Slave Narrative of Stephen McCray

Person Interviewed: Stephen McCray
Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Place of Birth: Huntsville County, Alabama
Date of Birth: 1850
Age: 88
Occupation: Fisherman

I was born in Huntsville County, Alabama, right where the Scottsboro boys was in jail, in 1850.

My parents was Wash and Winnie McCray. They was the mother and father of 22 chillun. Jest five lived to be grown and the rest died at baby age. My father’s mother and father was named Mandy and Peter McCray, and my mother’s mother and father was Ruthie and Charlie McCray. They all had the same Master, Mister McCray, all the way thoo’.

We live in log huts and when I left home grown, I left my folks living in the same log huts. Beds was put together with ropes and called rope beds. No springs was ever heard of by white or cullud as I knows of.

All the work I ever done was pick up chips for my grandma to cook with. I was kept busy doing this all dey.

The big boys went out end got rabbits, possums and fish. I would sho’ lak to be in old Alabama fishing, ’cause I am a fisherman. There is sho’ some pretty water in Alabama and as swift as cars run here. Water so clear and blue you can see the fish way down, and dey wouldn’t bite to save your life.

Slaves had their own gardens. All got Friday and Sedday to work in garden during garden time. I liked cornbread best and I’d give a dollar to git some of the bread we had on those good old days and I sin’t joking. I went in shirt tail all the time. Never had on no pants ’til I was 15 years old. No shoes, ‘cept two or three winters. Never had a hat ’til I was a great big boy.

Marriage was performed by getting permission from Master and go where the woman of your choice had prepared the bed, undress and flat-footed jump a broom-stick together into the bed.

Master had a brick house for hisself and the overseer. They was the only ones on the place. The overseer woke up the slaves all the way from 2 o’clock till 4 o’clock of mornings. He wasn’t nothing but white trash. Nothing else in the world but that. They worked till they couldn’t see how to work. I jest couldn’t jedge the size of that big place, and there was a sees of slaves, not less’s three hundred.

I doesn’t have no eggyoation, edgecation, or ejecation, and about all I arm do is spell. I jest spell till I get the pronouncements.

We had church, but iffen the white folks caught you at it, you was beet most nigh to death. We used a big pot turned down to keep our voices down. When we went to hear white preachers, he would say. “Obey your master and mistress.” I am a hard shell-flint Baptist. I was Baptised in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Our baptizing song was mostly “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I stand” and our funeral song was “Park From The Tomb.”

We had some slaves who would try to run off to the North but the white folks would catch ’em with blood hounds and beat ’em to death. Them patrollers done their work mostly at night. One night I was sleeping on cotton and the patrollers come to our house and ask for water. Happen we had plenty. They drunk a whole lot and got warn and told my father to be a good nigger and they wouldn’t bother him at all. They raided till General Grant come thoo’. He sent troops out looking for Klu Klux Klanners and killed ’em jest lak killing black birds. General Grant was one of the men that caused us to set heah free today and able to talk together without being killed.

I didn’t and don’t believe in no conjure. No sensible person do either. We had a doctor on the place. Ever master had a doctor who waited on his slaves. but we wore asafetida or onion ’round our necks to keep off diseases. A dine was put ’round a teething baby’s neck to make it tooth easy, and it sho’ helped too. But today all folks done got ‘bove that.

The old folks talked very little of freedom and the chillun knew nothing at all of it, and that they heard they was daresone to mention it.

Bushwhacker, nothing but poor white trash, come thoo’ and killed all the little nigger chillun they could lay hands on. I was hid under the house with a big rag on my mouf many a time. Then Klu Klux after slavery sho’ got enough from them soldiers to last ’em.

I was married to Kan Pry in 1884. Two chillun was born. The girl is living and the boy night be, but I don’t know. My daughter works out in service.

I wish Lincoln was here now. He done more for the black face than any one in that seat. Old Jeff Davis kept slavery up till General Grant met him at the battle. Lincoln sho’ snowed him under. General Grant put fire under him jest lak I’m fixing to do my pipe. Booker T. Washington was jest all right.

Every time I think of slavery and if it done the race any good, I think of the story of the coon and dog who met. The coon said to the dog “Why is it you’re so fat and I am so poor, and we is both animals?” The dog said: “I lay round Master’s house and let his kick me and he gives me a piece of bread right on.” Said the coon to the dog: “Better then that I stay poor.” Then’s my sentiment. I’m lak the coon, I don’t believe in ‘buse.

I used to be the most wicked man in the world but a voice converted me by saying, “Friend, friend, why is you better to everybody else than you is to your self? You are sending your soul to hell.” And from that day I lived like a Christian. People here don’t live right and I don’t lak to ‘tend church. I base my Christian life on: “Believe in me, trust my work and you shall be saved, for I am God and beside me there is no other.”

McCray, Pry,

Federal Writers' Project. WPA Slave Narratives. Web. 2007-2024. The WPA Slave Narratives must be used with care. There is, of course, the problem of confusion in memory resulting from (73+ years) of the participants. In addition, inexperienced interviewers sometimes pursued question lines related to their own interests and perspectives and attempted to capture the colloquialism of the informant's speech. The interviews provide fascinating insight and surprisingly candid information, however.

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