Slave Narrative of Alice Lewis

Interviewer: Ellen B. Warfield
Person Interviewed: Alice Lewis
Location: Baltimore, Maryland
Place of Birth: Wilkes County, Georgia
Age: 84

(Alice Lewis, ex-slave, 84, years old, in charge of sewing-room at Provident Hospital (Negro), Baltimore. Tall, slender, erect, her head crowned by abundant snow white wool, with a fine carriage and an air of poise mud self respect good to behold, Alice belies her 84 years.)

“Yes’m, I was born in slavery, I don’t look it, but I was! Way down in Wilkes County, Georgia, nigh to a little town named Washington which ain’t so far from Augusta. My pappy, he belong to the Alexanders, and my mammy, she belong to the Wakefiel’ plantation and we all live with the Wakefiel’s. No ma’am, none of the Wakefiel’ niggers ever run away. They was too well off! They knew who they friends was! My white folkses was good to their niggers! Them was the days when we had good food and it didn’t cost nothing—chickens and hogs and garden truck. Saturdays was the day we got our ‘lowance for the week, and lemme tell you, they didn’t stint us none. The best in the land was what we had, jest what the white folkses had.

“Clothes? yes’m. We had two suits of clothes, a winter suit and a summer suit and two pairs of shoes, a winter pair and a summer pair. Yes’m, my mammy, she spin the cotton, yes’m picked right on the plantation, yes’m, cotton picking was fun, believe me! As I was saying, Mammy she spin and she wears the cloth, and she cut it out and she make our clothes. That’s where I git my taste to sew, I reckon. When I first come to Baltimore, I done dressmaking, ‘deed I did. I sewed for the best fam’lies in this yere town. I sewed for the Howards and the Slingluffs and the Jenkinses. Jest the other day, I met Miss C’milla down town and she say. ‘Alice, ain’ this you? and I say, ‘Law me, Miss C’milla’, and ‘she say, ‘Alice, why don’ you come to see Mother? She ain’ been so well—she love to see you….’

“Well, as I was a saying, we didn’t work so hard, them days. We got up early, ’cause the fires had to be lighted to make the house warm for the white folks, but in them days, dinner was in the middle of the day—the quality had theirs at twelve o’clock—and they had a light supper at five and when we was through, we was through, and free to go the quarters and set around and smoke a pipe and rest.

“Yes’m they taught us to read and write. Sunday afternoons, my young mistresses used to teach the pickaninnies to read the Bible. Yes’m we was free to go to see the niggers on other plantations but we had to have a pass an’ we was checked in an’ out. No’m, I ain’t never seen no slaves sold, nor none in chains, and I ain’t never seen no Ku Kluxers.

“I live with the Wakefiel’s till I was ‘leven and then Marse Wakefiel’ give me to my young mistress when she married and went to North Carolina to live. And ’twas in North Carolina that I seed Sherman, ‘deed I did! I seed Sherman and his sojers, gathering up all the hogs and all the hosses, and all the cows and all the little cullud chillen. Them was drefful days! These is drefful days, too. Old man Satan, he sure am on earth now.

“Yes’m, I believes in ghos’ses. I ain’t never seed ’em but I is feel ’em. I live once in a house where a man was killed. I lie in my bed and they close in on me! No’m, I ain’t afraid. The landlord say when I move out, ‘you is stay there longer than anybody I ever had.’ ‘Nother house I live in (this was in North Carolina too), it had been a gamblin’ house and it had hants. On rainy nights, I’d lie awake and hear “drip, drip … drip, drip….” What was that? Why, that was the blood a dripping … Why on rainy night? Why, on rainy nights, the blood gets a little fresh…!”

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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