Slave Narrative of Alfred Sligh

Interviewer: Stiles M. Scruggs
Person Interviewed: Alfred Sligh
Location: Columbia, South Carolina
Place of Birth: Newberry County, South Carolina
Date of Birth: 1837
Age: 100
Place of Residence: 1317 Gregg Street

Ex-Slave 100 Years Old

Alfred Sligh, who lives in a rented house at 1317 Gregg Street, says he was born in Newberry County, South Carolina, in 1837. His hair is white and he is feeble. He goes about the city, on fair days, collecting small sums of money from his white friends and sometimes from his own race. In this way he earns most of his income.

“My folks was slaves of the Sligh family for many years, befo’ I was born. My mammy and daddy and me b’long to Butler Sligh, at de time I begin to do chores and take notice of things. I be nearly half grown when my young master, Butler Sligh, am just four years old. He die, four or five years ago. I guess you ‘member, ’cause he was a powerful well-known white man. He was seventy-five years old when he die.

“De young master, he name for my old master. De old master and ‘most all de white men of de neighborhood, ’round ’bout us, march off to de war in 1861. One day I see them ridin’ down de big road on many hosses and they wavin’ deir hats and singin’: ‘We gwine to hang Abe Lincoln on a sour apple tree!’ and they in fine spirits. My young master, Butler, who they call Junior at de time, he am too young to go with them so we stay home and farm. I go with him to de fields and he tell de slaves what to do. Durin’ de war I see much of de soldiers who say they not quit fightin’ ’til all de damn-Yankees am dead. Dis was so, durin’ de first two years. After dat I see more and more of de damn-Yankees, as they pass through ‘flictin’ punishment on ‘most everybody.

“Sho’ we hear dat all Negroes am free in 1863, but dat rumor not affect us. We work on, ’til Sherman come and burn and slash his way through de state in de spring of 1865. I just reckon I ‘member dat freedom to de end of my life.

“We gang up at my grandmother’s cabin and she tell us it am so. We look scared, lak mules in de midst of a hornet nest, as we stood dere. We didn’t wait long, for old Mistress Sligh she come ‘long and say: ‘Sho’ it am so, you am free.’ Many of de slaves, ‘cludin’ me, tell her we love to stay on and work as usual ’til de big white folks come. She smile and say: ‘All right, maybe we be able to feed and clothe you, and when your old master git back from Virginia, maybe he will hire you!’

“When I first marry, which was at de start of de war, I marry Sarah, a slave gal on de Sligh plantation. We has several chillun, befo’ she die, which was soon after we move to Columbia. De chillun, at least two boys and two gals, all git grown, but they go North a long time ago, and I never hears from them.

“When I come to Columbia in 1866, I find work on houses, and building was plentiful then. I git ‘long pretty well, then, ’cause if I did not land a job, I could go to de Freedman’s Aid Office at Assembly and Gervais streets and git rations and a little cash for my family. After de Freedman’s Aid left town I had no trouble findin’ work. And soon I was pretty prosperous. I kept that way, so long as I was able to do my share of de work.

“It was in 1913, as I was walkin’ ‘long Hampton Street, dat I see my present wife, Sadie. She pass by me, and smile and look and I smile and look, and she slow up a little and say: ‘What’s happen, big boy?’ I am so tickled, I say: ‘I just have to tell you:

‘De rose am red,
De violet’s blue,
No knife can cut
My love in two.’

“She say; ‘Pretty good, big boy, pretty good! Come ’round and see me sometime.’ I answer: ‘I sho’ will, Peaches and Cream’. And dat am just what I did. We got married dat same year, and we have been happy, ’til I git too old and feeble to work much. She work now to de best of her ability and we somtimes has a big squeeze to pay de rent. Dat is why I’m hopin’ to get de old age pension, made possible by de greatest President of them all.

“Does I recall de ‘sassination of de first President dat died dat way? Yes sir, I sho’ do. De first one was Abraham Lincoln, a little after de close of de war. He was shot while sittin’ in a seat in de theater at Washington. James A. Garfield, was de nex’ one. He was shot in de depot, at Washington. De nex’ one was McKinley. He was shot while at a show place, in Buffalo.”


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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