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Levi Jordan
Plantation

I heard it through the Grapevine: Oral Tradition in a Rural African American Community in Brazoria, Texas

by Cheryl Wright

"Oral History information: Birth, Death, and Everything in Between"

What people in the African-American Brazoria community shared about birthing practices, kinship, medicine, folktales, church life and education, racial issues, burial practices, agriculture and land acquisition, and reciprocity. Quotations are real but not attributed because of peoples' desire for privacy.

"People who will remember the good days and the bad, the names of lovers and grandchildren, the time sorrow almost broke, the time loving friendship healed."

(Walker 1988:36)

As previously stated, one of my goals was to reconstruct the everyday life of an African American community during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. In an attempt to accomplish this task, I chose to merge all of the informants’ interview transcripts to become one collective memory from the community. This manner of presentation not only gives democratic representation, but protects the individual informants as well. The ethnographic data will be reported almost exclusively in the words of the people themselves.

The topics that were discussed during the interviewing process include: birthing practices, kinship, medicine, folktales, church life and education, racial issues, and burial practices. Economic issues include agriculture and land acquisition, and reciprocity. These categories encompass some of the everyday occurrences that were an important part of this community’s life.

BIRTHING PRACTICES

Because the area studied did not have an available hospital until 1930, many medical needs were met within the community itself. One of those basic needs involved childbirth practices. In the earlier days, the children were all born with the assistance of a midwife. When a woman got pregnant, the husband would tell the midwife that her services would be needed in a few months. Unless the woman had complications during pregnancy, the midwife would not examine her again until she went into labor.

"There wasn’t any hospitals, there were midwives. We didn’t get a hospital until 1930. In them days they didn’t do too much talk, they didn’t school you before time. They just learned from the old people. The Lord just took care for that. Other women would be there to help, but your mama would teach you what you’re supposed to do. She’d explain all that to you. Them old women knew. Children be born and they’d all go."

"You’d say to the midwife, ‘I’m going to need you to wait on my wife.’ But they didn’t know the time, just when the pains started hitting her. I may come to get her for my wife, ad while she’s there, you may come to get her for yours. She may go to three different homes within twenty four hours. I went and got many a midwife on a horse. I was young but I was always around the house. I went and got many a ones. She stayed there three or four days."

I asked one of the informants, who was the son of a midwife, how this affected her children when she was gone for such a long period of time. He stated that, "Everybody just pitched in and made do until she got back."

"Them old people would say, ‘The midwife’s what brought the baby.’ My mama got a lady in Mims. Her name was Jemimi. Aunt Pawn would always charge three dollars and Ms. Jemimi charged five. If they had money they’d pay her. If not, she’d wait."

The female informants explained the job of the midwife during the birth process.

"She cut the navel string. The afterbirth come, they buried it. Sometimes they burned the afterbirth. The lady laying in the bed and she’d have her to lay on her side and she mashed that hip and turned her on the other side and mash that hip. Those pelvic bones loosen up for the baby to come. That’s for them to grow back together right. If there were problems, all the sudden you come up dead. Some women died because they just couldn’t birth ‘em. The Lord take care of you."

The informants were asked if the midwives had medical training or if they learned midwifery from another source.

"It was a gift my mama had. My grandmother had it too. They had to pick that up. They learned from other old women in the community. It was always a woman as far as I know. It’d have to be a woman. In olden times they said they weren’t going to let a man go up on their wife. The husband just didn’t want another man up on his wife."

There were many stories of precautionary measures to take while pregnant or immediately following the birth of the baby.

"Don’t raise your hands high. Everytime you do that you wrap the cord around the baby’s neck. Sometimes the cord has been wrapped around and it didn’t give them room to come out and it could choke them to death."

"You could sponge off. Some people said if you got wet during menstruation you’d die. It’s like alot of those things they said in them days. My first born, I was sitting at the house at the window. I looked out the window ‘cause the glass was down. My mother said, ‘Don’t look out that window or your face will swell up.’ And do you know that my face swole up? I was sneaking and my face swole up. It seemed everything them old people said would come true though."

"Back then, they didn’t let the wives get up and do anything. For so many days, you couldn’t go outdoors. There was no light in the house. If the light was coming in, they said, ‘You’re not supposed to look at the light.’ They had the house dark. We don’t know why. That was a rule. Now the first thing a baby sees is all that light."

