Interview with Willis Cozart

Former slave Willis Cozart, interviewed by Mary A. Hicks in Zebulon, North Carolina, May 12, 1937 / WPA Slave Narrative Project.

I wuz borned on June 11, 1845 in Person County. My papa wuz named Ed an’ my maw wuz named Sally. Dar wuz ten of us youngins, Morris, Dallas, Stephen, Jerry, Florence, Polly, Lena, Phillis, Carolina, an’ me. Mr. Starling Oakley of Person County, near Roxboro wuz my master an’ as long as him an’ ole mistress lived I went back ter see dem.

He wuz right good to de good niggers an’ kinder strick wid de bad ones. Pusonly he ain’t never have me whupped by two or three times. You’s hyard ’bout dese set down strikes latelyThe 1930s saw strikes and labor disputes across the United States. Cozart is making a joke by referencing these strikes, but he’s also reminding the interviewer that slaves sometimes resisted their slave masters., well dey ain’t de fust ones. Onct when I wuz four or five years old, too little to wuck in de fiel’s, my master sot me an’ some more little chilluns ter wuck pullin up weeds roun’ de house. Well, I makes a speech and I tells dem le’s down wuck none so out we sprawls on de grass under de apple tree. Atter awhile ole master found us dar, an’ when he fin’s dat I wuz de ring-leader he gives me a little whuppin’.

Hit wuz a big plantation, round 1,200 acres o’ land, I reckon, an’ he had ’bout seventy or eighty slaves to wuck de cotton, corn, tobacco an’ de wheat an’ vege’bles. De big house wuz sumpin to look at, but de slave cabins wuz jist log huts wid sand floors, and stick an’ dirt chimneys. We wuz ‘lowed ter have a little patch o’ garden stuff at de back but no chickens ner pigs. De only way we had er’ makin’ money wuz by pickin’ berries an’ sellin’ ‘em. We ain’t had much time to do dat, case we wucked frum sunup till sundown six days a week.

De master fed us as good as he knowed how, but it wuz mostly on bread, meat, an vege’bles.

I ‘members seberal slave sales whar dey sold de pappy or de mammy ‘way frum de chilluns an’ dat wuz a sad time. Dey led dem up one at de time an’ axed dem questions an’ dey warn’t many what wuz chained, only de bad ones, an’ sometime when dey wuz travelin’ it wuz necessary to chain a new gang.

I’se seed niggers beat till de blood run, an’ I’se seed plenty more wid big scars, frum whuppin’s but dey wuz de bad ones. You wuz whupped ‘cordin’ ter de deed yo’ done in dem days. A moderate whuppin’ wuz thirty-nin or forty lashes an’ a real whuppin’ wuz an even hundred; most folks can’t stand a real whuppin’.

Frum all dis you might think dat we ain’t had no good times, but we had our co’n shuckin’s, candy pullin’s an’ sich like. We ain’t felt like huntin’ much, but I did go on a few fox hunts wid de master. I uster go fishin’ too, but I ain’t been now since 1873, I reckon. We sometimes went ter de neighborhood affairs if’n we wuz good, but if we wuzn’t an’ didn’t git a pass de patter-rollersPaddyrollers were white men hired by a (white) community to patrol the slaves in gangs. If they found found a black person (free or enslaved) whom they believed was a runaway, they could punish him or her for being a fugitive slave. would shoes git us. When dey got through whuppin’ a nigger he knowed he wuz whupped too.

De slave weddin’s in dat country wuz sorta dis way: de man axed de master fer de ‘oman an’ he jist told dem ter step over de broom an’ dat wuz de way dey got married dem days; de pore white folks done de same way.