Texas Slave Narratives

Texas Slave Narrative

  Deletions in Original Narratives

The Sarah Allen narrative in the RBR collection was less than two pages long. The original was four pages. Deleted material included a story of how the religion the masters preached to the slaves consisted primarily of the injunction not to steal from the master, evidence about freedmen before the Civil War, a statement that Sarah Allen's husband's father had never been a slave and was "of a mixture ... bright gingercake color," another that after the war her husband, partially because he had learned to read while a slave, had become a magistrate, and a third that she herself had taught school. Also deleted was the statement that her mother had told her, "Sarah don you let dem chillen call you niggah. Dey's just a little colored blood in you." Her life on a slavetrading speculator's gang from the age of five to her adolescence was collapsed into the phrase "us stay in de spec'lators drove de long time." The original included details about limited food and "nigger dogs" to keep them in line. Comments about her master's life that suggested master was not of "quality folks" and did not live at "Tara" were deleted. One particularly was that "Master had a log house. 'Twarn' very nice. 'Twarn't no frame house...." Details about her life at the time of being interviewed were also deleted.

 
The RBR version of the narrative of Andy J. Anderson was three pages long as compared to nine pages in the earlier version. Many, many details of daily life were deleted, including material about the nature of the plantation's economy, and a long story about how he got his name, how it differed from his master's name. Discussions of how the master didn't voluntarily join the Confederate army, how "they took him away," and of runaway slaves who "am never catched" were deleted. The following comment about a whipping was deleted: "I's could not feel de lash 'cause my body am numb, an' my mind am numb. De last thing I's 'membahs am dat I's wishing' for death." Some evidence of his strong desire for freedom, as in the story that when his master told the slaves they were free but they could stay, he responded loudly, "Lak hell I's will," was deleted.
 
The Agatha Babino narrative in the RBR version was two pages long. The earlier version was five pages long. The unedited version suggests a much harsher view of slavery, telling of how the slaves slept on moss put down on the floor, how the "marster ... had plenty of sausage but de slaves got none....", how the slaves had to bow to master's white company, how dogs were used to catch runaways, how they "tied dey feet and dey hand" of slaves being whipped, how the Catholic priest came to visit the master, but not the slaves. Also deleted were details about Agatha Babino's life after slavery, such as the facts that she had a church wedding and had 125 grandchildren.
 
The original version of John Barker's narrative had many more details about his life both after slavery and under slavery. "I have seen many a nig-person go out in de mawnin' and deir backs cut ju' like it was cut wid a knife"; slaves were not allowed to go to church and couldn't make a garden; women worked all week in order "to get Saturday off in de afternoon to do deir washin' an' ironin'"; slaves were sold and yoked together like steers; there were bloodhounds, whippings, and harsh overseers. An entire page of material about life after slavery and the following summary of his attitude towards slavery were deleted in the RBR version: "I ust to say dat when I got to be a man, I was goin' to kill ever'body I saw. Oh, I tell you, I saw enough o' dem slave times."
 
In the original version, the narrative of Joe Barnes had a brief discussion of whippings, runaways, and poor food. It also declared that "ol' marster he scouted (hid out in the woods) so he wouldn't hafter go to de war." Instead of giving such details, the RBR version has him declare to the interviewer, "I's feared I didn't tell you so much 'bout things way back, but de truth am, I can't remember like I used to." The "truth am," of course, that he did, but from the perspective of some editor, it was the wrong truth.
 
The pre-RBR version of the Harrison Beckett narrative says that if a slave marriage broke up, the man would be whipped, and in some cases the woman sold. The master's house was described as "a one story plank house." There is a great deal about life after the war ended, church affiliation, membership in the United Black Farmers and the Farmers Union, and participation in the Populists' storehouse scheme to keep surplus grain until needed and thus stabilize the market.
 
The RBR narrative of Sarah Benjamin had discussions, deleted later, of children's work, food, and slave speculators, of slaves' carrying news from one plantation to another, of games, songs, and ghosts, of postwar life and her wedding. The following line was also deleted: "We warnt loed to pray either cause dey Lord might hear us and free us."
 
In the Barker Library version, Oliver Blanchard told of many things in greater detail than in the RBR version: of how mother worked in the big house, of how children played, of whippings, of how the war was the war "to free de niggers," and of how Oliver Blanchard ran off with the Yankees, with two white boys.
 
Although some small details vary, the Barker Library version of the Elvira Boles narrative was approximately the same except for one line: "I's a child of the marster ... Ray, his wife, she sold me." That was a significant deletion.
 
The treatment of the William Byrd narrative is prototypical. In the original Barker Library version, this was an eleven-page narrative. In the RBR version, it had become three pages long. In this interview, as in many of the Texas interviews, the interviewer was going through a list of questions developed by the national staff of the Federal Writers' Project.  Many of these questions dealt with life after the Civil War. In the RBR version, virtually all answers to such questions have been deleted. As a result, the RBR version gives an image of "a slave," while the earlier version gives a much fuller picture of the life of an individual who spent the first twenty-five of his ninety-seven years as a slave.
 
The sixteen-page narrative of Louis Cain was reduced to three pages in the RBR version, and when this was done, of course, almost the entire life of the person was lost. The larger, earlier version gave some indication of a Muslim past. A long story about a dishonest white man was deleted most likely because the "slaves" were not supposed to be commenting on "their masters," only "on themselves." In the RBR version, we read the flat statement: "If some niggers was mean they'd get it." In the early version, it was: "Maser was a pretty good man, he was good to his slaves and was mean to them also, if they didn't behave." That is the statement of a reflective, mature man able to make distinctions. He talks of slave sales in the longer version and punctuates his point by saying, "I was trade for land myself." There is much more on religion, on work, on the slave patrol, and on passes. He describes the impact of daily life on the slave: "At night we generally fell in at our quarters as we would be so tired we could hardly move until next morning." He continues to reflect on the master who was both good and mean, and offers some framework within which to understand this complex person, the master.

