Slave Narrative of Mom Jessie Sparrow

Interviewer: Annie Ruth Davis
Person Interviewed: Jessie Sparrow
Date of Interview: December 1937
Location: Marion, South Carolina
Age: 83

“No, I ain’ cold. I settin in de sun. Miss Ida, she went by here just now en call at me bout de door been open en lettin dat cold wind blow in on my back wid all de fire gone out. I tell her, it ain’ botherin me none, I been settin out in de sun. Well, I don’ feel much to speak bout, child, but I knockin round somehow. Miss Ida, she bring me dis paper to study on. She does always be bringin me de Star cause she know dat I love to see de news of Marion. It right sad bout de Presbyterian preacher, but everybody got to die, I say. Right sad though. We hear dat church bell here de other evenin en we never know what it been tollin for. I holler over dere to Maggie house en ax her how-come de church bell tollin, but she couldn’ tell me nothin bout it. Reckon some chillun had get hold of it, she say. I tell her, dat bell never been pull by no chillun cause I been hear death note in it. Yes, honey, de people sho gwine horne (grieve) after Dr. Holladay.”

“I say, I doin very well myself en I thankful I ain’ down in de bed. Mighty thankful I ain’ down in de bed en can set up en talk wid de people when dey comes to see me. I ain’ been up dere on your street in a long time. Can’ do much walkin dese days cause I ain’ got no strength to speak bout. Ain’ been up town dere in bout two months. Mr. Jervey ax John Evans what de matter dat I ain’ been comin to de store to get my rations en John Evans tell him I been under de weather. Somehow another, dey all likes me up dere en when dey don’ see me up town on Saturday, dey be axin bout me. Mr. Jervey, he come here de other day en bring me some tobacco en syrup en cheese en some of dem other things what he know dat I used to buy dere. He tell me dey all was wantin to see me back up dere again. I say, I can’ go up dere cause I give way in my limbs en just comes right down whe’ I don’ have nothin to catch to. Got dis old stick here dat I balances myself on when I goes out round bout de house here. Cose I don’ venture to steady myself no far ways on it.”

“No, child, I ain’ been up your way in a long time. I wash for Miss Betty all my best days, but I ain’ been up to de house in many a mornin. Miss Betty like myself now, she old. I tell dem up dere to de house, de last time I talk wid dem, don’ mind Miss Betty cause her mind ain’ no good. I say, just gwine on en do what you got to do en let Miss Betty rest. You see, Miss Betty always would have her way en dis ain’ no time to think bout breakin her neither. Cose I don’ know nothin bout it, but Miss Betty say we bout one age.”

“I reckon Miss Betty got plenty pecans dis year cause she does rake dem up by de tubfuls bout dis time of de year. I got my share of dem last year, but I ain’ got no mind dat I gwine get any dis year less I go up dere. Yes, mam, I got my share last year cause when I went to carry Miss Betty washin home, I could pick up all I wanted while I come through under de trees. My Lord, Miss Betty, she had a quantity of dem last year, but I ain’ hear what de crop doin dis year. I don’ care though cause I wouldn’ eat dem nohow widout I beat dem up en I ain’ in no shape to go to all dat trouble. I loves peanuts good as anybody, but I couldn’ never chew dem widout dey was beat up.”

“Honey, my child en her daughter comin from de northern states dis Christmas to see me. Her name Evelyn, but dey call her Missie. She write here dat she want to come en I tell my Sammie to send word dey is welcome. Cose dey gwine stay wid my son, Sammie, cause dey got more room den I is en dey got a cookin stove, too, but she gwine be in en out here wid her old mammy off en on. Yes’um, I wants to see her mighty bad since it be dat she been gone from here so long. When she first went up dere, she worked for a white family dere to Hartford, Connecticut, but it won’ long fore she got in a fidget to marry en she moved dere to Philadelphia. Dat whe’ she livin now, so my Sammie tell me.”

“Den dere another one of my chillun dat I say, I don’ never ‘spect to see no more on dis side of de world. Evelina, she get married en go way out west to live. She de one what used to nurse Lala up dere to Miss Owens’ house. My God, honey, she been crazy bout Lala. Don’ care what she been buy on a Saturday evenin, she would save some of it till Monday to carry to dat child. My Evelina, she always would eat en she used to bring Lala here wid her a heap of times to get somethin to eat. She would come in en fetch her dat tin plate up dere full of corn bread en molasses en den she would go to puttin dem ration way. Would put her own mouth full en den she would cram some of it down Lala’s mouth in de child’s belly. You see, I always would keep a nice kind of syrup in de safe cause I don’ like none dese kind of syrup much, but dis here ribbon cane syrup. My Lord, dat child would stand up dere en eat just as long as Evelina poke it down her. Oh, Lala been just a little thing plunderin bout en I tell Evelina dat she ought not to feed dat child dem coarse ration, but she say, ‘Lala want some en I gwine give it to her cause I loves her.’ No, child, Miss Owens never didn’ worry her mind bout whe’ Evelina been carry dat child. You see, she been put trust in Evelina.”

“I don’ know what to tell you, honey. I bout like Miss Betty now. My ‘membrance short dese days. Oh, I hear talk bout all kind of signs de people used to worry over en some of dem still frets bout dem, too. Hear talk dat you mustn’t wash none on de New Years’ Day. It bad luck, so a heap of dem say. Den some folks say it a sign of death to hear a owl holler at night. Some people can’ bear to hear dem, but don’ no owls worry me, I say. Lord, Maggie, dis child ax me how a owl holler when it a sign of death. Well, dey does holler a right good space apart. Don’ holler right regular. I ain’ hear one holler now in a long time, but I used to hear dem be hollerin plenty times out dere somewhe’ another in dem trees. Say, when some people been hear dem holler on a night, dey would stick a fire iron in de fire en dat would make de owl quit off. I hear talk bout a lot of people would do dat. Den dere another sign de people does have bout de New Years’ Day. Reckon dat what dey call it, I don’ know. No, mam, I don’ understand nothin bout it, but I does hear people speak bout dey craves to get a cup of peas en a hunk of hog jowl on de first day of de year. Say, dem what put faith in dem kind of victuals on de New Years’ Day, dey won’ suffer for nothin no time all de next year. Cose I don’ know, but I say dat I eats it cause I loves it.”

“Well, child, dat bout all I know to speak bout dis evenin. It gettin so cold, I don’ know whe’ I can manage here much longer or no. Cose my Sammie, he want me to go stay dere wid him, but I can’ stand no chillun fuss round me no more. I tell him dese people bout here be in en out to ax bout me right smart en I think bout I better stay here whe’ dere ain’ nobody to mind what I do. You see, honey, old people is troublesome en I don’ want to be noways burdensome to nobody. Yes, mam, I gwine be right here waitin, if de Lord say so, de next time I see you makin up dat path.”


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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