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Lewis Jenkins

Age 93 Years
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

I was born in Green County, Alabama in January 1844.

My mother was a white woman and her name was Jane Jenkins. My father was a nigger. He was a coachman on my Master's place. I was told this in 1880 by a white doctor, Leth Smith, which brung me into the world. My Master, who was my grandfather, brung me to Texas when I was jest 7 or 8 years old. A few years later, he brung my mother down to Texas and she had with her three boys, which was her children and my brothers. They was white children and name Jones. They first names was Tom, Joe and Lije. The parted from me and I never heered no more about 'em. I didn't even know my mother when I seen her. All my life I don't jest knowed my white kinfolks and nothing 'tall about the other part of my color.

Before I was born, my mother was tucken away from her playmates and kept in the attic hid. They tuck me soon as I was born from her. When her time to be in bed was up, whe'd ask the waitman whar I was at. The waitman was Dr. Lyth Smith. He'd tell her I was at Ann's house. I never got a chance to nurse my mother. After she got up and come down, she wanted to see her baby. Now she goes to Ann's house and couldn't find me. After she couldn't find me there, she looked in all the houses on the place for me, her baby. Then she commenced screaming, tearing her cloths off and tearing her hear out. The sent her to the calaboose till they could git her some clothes to put on. She went distracted. She tore out towards town. The was they got her to hush, they tole her I was with my grandma. The had me hid on the road to Texas. The doctor's wife said I was the first nigger she shed a tear over. It was a destruction thing. Well, that scandalized the family and they moved to Texas, and come by and got me and tuck me to Texas. When they crossed the big river. They hollered at her, and I says that there's whar God tuck me in his bosom. When I was 7 or 8 years old, the white folks tuck me in charge. The was gonna make me a watchman to watch for 'em at night. But when they begun this, I wasn't old enought to remember.

The first house I was sont to, was the cook's house. The cook said, "what you come down heah for?" I told her I didn't know. "Who sont you?" I said, "Old Master Jenkins." she knowed 'mediately what I was sont for, don't you see? She says to me, "Set down little rascal I'll knock you in the head." Well, what could I do but set, child lak. Before long I was asleep and they tuck me out door. Next mawning I was told to go to the big house. Old Master axe "What'd you see last night?" I told him I didn't seed nothing, Now they got the cow hide an' hit me three of four licks and axe me 'at same question agin. I tole 'em I didn't seed nothing. Thies went on for 'bout a hour. I had to take a whipping ever mawning, 'cause I had to go to ever house and never seen nothing. The last house I went to, well, in the mawning as I was gwine back to the big house, a voice come to me and said, "See nothing, tell nothing." It meant for me not to lie and on and on as I growed for years to come, as I was big enough to plow corn, I was out in the field and a voice, that same voice too, said, "Iffen I was you, I'd leave this place, 'cause you'll come to want and won't have." All this was the causing of my conversion.

My first job was scouring floors and I mean I scoured 'em too. Next I scoured knives and forks. From 'at jov I wasn't into real work, and no play.

My master and his family jest lived in a log house. My mistress ws my grandfather's wife and my grandmother, but I couldn't clame her. Her and her oldest child treated me some rough. I never had no good time till that old white woman died, and talking about somebody glad she died, I sure was. They tuck turns about treating me bad.

There was about 20 slaves on our place, children and all. Dewan, which was my uncle, was the overseer. He wake us up jest before sunrise and we worked from sun to sun. I seen 'em tie niggers hand and foot to mill posts and whip 'em with bull whips. Them was neighbors' though, not our'n. They whipped the women by pulling they dresses down to they hips and beat 'em till they was satisfied. For myself, my grandfather whipped me till his dog tuck pity on me and tried to drag me away. This is the scar on my leg whar he pulled me. He was beating me till I said, "Oh! Pray Master." He didn't tell me till after he was through beating me though.

I seen iem sell people what wasn't able to work from the block jest lak cattle. They would be chained togedder. They tuck mothers from children even just a week old and sell 'em. The stripped the slaves, women and all, and let the bidders look at 'em to see iffen they was scarred before they would buy 'em.

Them old white folks wouldn't learn us to read and write and wouldn't let they youngins learn us. My youngest mistress, which was my auntie 'mind you, was trying to learn me to read and write and was caught and she got some whipping, almost a killing.