"My daughter over there was born with a veil over her face. You’re supposed to be able to see ghosts. Before she was born, the ones in there with me were talking. When she was born, nobody said nothing. Everything got just still. You know why? Because of the veil. If they spoke, she’d have seen ghosts. I’m glad they hushed!"

In summary, when the woman went into labor, the husband or someone from the family would ride horseback to tell the midwife that it was time. Other women from the community came to help also. The midwife would deliver the baby and stay with the wife to take care of her for a few days. She would not only take care of the wife’s physical needs, but cook and clean the house for the rest of the wife‘s family as well. All of these services would be rendered for the fee of 3-5 dollars. Sometimes families could not afford to pay that amount, so the deliveries were free. The midwife’s medical training seemed to occur through some type of apprenticeship program with other elderly women in the community.

There were many rules of behavior associated with childbirth. Several informants explained that the house had to stay dark and that the new mother had to stay away from any source of light. Some had been told that the light was bad for the baby’s eyes. Some had been told that the mother’s face would swell up. Some had no reason for the practice except that it was a rule that could not be challenged.

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KINSHIP

One of the most fascinating discoveries of this study revolved around kinship. The people not only knew their own genealogical heritage dating back several generations, but seemed to know others’ family trees as well. This knowledge was aided by the fact that most of the people in the community were related in some form or fashion.

"My great-grandfather was the early deacon at the Grace church. He’s buried at Jordan cemetery. My mother would tell me stories. My uncle was the deacon down at Magnolia. Mama told me that many a time. People thought alot of him and he was a leader of the community. He’s buried in Jordan cemetery. They’re all buried down there."

"My great-grandfather was brought to African Landing right down on the San Bernard. My grandfather bought all this property in Mims when freedom was declared. People though alot of my granddaddy. He was an ambitious man. He came out of slavery. I’m told he could stop a train in his day . . . what I mean he was a good farmer. He provided well for his family. He made a good living."

"My great-granddad had the knowledge that came out of Alabama. There were four brothers that come out of slavery. He was the one that was a blacksmith and sold for $1,500, so when he came out of slavery he could make money. By having been a blacksmith, he was educated. He already had a trade. He worked for the Craigs."

An unusual situation occurred while interviewing two of the male informants. They seemed to possess family information about the other’s heritage when the informant lacked the information themselves. For example, one of the informants was saying that he really didn’t know his grandfather because he died when he was young. The other informant replied, "I heard grandpa say he took care of the Major [Stratton]. In the conflict they had back then. When they were fighting. He worked for the Major. That was when the South and the North were having their skirmish." As the interview progressed, we were talking about a relative of the latter informant’s. He said the person was "tied to grandma some kind of way?" His friend clarified the matter by saying, "I believe it was his grandmother’s uncle." Both people in this instance were filling in missing details about someone else’s familial history.

One of the informants spoke about her father who was born in slavery at the Levi Jordan Plantation.

"My daddy was born on the Jordan Place. He wasn’t raised on the plantation, but he was born there. When freedom was declared, he was eight years old. The people over him esteemed him high. My daddy’s daddy was a hunter. My daddy had to finish paying for the land because he got killed in a deer hunt. You know how accidents happen to hunters? Well, he met with an accident. After that, my daddy had to take over."

"My father took care of his family. He was the father of 17 children. All of them have passed away now except two, my brother and I. I’m the 16th and he’s the 17th. Five of them passed away at birth. But he raised twelve. We never were hungry."

"My daddy was a very smart man. He worked cattle and he drove oxen. He platted whips and he made baskets and he was a blacksmith. He sharpened points and things. Also he made collars that you put on the mules. He sold them. Hard work, but not much money. But he did it to pay for the property. He’d take six yokes of oxen and for other people he’d haul bales of cotton down to Quintana. You’d put it on the boat in Quintana and send it down to Galveston to Moody. That’s where they sold cotton at, at Moody’s. That’s what he’d do . . . haul cotton for people down there. White, black, or anybody. He used to talk to me about it. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Quintana. There’s a hill. When I went to Quintana, I looked what my daddy had told me, and there was a hill. A little drop off. He said when he got to that hill his oxen, if he didn’t have a trained one in the front and a trained one in the back, they’d go on over into the water."

Some of the informants addressed the recent cultural change of high mobility in their community.

"For every one that’s stayed, three left. There might be more. You take my dad. He had thirteen children . . . how many are left? There’s about four of us here in this area. The baby boy lives in Brazoria. The rest in Houston. Come after the 1800’s, Houston wasn’t the lead place . . . it was Beaumont."

