Slave Narrative of George Benson

Interviewer: Mrs. Bernice Bowden
Person Interviewed: George Benson
Age: 80
Location: Ezell Quarters, Pine Bluff, Arkansas
Occupation: Cotton Farmer

“I was here in slavery days—yes ma’m, I was here. When I come here, colored people didn’t have their ages. The boss man had it. After surrender, boss man told me I ought to keep up with my age, it’d be a use to me some day, but I didn’t do it.

“I member the soldiers would play with me when they wasn’t on duty. That was the Yankees.

“I was born down here on Dr. Waters’ place. Born right here in Arkansas and ain’t been outa Arkansas since I was born. So far as I know, Dr. Waters was good to us. I don’t know how old I was. I know I used to go to the house with my mother and piddle around.

“My father jined the Yankees and he died in the army. I heered the old people talkin’, sayin’ we was goin’ to be free. You know I didn’t have much sense cause I was down on the river bank and the Yankees was shootin’ across the river and I said, ‘John, you quit that shootin’!’ So you know I didn’t have much sense.

“I can remember old man Curtaindall had these nigger dogs. Had to go up a tree to keep em from bitin’ you. Dr. Waters would have us take the cotton and hide it in the swamp to keep the Yankees from burnin’ it but they’d find it some way.

“Never went to school over two months in all my goin’s. We always lived in a place kinda unhandy to go to school. First teacher I had was named Mr. Bell. I think he was a northern man.

“All my life I been farmin’—still do. Been many a day since I sold a bale a cotton myself. White man does the ginnin’ and packin’. All I do is raise it. I’m farmin’ on the shares and I think if I raise four bales I ought to have two bales to sell and boss man two bales, but it ain’t that way.

“I voted ever since I got to be a man grown. That is—as long as I could vote. You know—got so now they won’t let you vote. I don’t think a person is free unless he can vote, do you? The way this thing is goin’, I don’t think the white man wants the colored man to have as much as the white man.

“When I could vote, I jus’ voted what they told me to vote. Oh Lord, yes, I voted for Garfield. I’se quainted with him—I knowed his name. Let’s see—Powell Clayton—was he one of the presidents? I voted for him. And I voted for McKinley. I think he was the last one I voted for.

“I been farmin’ all my life and what have I got? Nothin’. Old age pension? I may be in glory time I get it and then what would become of my wife?”

Benson, Waters,

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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