Slave Narrative of Julia Woodberry

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

“No, mam, I ain’ thought bout nothin no more to tell you. Death been in de family en seems like I just been so worried up wid my daughter sick in de house dere wid de straw fever. De doctor, he say it de fever en dat all we know, but it acts like de straw fever all up en down. I tell dem chillun dere de other night dat I would have to go back en get my mind fixed up wid somethin to speak bout fore you come here another time. Yes, mam, have to get my mind together somewhe’ or another.”

“I been born down dere in Britton’s Neck, but most my days was lived up to Mr. Jim Brown’s place to Centenary. My father, he was name Friday Woodberry en my mother, she come from off de sea beach in slavery time, so she told me. Say dat her old Massa stole her en her brother John, too, from off de sea beach. When freedom come here, her brother John went back to de sea beach, but my mother say dat she won’ in no shape to go back. She went from family to family till after freedom was declared en her white folks wouldn’ never have her ill-treated neither en wouldn’ never let nobody else have her no time. When she was let loose from de white people, she went to Britton’s Neck wid a colored woman. You see, she was a stranger to de country bout dere fore freedom come en she been know dat woman en dat how-come she went wid her. I mean she didn’ know de people bout dere cause de white folks didn’ allow dey colored people to go bout much in slavery time. Couldn’ go nowhe’ widout dey had a ticket wid dem. She stayed dere in Britton’s Neck till Pa died en den she come back up here to Marion to live, but her white people was scattered all bout den.”

“No, mam, I ain’ never marry cause you had to court on de sly in dat day en time. I tell you, I come through de devil day when I come along. I was learned to work by de old, old slavery way en, honey, I say dat I just as soon been come through slavery day as to come under a tight taskmassa dat was colored. Yes, mam, if I never did a thing right, my dress was over my head en I was whipped right dere. I was engaged by letter, but dey kept me under dey foot so close till I never didn’ slip de hay. I remember, I was stayin dere wid Mary Jane Rowell en she kept me cowed down so worser, I never couldn’ do nothin.”

“I tell you, I been a grown girl dere when I leave Mary Jane Rowell’s house en go to cookin en a washin for Miss (Mrs.) Louise Brown. Yes, child, I love Miss Louise Brown to dis very day cause she been just like a mother to me. Yes, mam, Miss Brown was just as good to me as she could be. Mr. Jim Brown, he give me a house dere on his plantation to live in just to do de house work to de big house, but seems like de other colored people on de plantation would be tryin to down me most all de time cause I was workin ahead of dem. I know I would go dere to work many a mornin cryin, from what dem niggers been mouthin bout me, en Miss Brown would cry right along wid me. I tell you, Miss Brown was a tender hearted woman, so to speak bout. I tell Miss Brown, ‘Carolina say I stole a towel off de line.’ En Miss Brown say, ‘Julia, if dere a towel gone off dat line, I know whe’ it gone.’ No, child, I ain’ never think bout to lay no shame on dese hands. White folks been used to leave money all bout whe’ I bresh (brush) en dust en I ain’ never had no mind to touch it no time. Yes, mam, I been through a day since I come here. Erelong I move out Mary Jane Rowell’s house, I been in white people house. If it ain’ one class, it another. De very day dat Dr. Dibble been pronounce me to de hospital, dey come after me to wait on a woman. Yes, mam, Julia Woodberry ain’ beat de state no time. Oh, I tell you, it de God truth, I has done every kind of work in my life. Me en my three chillun dere run a farm just like a man. Why, honey, you ain’ know I had three girls? Yes, mam, dem chillun been born en bred right dere in de country to Centenary.”

“I hear people talkin bout dat thing call conjurin, but I don’ know what to say dat is. It somethin I don’ believe in. Don’ never take up no time wid dat cause it de devil’s work. Dat de olden talk en I don’ think nothin bout dat. Don’ want nobody round me dat believes in it neither. Don’ believe in it. Don’ believe in it cause dat en God spirit don’ go together. I hear talk dat been belong to de devil, but I was so small, I couldn’ realize much what to think cause dat what you hear in dem days, you better been hear passin. No, mam, dey knock chillun down in dat day en time dat dey see standin up lookin in dey eyes to hear. I has heard people say dat dey could see spirits, but I don’ put no mind to dat no time. I believe dat just a imagination cause when God get ready to take you out dis world, you is gone en you gone forever, I say. Don’ believe in no hereafter neither cause dey say I been born wid veil over my face en if anybody could see spirits, I ought to could. I know I has stayed in houses dat people say was hanted plenty times en I got to see my first hant yet. Yes, mam, I do believe in de Bible. If I hadn’ believed in de Bible, I wouldn’ been saved. Dere obliged to be a hereafter accordin to de Bible. Dere obliged to be a hereafter, I say. I can’ read, but I talkin what I hear de people say. Dat a infidel what don’ believe dere a hereafter.”

“How-come I know all dat, I was raise up wid de old people. Come along right behind de old race en I would be dere listenin widout no ears en seein widout no eyes. Yes, mam, I took what I hear in, lady, en I ain’ been just now come here. I been here a time. Dat de reason I done wid de world. God knows I is done. I is done. I recollects, way back yonder, Pa would sing:

‘Dey ain’ had no eyes for to see,
Dey ain’ had no teeth for to eat,
En dey had to let de corncake go,
Gwine whe’ all de good niggers go.'”

“Dat was my father’s piece dat he used to sing in slavery time. Dat right cause I can remember back more so den I can forward.”

Brown, Rowell, 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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