Up from Slavery: an autobiography eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 230 pages of information about Up from Slavery.
All of our master’s family were either standing or seated on the veranda of the house, where they could see what was to take place and hear what was said.  There was a feeling of deep interest, or perhaps sadness, on their faces, but not bitterness.  As I now recall the impression they made upon me, they did not at the moment seem to be sad because of the loss of property, but rather because of parting with those whom they had reared and who were in many ways very close to them.  The most distinct thing that I now recall in connection with the scene was that some man who seemed to be a stranger (a United States officer, I presume) made a little speech and then read a rather long paper—­the Emancipation Proclamation, I think.  After the reading we were told that we were all free, and could go when and where we pleased.  My mother, who was standing by my side, leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran down her cheeks.  She explained to us what it all meant, that this was the day for which she had been so long praying, but fearing that she would never live to see.

For some minutes there was great rejoicing, and thanksgiving, and wild scenes of ecstasy.  But there was no feeling of bitterness.  In fact, there was pity among the slaves for our former owners.  The wild rejoicing on the part of the emancipated coloured people lasted but for a brief period, for I noticed that by the time they returned to their cabins there was a change in their feelings.  The great responsibility of being free, of having charge of themselves, of having to think and plan for themselves and their children, seemed to take possession of them.  It was very much like suddenly turning a youth of ten or twelve years out into the world to provide for himself.  In a few hours the great questions with which the Anglo-Saxon race had been grappling for centuries had been thrown upon these people to be solved.  These were the questions of a home, a living, the rearing of children, education, citizenship, and the establishment and support of churches.  Was it any wonder that within a few hours the wild rejoicing ceased and a feeling of deep gloom seemed to pervade the slave quarters?  To some it seemed that, now that they were in actual possession of it, freedom was a more serious thing than they had expected to find it.  Some of the slaves were seventy or eighty years old; their best days were gone.  They had no strength with which to earn a living in a strange place and among strange people, even if they had been sure where to find a new place of abode.  To this class the problem seemed especially hard.  Besides, deep down in their hearts there was a strange and peculiar attachment to “old Marster” and “old Missus,” and to their children, which they found it hard to think of breaking off.  With these they had spent in some cases nearly a half-century, and it was no light thing to think of parting.  Gradually, one by one, stealthily at first, the older slaves began to wander from the slave quarters back to the “big house” to have a whispered conversation with their former owners as to the future.

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Up from Slavery: an autobiography from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.