Interview with Lila Nichols

Former slave Lila Nichols, 89 years old, interviewed by Mary A. Hicks in Cary, North Carolina, May 18, 1937 / WPA Slave Narrative Project.

We belonged ter Mr. Nat Whitaker atter his marriage. His daddy, Mr. Willis, give us to him. We lived near Rhamkatte wid Mr. Willis, an’ we wuz happy. My pappy wuz named Yancey an’ my mammy wuz named Sabra. Dar wuz two brothers named Yancey an’ Add, an’ five sisters: Alice, Sally, Martha, Betty, an’ Helia. Ole massa wuz good ter his slaves, but young massa Nat wuzn’t. We ain’t had half nuff ter eat most o’ de time, an’ we ain’t had no shoes till we wuz twenty-one. We had jist a few pieces of clothes an’ dey wuz of de wust kind. Our cabins wuz shacks, an’ we got seberal whuppin’s near ’bout ever’ day. For example, I had de job of gittin’ up de aigs in de ebenin’Gathering up the eggs in the evening., an if de ain’t de right number of dem Missus Mae whupped me. I also looked atter de bittiesShe also took care of the chickens or hens., an’ iffen one of ‘em died I got a whuppin’ too.

Once missus wuz sick, an’ a slave gal named Alice brun her some water an’ somethin’ ter eat. issus got sick on her stomick, an’ she sez dat Alice done try ter pizen her. Ter show yo’ how sick she wuz, she gits out of de bed, strips dat gal ter de waist an’ whups her wid a cowhide till de blood runs down her back. Dat gal’s back wuz cut in gashes an’ de blood run down ter ‘er heels. Atter dat she wuz chained down by de arms an’ laigs till she got well; den she wuz carried off ter Richmond in chains an’ sold.

We wucked all de week, my mammy plowin’ wid a two-horse plow all de year when she warn’t cleanin’ new ground or diggin’ ditches; an’ she got two days off when her chilluns wuz borned. We ain’t had no passes ter go nowhar, an’ we ain’t allowed offe’n de groun’s.

I know one time do’ missus ‘cides ter whup a ‘oman fer somethin’ an’ de ‘oman sez ter her, ‘No sir, Missus, I ain’t ‘lowin’ nobody what wa’r de same kind of shirt I does ter whup me.’…

I said dat we wuz glad dat de Yankees comed. We wuz, just cause our massa warn’t good lak some massas, an’ at dat, we ain’t want ter be free.