EPISODE 12 (20:31)
Today’s episode is Part 2 of the South Louisiana Sampler. In Part 1, we heard clips from our Houma Indians and Sue Hebert Series. In this episode, we delve into our West Feliciana Parish African American Heritage Series. Like the interviews we’ve featured in the last three podcasts, the material we’re using in this episode was made possible because of our partnerships with various community and scholarly collaborations. The clips that you’ll hear today came from interviews housed at the Center, resulting from our partnership with the West Feliciana Parish Community Foundation and the Davis Family Foundation. In particular, helpful individuals were Rolanda Johnson of the former, Susan Davis of the latter, Maida Owens with the Louisiana Folklife Program, and the folklorist who conducted the interviews, Teresa Parker Ferris. And of course, we owe a debt of gratitude to the people who allowed themselves to be interviewed for the project.
The parish of West Feliciana includes the towns of St. Francisville, Bayou Sara, Elm Park, Laurel Hill, Tunica, and the infamous Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.
Historically, West Feliciana Parish was fertile plantation land. Crops grown in the parish included cotton, corn, and sweet potatoes. Several antebellum plantations in the parish remain open today, functioning as popular tourist attractions. These include the supposedly haunted Myrtles Plantation, as well as Greenwood and Rosedown plantations, to name a few.
The population in West Feliciana Parish was and still is largely African American, and is tied to the historic number of slaves connected to the many plantations in the area. After emancipation, many African Americans stayed in the parish, continuing to live and work the fertile land as share croppers and tenant farmers. Some of the interviewees from our West Feliciana Parish African American Heritage Series share stories about tenant farming in West Feliciana as late as the 1950s and 60s.
In 2002 the Center partnered with the West Feliciana Parish African American Heritage Task Force and the Davis Family Foundation to build an oral history collection. The project included many of the community’s oldest and most knowledgeable residents. The stories focused on aspects of African American culture including foodways, wedding and funeral traditions, home remedies, music, farming and gardening, sewing, canning, fishing and hunting, and political history. At the end of the project in 2004, all of the partners held a ceremony at Grace Episcopal Church honoring the interviewees. For the ceremony, the Center produced a 30 minute audio documentary based on these interviews called “’I Been Here a Long Time:’ Oral Histories of West Feliciana’s African-American Community.” For more about the project, please visit http://wfpsb.org/Documents/Oral%20History%20Project/homepage.html.
In today’s show, Geraldine London will talk about the hard work she did at an early age, Louise Williams will recall her first trip into St. Francisville and describe the first car and first airplane she ever saw, Sallie Smith will remember dancing in the moonlight and the home grown remedies her grandmother prepared, Travis Carter will discuss the difficulties of sharecropping and recall the foods his family ate, finally Alice Johnson will tell us about her surprise wedding and will sing us one of her favorite gospel songs.
Also, please keep in mind that a large part of the Center’s mission is public outreach, so if you have a project like this in mind and you would like to partner with the Center, please get in touch with me at email@example.com. If you’d like to make a donation to help us with our mission, please visit our donation page or contact me.
AUDIO EXCERPT TRANSCRIPTIONS AND CITATIONS
ALICE JOHNSON is the key excerpt. *For full transcription, see below.
TERESA PARKER: And so you said you were working outside in the fields at age . . . you said five? Or nine?
GERALDINE LONDON: Yeah, five and six. Between five and six, yeah, I was out there, too.
PARKER: And what kind of things were you doing?
LONDON: Helping to pick cotton and corn and pick up potatoes and pick pepper and all kind of stuff.
PARKER: Was there one thing that you did more of than another?
LONDON: Well, I picked up more potatoes than I did more anything.
PARKER: Alright, sweet potatoes?
LONDON: Sweet potatoes,yeah.
LONDON: And then we had a garden, so we had to go in the garden and help gather the vegetables. We did that. We had okra, tomatoes, butter beans and peas, corn.
PARKER: You’re making me hungry.
LONDON: Oh, it was good. I liked that, too. [both laugh] We also had cows. We had cows and chickens.
