Slave Narrative of Henry Banner

Interviewer: S. S. Taylor
Person Interviewed: Henry Banner
Location: County Hospital, Little Rock, Arkansas

[HW: Forty Acres and a Mule]

“I was sold the third year of the war for fifteen years old. That would be in 1864. That would make my birthday come in 1849. I must have been 12 year old when the war started and sixteen when Lee surrendered. I was born and raised in Russell County, Ol’ Virginny. I was sold out of Russell County during the war. Ol’ Man Menefee refugeed me into Tennessee near Knoxville. They sold me down there to a man named Jim Maddison. He carried me down in Virginny near Lynchburg and sold me to Jim Alec Wright. He was the man I was with in the time of the surrender. Then I was in a town called Liberty. The last time I was sold, I sold for $2,300,—more than I’m worth now.

“Police were for white folks. Patteroles were for niggers. If they caught niggers out without a pass they would whip them. The patteroles were for darkies, police for other people.

“They run me once, and I ran home. I had a dog at home, and there wasn’t no chance them gettin’ by that dog. They caught me once in Liberty, and Mrs. Charlie Crenchaw, Ol’ John Crenchaw’s daughter, came out and made them turn me loose. She said, ‘They are our darkies; turn them loose.’

“One of them got after me one night. I ran through a gate and he couldn’t get through. Every time I looked around, I would see through the trees some bush or other and think it was him gaining on me. God knows! I ran myself to death and got home and fell down on the floor.

“The slaves weren’t expecting nothing. It got out somehow that they were going to give us forty acres and a mule. We all went up in town. They asked me who I belonged to and I told them my master was named Banner. One man said, ‘Young man, I would go by my mama’s name if I were you.’ I told him my mother’s name was Banner too. Then he opened a book and told me all the laws. He told me never to go by any name except Banner. That was all the mule they ever give me.

“I started home a year after I got free and made a crop. I had my gear what I had saved on the plantation and went to town to get my mule but there wasn’t any mule.

“Before the war you belonged to somebody. After the war you weren’t nothin’ but a nigger. The laws of the country were made for the white man. The laws of the North were made for man.

“Freedom is better than slavery though. I done seed both sides. I seen darkies chained. If a good nigger killed a white overseer, they wouldn’t do nothin’ to him. If he was a bad nigger, they’d sell him. They raised niggers to sell; they didn’t want to lose them. It was just like a mule killing a man.

“Yellow niggers didn’t sell so well. There weren’t so many of them as there are now. Black niggers stood the climate better. At least, everybody thought so.

“If a woman didn’t breed well, she was put in a gang and sold. They married just like they do now but they didn’t have no license. Some people say that they done this and that thing but it’s no such a thing. They married just like they do now, only they didn’t have no license.

“Ol’ man came out on April 9, 1865. and said, ‘General Lee’s whipped now and dam badly whipped. The war is over. The Yankees done got the country. It is all over. Just go home and hide everything you got. General Lee’s army is coming this way and stealing everything they can get their hands on.’ But General Lee’s army went the other way.

“I saw a sack of money setting near the store. I looked around and I didn’t see nobody. So I took it and carried it home. Then I hid it. I heard in town that Jeff Davis was dead and his money was no good. I took out some of the money and went to the grocery and bought some bread and handed her five dollar bill. She said, ‘My goodness, Henry, that money is no good; the Yankees have killed it.’ And I had done gone all over the woods and hid that money out. There wasn’t no money. Nobody had anything. I worked for two bits a day. All our money was dead.

“The Yankees fed the white people with hard tacks (at Liberty, Virginia). All around the country, them that didn’t have nothin’ had to go to the commissary and get hard tacks.

“I started home. I went to town and rambled all around but there wasn’t nothin’ for me.

“I was set free in April. About nine o’clock in the morning when we went to see what work we would do, ol’ man Wright called us all up and told us to come together. Then he told us we were free. I couldn’t get nothing to do; so I jus’ stayed on and made a crop.”

Banner, Maddison, Wright,

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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