 
Another complex person, Louis Cain , declared that the master "could not afford to let us die, as we were too valuable to him ..." and then indicates the difference between the white men then and white men "now": "but now if negro dies they just get another one. The white people tells you that now, if a mule dies---get another one." And the KKK really did keep the peace in the South, preventing social revolution: "if it had not been for ... what they call the KKK the negro would have gone on the war path."
 
The RBR version of the narrative of Richard Carruthers was fine and informative and at times profound. It was five pages long. The Barker version, which was thirteen pages long, is so much better. Carruthers carefully describes the conditions under which Texas masters lived, at least to his knowledge: "None of the marsters I know of had brick houses. My marster had a big fine weatherbo'd house." Richard Carruthers received many whippings as was general. When talking of graves and funerals, he said they happened "when slaves die or git whupped to death...." The deeply moving discussion of how the slaves went out into the fields and hollows to pray at night is even more moving in the Barker version when he says that they did this "so the white folks won' hear." In the RBR version, he describes how slaves became unconscious because of "getting happy" and being possessed; in the original he also says they got unconscious for more earthly reasons: "because of whippings." He has a certain dramatic flair which makes us understand what slavery was all about. In the Barker version he says, "sometimes nigger folks git so mixed up about who kin to who, they marry their own sister or brother," not because they didn't try to keep it straight, but because with all the selling and trading of slaves, it was difficult to know.
 
Jeptha Choice told that slaves called the black drivers or overseers "nigger traitor." A long section in this earlier version about life after slavery is particularly rich as it tells of Reconstruction and the role of the Federal Provost Marshall in bringing word of freedom and in stopping the KKK.
 
Perhaps some sense of the importance of these earlier versions of the RBR narratives could be gained through a comparison of the twelve-page summary of the Thomas Cole narrative with the fifty-four-page original, but space limitations do not allow us to compare them here. The original provides a totally new narrative about a person who never emerges in the RBR version.
 
Moreover, it is the comments that have been deleted from the somewhat smaller narratives that are the most revealing, not only about slavery, but about the feelings of older black people in the 1930s. The RBR version deletes Eli Coleman's comment: "I was share cropper, and Mr. White Man, that was really when slavery begins ..." and his comment about the KKK: "They could not let the negro exert his freedom." There is an entire universe of historical understanding in those two comments.
 
Laura Cornish's comment that "Dey never was no whippin' on our place neither, 'cause papa Day say we is human bein's an' not beasts ..." was deleted in the RBR version, perhaps because it implies that only a master such as Day, who is reported as being opposed to slavery, didn't whip!
 
Anderson Edwards' comment that "Master Gaud was a wicked man and didnt care anything about God, Heaven and his outfit ..." was deleted, probably because no black man ought to be allowed to say that about a white man, even if possibly true.

The same is true of Ann J. Edwards ' strong views about Lincoln, slavery, and blacks' contributions to their own freedom, and her belief that Negroes and women should be allowed to vote. Ann Edwards was the adopted daughter of Richard H. Cain , a Washington, D.C., antebellum freedman who became Reconstruction Congressman from South Carolina in 1876 and the husband of a Howard University graduate who also was a minister. Ann Edwards also attended Howard University but did not graduate. When she spoke in the earlier version, she used the tones and the frame of reference of a member of the black elite who talked of "uplifting the race." Of the Civil War, she said that while she was young "I knew there was a conflict taking place and a war waging that was taking thousands of lives, and that my race was the main cause, and I knew that the outcome of the conflict would determine the status of the negroes." This was deleted from the RBR version, perhaps in obedience to the dictates of consensus historiography of the 1930s, which was more willing to accept sunspot storms than the future "status of the negroes" as a cause of the Civil War. The RBR version also deleted an account of her feeling when Lincoln was assassinated: "it was as if everyone had suddenly experienced the death of their most beloved child." She remembered the service her step-father held in church: "For days after the incident the people moved about showing their deep feeling. As young as I was, I could sense the effect."

Tales of sexual exploitation were often deleted. In the narrative of Gabriel Gilbert , for instance, the following was deleted: "Daddy's pa was ... a white man named Bonnet . Ol' Marster had seb'ral boys. Dey went 'roun' after some of de slave gals on de place. Dey raise se'ral chillen by 'em." In fact, the master's sons were the overseers and used their contact with the female slaves to their advantage, leaving the other slaves unattended: "Sometime dey see a gal and go off in de woods wid her and leave de han's to do dey work by dese'fs."

Stories of lynchings were often deleted, as in the story of Mattie Gilmore , who told of an uncle accused of putting poison in white folks' coffee. He was lynched, and she remembered that "we all had to stand right der and watch dem do dat ter him." There were many other details of cruelty in this narrative, including a story of the sale of a sister: they "made her pull off part of her clothes...."

 
Stories of slaves' enforcing some sort of decency in treatment were often deleted, as in the story of Austin Grant , who told of slaves whipping an overseer. Moreover, he said, "Sometimes when the overseer would over do the thing, the slaves would go there and tell the overseer that he had give that child or that man enough."

Stories of the Klan were often deleted, particularly ones in which the Klan disciplined whites. It seems that indications of political conflicts among the whites were problematic for some of the interviewers and editors. For example, in the original narrative of William Hamilton, there is a story of the Klan's disciplining Jack Ditto and his black workers because he was a Baptist preacher who preached to the blacks. The story was not in the RBR version. In the Pierce Harper narrative, the RBR version deletes his views of Southern soldiers: "I never thought much of 'em. I don't think much of no man wha"