Slave Narrative of Lizzie Barnett

Interviewer: Mrs. Rosa B. Ingram
Person Interviewed: Lizzie Barnett
Location: Conway, Arkansas
Age: 100?

“Yes; I was born a slave. My old mammy was a slave before me. She was owned by my old Miss, Fanny Pennington, of Nashville, Tennessee. I was born on a plantation near there. She is dead now. I shore did love Miss Fanny.

“Did you have any brothers and sisters, Aunt Liz.?”

“Why, law yes, honey, my mammy and Miss Fanny raised dey chillun together. Three each, and we was jes’ like brothers and sisters, all played in de same yard. No, we did not eat together. Dey sot us niggers out in de yard to eat, but many a night I’se slept with Miss Fanny.

“Mr. Pennington up and took de old-time consumption. Dey calls it T.B. now. My mammy nursed him and took it from him and died before Mr. Abe Lincoln ever sot her free.

“I have seen hard times, Miss, I shore have.

“In dem days when a man owned a plantation and had children and they liked any of the little slave niggers, they were issued out to ’em just like a horse or cow.

“‘Member, honey, when de old-time war happened between the North and South, The Slavery War. It was so long ago I just can ‘member it. Dey had us niggers scared to death of the Bluejackets. One day a man come to Miss Fanny’s house and took a liking to me. He put me up on a block an’ he say, ‘How old is dis nigger?’ An’ she say ‘five’ when she know well an’ good I was ten. No, he didn’t get me. But I thought my time had come.

“Yes, siree, I was Miss Fanny’s child. Why wouldn’t I love her when I sucked titty from her breast when my mammy was working in the field? I shore did love Miss Fanny.

“When de nigger war was over and dey didn’t fit (fight) any longer, Abe Lincoln sot all de niggers free and den got ‘sassinated fer doin it.

“Miss, you don’t know what a hard life we slaves had, cause you ain’t old enough to ‘member it. Many a time I’ve heard the bull whips a-flying, and heard the awful cries of the slaves. The flesh would be cut in great gaps and the maggits (maggots) would get in them and they would squirm in misery.

“I want you to know I am not on Arkansas born nigger. I come from Tennessee. Be sure to put that down. I moved to Memphis after Miss Fanny died.

“While I lived in Memphis, de Yellow Fever broke out. You have never seed the like. Everything was under quarantine. The folks died in piles and de coffins was piled as high as a house. They buried them in trenches, and later they dug graves and buried them. When they got to looking into the coffins, they discovered some had turned over in dey coffins and some had clawed dey eyes out and some had gnawed holes in dey hands. Dey was buried alive!

“Miss, do you believe in ha’nts? Well, if you had been in Memphis den you would. Dey was jes’ paradin’ de streets at nite and you’d meet dem comin at you round de dark corners and all de houses everywhere was ha’nted. I’ve seed plenty of ’em wid my own eyes, yes, siree.

“Yes, the times were awful in Memphis endurin the plague. Women dead lying around and babies sucking their breasts. As soon as the frost came and the quarantine was lifted, I came to Conway, 1867. But I am a Tennessee nigger.

“When I cams to Conway there were few houses to live in. No depot. I bought this piece of land to build my shanty from Mr. Jim Harkrider for $25.00. I worked hard for white folks and saved my money and had this little two-room house built (mud chimney, and small porch and one small window). It is about to fall down on me, but it will last as long as I live. At first, I lived and cooked under a bush (brush) arbor. Cooked on the coals in an iron skillet. Here it it, Miss.

“Part ob de time after de nigger war (Civil) I lived in Hot Springs. President ‘Kinley had a big reservation over there and a big hospital for the sick and wounded soldiers. Den de war broke out in Cuba and dere was a spatch (dispatch) board what de news come over dat de war was on. Den when dat war was over and ‘Kinley was tryin to get us niggers a slave pension dey up and ‘sassinated him.

“After Mr. Lincoln sot de slaves free, dey had Northern teachers down South and they were called spies and all left the country.

“I don’t know ‘sactly how old I am. Dey say I am 100. If Miss Fanny was livin’ she could settle it. But I have had a hard life. Yes mam. Here I is living in my shanty, ‘pendin’ on my good white neighbors to feed me and no income ‘cept my Old Age Pension. Thank God for Mr. Roosevelt. I love my Southern white friends. I am glad the North and South done shook hands and made friends. All I has to do now is sit and look forward to de day when I can meet my old mammy and Miss Fanny in the Glory Land. Thank God.”

Barnett, Pennington,

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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