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Rebecca Hooks




From: Florida

FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)

Pearl Randolph, Field Worker
Lake City, Florida
January 14, 1937

REBECCA HOOKS


Rebecca Hooks, age 90 years, is one of the few among the fast-thinning
ranks of ex-slaves who can give a clear picture of life "befo' de wah."

She was born in Jones County, Georgia of Martha and Pleasant Lowe, who
were slaves of William Lowe. The mother was the mulatto offspring of
William Lowe and a slave woman who was half Cherokee. The father was
also a mulatto, purchased from a nearby plantation.

Because of this blood mixture Rebecca's parents were known as "house
niggers," and lived on quarters located in the rear of the "big house."
A "house nigger" was a servant whose duties consisted of chores around
the big house, such as butler, maid, cook, stableman, gardner and
personal attendant to the man who owned him.

These slaves were often held in high esteem by their masters and of
course fared much better than the other slaves on the plantation. Quite
often they were mulattoes as in the case of Rebecca's parents. There
seemed to be a general belief among slave owners that mulattoes could
not stand as much laborious work as pure blooded Negro slaves. This
accounts probably for the fact that the majority of ex-slaves now alive
are mulattoes.

The Lowes were originally of Virginia and did not own as much property
in Georgia as they had in Virginia. Rebecca estimates the number of
slaves on this plantation as numbering no more than 25.

They were treated kindly and cruelly by turns, according to the whims of
a master and mistress who were none too stable in their dispositions.
There was no "driver" or overseer on this plantation, as "Old Tom was
devil enough himself when he wanted to be," observes Rebecca. While she
never felt the full force of his cruelties, she often felt sorry for the
other slaves who were given a task too heavy to be completed in the
given time; this deliberately, so that the master might have some excuse
to vent his pentup feelings. Punishment was always in the form of a
severe whipping or revocation of a slave's privilege, such as visiting
other plantations etc.

The Lowes were not wealthy and it was necessary for them to raise and
manufacture as many things on the plantation as possible. Slaves toiled
from early morning until night in the corn, cotton sugar cane and
tobacco fields. Others tended the large herds of cattle from which milk,
butter, meat and leather was produced. The leather was tanned and made
into crude shoes for the slaves for the short winter months. No one wore
shoes except during cold weather and on Sundays. Fruit orchards and
vegetables were also grown, but not given as much attention as the
cotton and corn, as these were the main money crops.

As a child Rebecca learned to ape the ways of her mistress. At first
this was considered very amusing. Whenever she had not knitted her
required number of socks during the week, she simply informed them that
she had not done it because she had not wanted to--besides she was not a
"nigger." This stubbornness accompanied by hysterical tantrums continued
to cause Rebecca to receive many stiff punishments that might have been
avoided. Her master had given orders that no one was ever to whip her,
so devious methods were employed to punish her, such as marching her
down the road with hands tied behind her back, or locking her in a dark
room for several hours with only bread and water.

Rebecca resembled very much a daughter of William Lowe. The girl was
really her aunt, and very conscious of the resemblance. Both had brown
eyes and long dark hair. They were about the same height and the clothes
of the young mistress fitted Rebecca "like a glove." To offset this
likeness, Rebecca's hair was always cut very short. Finally Rebecca
rebelled at having her hair all cut off and blankly refused to submit to
the treatment any longer. After this happening, the girls formed a
dislike for each other, and Rebecca was guilty of doing every mean act
of which she was capable to torment the white girl. Rebecca's mother
aided and abetted her in this, often telling her things to do. Rebecca
did not fear the form of punishment administered her and she had the
cunning to keep "on the good side of the master" who had a fondness for
her "because she was so much like the Lowes." The mistress' demand that
she be sold or beaten was always turned aside with "Dear, you know the
child can't help it; its that cursed Cherokee blood in her."

There seemed to be no very strong opposition to a slave's learning to
read and write on the plantation, so Rebecca learned along with the
white children. Her father purchased books for her with money he was
allowed to earn from the sale of corn whiskey which he made, or from
work done on some other plantation during his time off. He was not
permitted to buy his freedom, however.

On Sundays Rebecca attended church along with the other slaves. Services
were held in the white churches after their services were over. They
were taught to obey their masters and work hard, and that they should be
very thankful for the institution of slavery which brought them from
darkest Africa.

On the plantation, the doctor was not nearly as popular as the "granny"
or midwife, who brewed medicines for every ailment. Each plantation had
its own "granny" who also served the mistress during confinement. Some
of her remedies follows:

For colds: Horehound tea, pinetop tea, lightwood drippings on sugar.
For fever: A tea made of pomegranate seeds and crushed mint. For
whooping cough: A tea made of sheep shandy (manure); catnip tea. For
spasms: garlic; burning a garment next to the skin of the patient having
the fit.

Shortly before the war, Rebecca was married to Solomon, her husband.
This ceremony consisted of simply jumping over a broom and having some
one read a few words from a book, which may or may not have been the
Bible. After the war, many couples were remarried because of this
irregularity.

Rebecca had learned of the war long before it ended and knew its import.
She had confided this information to other slaves who could read and
write. She read the small newspaper that her master received at
irregular intervals. The two sons of William Lowe had gone to fight with
the Confederate soldiers (One never returned) and everywhere was felt
the tension caused by wild speculation as to the outcome of the war.

Certain commodities were very scarce Rebecca remembers drinking coffee
made of okra seed, that had been dried and parched. There was no silk,
except that secured by "running the blockade," and this was very
expensive. The smokehouse floors were carefully scraped for any morsel
of salt that might be gotten. Salt had to be evaporated from sea water
and this was a slow process.

There were no disorders in that section as far as Rebecca remembers,
but she thinks that the slaves were kept on the Lowe plantation a long
time after they had been freed. It was only when rumors came that Union
soldiers were patrolling the countryside for such offenders, that they
were hastily told of their freedom. Their former master predicted that
they would fare much worse as freemen, and so many of them were afraid
to venture into the world for themselves, remaining in virtual slavery
for many years afterward.

Rebecca and her husband were among those who left the plantation. They
share-cropped on various plantations until they came to Florida, which
is more than fifty years ago. Rebecca's husband died several years ago
and she now lives with two daughters, who are very proud of her.


REFERENCE

Personal interview with Rebecca Hooks, 1604 North Marion Street, Lake
City, Florida.




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