During the early days, the extended kinship group provided the much needed physical and psychological support system for this agrarian community.

"My mother would always tell you who your kinfolks were. Different relatives down through history so you knew all this. When you got to be certain age, they would really do that, so you wouldn’t marry in that family. You was brought up no intermarriage with the kinfolks. You’d have to go way down the line."

"We never missed a meal. Sometimes I thought we had more than families who had less kids. People who had alot of kids a long time ago were better off . . . especially with farming. You didn’t have to hire no help, you had your help. Really, all us kids didn’t know what a hard time was. I’ve never seen my dad without money. He was a good provider."

Sometimes familial obligation extended to the naming practices of the children.

"Usually you were named after someone else or a Biblical name or a relative. Alot of people have the sons named after the fathers or an uncle or something. The women may be named after a grandmother or something. I have one sister named after an aunt, and another sister named after a great aunt. I was named after my uncle. My first name is after my dad’s brother. My middle name is after my dad’s brother-in-law."

A tradition that promoted closeness, was the giving and receiving of nicknames. Almost everyone interviewed had a nickname by which everyone in the community called them. Several of their parents or grandparents had nicknames as well. It was explained that at some time when they were young, they received the name because of something they were doing at the time.

"When my dad was about 4 or 5 years old, a guy from Brazoria who was a teacher come along and said, ‘Your name ought to be Columbus Edward or something. Columbus discovered America.’ He said he remembered the day when his name changed to Columbus."

Childrearing and care for the elderly seemed to be the responsibility of the community as a whole.

"Back then, everybody was your parents. If you got a whipping, you got another one when you got home My aunts lived in Houston. I’m just talking about the people in this area. Everybody told you what to do. You had respect for the older people. You had to respect those parents. What they said was just like your own parents. That made wonderful children."

"I had an uncle – when kids were having trouble in school he would take them into his home. He taught at Jerusalem. Them old people took other kids in to raise. Regardless of what color that child is, you love them and take care of them and be a good parent. In those days, you took the elders into your home. They took care of their own. The elders are the ones that know and they pass that on to others."

A very interesting facet of this community involved kinship. It seems that the majority of the people are related in some form or fashion. Because most of the informants were direct descendants of the slaves from the Levi Jordan, Mims, and Stratton Plantations, it was especially interesting to note that almost all of their ancestry originated in Alabama. I wondered if there may have been some type of business agreement between the two geographic areas for ongoing slave exchange.

Through personal accounts about family members, I gained insight into some of the job opportunities following freedom. Jobs during these times included tenant farming, being a blacksmith, whip and basket maker, cattle and oxen driver, and transporter of cotton to neighboring Galveston to sell. People had learned some of these trades in slavery. Many of the informants said their fathers or grandfathers held several jobs at one time to make enough money to support their families. Hard work and ambition seemed to be respected characteristics not only in the immediate family, but in the community as a whole.

As stated previously, most of the community could be considered related kin in some way. Very few outside families intermarried into the community. Children were taught at a very early age who their family members were. It was not only a means of identifying other kin, but also used to clarify the identity of the child as he/she fit into this close-knit kinship system. As adults, the elderly informants could not only recount their own genealogical history, but others’ in the community as well.

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MEDICINE

As I interviewed people I compiled a list of recommended treatments and the ailments that warranted these remedies. I also asked if only one special person in the community held this medical healing knowledge. The informants indicated that it was common knowledge to all.

ASTHMA

"If your children had Asthma. You take them to a willow tree. You measure them how tall they are and when they move away you drive a nail in that willow tree. When they grow past that, they don’t have Asthma no more. They done outgrowed it."

BOWEL PROBLEMS

"Mama would say she was cleaning you out. She’d give you Black Draught. That was another thing I couldn’t hardly stand. Triple 6 and Black Draught. Not that syrupy Black Draught, the powder. She would put it in your hand, and see that you licked it off. It would gum all up. It was nasty stuff too. I hated it. It would clean you out. She’d say, ‘Does your head hurt? Well, we need to clean you out.’ My mother, in October or the last of September she’d line us all up and give us a dose of Black Draught and Castor Oil. Getting out all the impurities. And you were clean! So you wouldn’t get sick. Mama would make everyone of us take that Black Draught and boy, I would feel good. Powder is what I took. You would steam it. My mama used to boil it and make a tea. And that was bitter! Bitter as gall. I didn’t ever taste gall, but I heard people talk about it. Bitter as Quinine. I know what that is. I hated Black Draught until I learned to take it dry."

