James W. Smith

Yes, suh, I'm birthed a slave, but never worked as sich, 'cause I's too young. But I 'members hearin' my mother tell all about her slave days and our master. He was John Hallman and owned a place in Palestine, with my mother and father and fifty other slaves. My folks was house servants and lived a little better'n the field hands. De cabins was built cheap, though, no money, only time for buildin' am de cost. Dey didn't use nails and helt de logs in place by dovetailin'. Dey closed de space between de logs with wedges covered with mud and straw. De framework for de door was helt by wooden pegs and so am de benches and tables. Master Hallman always had some niggers trained for carpenter work, and one to be blacksmith and one to make shoes and harness.

We was lucky to have de kind master, what give us plenty to eat. If all de people now could have jus' so good food what we had, there wouldn't be no beggin' by hungry folks or need for milk funds for starved babies.

We didn't have purty clothes sich as now, with all de dif'rent colors mixed up, but dey was warm and lastin', dyed brown and black. De black oak and cherry made de dyes. Our shoes wasn't purty, either. I has to laugh when I think of de shoes. There wasn't no careful work put on dem, but dey covered de feets and lasted near forever.

Master always wanted to help his cullud folks live right and my folks always said de best time of they lives was on de old plantation. He always 'ranged for parties and sich. Yes, suh, he wanted dem to have a good time, but no foolishment, jus' good, clean fun. There am dancin' and singin' mostest every Saturday night. He had a little platform built for de jiggin' contests. Cullud folks comes from all round, to see who could jig de best. Sometimes two niggers each put a cup of water on de head and see who could jig de hardest without spillin' any. It was lots of fun.

I must tell you 'bout de best contest we ever had. One nigger on our place was de jigginest fellow ever was. Everyone round tries to git somebody to best him. He could put de glass of water on his head and make his feet go like triphammers and sound like de snaredrum. He could whirl round and sich, all de movement from his hips down. Now it gits noised round a fellow been found to beat Tom and a contest am 'ranged for Saturday evenin'. There was a big crowd and money am bet, but master bets on Tom, of course.

So dey starts jiggin'. Tom starts easy and a little faster and faster. The other fellow doin' de same. Dey gits faster and faster and dat crowd am a-yellin'. Gosh! There am 'citement. Dey jus' keep a-gwine. It look like Tom done found his match, but there am one thing yet he ain't done—he ain't made de whirl. Now he does it. Everyone holds he breath, and de other fellow starts to make de whirl and he makes it, but jus' a spoonful of water sloughs out his cup, so Tom am de winner.

When freedom come, the master tells his slaves and says, 'What you gwine do?' Wall, suh, not one of dem knows dat. De fact am, dey's scared dey gwine be put off de place. But master says dey can stay and work for money or share crop. He says they might be trouble 'twixt de whites and niggers and likely it be best to stay and not git mixed in dis and dat org'ization. Mostest stays, only one or two goes away. My folks stays for five years after de war. Den my father moves to Bertha Creek, where he done 'range for a farm of his own. They hated to leave master's plantation, he's so good and kind.

Some the cullud folks thinks they's to take charge and run the gov'ment. They asks my father to jine their org'ization. He goes once and some eggs am served. Dey am served by de crowd and dem eggs ain't fresh yard eggs. Father 'cides he wants his eggs served dif'rent, and he likes dem fresh, so he takes master's advice and don't jine nothing.

When de Klux come, de cullud org'ization made their scatterment. Plenty gits whipped round our place and some what wasn't 'titled to it. Den soldiers comes and puts order in de section. Dey has trouble about votin'. De cullud folks in dem days was non-knowledge, so how could dey vote 'telligent? Dat am foolishment to 'sist on de right to vote. It de non-knowledge what hurts. Myself, I never voted and am too far down de road now to start.

I worked at farmin' till 1895 when I starts preachin' in de Baptist church. I kept that up till 1931, but my health got too bad and I had to quit. I has de pressure bad. When I preaches, I preaches hard, and de doctor says dat am danger for me.

The way I learns to preach am dis: after surrender, I 'tends de school two terms and den I studies de Bible and I's a nat'ral talker and gifted for de Lawd's work, so I starts preachin'.

Jennie Goodman and me marries in 1885 and de Lawd never blessed us with any chillen. We gits de pension, me $16.00 and her $14.00, and gits by on dat. It am for de rations and de eats, but de clothes am a question!