Slave narratives from the Library of Congress.
Lewis Brown a slave in Kemper County, MS. Residing at 2100 Pulaski Street, Little Rock, Arkansas at the time of the interview.
Submitted to the site by Darleen Brown.
Subject: Ex-Slave Lewis Brown
"I was born in 1855, April 14, in Kemper County, Mississippi, close to Meridian. I drove gin wagons in the time of the war in a horse-power gin. I carried matches and candles down to weigh cotton with in slavery times.
"They had to pick cotton till dark. They had to tote their weight hundred pounds, two pounds, whatever it was down to the weighing place and they had to weigh it. Whatever you lacked of having your weight, you would get a lick for. On down till they called us out for the war, that was the way it was. They were goin' to give my brother fifty lashes but they come and took him to the army, and they didn't git to whip him.
"My father was Lewis Bronson. He come from South Carolina. My mother was stole. The speculators stole her and they brought her to Kemper County, Mississippi, and sold her. My mother's name was Millie. My father's owner was Elijah McCoy. Old Elijah McCoy was the owner, but they didn't take his name. They went back to the old standard mark after the surrender. They went back to the people where they come from, and they changed their names --- they changed off of them old names. McCoys was my masters, but my father went back to the name of the people way back over in there in South Carolina, where he come from. I don't know nothin' bout them. He was the father of nine children. He had two wives. One of them he had nine by, and the other one he had none by. So he went back to the one he had the nine children by.
"I was ten years old when war was ended. I had to carry matches and candles to the cotton pickers. It would be too dark for them to weigh up. They couldn't see. They had tasks and they would be picking till late to git their tasks done. Matches and candles come from the big house, and I had to bring it down to them. That was two years before the war.
"I wasn't big enough to do nothing else, only drive to the gin. I drove horse-power to the gin.---drove mules to the gin. I would drive the cows out to the pasture too. The milk women would milk them. Lawd, I could not do no milking. I was too small. The milk women would milk then and I would drive the cows one way and the calves another so that they couldn't mix. And at night I would go git them and they would milk them again. The milk women milked them. What would I know bout milkin.
"I never did any playin', 'cept plain marbles and goin' in swimmin'.
"The white girls and boys learned us our A-B-C's after the war. They had a free school in Kemper County there. My children I learnt them myself or had it done. You couldn't hardly ever find one in Kemper Country that could spell and go on. They didn't have no time for that. Some few of them learned their A-B-C's before the war. But that is all. They learned what they learned after the war in the free government schools mostly. They would not do nothin' to you if they caught you learnin' in slave time. Sometimes the white children would teach you your A-B-C's.
"They had mighty mean ways in that country. They would catch young colored girls and whip them and make them do what they wanted. There wasn't but one mean one on our place. He was ordered to go to war and he didn't; so they pressed him. He was the one that promised my brother a whipping. He left like this morning and come back a week from today dead. The rest of them was pretty good. The mean one was Elijah.
"Old man McCoy had four sons: Elijah, that was the mean one, Hedder, Nelson, Clay.
"Sometimes the pateroles would do the devil with you if they caught you out without a pass. You could go anywhere you pleased if you had a pass. But if you didn't have a pass, they'd give you the devil.
"You could have one wife over here and another one over there if you wanted to. My daddy had two women. And he quit the one that didn't have no children. People weren't no more 'n dogs them days,---weren't as much as dogs.
"In slavery time, my father worked at the field. Plowed and hoed and made cotton and corn --- what else was he goin' to do. My mother was a cook.
"My master fed us and clothed us and give us something to eat. Some of them was hall a mile. Some of them was all kinds of ways. Our people was good. One of them was mean.
"My father's brother belonged to Elijah. I had an auntie over in there too. I don't know what become of them all. They were all in Kemper county. Mississippi.
