Ms. Holmes (first name unknown)
Nashville, Tennessee


Just after the War, or way back there right after slavery, people was treated just as mean and bad as ever. I was born in Morgantown, Kentucky. My mother was a slave, born in Richmond, Virginia. My father was a slave, but I don't know where he was born, because he said when he knew anything he was in a house with the white people, and they never did tell him anything. Where I was born, it is a mighty fine country, and they was awful mean to the colored people in that country. I had six sisters and six brothers and they are all dead except myself. They did not live to be old enough to go to school, I did not go to school because they said it was too far to send me to school. I could spell in the old blue back speller. My father's white people taught me that. I was four years old when my father come from war, and he gave me to the white poople, and they took care of me just like I was their own poople. They didn't want me to get out with oolored people, and they didn't want me to get away from them. My father lived five years after he came from war. His young master was to go to war, but he didn't want to go so they put my father in his place. After he lived in camp three months, in the Confederate army, he stole away and joined the Yankees. My father's name was Frank, and they said Frank was a good nigger; never did but one thing wrong in his life, and that was when he joined the Yankees. They didn't want him to join the Yankees. My mother died after she was the mother of eight ohildren. When my father came back from the war -- in the old time way of jumping the broom handle -- my mother had married again, so he didn't disturb her, and the little children she had then. He just took me. He was sick, he had scurvy, asthma

[end p. 175]

and all like they would have then after the war. My mother had all her children by her second husband, but me. In those days people married by jumping the broom handle, or marrying with a lamp, or by carrying a glass of water on their head. They would give you a pass to go over on the other farm, and it you didn't have this pass the padder-rollers would cut your head off. Later on, two white men came over to my mother's house and said you would have to have license now to live with your husband. They said a new law had been passed. But mother said she was just going to stay like she was. She died and left a house full of little children. They all died like little sheep. My stepfather left them; he was a mighty ladies' man. Tho doctor said then that the reason all these little children died like that was because they were half clad and didn't have enough to eat. Of course, I didn't know what they meant then, but I know now that half clad meant they didn't have clothes. I was just raised up in a house to work. I got married and been married so long I done forgot. I was 17, going on 18. When I married I had to have license bought, and that was done right in Morgantown. My mother was supposed to sign the papers, but she would not sign them, but the white people where I was living signed them. I have been married only once. We were just like folks are now sometimes, just living together like cats and dogs. I didn't stay with him but only about three or four years. He didn't work, he didn't do nothing. I don't know why I married him. But I was living up there with those white people, and they never wanted me out. I was raring to get away from white folks. I don't know whether I loved him or not, but I guess I did. After we married it seemed he didn't like dark people, and after we married he talked about my color. He was going with a "yaller" womam,

[end p. 176]

and I whipped all the clothes off her once. I had two children by him. Both are dead now. One lived to be 21.

Back there in those days the people was treated awful mean. For a long distance there were no fences, just field, and you had to work. A white man would ride back and forth and about with spurs and a whip, and you had better not look up from your work. You just had to keep working without looking up for anything.

I sent my child, the one that lived to bo 21 years old, to school. My husband left me and went up to Evansville with a "yaller" woman, and after six years sent for me to come and get him. I tried to get the money to go for him and they told me if I did they would whip me. But I told them that he was mine, and if I oould get the money I was going to him. I didn't go because I couldn't get the money. I was waahing all day for 25 cents, and that was just about as much as you could get for any work in those days. I sure tried all 'round to get the money, but just couldn't get it. Well, he died. They didn't think about bringing a body home back in those days.

