Slave Narrative of Willis Cozart

Interviewer: Mary A. Hicks
Person Interviewed: Willis Cozart
Date of Interview: May 12, 1937
Location: Zebulon, North Carolina
Place of Birth: Pearson County NC
Date of Birth: June 11, 1845
Age: 92

An Interview by Mary A. Hicks with Willis Cozart of Zebulon, (Wake Co. N. C.) Age 92. May 12, 1937.

No mam, Mistress, I doan want ter ride in no automobile, thank you, I’se done walked these three miles frum Zebulon an’ walkin’ is what has kept me goin’ all dese years.

Yes’m I’se a bachelor an’ I wuz borned on June 11, 1845 in Person County. My papa wuz named Ed an’ my maw wuz named Sally. Dar wuz ten of us youngins, Morris, Dallas, Stephen, Jerry, Florence, Polly, Lena, Phillis, Caroline, an’ me. Mr. Starling Oakley of Person County, near Roxboro wuz my master an’ as long as him an’ ole mistress lived I went back ter see dem.

He wuz right good to de good niggers an’ kinder strick wid de bad ones. Pusonly he ain’t never have me whupped but two or three times. You’s hyard ’bout dese set down strikes lately, well dey ain’t de fust ones. Onct when I wuz four or five years old, too little to wuck in de fiel’s, my master sot me an’ some more little chilluns ter wuck pullin’ up weeds roun’ de house. Well, I makes a speech and I tells dem le’s doan wuck none so out we sprawls on de grass under de apple tree. Atter awhile ole master found us dar, an’ when he fin’s dat I wuz de ring-leader he gives me a little whuppin’.

Hit wuz a big plantation, round 1,200 acres o’ land, I reckon, an’ he had ’bout seventy or eighty slaves to wuck de cotton, corn, tobacco an’ de wheat an’ vege’bles. De big house wuz sumpin to look at, but de slave cabins wuz jist log huts wid sand floors, and stick an’ dirt chimneys. We wuz ‘lowed ter have a little patch o’ garden stuff at de back but no chickens ner pigs. De only way we had er’ makin’ money wuz by pickin’ berries an’ sellin’ ’em. We ain’t had much time to do dat, case we wucked frum sunup till sundown six days a week.

De master fed us as good as he knowed how, but it wuz mostly on bread, meat, an’ vege’bles.

I ‘members seberal slave sales whar dey sold de pappy or de mammy ‘way frum de chillums an’ dat wuz a sad time. Dey led dem up one at de time an’ axed dem questions an’ dey warn’t many what wuz chained, only de bad ones, an’ sometime when dey wuz travelin’ it wuz necessary to chain a new gang.

I’se seed niggers beat till da blood run, an’ I’se seed plenty more wid big scars, frum whuppin’s but dey wuz de bad ones. You wuz whupped ‘cordin ter de deed yo’ done in dem days. A moderate whuppin’ wuz thirty-nine or forty lashes an’ a real whuppin’ wuz a even hundred; most folks can’t stand a real whuppin’.

Frum all dis you might think dat we ain’t had no good times, but we had our co’n shuckin’s, candy pullin’s an’ sich like. We ain’t felt like huntin’ much, but I did go on a few fox hunts wid de master. I uster go fishin’ too, but I ain’t been now since 1873, I reckon. We sometimes went ter de neighborhood affairs if’n we wuz good, but if we wuzn’t an’ didn’t git a pass de patter-rollers would shore git us. When dey got through whuppin’ a nigger he knowed he wuz whupped too.

De slave weddin’s in dat country wuz sorta dis way: de man axed de master fer de ‘oman an’ he jist told dem ter step over de broom an’ dat wuz de way dey got married dem days; de pore white folks done de same way.

Atter de war started de white folks tried ter keep us niggers frum knowin’ ’bout it, but de news got aroun’ somehow, an’ dar wuz some talk of gittin’ shet of de master’s family an’ gittin’ rich. De plans didn’t ‘mout to nothin’ an’ so de Yankees come down.

I ‘members moughty well when de Yankees come through our country. Dey stold ever’thing dey could find an’ I ‘members what ole master said. He says, ‘Ever’ one dat wants ter wuck fer me git in de patch ter pullin’ dat forty acres of fodder an’ all dat don’t git up de road wid dem d—-Yankees.’ Well we all went away.

Dat winter wuz tough, all de niggers near ’bout starved ter death, an’ we ain’t seed nothin’ of de forty acres of land an’ de mule what de Yankees done promise us nother. Atter awhile we had ter go ter our ole masters an’ ax ’em fer bread ter keep us alive.

De Klu Klux Klan sprung right up out of de earth, but de Yankees put a stop ter dat by puttin’ so many of dem in jail. Dey do say dat dat’s what de State Prison wus built fer.

I never believed in witches an’ I ain’t put much stock in hain’ts but I’se seed a few things durin’ my life dat I can’t ‘splain, like de thing wid de red eyes dat mocked me one night; but shucks I ain’t believin’ in dem things much. I’se plowed my lan’, tended it year atter year, lived by myself an’ all, an’ I ain’t got hurted yet, but I ain’t never rid in a automobile yet, an’ I got one tooth left.

Cozart, Oakley,

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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