I never seen vut one nigger man hung. He was crippled and had run away. I seen dis wid my own eyes, no guess work. He had caught a little white girl, school girl, too, ravaged her and cut off her tongue. Oh, that was barbous. He oughta been burnt. He didn't git his jest due at hanging.

Patrollers was sure through the country. They was out to keep down nigger and white mixing and to keep niggers from having liberty to go out 'specially at night. They didn't 'low you to come to see a gal 'ess she was 18 and you was 21. The cause of this was to raise good stock. The gals couldn't marry till they was 19 neither, but dey could have children. YOu had to have a pass to go see you gal even. Now you got your pass from your master. Iffen you was under 15, you could go play and didn't need no pass, but all over 15 jest had to have a pass.

The would go right to bed after they et. No Saturday off, jest washday. Some Sundays old misttess let us have sugar, flour and lard.

We was in a great game country and sure et our fill o coons, 'possums, rabbits, deer, turkeys and the sich and thinngs people wouldn't notice now. Cornbread and sweet potatoes was my fav'rite foods. Milk and butter was best eating.

We jest wore what you call slips wid jest two sleeved slipped over our head. No buttons. We wore the same thing in winter, jest heavier. Never wore no shoes till I was old enought to chop cotton. 

At weddings they wore stripes all the time. They made 'em on hand looms. They ws mostly white and red stripes. 

They played marbles and ring plays. We used to sing this ditty during playing:

So many pretty gals
So they say
So many pretty gals
So they say.
Jest peep through the window Susie gal.

They used to scare me death talking "bout ole raw head and bloddy bones out in the yard. For me, that meant staying in a mighty long time and having a fit to boot.

We used onions to keep off consumptions. They was a family taken the black disease and they all died but one and he was ready to die. The tuck him out to burn the house up to keep that disease from spreading. They put the nigger in a house full of onions and he got sure enough well. The doctor said the onions had cured him. We sure believed in our onions and do till today. Even the next mawning after he was put in the house and couldn't walk he axe for some milk.

That war that freed the niggers started in 1861. I has two young masters to go. It lasted 4 years. They was figuring on taking me that very next year, and it was so fixed that the war ended. We had a big drought during the war, which made it bad on the soldiers. I never seen the Yankees only when they was passing 'long the road. One day whilst we was eating our dinner, our Master said. "All you, young and old, when you git through come out on the gallery, I got something to tell you." When we got through we all trooped out and he said, "This is military law, but I am forced to tell you." He says, "This law says free the nigger, so now you is jest as free as me by this law. I can't make you all stay wid me 'less you want to, therefore you can go any place you want to." That was about laying'by crop time in June. It was on June 19th an' we still celebrates 'at day in Texas, 'at is "Nigger Day" down there. He say, "I'd lak for you to stay till the crops is laid by iffen you will." Iffen it hadn't been for his wife maybe we would've  stayed on, but she jest kept bossing the nigger women and we jest didn't lak it and that's what brung on the scatter, I left my old Master and went wid one of my young masters, which was my uncle.

I was sure once tickled at my young Master. I done broke in a mule for him and he got on him one night and go jine the Ku Klux band. He had to go 'bout 4 miles. He got jest 'bout one mile and they come to two trees with a real white stone in  'twixt the trees. The mule seen this and throwed my Master off and hurt him something terible. He come back and told his wife what done happened. He said, "Damn the Ku Klux." He never went to jine 'em no more.

I never went to school in my life. Never had the opportunity, 'cause I never had no kinfolks to own me or give me advice or help me. White kinfolks jest bossed me. I was jest lak an orphan. White folks will miss you up and be so treacherous.

I married Jane Deckers. The white man jest read out of the Bible and put our names and ages in the bible and 'at was all the ceremony we had. I got three children and four grandchildren. One do stone work, another brick work and my daughter, housework.

I think Abe Lincoln was next to Jesus Christ. The best human man ever lived. He died helping the poor nigger man. Old Jeff Davis was right in his place. He was trying to help his race. He wasn't nothing lak right. It was God's plan that ever man be free. I don't believe Davis believed in right.

I am sure glad slavery is over. I glory in it. I trust and pray it'll nver be again.

I thing the church is the gospel way and every body ought to be on it. The Baptist is my dear belief, 'cause I was baptized by the spirit and then by the water, nothing but the Baptist. I belongs to the Shiloh Baptist Church, right here on  the West Side.

Contributed by M. Dawson, 05/06/03


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