Interview with Josephine Smith

Former slave Josephine Smith, 94 years old, interviewed by Mary A. Hicks, Raleigh, North Carolina / WPA Slave Narrative Project, 1936–38.

I wuz borned in Norfolk, Virginia an’ I doan know who we belonged to, but I ‘members de day we wuz put on de block at Richmond. I wuz just todlin’ roun’ den, but me an’ my mammy brought a thousan’ dollars. My daddy, I reckon, belonged ter somebody else, and’ we wuz jist sold away from him jist lak de cow is sold away from de bull.

A preacher by de name of Maynard bought me an’ mammy an’ carried us ter Franklinton, what we lived till his daughter married Doctor John Leach of Johnston County; den I wuz give ter her.

All my white folkses wuz good ter me, an’ I reckon dat I ain’t got no cause ger complaint. I ain’t had much clothes, an’ I ain’t had so much ter eat, an’ a many a whuppin’, but nobody ain’t nebber been real bad ter me.

I ‘members seein’ a heap o’ slave sales, wid de niggers in chains, an’ de spec’ulatorsA slave speculator was a man who bought and sold slaves for a profit. Speculators bought slaves from one master and resold them for a higher price. Speculators had a reputation for being cruel to slaves. sellin’ an’ buyin’ dem off. I also ‘members seein’ a drove of slaves wid nothin’ on but a rag ‘twixt dere legs bein’ galloped roun’ ‘fore de buyers. ‘Bout de wust thing dat eber I seed do’ wuz a slave ‘woman at Louisburg who had been sold off from her three weeks old baby, an wuz bein’ marched ter New Orleans.

She had walked till she quz give out, an’ she wuz weak enough ter fall in de middle o’ de road. She wuz chained wid twenty or thirty other slaves an’ dey stopped ter rest in de shade o’ a big oak while de speculators et dere dinner. De slaves ain’t havin’ no dinner. As I pass by dis ‘oman begs me in God’s name fer a drink o’ water, an’ I gives it ter her. I ain’t neber be so sorry fer nobody.

Hit wuz in de mont’ of August an’ de sun wuz bearin’ down hot when de slaves an’ dere drivers leave de shade. Dey walk fer a little piece an’ dis ‘oman fall out. She dies dar side o’ de road, an’ right dar dey buries her, cussin’, dey tells me, ’bout losin’ money on her.…

Slavery wuzn’t so good, case it divided famblies an’ done a heap o’ other things dat wuz bad, but de wuck wuz good fer ever’body. It’s a pity dat dese youngins nowadays doan know de value o’ wuck lak we did. Why when I wuz ten years old I could do any kind o’ house wuck an’ spin an’ weave ter boot. I hope dat dese chilluns will larn somethin’ in school an’ church. Dats de only way dey can larn it.