Slave Narrative of Robert Barr

Interviewer: S.S. Taylor
Person Interviewed: Robert Barr
Location: 3108 West 18th St. Little Rock, Ark.
Age: 73
Occupation: Preaching

[HW: A Preacher Tells His Story]

“I am a minister of the Gospel. I have been preaching for the last thirty years. I am batching here. A man does better to live by himself. Young people got the devil in them now a days. Your own children don’t want you around.

“I got one grand-daughter that ain’t never stood on the floor. Her husband kicked her and hit her and she ain’t never been able to stand up since. I got another daughter that ain’t thinking about marrying. She just goes from one man to the other.

“The government gives me a pension. The white folks help me all along. Before I preached, I fiddled, danced, shot craps, did anything.

“My mother was born in Chickasaw, Mississippi. She was born a slave. Old man Barr was her master. She was a Lucy Appelin and she married a Barr. I don’t know whether she stood on the floor and married them as they do now or not. They tell me that they just gave them to them in those days. My mother said that they didn’t know anything about marriage then. They had some sort of a way of doing. Ol’ Massa would call them up and say, ‘You take that man, and go ahead. You are man and wife.’ I don’t care whether you liked it or didn’t. You had to go ahead. I heard em say: ‘Nigger ain’t no more’n a horse or cow,’ But they got out from under that now. The world is growing more and more civilized. But when a nigger thinks he is something, he ain’t nothin’. White folks got all the laws and regulations in their hands and they can do as they please. You surrender under em and go along and you are all right. If they told a woman to go to a man and she didn’t, they would whip her. You didn’t have your own way. They would make you do what they wanted. They’d give you a good beating too.

“My father was born in Mississippi. His name was Simon Barr. My mother and father both lived on the same plantation. In all groups of people they went by their master’s name. Before she married, my mother’s master and mistress were Appelins. When she got married—got ready to marry—the white folks agreed to let them go together. Old Man Barr must have paid something for her. According to my mother and father, that’s the way it was. She had to leave her master and go with her husband’s master.

“According to my old father and mother, the Patteroles went and got the niggers when they did something wrong. They lived during slave time. They had a rule and government over the colored and there you are. When they caught niggers out, they would beat them. If you’d run away, they’d go and get you and beat you and put you back. When they’d get on a nigger and beat him, the colored folks would holler, ‘I pray, Massa.’ They had to have a great war over it, before they freed the nigger. The Bible says there is a time for all things.

“My mother and father said they got a certain amount when they was freed. I don’t know how much it was. It was only a small amount. After a short time it broke up and they didn’t get any more. I get ten dollars pension now and that is more than they got then.

“I heard Old Brother Page in Mississippi say that the slaves had heard em say they were going to be free. His young mistress heard em say he was going to be free and she walked up and hocked and spit in his face. When freedom came, old Massa came out and told them.

“I have heard folks talk of buried treasure. I’ll bet there’s more money under the ground than there is on it. They didn’t have banks then, and they put their money under the ground. For hundreds of years, there has been money put under the ground.

“I heard my mother talk about their dances and frolics then. I never heard her speak of anything else. They didn’t have much freedom. They couldn’t go and come as they pleased. You had to have a script to go and come. Niggers ain’t free now. You can’t do anything; you got nothin’. This whole town belongs to white folks, and you can’t do nothin’. If nigger get to have anything, white folks will take it.

“We raised our own food. We made our own flour. We wove our own cloth. We made our clothes. We made our meal. We made our sorghum cane molasses. Some of them made their shoes, made their own medicine, and went around and doctored on one another. They were more healthy then than they are now. This generation don’t live hardly to get forty years old. They don’t live long now.

“I came to Arkansas about thirty-five years ago. I got right into ditches. The first thing I did was farm. I farmed about ten years. I made about ten crops. Mississippi gave you more for your crops than Arkansas.”

Appelin, Barr,

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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