Tempie Cummins, Age Unknown
"The white chillun tries teach me to read and write but I didn' larn much, 'cause I allus workin'. Mother was workin' in the house, and she cooked too. She say she used to hide in the chimney corner and listen to what the white folks say. When freedom was 'clared, marster wouldn' tell 'em, but mother she hear him tellin' mistus that the slaves was free but they didn' know it and he's not gwineter tell 'em till he makes another crop or two. When mother hear that she say she slip out the chimney corner and crack her heels together four times and shouts, 'I's free, I's free.' Then she runs to the field, 'gainst marster's will and tol' all the other slaves and they quit work. Then she run away and in the night she slip into a big ravine near the house and have them bring me to her. Marster, he come out with his gun and shot at mother but she run down the ravine and gits away with me."
|Charity Anderson, 101 years old|
Ex-slave Mary Reynolds, 105-years-old
Mary Reynolds, blind and over one hundred years old at the time of her interview, was born into slavery in Black River, Louisiana. Her master, a physician and planter, was a shrewd speculator who frequently traded his older slaves for younger, more fit hands. Reynolds witnessed brutal beatings, and tells of working in weather so cold that her hands bled. Her master had a number of children with a mulatto slave, and his wife threatened to leave him. After the war, Mary Reynolds moved to Texas, where she remained for the rest of her life.
John W. Fields, Age 89
"In most of us colored folks was the great desire to [be] able to read and write. We took advantage of every opportunity to educate ourselves. The greater part of the plantation owners were very harsh if we were caught trying to learn or write. It was the law that if a white man was caught trying to educate a negro slave, he was liable to prosecution entailing a fine of fifty dollars and a jail sentence. We were never allowed to go to town and it was not until after I ran away that I knew that they sold anything but slaves, tobacco, and whiskey. Our ignorance was the greatest hold the South had on us. We knew we could run away, but what then? An offender guilty of this crime was subjected to very harsh punishment."
Image and commentary via African-American Slave Testimonies and Photographs.