North Carolina Slave Narratives : a folk history of slavery in North Carolina from interviews with former slaves from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938, is a tremendous new resource for our library. The work that the WPA and the Federal Writers Project did in the 1930’s to interview, record and transcribe the words of the last people in the United States to have endured the pathological institution of slavery will hopefully be kept through the ages as a reminder and as a warning of the potential brutality of mankind. You can even access seven hundred hours of sound recordings of interviews from this project at LOC American Memory.
Within these pages you find voices that crack with humanity as they recall the sometimes good and often terrible times that they witnessed and lived. The orators describe the minutia of life that is sometimes missing in history. You hear about how one former slave and her brother would scratch and rub the missus feet as she laughed and sang. Another recounts prayin’ sinners through and stealing hogs while another talks about how hungry and skinny her mother was even though she cooked the master’s food. One interviewee spoke of the speculators that came through with chains of slaves for sale stopping at their plantation for the night but leaving the shackled slaves outside in the winter cold.
There are a lot of entries from the adjoining counties of Wilson and one entry is an interview of a man named Blount Baker who was a slave in Wilson County. Below is his interview.
An interview with Blount Baker, 106 Spruce Street, Wilson, North Carolina.
“Yes’um, I ‘longed ter Marse Henry Allen of Wilson County an’ we always raise terbacker, Marse Henry wus good to us so we had a heap of prayer meetin’s an’ corn shuckin’s an’ such.
I ‘members de big meetin’s dat we’d have in de summer time an’ dat good singin’ we’d have when we’d be singin’ de sinners through. We’d stay pretty nigh all night to make a sinner come through, an’ maybe de week atter de meetin’ he’d steal one of his marster’s hogs. Yes’um, I’se had a bad time.
You know, missy, dar ain’t no use puttin’ faith in nobody, dey’d fool you ever time anyhow. I know once a patteroller tol’ me dat iffin I’d give him a belt I found dat he’d let me go by ter see my gal dat night, but when he kotch me dat night, he whupped me. I tol’ Marse Henry on him too so Marse Henry takes de belt away from him an’ gives me a possum fer hit.
I ain’t never hear Masrse Henry cuss but once an’ dat wus de time dat some gentlemens come ter de house an’ sez dat der am a war ‘twixt de north an’ de south. He sez den, ‘Let de damn yeller bellied Yankees come on an’ we’ll give’em hell an’ sen’ dem a-hoppin’ back ter de north in a hurry.’
We ain’t seen no Yankees ‘cept a few huntin’ Rebs. Dey talk mean ter us an’ one of dem says dat we niggers am de cause of de war. ‘Sir,’ I sez, ‘folks what am a wantin’ a war can always find a cause.’ He kicks me in de seat of de pants fer dat, so I hushes.
I stayed with Marse Henry till he died den I moved ter Wilson. I has worked everwhere, terbacker warehouses an’ ever’thing. I’se gittin’ of my ole age pension right away an’ den de couty won’t haver ter support mi no mo’, dat is if dey have been supportin’ me on three dollars a month.”