Full Text of WPA Interview with Rose Williams
ROSE WILLIAMS is over 90. She was owned by William Black, a trader whose plantation lay in Bell County, Texas. Rose and her parents were sold in 1860 to Hall Hawkins, of Bell County. Rose was forced to mate with a slave named Rufus when she was about sixteen, and had two children by him, one born after Rose was freed. She forced Rufus to leave her and never married. For the last ten years Rose has been blind. She lives at 1126 Hampton St., Fort Worth, Texas.
“What I say am de facts. If I’s one day old, I’s way over 90, and I’s born in Bell County, right here in Texas, and am owned by Massa William Black. He owns mammy and pappy, too. Massa Black has a big plantation but he has more niggers dan he need for work on dat place, ’cause he am a nigger trader. He trade and buy and sell all de time.
“Massa Black am awful cruel and he whip de cullud folks and works ’em hard and feed dem poorly. We’uns have for rations de cornmeal and milk and ’lasses and some beans and peas and meat once a week. We’uns have to work in de field every day from daylight till dark and on Sunday we’uns do us washin’. Church? Shucks, we’uns don’t know what dat mean.
“I has de correct mem’randum of when de war start. Massa Black sold we’uns right den. Mammy and pappy powerful glad to git sold, and dey and I is put on de block with ’bout ten other niggers. When we’uns gits to de tradin’ block, dere lots of white folks dere what come to look us over. One man shows de intres’ in pappy. His named Hawkins. He talk to pappy and pappy talk to him and say, ‘Dem my woman and chiles. Please buy all of us and have mercy on we’uns.’ Massa Hawkins say, ‘Dat gal am a likely lookin’ nigger, she am portly and strong, but three am more dan I wants, I guesses.’
“De sale start and ’fore long pappy am put on de block. Massa Hawkins wine de bid for pappy and when mammy am put on de block, he wins de bid for her. Den dere am three or four other niggers sold befo’ my time comes. Den massa Black calls me to de block and de auction man say, ‘What am I offer for dis portly, strong young wench. She’s never been ’bused and will make de good breeder.’
“I wants to hear Massa Hawkins bid, but him say nothin’. Two other men am biddin’ ’gainst each other and I sho’ has de worryment. Dere am tears comin’ down my cheeks ’cause I’s bein’ sold to some man dat would make sep’ration from my mammy. One man bids $500 and de auction man ask, ‘Do I hear more? She am gwine at $500.00.’ Den someone say, $525.00 and de auction man say, ‘She am sold for $525.00 to Massa Hawkins.’ Am I glad and ’cited! Why, I’s quiverin’ all over.
“Massa Hawkins takes we’uns to his place and it am a nice plantation. Lots better am dat place dan Massa Black’s. Dere is ’bout 50 niggers what is growed and lots of chillen. De first thing massa do when we’uns gits home am give we’uns rations and a cabin. You mus’ believe dis nigger when I says dem rations a feast for us. Dere plenty meat and tea and coffee and white flour. I’s never tasted white flour and coffee and mammy fix some biscuits and coffee. Well, de biscuits was yum, yum, yum to me, but de coffee I doesn’t like.
“De quarters am purty good. Dere am twelve cabins all made from logs and a table and some benches and bunks for sleepin’ and a fireplace for cookin’ and de heat. Dere am no floor, jus’ de ground.
“Massa Hawkins am good to he niggers and not force ’em work too hard. Dere am as much diff’ence ’tween him and old Massa Black in de way of treatment as ’twixt de Lawd and de devil. Massa Hawkins ’lows he niggers have reason’ble parties and go fishin’, but we’uns am never tooken to church and has no books for larnin’. Dere am no edumcation for de niggers.
“Dere am one thing Massa Hawkins does to me what I can’t shunt from my mind. I knows he don’t do it for meanness, but I allus holds it ’gainst him. What he done am force me to live with dat nigger, Rufus, ’gainst my wants.
“After I been at the place ’bout a year, de massa come to me and say, ‘You gwine live with Rufus in dat cabin over yonder. Go fix it for livin’.’ I’s ’bout sixteen year old and has no larnin’, and I’s jus’ igno’mus chile. I’s thought dat him mean for me to tend de cabin for Rufus and some other niggers. Well, dat am start de pestigation for me.
“I’s took charge of de cabin after work am done and fixes supper. Now I don’t like dat Rufus, ’cause he a bully. He am big and cause he so, he think everybody do what him say. We’uns has supper, den I goes here and dere talkin’ till I’s ready for sleep and den I gits in de bunk. After I’s in, dat nigger come and crawl in de bunk with me ’fore I knows it. I says, ‘What you means, you fool nigger?’ He say for me to hush de mouth. ‘Dis am my bunk, too,’ he say.
“‘You’s teched in de head. Git out,’ I’s told him, and I puts de feet ’gainst him and give him a shove and out he go on de floor ’fore he know what I’s doin’. Dat nigger jump up and he mad. He look like de wild bear. He starts for de bunk and I jumps quick for de poker. It am ’bout three foot long and when he comes at me I lets him have it over de head. Did dat nigger stop in he tracks? I’s say he did. He looks at me steady for a minute and you’s could tell he thinkin’ hard. Den he go and set on de bench and say, ‘Jus wait. You thinks it am smart, but you’s am foolish in de head. Dey’s gwine larn you somethin’.
“‘Hush yous big mouth and stay ’way from dis nigger, dat all I wants,’ I say, and jus’ sets and hold dat poker in de hand. He jus’ sets, lookin’ like de bull. Dere we’uns sets and sets for ’bout an hour and den he go out and I bars de door.
“De nex’ day I goes to de missy and tells her what Rufus wants and missy say dat am de massa’s wishes. She say, ‘Yous am de portly gal and Rufus am de portly man. De massa wants you-uns for to bring forth portly chillen.
“I’s thinkin’ ’bout what de missy say, but say to myse’f, ‘I’s not gwine live with dat Rufus.’ Dat night when him come in de cabin, I grabs de poker and sits on de bench and says, ‘Git ’way from me, nigger, ’fore I busts yous brains out and stomp on dem.’ He say nothin’ and git out.
“De nex’ day de massa call me and tell me, ‘Woman, I’s pay big money for you and I’s done dat for de cause I wants yous to raise me chillens. I’s put yous to live with Rufus for dat purpose. Now, if you doesn’t want whippin’ at de stake, yous do what I wants.’
“I thinks ’bout massa buyin’ me offen de block and savin’ me from bein’ sep’rated from my folks and ’bout bein’ whipped at de stake. Dere it am. What am I’s to do. So I ’cides to do as de massa wish and so I yields.
“When we’uns am given freedom, Massa Hawkins tells us we can stay and work for wages or share crop de land. Some stays and some goes. My folks and me stays. We works de land on shares for three years, den moved to other land near by. I stays with my folks till they dies.
“If my mem’randum am correct, it am ’bout thirty year since I come to Fort Worth. Here I cooks for white folks till I goes blind ’bout ten year ago.
“I never marries, ’cause one ’sperience am ’nough for dis nigger. After what I does for de massa, I’s never wants no truck with any man. De Lawd forgive dis cullud woman, but he have to ’scuse me and look for some others for to ’plenish de earth.”
Rose Williams, in Federal Writers’ Project: Slave Narrative Project, Vol. 16, Texas, Part 4, Sanco–Young, 1936, Manuscript / Mixed Material, https://www.loc.gov/item/mesn164/.