Slave Narrative of Julia Woodberry

Interviewer: Annie Ruth Davis
Person Interviewed: Julia Woodberry
Date of Interview: October-November, 1937
Location: Marion, South Carolina

“Well, I can speak bout what I used to hear my auntie en my mammy en my grandmammy talk bout what happen in dey day, but I never didn’ live in slavery time. My mammy, she been broke her leg long time fore freedom come here en I remember she tell me often times, say, ‘Julia, you didn’ lack much of comin here a slavery child.’ Honey, I mean she been in de family way right sharp fore freedom come here.

“My mammy, she was raise right down dere to de other side de jail to de ‘Cedars’. You know dere whe’ all dem cedars round dat house what bout to fall down. She belong to de lawyer Phillips dere en he wouldn’ never allow her to get out de family. She had been a free woman fore he had stole her off de sea beach to be his house woman. Yes, mam, stole my mammy en uncle John, too, off de sea beach, but uncle John went back after freedom come here. My mammy, she been raise from just a child to be de house woman dere to de lawyer Phillips en she never didn’ know nothin bout choppin cotton till her last baby been bout knee high.

“I remember how my mammy used to tell me bout dat de colored people won’ allowed to go from one plantation to another widout dey had a ‘mit (permit) from dey Massa. Yes, mam, all de niggers had to have dat strip somewhat bout dem to keep from gettin a beatin. Couldn’ leave dey home widout showin dat ‘mit from dey Massa. You see, de nigger men would want to go to see dey wives en dey would have to get a ‘mit from dey Massa to visit dem. Cose dey wouldn’ live together cause dey wives would be here, dere en yonder. It been like dis, sometimes de white folks would sell de wife of one of dey niggers way from dey husband en den another time, dey would sell de husband way from dey wife. Yes, mam, white folks had dese guard, call patroller, all bout de country to catch en whip dem niggers dat been prowl bout widout dat strip from dey Massa. I remember I hear talk dey say, ‘Patroller, Patroller, let nigger pass.’ Dey would say dat if de nigger had de strip wid dem en if dey didn’ have it, dey say, ‘Patroller, Patroller, cut nigger slash.'”

“Child, I tell you dat been a day to speak bout. When I come along, de women never vote, white nor colored, en it been years since I see a colored person vote, but I remember dey been gwine to vote in dat day en time just like dey was gwine to a show. Oh, honey, de road would be full of dem. Dey had to vote. Remember, way back dere, everybody would be singin en a dancin when dey had de election:

‘Hancock ride de big gray horse,
Hampton ride de mule,
Hancocks got elected,
Buckras all turn fool.
Buggety, buggety, buggety etc.'”
“White en black was all in a row dere dancin all night long. Ain’ made no exception.”

“I hear talk dat when freedom come here, de niggers was just turn loose to make dey livin de best way dey could. Say dat some of de white folks give dey niggers somethin to go on en some of dem didn’ spare dem nothin. Dey tell me old Sherman didn’ come through dis section of de country, but he sent somebody to divide out de things like so much corn en so much meat to de colored people. Now, I talkin bout dat what I hear de old people say. Put everything in Ben Thompson hand to deal out de colored people share to dem. Yes, mam, he was de one had de chair. Talk bout Sherman give Ben Thompson de chair, sayin what I hear de old people say. I don’ know exactly how it was, it been so long since de old people talk wid me. Dat it, it been so long till God knows, I forgot.”

“Well, I used to know a heap of dem songs dat I hear my auntie en my grandmammy sing dere home when I was comin up. Let me see, child, dey was natural born song too.

‘I got somethin to tell you,
Bow-hoo, oo-hoo, oo-hoo.
I got somethin to tell you,
Bow-hoo, oo-hoo, oo-hoo.
In a bow-hoo, oo-oo-hoo.

Way cross de ocean,
‘Mongst all dem nation,
Massa Jesus promise me,
He gwine come by en by,
He gwine come by en by.

Dere many miles round me,
De curried be so bold,
To think dat her son, Jesus,
Could write widout a pen,
Could write widout a pen.

De very next blessin dat Mary had,
She had de blessin of two,
To think dat her son, Jesus,
Could bring de crooked to straight,
Could bring de crooked to straight.'”
“Dat was my auntie’s grandmother Eve piece way back yonder in slavery time. Dat was her piece.”

“It just like I tellin you, dat been a day to speak bout. I remember when dey used to spin en weave all de cloth right dere home. Yes, mam, I wore many a wove dress to church. Dey would get dis here indigo en all kind of old bark out de woods en boil it in de pot wid de yarn en make de prettiest kind of colors. Den dey would take dat colored yarn en weave all kind of pretty streaks in de cloth. Dey would know just as good how many yards of dat thread it would take to make so much of cloth.”

“Yes, mam, I know dere been better livin long time ago den dere be now. Know it cause I didn’ never have no worryations no time when I was comin up. My God, child, I couldn’ make a support today if I know my neck had to be hung on de gallows. No, mam, dis here a sin cussed world de people livin in dis day en time.”

Phillips, Woodberry,

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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