrell not havin' no cow,
you better take one to 'er.' I foun' de rope an' carried de bes' cow in
de lot to Miss Farrell.

"Shortly after dat I lef' wid Old Marster to go to North Carolina. Jus'
'fore de war come on, my marster called me to' im an' tol' me he was
a-goin' to take me to North Carolina to his brother for safe keepin'.
Right den I knowed somethin' was wrong. I was a-wishin' from de bottom
o' my heart dat de Yankees 'ud stay out o' us business an' not git us
all 'sturbed in de min'.

"Things went on at his brother's place 'bout lak dey done at home. I
stayed dere all four years o' de war. I couldn' leave 'cause de men
folks all went to de war an' I had to stay an' pertec' de women folks.

"De day peace was declared wagon loads o' people rode all th'ough de
place a-tellin' us 'bout bein' free. De old Colonel was killed in battle
an' his wife had died. De young marster called us in an' said it was all
true, dat us was free as he was, an' us could leave whenever us got
ready. He said his money warnt no good anymore an' he dida' have no
other to pay us wid.

"I can't recollec' if he got new money an' paid us or not, but I do
'member ever' las' one o' us stayed.

"I never lef' dat place' til my young marster, Mr. Jim Johnson, de one
dat was de Supreme Judge, come for me. He was a-livin' in South Carolina
den. He took us all home wid 'im. Us got dere in time to vote for
Gov'nor Wade Hamilton. Us put 'im in office, too. De firs' thing I done
was join de Democrat Club an' hoped[FN: helped] 'em run all o' de
scalawags away from de place. My young marster had always tol' me to
live for my country an' had seen 'nought of dat war to know jus' what
was a-goin' on.

"I'se seen many a patrol in my lifetime, but dey dassent come on us
place. Now de Kloo Kluxes[FN: Ku Kluxes] was diff'ent. I rid[FN: rode]
wid' em many a time. 'Twas de only way in dem days to keep order.

"When I was 'bout twenty-two year old, I married Clara Breaden. I had
two chilluns by her, Diana an' Davis. My secon' wife's name was Annie
Bet Woods. I had six chillun by her: Mary, Ella, John D., Claud William,
an' Prince, Jr. Three boys an' two gals is still livin'. I lives wid my
daughter, Claud, what is farmin' a place 'bout five miles from
Clarksdale. I has' bout fifteen head o' gran'chillun an' ever' las' one
of 'em's farmers.

"Things is all peaceful now, but de worl' was sho' stirred up when
Abraham Lincoln was 'lected. I 'member well when dey killed 'im. Us had
a song' bout 'im dat went lak dis:

'Jefferson Davis rode de milk white steed,
Lincoln rode de mule.
Jeff Davis was a mighty fine man,
An' Lincoln was a fool.'

"One o' de little gals was a-singin' dat song one day an' she mixed dem
names up. She had it dat Marse Davis was de fool. I'se laughed 'bout dat
many a time. When Mistis finished wid' er she had sho' broke her from
suckin' eggs.

"I knows all 'bout what slave uprisin's is, but never in my life has I
seen anything lak dat. Never! Never! Where I was brought up de white man
knowed his place an' de Nigger knowed his'n[FN: his]. Both of' em stayed
in dey place. We aint never had no lynchin's, neither.

"I know all 'bout Booker T. Washington. He come to de state o'
Mississippi once an' hel' a meetin' in Jackson. He made a gran' talk. He
made mention 'bout puttin' money in de bank. Lots o' darkies made
'membrance o' dat an' done it. He tol' us de firs' thing us had to learn
was to work an' dat all de schoolin' in de worl' wouldn' mean nothin' if
us didn' have no mother wit[FN: energy & common sense]. It's a pity us
aint got more folks lak him to guide us now dat us aint got no marster
an' mistis to learn us.

"I's a Nigger what has been prosperous. I made a-plenty cotton an' I
teached my chillun to be good blue stockin' Presbyterians. All 'roun' de
country I was knowed an' ever'body b'lieved in me.

"Maybe things is better lak dey is today. Mos' folks says so anyway. But
if Old Marster were a-livin' I'd be better off. I know dat to be so.

"I can hear 'im say to me new, 'Prince Albert, who is you named for?
Well den hol' yo' head high so folks can see you is quality.'"

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