Slave Narrative of Mrs. Emmaline Heard

Person Interviewed: Emmaline Heard
Location: 239 Cain Street

On December 3 and 4, 1936, Mrs. Emmaline Heard was interviewed at her home, 239 Cain Street. The writer had visited Mrs. Heard previously, and it was at her own request that another visit was made. This visit was supposed to be one to obtain information and stories on the practice of conjure. On two previous occasions Mrs. Heard’s stories had proved very interesting, and I knew as I sat there waiting for her to begin that she had something very good to tell me. She began:

“Chile, this story wuz told ter me by my father and I know he sho wouldn’t lie. Every word of it is the trufe; fact, everything I ebber told you wuz the trufe. Now, my pa had a brother, old Uncle Martin, and his wife wuz name Julianne. Aunt Julianne used ter have spells and fight and kick all the time. They had doctor after doctor but none did her any good. Somebody told Uncle Martin to go ter a old conjurer and let the doctors go cause they wan’t doing nothing fer her anyway. Sho nuff he got one ter come see her and give her some medicine. This old man said she had bugs in her head, and after giving her the medicine he started rubbing her head. While he rubbed her head he said: ‘Dar’s a bug in her head; it looks jest like a big black roach. Now, he’s coming out of her head through her ear; whatever you do, don’t let him get away cause I want him. Whatever you do, catch him; he’s going ter run, but when he hits the pillow, grab ’em. I’m go take him and turn it back on the one who is trying ter send you ter the grave.’ Sho nuff that bug drap out her ear and flew; she hollered, and old Uncle Martin ran in the room, snatched the bed clothes off but they never did find him. Aunt Julianne never did get better and soon she died. The conjurer said if they had a caught the bug she would a lived.”

The next story is a true story. The facts as told by Mrs. Heard were also witnessed by her; as it deals with the conjuring of one of her sons. It is related in her exact words as nearly as possible.

