Slave Narrative of Emma Grisham

Person Interviewed: Emma Grisham
Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Place of Residence: 1118 Jefferson St., Nashville, Tennessee
Age: 90s

“I wuz bawn in Nashville. I’se up in 90 y’ars, but I tell dem I’se still young. I lived on Gallatin Pike long ‘fore de war, an uster se’d de soldiers ride by.”

“Mah marsters name wuz Wm. Penn Harding. Mah daddy wuz sold at Sparta, Tennessee ‘fore I wuz bawn en Marster Harding bought ‘im. Mah mammy erready ‘longed ter de Hardings.”

“I don’ member much ’bout slavery I wuz small, but I know I wore a leetle ole slip wid two er three bottons in frunt. Mammy would wash me en I’d go out frunt en play wid de white chilluns.”

“W’en de fightin’ got so heavy mah white peeple got sum Irish peeple ter live on de plantation, en dey went south, leavin’ us wid de Irish peeple.”

“I wuz leetle en I guess I didn’t think much ’bout freedum, I’d allus had plenty ter eat en w’ar.”

“Dunno ob any slaves gittin’ nuthin at freedum.”

“Our white folks didn’t whup mah peeple; but de oberseers whup’d de slaves on uther plantations.”

“De Yankees had camps on de Capitol hill. En dere wuz soldier camps in east Nashville en you had ter hab a pass ter git thro?”

“I member w’en de pen wuz on 15th en Chuch, en de convicts wuk’d ’round de Capitol.”

“I went ter schul at Fisk a short time, w’en hit wuz neah 12th en Cedar, en a w’ile down on Chuch St. Mah teacher allus bragged on me fer bein’ clean en neat. I didn’t git much schuling, mah daddy wuz lak mos’ ole folks, he though ef’n you knowd yo a, b, c’s en could read a line, dat wuz ’nuff. En he hired me out. Dunno w’at dey paid me, fer hit wuz paid ter mah daddy.”

“I wuz hired ter a Mrs. Ryne fer y’ars, whar de Loveman store ez now. Dere wuz a theatre whar Montgomery Ward store ez, a lot ob de theatre peeple roomed en bo’ded wid Mrs. Ryne, en dey would gib me passes ter de sho’ en I’d slip up in de gall’ry en watch de sho’. I couldn’t read a wud but I ‘joy’d goin’. Mah daddy wuz a driver fer Mr. Ryan.”

“I nussed fer a Mrs. Mitchell en she had a boy in schul. One summer she went ‘way. A Mrs. Smith wid 10 boys wanted me ter stay wid her ’til Mrs. Mitchell got back en I staid en laked dem so well dat I wouldin go back ter Mrs. Mitchell’s.”

“I went ter Memphis en ma’ied George Grisham in 1870. He jinned de army, as ban’ leader, went ter San Antonio, Texas en I kum back ter Mrs. Smith’s en stayed ’til her mammy lost her mind. Mah husband d’ed in Texas, fum heart truble. All his things wuz sent back ter me, en eve’y month I got a $30.00 pension fer me en mah daughter. W’en she wuz 16 dey cut hit down en I only git $12.00 now.”

“I edj’cated mah daughter at Fisk; en she’s bin teachin’ schul since 1893. She buy dis place en we live tergedder. We hab good health en both ez happy. I hab a ‘oman kum eve’y Monday en wash fer us.”

“De ole songs I member ez:

“Harp fum de Tomb dis Mournful Sound.”
“Am I a soldier ob de Cross.”

“Ole signs ez: Dream ob snakes, sign ob de’th.-Ef a hen crows a sign ob de’th.-Sneeze wid food in mouth means de’th.-Ef a black cat crosses de road, walk backwards ’til you git pas’ whar hit crossed. Mah parents useter tell lots ob tales but I can’t think ob dem.”

“Oh honey, I dunno w’at dis young peeples ez kum’n ter. Dey ez so diff’ent fum de way I wuz raised. I don’t think much ob dis white en black mar’ages. Hit shouldn’t be ‘lowed.”

“I ‘long ter de Missionary Baptist.”

Grisham, Harding,

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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