"The white people had churches in slavery times just like they have now. The white people would have service one a month. But like these street cars. White people would be at the front and colored would fill up back. They'll quit that after a while. Sometimes they would have church in the noming for the white folks and church in the evening for the colored. They would baptise you just like they would anybody else.
"I'll tall you what was done in slave time. They'd sing and pray. The white folks would take you to the creek and baptize you like anybody else.
"Sometimes the slaves would be off and have prayer meetings of their own---nothing but colored people there. They soon got out uh that.
"Sometimes they would turn a tub or pot down. That would be when they were making a lot of fuss and didn't want to bother nobody. The white people wouldn't be against the meeting. But they wouldn't want to be disturbed. If you wanted to sing at night and didn't want nobody to hear it, you could just take an old wash pot and turn it down---leave a little space for the air, and nobody could hear it.
"The grown folks didn't have much amusement in slavery times. They had banjo, fiddle, melodian, and things like that. There wasn't no baseball in those days. I never seed none. They could dance all they wanted to their way. They darcned the dotillions and the waltzes and breakdown steps, all such as that. Pick banjo! U-umph! They would give corn huskins; they would go and shuck corn and shuck so much. Get through shucking, they would give you dinner. Sometimes big rich white people would give dances out in the yard and look at their way of dancing, and doing. Violin players would be colored.
"Have cotton picking too sometimes at night, moonshiney nights. That's when they'd give the cotton pickings. Say you didn't have many hands. Then they'd go and send you one hand from this place and one from that place. And so on. Your friends would do all that for you.
Between 'em they'd git up a big bunch of hands. Then they'd give the cotton picking, and git your field clared up. They'd give you something to eat and whiskey to drink.
"Notice was given to my father that he was free. White people in that country give it to him. I don't know what they said to my father. Then the last gun was fired. I don't know where peace was declared. Notice come how that everybody was free. Told my daddy, 'You're just as free as I am.' Some went back to their daddy's name. Some went back to their master's name. My daddy went back to his old master's name.
"First year after the war, they planted a crop. Didn't raise no cotton during the war, from the time the war started till it ended, they didn't raise no cotton.
"After the war, they give the colored people corn and cotton, one-third and one-fourth. They would haul a load of it up during the war I mean, during the time before the war, and give it to the colored people.
"They had two crops. No cotton in the time of the war, nothing but corn and pass and potatoes and so on. All that went to the white people. But they divided it. They give all so much round. Had a bin for the white and a bin for the colored. The next year they commenced with the third and fourth business---third of the cotton and fourth of the corn. You could have all the peanuts you wanted. You could sell your corn but they would only give you fifty cents for it --- fifty cents a bushel.
"My father farmed and sharecropped for a while after the war. He changed from his master's place the second year and went on another place. He farmed all his life. He raised all his children and got wore out and pore. He died in Kemper County, Mississippi. All his children and everything was raised there.
"I came to Arkansas in the eighties. Come to Helena. I did carpenter and farm work in Helena. I made three crops, one for Phil Maddox, two with Miss Hobbs. I come from Helena here.
"I married in Mississippi in Roland Forks, sixty miles this side of Vicksburg. I had two boys and three girls. Two girls died in Helena. One died in Roland Forks before I come to Helena. Nary one of the boys didn't die.
"I don't do no work now. This rheumatism 's got me down. I call that age. If I could work, I couldn't git nothing worth while. These niggers here won't pay you nothing they promise you. My boy's got me to feed as long as I live now. I did a batch of work for the colored people round here in the spring of the year and I ain't got no money for it yit.
"I belong to the Mount Zion Baptist Church; I reckon I do. I got down sick so I couldn't go and I don't know whether they turned me OUT OR NO. I tell you, people don't care nothin about you when you get old or stricken down. They pretend they do, but they don't. My mind is good and I got just as much ambition as I ever had. But I don't have the strength.
I haven't got but a few more days to lag round in this world. When you get old and stricken, nobody cares, children nor nobody also.
Jeff Kemp - State Coordinator
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