919 South Arch Street
Marion County, Missouri
William Black of 919 South Arch Street, Hannibal, Missouri, is one of the few ex-slaves living in Marion County. He is now about eighty-five years old, and has lived his entire life in Marion, Monroe, and Ralls Counties.
The following story is related by William Black:
“My mother and father came from Virginia. I don’t know how old I am, but I have had one birthday and the rest aniversities. I think I am about eighty-five years old. I was born in slavery and when I was eight years old was bonded out to Mr. Sam Briggs of New London. Mr. Briggs was a good master and I had little to do. My duty was to take his children to school and go after them in the evening. In the mean time I just piddled around in de fields.
“In the evening when the work was all done we would sit around and play marbles and sing songs. We made our songs up as we went along. Sometimes there would be a corn shucking and that is when we had a good time, but we always shucked a lot of that corn.
“I did not go to school any and today I do not even have the sense of writing at all. Unless someone guides my hand I cannot make a mark. I wish I wasn’t so old now so I could go to school and learn how to read and write.
“I remember one day when the master was gone, we darkies thought we would have a party. I guess the master knew we were going to have one, because that night, when we was all having a good time, my sister said to me, ‘Bill, over there is old master Sam.’ He had dressed up to look like us and see what we was up to. Master Sam didn’t do anything to us that time because he had too good a time his-self.
“At the age of thirteen my sister was bonded out to some man who was awful mean, she was a bad girl too. After we were freed she told me all about her old master. She said., ‘One Christmas my master was drunk and I went to wish him a merry Christmas and get some candy. He hit at me and I ducked and run around the house so fast that I burnt the grass around the house and I know that there ain’t any grass growing there yet.’
“When we was freed our master did not give us anything, but some clothes and five dollars. He told us we could stay if we wanted to, but we was so glad to be free that we all left him. He was a good man though.
“Durin’ de war we could not leave our master’s house to go to the neighbors without a pass. If we didn’t have a pass the paddyrollers would get us and kill us or take us away.
“After we was given our freedom we could vote, but some of us never did. To this day I have never voted. The government has been as good to us as they could. I get ten dollars a month and I think I should have more, but I know they are giving us all they can and some day they will give us ex-slaves more.
“I am glad that we have our churches and schools. We don’t have any business being with the good white people. They are cultured and we are not, but some day we will be as good and they will be glad to have us around them more. Just because we are black is no sign that we aren’t good niggers. “I don’t like the way the younger generation is doin’. As my neighbors say, ‘the devil is getting them and it won’t be long before he will come and get them all.’ When I was young we didn’t act like they do now-a-days. We didn’t get drunk and stay that way and kill each other. The good Lord is going to do something to all of them. Mark my word.
“I can’t remember some of the songs we sung, but when we were freed we sang ‘Master’s Body is Moulding in the Gravel, and I know some of them are.”
William Black lives by himself in a house owned by his daughter. He is unable to do any kind of manual labor and has not done any kind of work for about five years. He states that he is active in all religious affairs and attends church regularly. He is one of the few persons living in Marion County who raises tobacco. His garden plot, five feet by ten feet, is close to his house.