LONDON: And stuff like that, yeah. We had to get the cows in, separate the calves and the cows. And we had to get wood. We had a wood fireplace and a wood stove. And we had to go get water from the bayou, the spring water from the bayou to, like, to take a bath, and wash dishes and stuff. We went to the spring to get water to drink. They had an ice truck that would come by. We would get ice and, like, dig a hole and put sawdust in the hole and cover the ice up with newspaper and stuff like that and grain sacks to keep it for a few days. So when we got ready for some cool water, we’d go to the spring and get the water and then we’d chip a piece of ice off and put in it so it would be . . . it would be good.
PARKER: And how far away was the spring?
LONDON: I guess it was about a mile and a half.
LONDON: We had to walk to get it.
PARKER: Water is not light.
LONDON: No, [laughs] it was heavy. But we did it. Sure did.
London, Geraldine, interview by Teresa Parker, audio recording, 2004, 4700.1698. Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
TERESA PARKER: Was it hard to get into St. Francisville? Living out here, could you get into St. Francisville? Could you go to town when you were young?
LOUISE WILLIAMS: The first time I went to town I went in a wagon. There was no way to go! The first time I went to St. Francisville I went in a wagon. There wasn’t no highway. Nothing but a dusty road. Just [?] little hard dusty road. That’s all it was. Wasn’t no highway nowhere around from here. No highway, nothing but a dusty road.
PARKER: So how did you get across the creek?
WILLIAMS: Go on through. Just keep going!The water wasn’t too deep for them horses and the wagon to cross the creeks, just keep going. People didn’t have no other way to go. Cross the creeks, they wade the creek or put poles across the creek [?] cross the creek walk over the poles across the creek.
PARKER: The first time you saw a car, do you remember when that was? Where were you?
WILLIAMS: We at home, but we was close enough to see it coming up the road…. Looked to me something like a buggy, wasn’t made like the cars made now.
PARKER: In what way?
WILLIAMS: Made something like a buggy. The cars wasn’t made like they making . . . like they is now. They made something like a buggy. Then the . . .on where you started the car be on the front of the car. Turn the wheel or whatever it was. Spin it to start it up, start the car up.
PARKER: So you saw it coming up the road? You said you saw the car . . . ?
WILLIAMS: When we see it coming up the road we ain’t know what it was. That’s what Daddy said, it was a car. That car one of the first cars we’d seen . . . he’d ever seen.
PARKER: What about the first time you saw an airplane?
WILLIAMS: We ain’t know what it was. We just all went out to look to see what was going on. We heard the roaring and there was something in the air, but we didn’t know what it was. After that we heard people say was an airplane. We didn’t know what it was. We just went out to see, but they be some people run and hid. But we always wanted to see what was going on. Went out there and looked till it got out of sight. Said it was an airplane.
Williams, Louise, interview by Teresa Parker, audio recording, 2004, 4700.1702. Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
TERESA PARKER: We were talking earlier about when you learned to dance, or when you danced. Tell me what . . . What would you do?
SALLIE SMITH: I said when I learned how to dance we call ourselves two-stepping. I don’t know what . . . you don’t know what that is, huh?
PARKER: I’ve heard of it.
SMITH: Well, call yourselves two-stepping, that’s all it . . . That’s the kind of dance we called what we was doing, out in the yard. Just going all around, two people together. Call yourself two-stepping. That’s what they called it.
PARKER: And when would you do it? When would you do it? At night did you . . .?
SMITH: Well yeah, you know, first night they would come around just neighbors, right, neighborhood. They just come to our house and we would get out there in the yard. Then he’d play the music. We’d all be out there, called ourselves hopping around. That’s all we’d be doing. Wasn’t nobody doing no dancing.
PARKER: And what kind of music would they . . . what instruments would they . . .?
SMITH: They have a guitar. Playing guitar, that’s all.
PARKER: And you’d do it in the moonlight?
SMITH: Yeah. Yard is all nice and clean, we’d get out there. The moon would be shining, we’d be out there hopping around, that’s all we’d be doing.
PARKER: When you were growing up, do you . . . When you got sick, do you remember what your grandmother did? Because a lot of the people I’ve spoken with, their parents or their grandparents used different plants for . . .
SMITH: Yeah that’s all she . . . My grandmother, when we got sick, she ain’t never take us to no doctor. She always doctor us herself. Some kind of weeds or something like that she get and make tea out of and this that and the other. Like people get by one [?] but she didn’t ever do that. Some kind of old stinky . . . stinky weed she’d make that stuff out of. It’d get the worms out of you though.
