Slave Narrative of Julia Cole

Interviewer: Corry Fowler
Person Interviewed: Julia Cole
Location: Athens, Georgia

A knock on the door of the comfortable little frame house which Julia Cole shares with her daughter, Rosa, brought the response, “Who dat?” Soon Rosa appeared. “Come in Honey and have a cheer,” was her greeting and she added that Julia had “stepped across de street to visit ’round a little.” Soon the neighborhood was echoing and reverberating as the call, “Tell Aunt Julia somebody wants to see her at her house,” was repeated from cabin to cabin. A few moments later Julia walked in. Yellowish gingercake in color, and of rather dumpy figure, she presented a clean, neat appearance. She and her daughter, who cooks for a dentist’s family, take much pride in their attractively furnished home. Julia was of pleasant manner and seemed anxious to tell all that she could. It is doubtful if Rosa made much progress with her ironing in an adjoining room, for every few minutes she came to the door to remind her mother of some incident that she had heard her tell before.

Julia began her story by saying: “I was born in Monroe, Georgia and b’longed to Marster John Grant. My Mamma was Mittie Johnson, and she died de year ‘fore de war ended. I don’t ‘member my Pa. Mamma had four chillun. Richard and Thomas Grant was my brothers, but me and my sister Hattie was Johnsons. Marse John had a big plantation and a heap of slaves. Dey was rich, his folks was. Dey is de folks dat give Grant’s Park to Atlanta.

“Dey called my grandpa, ‘Uncle Abram.’ Atter he had wukked hard in de field all day, he would jus’ lay down on a bench at night and sleep widout pullin’ off his clothes. Us had home-made beds in de cabins widout no paint on ’em. Evvything slaves had was home-made, jus’ wooden-legged things. Even de coffins was made at home out of pine wood. Now me, I didn’t sleep in de cabin much. I slept on a little trundle bed up at de big house. In de daytime my bed was pushed back up under one of de big beds.

“Marse John’s son, Marse Willie Grant, blowed de bugle in de mornin’s by 4 o’clock to git de slaves up in time to be in de fields by daybreak. When slaves got too old to wuk, dey took keer of de chillun in a house down below de kitchen. Mamma wukked in de field when she was able. Nobody on our place had to wuk in de fields on Sadday evenin’s. Dat was de time de ‘omans washed deir clothes and cleaned up.

“Chillun didn’t have much to do. Us loved to hunt for turkey nests ’cause dey give us a teacake for evvy turkey egg us fetched in. Chillun et in de yard at de big house, whar dey give us plenty of meat and cornbread wid good vegetables for dinner. For breakfast and supper, us had mostly buttermilk and cornbread. On Sundays us had bread made from wheat flour and sopped good old syrup wid it. Sometimes Marse John would give us ‘mission to kill little pigs at night and broil ’em over de coals in our yards, and how us did enjoy ’em! I ain’t never suffered for nothin’ in all my life, ’cause de Grants was mighty good white folks. De old White home on Prince Avenue was deir summer home. When dey built it, woods was all ’round and dere warn’t many houses in dat section.

“Us had plenty of clothes made out of homespun checks, and Marse John give us brass-toed shoes. Our dresses was well sewed and made wid belts to ’em. Nobody went ’bout half naked on our plantation lak some of de old folks f’um other farms talks ’bout. Us had good well-made clothes, even if dey was made out of common cloth.

“Nobody on our plantation run away to de North, and de paddyrollers didn’t git nobody at our place neither. Marse John was too good to evvybody for his slaves to want to cut up and run ‘way and do things to make de paddyrollers hunt ’em down. Dey didn’t have no jails ’cause dey didn’t need none on our place. Sometimes Marse John made a colored man named Uncle Jim Cooper give ’em a good whuppin’ when dey needed it.

“When us was sick, dey give us herbs and things of dat sort. In de springtime, dey give us jerusalem oak seed in syrup for nine mornin’s and by den us was allus rid of de worms. Dey ‘tended to slave chillun so good and dutiful dat dere warn’t many of ’em died, and I don’t never ‘member no doctor comin’ to my Mamma’s house.

“Old Missus used to teach us in da blue back speller, and when I didn’t know my lesson she made me run f’um de house to de gyarden gate for punishment. De more words I missed; de more times I had to run. Us had our own church services on de plantation under home-made brush arbors, and our colored preacher was Uncle Charles Cooper.

“Once some sojers come by our place lookin’ for Marse John. He had done hid in de loft of de meat house and told evvybody on de place dey better not tell whar he was. Dey didn’t find Marse John, but dey did find his son, Marse Willie, and dey tuk him ‘long wid ’em. Marse Willie was de only chile dat Marster and Missus had and it nearly killed ’em for him to be tuk ‘way from ’em. When Mr. Lincoln’s general got to our place he was a-ridin’ a big red hoss dat sho’ was a grand animal. Dem sojers went in de smokehouses and stores evvywhar and tuk what dey wanted.

“Not long ‘fore de war ended, my Mamma tuk a ‘lapse f’um measles and died. ‘Fore she died, she sont for Marse John and told him what she wanted done, and he done jus’ what she axed. She give him my brothers, Richard and Thomas, and told him to take dem two boys and to make men out of ’em by makin’ ’em wuk hard. I jus’ lak to have died when my Mamma died. Dey carried her to de graveyard and put her down in de grave and I jus’ couldn’t help it; I jumped right down in dat grave wid her, and dey had to take me out. My brothers said I was plum crazy dat day.

“Atter de war was over, Marster moved his family to Atlanta on Peachtree Street. His grandson dat was born dat year died not long ago. Dey didn’t have no farm in Atlanta and so dey didn’t need all deir old servants. My sister Hattie was a baby and Auntie tuk her to Atlanta wid de Grants.

“I don’t know what ‘come of de others on Marster’s farm. I had to git in a covered wagon and come wid my Uncle Jordan Johnson to Athens. I didn’t want to leave, and I hid down under our things in de wagon when dey made me come. When us crossed de river, I was sho’ us was ’bout to git drownded. One time atter dat us tuk a trip to Madison to see de old breastplates (breastworks) dar.

“My brother Tom got to be captain of a colored troop dat went to de Philippine Islands. Over dar de sojers kilt a big snake and et it all but de head. He had dat thing stuffed and brought it home. Atter he left de army, he got a job in de Atlanta Post Office whar he wukked ’til he was ‘tired.

“I was hired out to de Marks family and stayed dar for years and dat was a mighty good place to be hired out. I was married twice. Me and Crit Clayton married at home. I ain’t never seed nothin’ lak dat pretty flowerdy weddin’ dress dat I wore and I had de prettiest hat and things dat I ever seed. My next husband was Andrew Cole—He was Rosa’s Pa. I forgits de name of de white preacher dat married us when us went to his house and axed him to. Four of our seven chillun is still livin’.

“Dey tells me our old big house near Monroe is standin’ yit, and I sho’ do wish I could see it once more ‘fore I die, but since I broke my hip a few years ago I jus’ don’t ride in dem automobiles. No Ma’am, I don’t limp. De Lord was good to heal my hip and I ain’t takin’ no chances on breakin’ no more of my bones.”

Cole, Grant, Johnson,

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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