“I got a son named Albert Heard. He is living and well; but chile, there wuz a time when he wuz almost ter his grave. I wuz living in town then, and Albert and his wife wuz living in the country with their two chillun. Well, Albert got down sick and he would go ter doctors, and go ter doctors, but they didn’t do him any good. I wuz worried ter death cause I had ter run backards and for’ards and it wuz a strain on me. He wuz suffering with a knot on his right side and he couldn’t even fasten his shoes cause it pained him so, and it wuz so bad he couldn’t even button up his pants. A ‘oman teached school out there by the name of Mrs. Yancy; she’s dead now but she lived right here on Randolph Street years ago. Well, one day when I wuz leaving Albert’s house I met her on the way from her school. ‘Good evening, Mrs. Heard,’ she says. ‘How is Mr. Albert?’ I don’t hardly know, I says, cause he don’t get no better. She looked at me kinda funny and said, don’t you believe he’s hurt?’ Yes mam, I said, I sho do. ‘Well,’ says she, ‘I been wanting to say something to you concerning this but I didn’t know how you would take it. If I tell you somewhere ter go will you go, and tell them I sent you?’ Yes mam, I will do anything if Albert can get better. ‘All right then’, she says. ‘Catch the Federal Prison car and get off at Butler St.’ In them days that car came down Forrest Ave. ‘When you get to Butler St.’, she says, ‘walk up to Clifton St. and go to such and such a number. Knock on the door and a ‘oman by the name of Mrs. Hirshpath will come ter the door. Fore she let you in she go ask who sent you there; when you tell ‘er, she’ll let you in. Now lemme tell you she keeps two quarts of whisky all the time and you have ter drink a little with her; sides that she cusses nearly every word she speaks; but don’t let that scare you; she will sho get your son up if it kin be done.’ Sho nuff that old ‘oman did jest lak Mrs. Yancy said she would do. She had a harsh voice and she spoke right snappy. When she let me in she said, sit down. You lak whisky?’ I said, well, I take a little dram sometimes. ‘Well, here take some of this’, she said. I poured a little bit and drank it kinda lak I wuz afraid. She cursed and said ‘I ain’t go conjure you. Drink it.’ She got the cards and told me to cut ’em, so I did. Looking at the cards, she said: ‘You lak ter wait too long; they got him marching to the cemetery. The poor thing! I’ll fix those devils. (A profane word was used instead of devils). He got a knot on his side, ain’t he?’ Yes, Mam, I said. That ‘oman told me everything that was wrong with Albert and zackly how he acted. All at once she said; ‘If them d—-d things had hatched in him it would a been too late. If you do zackly lak I tell you I’ll get him up from there.’ I sho will, I told her. ‘Well, there’s a stable sets east of his house. His house got three rooms and a path go straight to the stable. I see it there where he hangs his harness. Yes, I see it all, the devils! Have you got any money?’ Yes, mam, a little, I said. ‘All right then,’ she said. ‘Go to the drug store and get 5¢ worth of blue stone; 5¢ wheat bran; and go ter a fish market and ask ’em ter give you a little fish brine; then go in the woods and get some poke-root berries. Now, there’s two kinds of poke-root berries, the red skin and the white skin berry. Put all this in a pot, mix with it the guts from a green gourd and 9 parts of red pepper. Make a poultice and put to his side on that knot. Now, listen, your son will be afraid and think you are trying ter do something ter him but be gentle and persuade him that its fer his good.’ Child, he sho did act funny when I told him I wanted to treat his side. I had ter tell him I wuz carrying out doctors orders so he could get well. He reared and fussed and said he didn’t want that mess on him. I told him the doctor says you do very well till you go ter the horse lot then you go blind and you can’t see. He looked at me. ‘Sho nuff, Ma, he said, ‘that sho is the trufe. I have ter always call one of the chillun when I go there cause I can’t see how ter get back ter the house.’ Well, that convinced him and he let me fix the medicine for him. I put him ter bed and made the poultice, then I put it ter his side. Now this ‘oman said no one wuz ter take it off the next morning but me. I wuz suppose ter fix three, one each night, and after taking each one off ter bury it lak dead folks is buried, east and west, and ter make a real grave out of each one. Well, when I told him not ter move it the next morning, but let me move it, he got funny again and wanted to know why. Do you know I had ter play lak I could move it without messing up my bed clothes and if he moved it he might waste it all. Finally he said he would call me the next morning. Sho nuff, the next morning he called me, ma! ma! come take it off. I went in the room and he wuz smiling. I slept all night long he said, and I feel so much better. I’m so glad, I said, and do you know he could reach down and fasten up his shoe and it had been a long time since he could do that. Later that day I slipped out and made my first grave under the fig bush in the garden. I even put up head boards, too. That night Albert said, ‘Mama, fix another one. I feel so much better.’ I sho will, I said. Thank God you’re better; so fer three nights I fixed poultices and put ter his side and each morning he would tell me how much better he felt. Then the last morning I wuz fixing breakfast and he sat in the next room. After while Albert jumped up and hollered, Ma! Ma!’ What is it,’ I said. ‘Mama, that knot is gone. It dropped down in my pants.’ What! I cried. Where is it? Chile, we looked but we didn’t find anything, but the knot had sho gone. Der ‘oman had told me ter come back when the knot moved and she would tell me what else ter do. That same day I went ter see her and when I told her she just shouted, ‘I fixed ’em, The devils! Now, says she, do you [TR: know?] where you can get a few leaves off a yellow peachtree. It must be a yellow peach tree, though. Yes, mam, I says to her. I have a yellow peachtree right there in my yard. Well, she says, get a handful of leaves, then take a knife and scrape the bark up, then make a tea and give him so it will heal up the poison from that knot in his side, also mix a few jimson weeds with it. I come home and told him I wanted ter give him a tea. He got scared and said, what fer, Ma? I had ter tell him I wuz still carrying out the doctor’s orders. Well, he let me give him the tea and that boy got well. I went back to Mrs. Hirshpath and told her my son was well and I wanted to pay her. Go on, she said, keep the dollar and send your chillun ter school. This sho happened ter me and I know people kin fix you. Yes sir.”

The next story was told to Mrs. Heard by Mrs. Hirshpath, the woman who cured her son.

I used to go see that ‘oman quite a bit and even sent some of my friends ter her. One day while I wuz there she told me about this piece of work she did.

“There was a young man and his wife and they worked fer some white folks. They had jest married and wuz trying ter save some money ter buy a home with. All at onct the young man went blind and it almost run him and his wife crazy cause they didn’t know what in the world ter do. Well, somebody told him and her about Mrs. Hirshpath, so they went ter see her. One day, says Mrs. Hirshpath, a big fine carriage drew up in front of her door and the coachman helped him to her door. She asked him who sent him and he told her. She only charged 50¢ for giving advice and after you wuz cured it wuz up ter you to give her what you wanted to. Well, this man gave her 50¢ and she talked ter him. She says, boy, you go home and don’t you put that cap on no more. What cap? he says. That cap you wears ter clean up the stables with, cause somebody done dressed that cap fer you, and every time you perspire and it run down ter your eyes it makes you blind. You jest get that cap and bring it ter me. I’ll fix ’em; they’s trying ter make you blind, but I go let you see. The boy was overjoyed, and sho nuff he went back and brought her that cap, and it wuzn’t long fore he could see good as you and me. He brought that ‘oman $50, but she wouldn’t take but $25 and give the other $25 back ter him.

“What I done told you is the trufe, every word of it; I know some other things that happened but you come back anudder day fer that.”


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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