Smith, Sallie interview by Teresa Parker, audio recording, 2004, 4700.1700. Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
TERESA PARKER: So you would either sell the bale and get the money and then give them the money? Or they would just take some of the cotton?
TRAVIS CARTER: Well, no we always baled it . . . bale the cotton up and take to that gin. Bale it up did get so much out of the bale. Pay them whatever the rent was. We pay them so much out of a bale.
PARKER: Would you pay each month or at the end of the year? When did you pay? Once a year?
CARTER: Once a year.
PARKER: Not every month? No?
CARTER: Just once a year. When you get your crop, pay them off. Started getting on in October and when they get everything gathered up and you pay your rent then there . . .sometimes wouldn’t have nothing left for your pay or for you.When you get through paying your rent sometimes you done make pretty good, you didn’t have nothing left for yourself.
PARKER: So what would you do?
CARTER: Had to go into another year, that’s all. When you paid out, sometimes didn’t make enough to pay your rent out of it. Back then . . . farming was bad back then in those days. Rent wasn’t so high but you just couldn’t make it.
CARTER: Yeah. We raised a lot of stuff we eat, you see. We raised a garden and everything. We could get by pretty good because we raised the most food we eat. We raised chicken, hogs, raised a garden. That’s the most things we lived on then. I used to cure my own hogs, kill a calf once in a while. I actually have a barrel . . . I used to have a barrel of meat.
TERESA PARKER: A barrel?
CARTER: Barrel. One of these big old wooden barrels. Used to fill one of them up with meat.
PARKER: What kind of meat?
CARTER: Hog meat. Killed one or two hogs. They be big hogs. Put it up and fill that barrel up with meat.
PARKER: Would you have to salt the meat? Would you have to salt it? Salt?
CARTER: Yeah. Put salt on it, cure it.
PARKER: How long would it keep?
CARTER: It would keep a year or more, a lot. Keep a year or more. Sometimes you could make up some salt and water to put on it and pour it in there. It would keep fresh all the year.
PARKER: Tasted good?
CARTER: [Laughs] Yeah, that was good eating, there. Sure was. People don’t do that now.
Carter, Travis, interview by Teresa Parker, audio recording, 2004, 4700.1697. Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
*TERESA PARKER: So tell me again . . . So you came home and who said what?
ALICE JOHNSON: No, I say I had been working and when I came home . . . He was off from work, and he said, “Go take a bath, put on some clothes, preacher be here . . . ” I say, “What preacher come in here for?” “He gonna marry us off.” I say, “I know he’s joking!” He said, “No I ain’t.” I say, “Well you didn’t ask me!” He called my momma “Ma.” “Well I did. I asked Ma”
PARKER: Oh my gosh! That’s too funny. That’s great. Do you remember what you wore?
JOHNSON: No, I think I put on some blue jeans! I know I didn’t dress up! Yeah, I did put on jeans. I put on jeans, I sure did.
PARKER: So you were sixteen?
JOHNSON: We . . . when I come up, I’m saying I come up [?]. It’s on this record I play all the time, come up the rough side of the mountain. That mean I come up through hell.
PARKER: Do you know how it . . . Can you sing a little bar for me?
JOHNSON: Oh yeah! Coming up on the rough side [singing] I’m coming up on the rough side of the mountain. I’m doing my best to make it in . . . [laughing]
PARKER: Any more? I was enjoying it!
JOHNSON: [singing] This old race will soon be over. I’m going and Jesus [?]. I’m coming up on the rough side of the mountain. I’m doing my best to make it in. [laughs]
PARKER: That was great. Thank you. [both laugh]
Johnson, Alice, interview by Teresa Parker, audio recording, 2004, 4700.1699. Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Jennifer Abraham Cramer is the executive producer of “What Endures.” This episode was written and produced by Erin Hess. The audio engineer was Rob Fleming. Special thanks to Germain Bienvenu.
All photographs were taken by Teresa Parker Ferris.
King, Freddie, interview by Tatiana Clay and Eric Julien, audio recording, 2008, 4700.1921. Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
This podcast is copyrighted by LSU Libraries Special Collections.
For a full transcript of the podcast, please contact Jennifer Abraham Cramer at firstname.lastname@example.org.