Interviewer: T. Pat Matthews
Person Interviewed: Zeb Crowder
Location: 323 E. Cabarrus Street, North Carolina
I wont nuthin’ in slavery time and I aint nuthin’ now. All de work I am able ter do now is a little work in de garden. Dey say I is too ole ter work, so charity gives me a little ter go upon every week. For one weeks ‘lowance o’ sumptin’ ter eat dey gives me, hold on, I will show you, dat beats guessin’. Here it is: 1/2 peck meal (corn meal), 2 lbs oat meal, 2 lb dry skim milk, and 1 lb plate meat. Dis is what I gits fer one week ‘lowance. I can’t work much, but de white folks gib me meals fur washin’ de woodwork in dere houses, de white folks in Hayes’s Bottom. What little I do, I does fer him. He gives me meals for workin’. De charity gives me about 80 cts worth o’ rations a week.
I wus seven years old when de Yankees come through. All de niggers ‘cept me an’ de white folks ran to de woods. I didn’t have sense enough ter run, so I stayed on de porch where dey were passin’ by. One of ’em pointed his gun at me. I remember it as well as it was yisterday. Yes sir, I seed de Yankees and I remember de clothes dey wore. Dey were blue and dere coats had capes on’ em and large brass buttons. De niggers and white folks were afraid of’ em. De ole house where dey came by, an’ me on de porch is still standin’, yes sir, and dey are livin’ in it now. It belongs to Ralph Crowder, and he has a fellow by de name o’ Edward, a colored man, livin’ dere now. De house is de udder side o’ Swift Creek, right at Rands Mill. I belonged ter ole man William Crowder durin’ slavery, Tom Crowder’s daddy. Ralph is Tom’s son. My missus wus named Miss Melvina an’ if I lives ter be a hundred years old I will never forget dem white folks. Yes sir, dey shore wus good ter us. We had good food, good clothes and a good place ter sleep.
My mother died before de war, but Miss Melvina wus so good ter us we didn’t know so much difference. Mother wus de first person I remember seein’ dead. When she died Miss Melvina, marster’s wife, called us chillun in and says, ‘Chillun your mother is dead, but anything in dis kitchen you wants ter eat go take it, but don’t slip nuthin’. If you slip it you will soon be stealin’ things.’ I had four brothers and one sister, and none of us never got into trouble ’bout stealin’. She taught us ter let other people’s things alone.
My father wus named Waddy Crowder. My mother wus named Neelie Crowder. Grandpa was named Jacob Crowder and grandma was named Sylvia Crowder. I know dem jist as good as if it wus yisterday.
Never went ter school a day in my life. I can’t read an’ write. Dey would not ‘low slaves ter have books, no sir reee, no, dat dey wouldn’t. We went wid de white folks to church; dey were good ter us, dat’s de truth. Dere aint many people dat knows ’bout dem good times. Dey had a lot o’ big dinners and when de white folks got through I would go up and eat all I wanted.
I ‘member choppin’ cotton on Clabber branch when I wus a little boy before de surrender. When de surrender come I didn’t like it. Daddy an’ de udders didn’t like it, ’cause after de surrender dey had to pay marster fer de meat an’ things. Before dat dey didn’t have nuthin’ to do but work. Dere were eight slaves on de place in slavery time. Clabber branch run into Swift Creek. Lord have mercy, I have caught many a fish on dat branch. I also piled brush in de winter time. Birds went in de brush ter roost. Den we went bird blindin’. We had torches made o’ lightwood splinters, and brushes in our han’s, we hit de piles o’ brush after we got ’round ’em. When de birds come out we would kill ’em. Dere were lots o’ birds den. We killed’ em at night in the sage fields where broom grass was thick. Dem were de good times. No sich times now. We killed robins, doves, patridges and other kinds o’ birds. Dey aint no such gangs o’ birds now. We briled ’em over coals o’ fire and fried ’em in fryin’ pans, and sometimes we had a bird stew, wid all de birds we wanted. De stew wus de bes’ o’ all. Dere aint no sich stews now. We put flour in de stew. It was made into pastry first, and we called it slick. When we cooked chicken wid it we called it chicken slick.
Dere were no overseers on our plantation. Marster wouldn’t let you have any money on Sunday. He would not trade on Sunday. He would not handle money matters on Monday, but ‘ceptin’ dese two days if you went to him he would keep you. He was who a good ole man. Dat’s de truf.
The Ku Klux would certainly work on you. If dey caught you out of your place dey would git wid you. I don’t remember anything ’bout de Freedman’s Bureau but de Ku Klux Klan was something all niggers wus scared of. Yes sir, dey would get wid you. Dats right. Ha! Ha! Dat’s right.
I never seen a slave whupped, no sir, I never see a slave sold. I saw de speculators do’. I saw de patterollers, but dey didn’t never whup my daddy. Dey run him one time, but dey couldn’t cotch him. Marster Crowder allus give daddy a pass when he asked fer it.
I believe ole marster an’ ole missus went right on ter Heaven, Yes, I do believe dat. Dat’s de truf. Yes, my Lawd, I would like to see’ em right now. Dere is only one o’ de old crowd livin’, an’ dat is Miss Cora. She stays right here in Raleigh.
We used to have candy pullin’s, an’ I et more ash cakes den anybody. We cooked ash cakes out o’ meal. We had dances in de winter time, and other plays. I played marbles an’ runnin’ an’ jumpin’ when I wus a chile. Dey give us sasafrac tea sweetened to eat wid bread. It shore wus mighty good. My father never married enny more. He settled right down after de war and farmed fer his old marster and all we chillun stayed. We didn’t want ter leave, an’ I would be wid ’em right now if dey wus livin’.
I got married when I wus 21 years old, and moved ter myself in a little house on de plantation. De house is standin’ dere now, de house where I lived den. I seed it de udder day when I went out dere to clean off my wife’s grave. I married Lula Hatcher. She died ’bout ten years ago. I married her in Georgia. I stayed dere a long time when missus’ brother, Wiley Clemmons, went ter Georgia ter run turpentine an’ tuck me wid him. I stayed dere till he died; an’ Mr. Tom Crowder went after him an’ brought him back home an’ buried him at de ole home place. He is buried right dere at de Crowder place.
I have worked wid some o’ de Crowders mos’ all my life and I miss dem people, when one of ’em dies. Dey allus give my daddy outside patches, and he made good on it. He cleaned up seven acres, and do you know how he fenced it? Wid nuthin’ but bresh. An’ hogs an’ cows didn’t go in dere neither. We had lots o’ game ter eat. Marster ‘lowed my daddy ter hunt wid a gun, and he killed a lot o’ rabbits, squirrels, an’ game. We trapped birds an’ caught rabbits in boxes. Daddy caught possums an’ coons wid dogs. One o’ my brothers is livin’ at Garner, N. C. I am four years older den he is. From what little judgment I got I thought a right smart o’ Abraham Lincoln, but I tells you de truf Mr. Roosevelt has done a lot o’ good. Dats de truf. I likes him.
[Footnote 5: The Negroes call the tall grass sage.]