"All my babies got Castor Oil. Her mama gave it to her. My mama gave that to me. I gave that to all my children. It makes fine, healthy babies. If you’ve got a stomach ache, or if you’re constipated. I liked that Castoria. They’d say ‘Don’t be drinking that baby’s Castoria!’ I thought it was sweet. I thought it was good."

"Another thing was the willow. You take the leaves if you have diarrhea and chew them and it stops the diarrhea. I heard about eating starch for the same thing. Back years ago, they ate alot of starch. They made some that wasn’t a powder, it was big pieces. Somebody used to eat so much starch. My sister used to eat starch. We told her that we had heard of a lady that ate so much starch that her bowels wouldn’t move and it just starched her bowels right up. So we would tell her she was going to be like that lady. There used to be a starch called Argow. Plenty of people liked to eat that starch and crunch it. She’d eat a few pieces and we’d be on her. She liked to hear it crunch. I guess she was craving for it. Mostly she ate it when she was pregnant. She didn’t eat it after. Just the women, I never heard of no man eating starch."

"I do remember that I had a couple of aunts that would eat dirt. Now why, I don’t know. It’s like they had a craving for dirt. Maybe there was something in that dirt. I wasn’t curious enough to try it. It’s something like a dog eating grass. He’s getting something out of that grass."

"Honeysuckle – they said if you sucked on that and you had worms that you would pass those worms."

CHILDHOOD DISEASES

"Measles or anything _ that old hog hoof tea is coming up. They’d boil that for Chicken Pox too. For mumps _ sardines. You ate some, and they’d tie a cloth around your head with some in there. It smelled bad."

COLDS OR FLU

"We’d get sick and she would say she was going to make a tea. I’d say, ‘Oh, Lord, what kind of tea now?’ She’d say, ‘Hog hoof." Hog hoof tea!! She’d boil that old hog hoof. Nothing but that old hog hoof. It was supposed to make you feel better if you had a cold or flu. Yeah, hog hoof tea. I could do pretty good with it, but one of my sisters _ When it would get around to her, she would cry. I would feel so sorry for her I would take and drink hers too. I would have to drink mine and hers too! I told her that it wasn’t going to do her good if I drank it. I drank it so she wouldn’t get in trouble. We’d see that mama had saved them old things to boil. Ooh, it sure was nasty."

"There was a sage tea, if you had a cold. You’d boil it and drink it."

"My family used Triple 6 and Black Draught, Castor Oil and all that stuff. That was to work the cold out. That was the way my mother did it. It would get the fever out and all the cold out."

"My daddy, like if we were sick there was this medicine he called Calomine. It was a white powder. He could potion it out. He would potion out Calomine and give it to us and that would break the fever and cut all that cold out. It was good medicine for young and old. Not everybody could potion it though. It was a medicine that you’d have to be careful of."

"If a child had fever, you’d get peach leaves and boil it and bathe them in it. Give them a little sip to swallow. You’d put them in a bed and cover them up. They’d sweat and pull their clothes off and they’d be better."

"They could go by a certain tree and get a root and make some tea. You had epidemics like the 1900’s when they had a fever or the Flu where I’m told you couldn’t take strong medicine. Some people used more of a tea and sweated it out. Some made a willow tea to help with the fever."

CUTS AND WOUNDS

"My mother used cobwebs on a bad cut and turpentine. She poured turpentine on the cobwebs and put it on there with a rag. They used cobwebs to stop bleeding. They’d lay it right on the place. If you cut yourself, they’d reach up and get a bunch of cobwebs. And that was a coagulant. That was to clot you. But if you’re out with nothing else you’re glad to reach up and get them cobwebs to put on there. That’s for a pretty bad cut."

"If you had a cut, they’d pour kerosene on it and bind it up. They used coal oil alot."

"Then you had salt pork if you had a nail in your foot. That would draw the impurities out. Before a wound was going to close up, they’d put a piece of fat meat on it and put a rag around it. That and some turpentine."

