B. Hurmence, “Before Freedom”

This is the second of the books written by the same author drawn from the records in the National Archives of the “Writers Project” from the Depression years.

This selection is from a variety of locations while the other book centers on North Carolina.

As with the first book, what I was struck by were 2 consistent observations by these ex-slaves: The slavery times were better times in retrospect than the present times (1930’s) for those that had owners who were relatively humane (if one can be so bold as to use that word for a slaver). These folks retained positive memories of the slave owners and many of them stayed on with them after the end of the war. The other consistency is the bad press that they give to the Yankees. Almost without exception, they paint a terrible picture of the arrival of the Northern troops and generally describe their behavior as not much better than barbaric.

Some notable quotes from the participants:

“Honey, we wasn’t ready for the big change that come. Us had no education, no land, no mule, no cow, not a pig, nor a chicken, to set up housekeeping…us colored folks were left without any place to lay our heads. The Yankees sure throwed us in the briar patch, but us not bred and born there like the rabbit.”

“Lord, I wish I had went before I had so much to grieve over.”

“oysters…50 cents a bushel”

“The Yankees that I remember were not gentlefolks. They stole everything they could take. The meanest thing I ever saw was Shoats they half killed, cut off the hams, and left the other parts quivering on the ground.”

“Us lived in a one room log home.”

“And for God’s sake, don’t let a slave be caught with pencil and paper. That was a major crime. You might as well had killed your marter or missus.”

“”When she go to whip me, she tie my wrists together with a rope and put that rope through a big staple in the ceiling and draw me off the floor and give me a hunderd lashes. I think about my old mammy heap of times now and how I’s seen her whipped, with the blood dripping off of her.”

One thing that has particular significance to me is the prohibition against learning to read or write. A large number of the participants in this and the other book remark about the crime of learning.  What makes this particularly significant to me is the connection between this attitude on the part of the slavers and the general approach to colonial administration that was adopted by the European powers after the American Revolution. I need to write about this in a separate piece, but it connects to the current problems in the Middle East….which is why I have said that if you want to understand the present situation there, you have to go back in history to the American Revolution. It seems that the “lesson learned” applied to all the colonialists and slavers of the world.

A short book and very well worth the reading.

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