Slave Narrative of Dora Franks

Interviewer: Mrs. Richard Kolb
Person Interviewed: Dora Franks
Location: Aberdeen, Mississippi
Place of Residence: Aberdeen, Monroe County, Mississippi
Age: 100 (?)

Dora Franks, ex-slave, lives at Aberdeen, Monroe County. She is about five feet tall and weighs 100 pounds. Her hair is inclined to be curly rather than kinky. She is very active and does most of her own work.

“I was born in Choctaw County, but I never knowed zackly how old I was, ’cause none o’ my folks could read an’ write. I reckon I be’s ’bout a hund’ed, ’cause I was a big girl long time fo’ Surrender. I was old ‘nough to marry two years after dat.

“My mammy come from Virginny. Her name was Harriet Brewer. My daddy was my young Marster. His name was Marster George Brewer an’ my mammy always tol’ me dat I was his’n. I knew dat dere was some dif’ence ‘tween me an’ de res’ o’ her chillun, ’cause dey was all coal black, an’ I was even lighter dan I is now. Lawd, it’s bean to my sorrow many a time, ’cause de chillun used to chase me ’round an’ holler at me, ‘Old yallow Nigger.’ Dey didn’ treat me good, neither.

“I stayed in de house mos’ o’ de time wid Miss Emmaline. Miss Emmaline’s hair was dat white, den. I loved her’ cause she was so good to me. She taught me how to weave an’ spin. ‘Fore I was bigger’n a minute I could do things dat lots o’ de old han’s couldn’ come nigh doin’. She an’ Marse Bill had ’bout eight chillun, but mos’ of ’em was grown when I come ‘long. Dey was all mighty good to me an’ wouldn’ ‘low nobody to hurt me.

“I ‘members one time when dey all went off an’ lef’ me wid a old black woman call Aunt Ca’line what done de cookin’ ’round de place some o’ de time. When dey lef’ de house I went in de kitchen an’ asked her for a piece o’ white bread lak de white folks eat. She haul off an’ slap me down an’ call me all kin’ o’ names dat I didn’ know what dey meant. My nose bled an’ ruint de nice clean dress I had on. When de Mistis come back Marse George was wid ‘er. She asked me what on earth happen to me an’ I tol’ ‘er. Dey call Ca’line in de room an’ asked her if what I say was de truf. She tell ’em it was, an’ dey sent ‘er away. I hear tell dat dey whup her so hard dat she couldn’ walk no mo’.

“Us never had no big fun’als or weddin’s on de place. Didn’ have no marryin’ o’ any kin’. Folks in dem days jus’ sorter hitched up together an’ call deyse’ves man an’ wife. All de cullud folks was buried on what dey called Platnum Hill. Dey didn’ have no markers nor nothin’ at de graves. Dey was jus’ sunk in places. My brother Frank showed me once where my mammy was buried. Us didn’ have no preachin’, or singin’, or nothin’, neither. Us didn’ even git to have meetin’s on Sund’y less us slip off an’ go to some other plantation. Course, I got to go wid de white folks sometime an’ set in de back, or on de steps. Dat was whan I was little.

“Lots o’ Niggers would slip off from one plantation to de other to see some other Niggers. Dey would always manage to git back’ fore daybreak. De wors’ thing I ever heard ’bout dat was once when my Uncle Alf run off to ‘jump de broom.’ Dat was what dey called goin’ to see a woman. He didn’ come back by daylight, so dey put de Nigger hounds after him. Dey smelled his trail down in de swamp an’ foun’ where he was hidin’.

“Now, he was one of da biggest Niggers on de place an’ a powerful fas’ worker. But dey took an’ give him 100 lashes wid de cat o’ ninety-nine tails. His back was somethin’ awful, but dey put him in de fiel’ to work while de blood was still a-runnin’. He work right hard ’til dey lef’. Den, when he got up to de end o’ de row nex’ to de swamp, he lit out ag’in.

“Dey never foun’ ‘im dat time. Dey say he foun’ a cave an’ fix him up a room whar he could live. At nights he would come out on de place an’ steal enough t’eat an’ cook it in his little dugout. When de war was over an’ de slaves was freed, he come out. When I saw him, he look lak a hairy ape, ‘thout no clothes on an’ hair growin’ all over his body.

“Dem was pretty good days back in slav’ry times. My Marstar had a whole passal o’ Niggers on his place. When any of ’em would git sick dey would go to de woods an’ git herbs an roots an’ make tea for ’em to drink. Hogweed an’ May apples was de bes’ things I knowed of. Sometimes old Mistis doctored ’em herse’f. One time a bunch o’ us chillun was playin’ in de woods an foun’ some o’ dem May apples. Us et a lot of ’em an’ got awful sick. Dey dosed us up on grease an’ Samson snake root to clean us out. An’ it sho’ done a good job. I’se been a-usin’ dat snake root ever since.

“De firs’ thing dat I ‘member hearin’ ’bout de war was one day when Marse George come in de house an’ tell Miss Emmaline dat dey’s gwine have a bloody war. He say he feared all de slaves ‘ud be took away. She say if dat was true she feel lak jumpin’ in de well. I hate to hear her say dat, but from dat minute I started prayin’ for freedom. All de res’ o’ de women done de same.

