Slave Narrative of Charles Willis

Person Interviewed: Charles Willis
Place of Birth: Lawrence County, Mississippi

I found Mr. Willis seated on the front porch eating lemon drops out of a bag. He consumed the whole bag during the interview which lasted about 3 hours. He talked slowly and between his sucks on the lemon drops. He is hard of hearing and is losing his eyesight. He possesses a good sense of humor. Talked incessantly of matrimony and pretty gals. I was born in Lawrence County, Mississippi on the Sharp Plantation. My missus was name Sang Sharp and my mastah was name John Sharp. My mastah had 10 or 12 slaves and we done very well. Jining our place, the folks owned hundreds of slaves and jest beat them nearly to death. Even beat blood outta their back. I was whipped once by the white folks. That one time was by my mistress and don’t fergit she whipped me. I never remembah having shoes on only in winter time. Ever body wore them jest in winter time less they was able to buy some. We diden’ work Sadday afternoon and Sundays and doing of dis time off and in evenin’s off we would make money. My mother was a right yeller woman. She worked in the fields jest like I done. When she stood up, her hair fell on the floor. I tuck hair after her. My mother died 28 years ago at 92 years of age. My father was sold befo’ I could remember him. I never got no learning cause I jest diden have no chance. My mastah and mistress was old folks and diden have no chillun young ‘nuf to go to school. I was 15 years old when the war started. I remember ever thing ’bout that war. In fact I remembers ever thing ’bout all slavery. Grant and Lee met in Richmond, Virginia. Grant was over the Union army an’ Lee over the Yankees. When the war was over, all mastah could say was the Yankees done freed yo’all so you kin go where you wants. We stayed on 5 or 6 years and was paid 5 to 10 dollars per month and got room and board. There wasn’t a God’s thing to old Jefferson Davis. They wasn’t nuthin’ to him. He was ‘sposed to be president of the Rebels. He sho hid a lot to keep the niggers and soldiers from gittin’ him. I think Booker T. Washington did the cullud folks a lotta good. He was a principal down in Alabama. I think Mr. Lincoln was all right. Nothing short about him. He said ever race should be free as far as the ‘Merican flag rech, and when he signed that proclamation, it was the bes’ thing he ever done. He done more for us than any man done since Jesus lef’. I was a mill boy. Had to ride a horse 5 or 6 miles. No steam mill lak today. Gins run all night ginning cotton. Gals lake you was sold for seven or eight hundred dollars. The woman I married was sold for $800. Mastah and mistress was our only bosses and over seers. We had to ask them to go to church doing of the week. They sildom whipped us and didn’t ‘low nobody else to whip us. We went to the white folks church and stayed on the church porch or out under the trees right by so we could hear. We sing old hymns we don’t sing now. I am a Baptist and member of Tabernacle Baptist Church. I never seen no other ‘nomination I cared anything ’bout. We was let off Sadday at noon and could go to the fiddlin’s and dance all night. You could hear the niggers dancin’ a mile away. The same man called for us that called fer the white folks. He could sure call ’em too. We did the Back Step and Shuffle. The tunes was Egg Nog, Sugar and Beer and Natcha Under the Hill. I don’t recollect none of the words of the tunes. I married in February 1867. We moved to Oklahoma in 1891. My wife died in 1933. She was a good wife. My chillun is well read. How old are you? Would you marry a man 90 years old? I would like to marry a nice gal wid a job, cause I had to quit even odd jobs 10 years ago. If you say so, we’ll have a big dinner July 4th and be married. Come back and see me. Is this Monday? Come back Thursday and I’ll tell all my other gals to stay ‘way. Good bye, I gotta go in. Daughter, come give me a drink and take me in off the front porch.

Sharp, Willis,

Lawrence County MS,

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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