“Jus’ befo’ freedom comed ’bout 50 Yankee sojers come through our plantation and told us that the bull-whups and cow-hides was all dead and buried. Them sojers jus’ passed on in a hurry and didn’ stop for a meal or vittles or nuffin’. We didn’t talk much ’bout Mr. Abbieham Lincum endurin’ slavery time kazen we was skeered of him atter the war got started. I don’t know nothin’ ’bout Mr. Jef’son Davis, I don’t remember ever hearin’ ’bout him. I is heard about Mr. Booker Washin’ton and they do say he runned a moughty good school for niggers.
“One mornin’ Marster blowed the bugle his own self and called us all up to the big ’ouse yard. He told us: ‘You all jus’ as free as I is. You are free from under the taskmarster but you ain’t free from labor. You gotter labor and wuk hard effen you aims to live and eet and have clothes to wear. You kin stay here and wuk for me, or you kin go wharsomever you please.’ He said he ’ud pay us what was right, and Lady, hit’s the troof, they didn’t nary a nigger on our plantation leave our marster then! I wukked on with Marster for 40 years atter the war!”
James had no fear of the Ku Klux.
“Right soon atter the war we saw plenty of Ku Kluxers but they never bothered nobody on our plantation. They allus seemed to be havin’ heaps of fun. ’Course, they did have to straighten out some of them brash young nigger bucks on some of the other farms round about. Mos’ of the niggers the Ku Kluxers got atter was’n on no farm, but was jus’ roamin’ ‘round talkin’ too much and makin’ trouble. They had to take ’em in hand two or three times befo’ some of them fool free niggers could be larned to behave theyselfs! But them Ku Kluxers kept on atter ’em twels’t they larned they jus got to be good effen they ’spects to stay round here.
“Hit was about 40 years atter the war befo’ many niggers ’gun to own they own lan’. They didn’ know nothin’ ‘bout tendin’ to money business when the war done ended and it take ’em a long time to larn how to buy and sell and take care of what they makes.” James shook his head sadly. “Ma’am, heaps of niggers ain’t never larned nothin’ ’bout them things yit!
“A long time atter the war I married Lizy Yerby. I didn’ give Liza no chanc’t for to dress up. Jus’ went and tuk her right outer the white folkses’ kitchen and married her at the church in her workin’ clothes. We had 13 chilluns but they ain’t but two of ’em livin’ now. Mos’ of our chilluns died babies. Endurin’ slavery Mistess tuk care of all the nigger babies borned on our plantations and looked atter they mammies too, but atter freedom come heap of nigger babies died out.”
James said he had two wives, both widows.
“I married my second wife 37 years ago. To tell the troof, I don’t rightly know how many grandchilluns I got, kazen I ain’t seed some of ‘em for thirty years. My chilluns is off fum here and I wouldn’ know to save my life whar they is or what they does. My sister and brothers they is done dead out what ain’t gone off, I don’t know for sho’ whar none of ’em is now.”