“De war started pretty soon after dat an’ all de men folks went off an’ lef’ de plantation for de women an’ de Niggers to run. Us seen de sojers pass by mos’ ever’ day. Once de Yankees come an’ stole a lot o’ de horses an’ somp’in’ t’eat. Dey even took de trunk full o’ ‘Federate money dat was hid in de swamp. How dey foun’ dat us never knowed.

“Marse George come home’ bout two years after de war started an’ married Miss Martha Ann. Dey had always been sweethearts. Dey was promised ‘fore he lef’.

“Marse Lincoln an’ Marse Jeff Davis is two I ‘members ’bout. But, Lawzee! Dat was a long time back. Us liked Marse Jeff Davis de bes’ on de place. Us even made up a song ’bout him, but, I ‘clare ‘fore goodness, I can’t even ‘member de firs’ line o’ dat song. You see, when I got ‘ligion, I asked de Lawd to take all de other songs out o’ my head an’ make room for his word.

“Since den it’s de hardes’ thing in de worl’ for me to ‘member de songs us used to dance by. I do’ member a few lak ‘Shoo, Fly’, ‘Old Dan Tucker’, an’ ‘Run, Nigger, Run, de Pateroller Catch You.’ I don’ ‘member much o’ de words. I does ‘member a little o’ ‘Old Dan Tucker.’ It went dis way:

‘Old Don Tucker was a mighty mean man,
He beat his wife wid a fryin’ pan.
She hollered an’ she cried, “I’s gwineter go,
Dey’s plenty o’ men, won’t beat me so.”

‘Git out o’ de way, Old Dan Tucker,
You come too late to git yo’ supper.

‘Old Dan Tucker, he got drunk,
Fell in de fire, kicked up a chunk,
Red hot coal got down his shoe
Oh, Great Lawd, how de ashes flew.

‘Git out o’ de way, Old Dan Tucker,
You come too late to git yo’ supper.’

“When de war was over, my brother Frank slipped in de house where I was still a-stayin’. He tol’ me us was free an’ for me to come out wid de res’. ‘Fore sundown dere warnt one Nigger lef’ on de place. I hear tell later dat de Mistis an’ de gals had to git out an’ work in de fiel’s to he’p gather in de crop.

“Frank foun’ us a place to work an’ put us all in de fiel’. I never had worked in de fiel’ before. I’d faint away mos’ ever’day ’bout eleven o’clock. It was de heat. Some of ’em would have to tote me to de house. I’d soon come to. Den I had to go back to de fiel’. Us was on Marse Davis Cox’s place den.

“Two years later I met Pet Franks an’ us married. De Cox’s was good folks an’ give us a big weddin’. All de white folks an’ de Niggers for miles a-round come to see us git married. De Niggers had a big supper an’ had a peck t’eat. Us had eight chillun, but aint but three of ’em livin’. Me an’ Pet aint been a-livin’ together for de las’ twenty-three years. Us jus’ couldn’ git ‘long together, so us quit. He lives out at Acker’s Fishing Lodge now an’ does de cookin’ for ’em.

“I never will forgit de Klu Klux Klan. Never will [TR: “I” deleted] forgit de way dat horn soun’ at night when dey was a-goin’ after some mean Nigger. Us’d all run an’ hide. Us was livin’ on de Troup place den, near old Hamilton, in one o’ de brick houses back o’ de house whar dey used to keep de slaves. Marse Alec Troup was one o’ de Klu Klux’s an’ so was Marse Thad Willis dat lived close by. Dey’d make plans together sometime an’ I’d hear ’em. One time dey caught me lis’nin’, but dey didn’ do nothin’ to me, ’cause dey knowed I warnt gwine tell. Us was all good Niggers on his place.

“Lawd, Miss, dese here young folks today is gwine straight to de Devil. All dey do all day an’ all night is run ’round an’ drink corn likker an’ ride in automobiles. I’se got a grand-daughter here, an’ she’s dat wil’. I worries a right smart ’bout her, but it don’t do no good, ’cause her mammy let her do jus’ lak she please anyhow.

“Den I tells you, de one thing I worries ’bout mos’. Dat is de white folks what lives here ‘mongst de Niggers. You know what kinda folks dey is, an’ it sho’ is bad influence on ’em. You knows Niggers aint s’posed to always know de right from de wrong. Dey aint got Marsters to teach ’em now. For de white folks to come down here an’ do lak dey do, I tells you, it aint right. De quality white folks ought-a do somethin’ bout it.

“I’s had a right hard life, but I puts my faith in de Lawd an’ I know ever’thing gwine come out all right. I’s lived a long life an’ will soon be a hund’ed, I guess. I’s glad dat slav’ry is over, ’cause de Bible don’t say nothin’ ’bout it bein right. I’s a good Christian. I gits sort-a res’less mos’ o’ de time an’ has to keep busy to keep from thinkin’ too much.”

Brewer, Franks,

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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