I was converted by just laying off everything that looked like sin. I just run away from everything that looked like sin. You got to tet tired of it, go away and leave it, let it alone. Going to shows, dancing, and all those things, and having your name on the church book is not it. You do all these things and then go to church and pay your quarter, or whatever it is, and think that is right, but it is not. My name was on the church book when I was ten years old. Father's master sprinkled me when I was ten months old. Since I been grown, 24 years ago or more, I practiced everything everybody else did. I worked for people that danced, I went with people that danced and paid their quarter

[end p. 177]

in the church on Sunday; but I went and heard the holiness preached. I went to church one night and the preacher just preached to me. He preached all about carrying clothes on your head and carrying them on Sunday. I knew he was preaching to me. I couldn't hardly get home, I never eat nor drink for three days, couldn't do it. I said, "Lord, all these years I been living in church and now going to die and go to hell." He showed me just where I would have went to hell, too. But I know I want to go to a resting place when I am gone. I was tied up in every lodge, club; but those things are rotten to the core. They have all kinds of people in them, and I am just talking for myself; they are no good. Anybody else can go any way they want to, but they say there is only one way to go in, and that is through the straight and narrow. If you see those deacons and all these old preachers doing the things you would do, they you would say that they can't say anything to you, for they are drinking, dancing, going to shows, and everything else. Well, the light came after I fasted three days, and all that burden fell off me. You just got to be sure what you are doing. All that burden fell off me. Thc man I was living with said that night that I was going to be hungry, naked or out of doors for talking that way. But I said I didn't care. He was Ned Turner, and he put me out of my own house. I was living on his ground but I had built with him, and he said it anything happened I would get my money back. He said he would give me that money back. He died long ago. He asked me if I was going to quit the clubs, lodges, and things, and I said, "you just wait." He was a bad man; he believed in everything going on in his house. I am old now, but I believe in everything going on right.

I have been in Nashville I guess about 18 years. I got crip-

[end p. 178]

pled and came here to be operated on. I thought I could get a home to live here, but I didn't. They told me that my not being a citizen here, I would have to live here so many days or so long before I could enter the City Hospital. But I got acquainted with Dr. Bright and Dr. Hale and they advised me. I am 73 years old the 15th day of March.

In my father's time and all along my mother's time, that's when they chained the colored people and cut them all to pieces with cat-o'nine-tails and sprinkled salt and pepper on them. And when I married, that man put me right out in the field. I pulled corn, shocked corn and everything. He was awful mean; so much so I never wanted to go on in his name, Malone. I went on in my mother's name, Holmes; and I am Holmes yet. I haven't done any work now for 12 years. The church pays my rent and everybody here is good to me. People that know me and pass by hand me a little money and send me things, I belong to the Church of God, the Sanctified Church on Harding Street, and Reverend Martin is my pastor. He is a mighty fine man, if he is black. 'Course it is all right to be black. Way back, colored people lived more friendly together than they do now. You couldn't go to one's house but what if you stayed there a meal would be cooked and served you. My mother was brought from Virginia when she was ten years old. She didn't know anything more about her poeple over there. In those days way back there the colored people would do just like they do now, but not as bad. Like when I married, the old folks would make you stay with him. There was no parting among the old folks like they do now. When they married, two would hold a broom, and one time she had a candle on her and jumped over the broom stick, then the next time she had a glass of water and jumped over. It didn't fall off.

[end p. 179]

There were no doctors back there. If you got sick, you would go dig a hole and dig up roots and fix your own medicine. There was not as much sickness then as there is now. They would make their own pills and syrups, and so on. They were a country full of people who practiced with herbs; white and colored people did this. There were severa1 kinds of bark you could get and make a syrup, poultice, or something. There was not nearly so much dying as there is now.

When I was in Kentucky I went to church with the white people, at the Methodist Church. I sat way back behind. There were three seats in the back and a gate between this part and the other part in front where the white people sat. When they had revival they would open the gate and come back there and ask them some questions and try to have them believe. And if they said they believed, they would sprinkle them. The Baptists did the some thing. At the house, I didn't get to eat at the table with the others, but when the old man got through with his meal or got through eating, I could sit down and eat with the rest of them.

I remember two bad locust years. You couldn't walk on the ground for the locust shells, and couldn't hear your ears for them hollowing "Pharoah." They hollowed "Pharoah" for the old Pharoah plague.

[end p. 180]

Source: The American Slave: The Unwritten History of Slavery (Fisk University), vol. 18: 175-180.

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