Slave Narrative of Jeff Bailey

Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor
Person Interviewed: Jeff Bailey
Location: 713 W. Ninth Street, Little Rock, Arkansas
Age: 76 or 77
Occupation: Hostler

[HW: A Hostler’s Story]

“I was born in Monticello. I was raised there. Then I came up to Pine Bluff and stayed there thirty-two years. Then I came up here and been here thirty-two years. That is the reason the white folks so good to me now. I been here so long, I been a hostler all my life. I am the best hostler in this State. I go down to the post office they give me money. These white folks here is good to me.

“What you writing down? Yes, that’s what I said. These white folks like me and they good to me. They give me anything I want. You want a drink? That’s the best bonded whiskey money can buy. They gives it to me. Well, if you don’t want it now, come in when you do.

“I lost my wife right there in that corner. I was married just once. Lived with her forty-three years. She died here five months ago. Josie Bailey! The white folks thought the world and all of her. That is another reason they give me so much. She was one of the best women I ever seen.

“I gits ten dollars a month. The check comes right up to the house. I used to work with all them money men. Used to handle all them horses at the post office. They ought to give me sixty-five dollars but they don’t. But I gits along. God is likely to lemme live ten years longer. I worked at the post office twenty-two years and don’t git but ten dollars a month. They ought to gimme more.

“My father’s name was Jeff Wells. My mother’s name was Tilda Bailey. She was married twice. I took her master’s name. Jeff Wells was my father’s name. Governor Bailey ought to give me somethin’. I got the same name he has. I know him.

“My father’s master was Stanley—Jeff Stanley. That was in slavery time. That was my slave time people. I was just a little bit of a boy. I am glad you are gittin’ that to help the colored people out. Are they goin’ to give the old slaves a pension? What they want to ask all these questions for then? Well, I guess there’s somethin’ else besides money that’s worth while.

“My father’s master was a good man. He was good to him. Yes Baby! Jeff Wells, that my father’s name. I was a little baby settin’ in the basket ’round in the yard and they would put the cotton all ’round me. They carried me out where they worked and put me in the basket. I couldn’t pick no cotton because I was too young. When they got through they would put me in that big old wagon and carry me home. There wasn’t no trucks then. Jeff Wells (that was my father), when they got through pickin’ the cotton, he would say, ‘Put them children in the wagon; pick ’em up and put ’em in the wagon.’ I was a little bitty old boy. I couldn’t pick no cotton then. But I used to pick it after the surrender.

“I remember what they said when they freed my father. They said, ‘You’re free. You children are free. Go on back there and work and let your children work. Don’t work them children too long. You’ll git pay for your work.’ That was in the Monticello courthouse yard. They said, ‘You’re free! Free!’

“My mistress said to me when I got back home, ‘You’re free. Go on out in the orchard and git yoself some peaches.’ They had a yard full of peaches. Baby did I git me some peaches. I pulled a bushel of ’em.

Ku Klux Klan

“The Ku Klux run my father out of the fields once. And the white people went and got them ’bout it. They said, ‘Times is hard, and we can’t have these people losin’ time out of the fields. You let these people work.’ A week after that, they didn’t do no mo. The Ku Klux didn’t. Somebody laid them out. I used to go out to the fields and they would ask me, ‘Jeff Bailey, what you do in’ out here?’ I was a little boy and you jus’ ought to seen me gittin’ ‘way frum there. Whooo-eeee!

“I used to pick cotton back yonder in Monticello. I can’t pick no cotton now. Naw Lawd! I’m too old. I can’t do that kind of work now. I need help. Carl Bailey knows me. He’ll help me. I’m a hostler. I handle horses. I used to pick cotton forty years ago. My mother washed clothes right after the War to git us children some thin’ to eat. Sometimes somebody would give us somethin’ to help us out.

“Tilda Bailey, that was my mother. She and my father belonged to different masters. Bailey was her master’s name. She always called herself Bailey and I call myself Bailey. If I die, I’ll be Bailey. My insurance is in the name of Bailey. My father and mother had about eight children. They raised all their children in Monticello. You ever been to Monticello? I had a good time in Monticello. I was a baby when peace was declared. Just toddling ’round.

“My father drank too much. I used to tell him about it. I used to say to him, ‘I wouldn’t drink so much whiskey.’ But he drank it right on. He drank hisself to death.

“I believe Roosevelt’s goin’ to be President again. I believe he’s goin’ to run for a third term. He’s goin’ to be dictator. He’s goin’ to be king. He’s goin’ to be a good dictator. We don’t want no more Republic. The people are too hard on the poor people. President Roosevelt lets everybody git somethin’. I hope he’ll git it. I hope he’ll be dictator. I hope he’ll be king. Yuh git hold uh some money with him.

“You couldn’t ever have a chance if Cook got to be governor. I believe Carl Bailey’s goin’ to be a good governor. I believe he’ll do better. They put Miz Carraway back; I believe she’ll do good too.”

Extra Comment

Jeff Bailey talked like a man of ninety instead of a man of seventy-six or seven. It was hard to get him to stick to any kind of a story. He had two or three things on his mind and he repeated those things over and over again—Governor Bailey, Hostler, Post Office. He had to be pried loose from them. And he always returned the next sentence.

Bailey, Stanley, Wells,

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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