ENLARGED NAVEL

"It’s like a baby with a big, ol’ navel. When they don’t fix ‘em up right they have a big navel. Mama told me to watch the hen when it laid. And when that hen lay, make sure you have that baby there. Take that egg in. The small end of it, rub it on the baby’s navel. Just rub it on the navel. Right after it was laid. Take it and rub on that baby’s navel. Take the egg where the water runs down off the house, ‘cause there aren’t any gutters. Bury it right under that drain and when that egg rots, the baby’s navel will be gone back. It worked. There was this girl that had a baby with a big navel. I told her to bring her to me. She wouldn’t bring her. I don’t know what was in that egg. Just any egg from that hen house wouldn’t work. It had to be just laid. That sure did work. I’ve done that egg thing right here in my house."

NOSEBLEED

"Sometimes if children are having a nosebleed, they’d take a knife and hold the sharp edge under your throat. The blade _ they said that it was cutting the blood off. all those old things, Lord have mercy _ I don’t know if they were doing any good or not. It’d stop when it got ready."

SNAKE BITE

"Like children playing and they get snake bit? My daddy dug a hole and put the foot in it, and put some water in it. He got some things with big, ol cockleburrrows. They called them Jimpson Weeds. It was taller than a thistle. Most of this grew in a lot where cattle and stuff were. They pulled up some of that stuff, beat it up, and poured it into that hole. They pulled that mud back up on that foot and wouldn’t let them take it out til it quit hurting. To draw any poison out."

"Some used pecan leaves and huckleberry – coal oil was strong in them days. If a snake bit you, they’d soak you in coal oil."

"If a person got snake bit, someone would go in the chickenyard, split a live ‘frizzy’ chicken down the back, and lay that on the snake bite. This would draw the poison out. It couldn’t be just any ol’ chicken. It had to be that kind."

THRUSH

"My mama would use willow for what they called ‘thrash.’ You know the bumps in the mouth? My mama would take the willow and take nine prongs and run them through your mouth back and forth two times and hang it behind the stove to dry. When it dried, – we had an old wood stove – when it dried those things would supposed to be gone, and they would be gone. It would hurt, but them things would be hurting worse than that. There’s juice in there. They’d run it through your mouth. There must have been something in that willow that was curing. And when it dried, the mouth was supposed to be dried out."

"For thrush, you’d rinse it out with salt and water. In them days you only had warm salt and water. People used them old home remedies. Not much taking children to the doctors. You had to try everything at home first."

WASP BITE

"A wasp bite - you take a cockleburrow. The cockleburrow was good. You take and squeeze the juice out of the leaves. Usually for wasp stings. Mast it up and put that juice on it so it wouldn’t swell. But see cockleburrows kill pigs. They like to eat ‘em, but they die. They do something to ‘em. If you want to lose alot of pigs, let them in the cockleburrow patch. Especially when they are little, they must taste good when they are young."

One of the informants talked about traveling salesman that provided some of the needed medicines for the people.

"They had Watkins liniment back then too. He came by and you’d buy a liniment and salve, and cod liver oil - The Watkins liniment man had false teeth. I had never seen false teeth before. He would take his tongue and push his teeth out. He said, ‘I bet you can’t do that.’ I tried for hours to do that."

Almost all of the informants agreed that the turpentine, teas made from roots and herbs, and the use of the actual plant itself were the standard medicines used to treat certain medical needs. However, they felt something had drastically changed over the years, because those treatments were no longer effective.

"In the last 10 year or so, alot of the old people have passed away. They knew all that stuff. Them home remedies were real good. But it don’t seem like they work now. I don’t know why. I don’t know if all the land is fertilized and things won’t grow right or what it is. But it don’t work now like it used to. They worked in them days. You die now if you fool with ‘em. They paid strict attention to what they was doing. You didn’t do half way. I imagine they had schooled in that. What I mean by that, I imagine someone went on to the happy hunting ground. If you missed _ You had to be precise at what you were doing."

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FOLKTALES

I did not originally intend to collect folktales because of the extensive work that has already been done in this field. However, she was told two folktales during the course of the study --- one traditional interpretation, one that was different. The informant said that her father, who had once been a slave, passed on these stories to her when she was young.

The traditional folktale is as follows: "The farmer couldn’t catch the rabbit. He come in there getting water at the well. They couldn’t catch the rabbit so they put a Tar Baby at the well. The rabbit came there and the rabbit aid, ‘I see you, you better get away from there.’ The Tar Baby couldn’t move. So he goes up to the Tar Baby and he slaps him with his foot. And that one stuck. Then the farmer came, he said, ‘I’ve got you now.’ Somehow or another the rabbit got loose. He grabbed at the rabbit and that’s when he jumped under the briar bush. The farmer grabbed the rabbit’s foot and the rabbit said, ‘That isn’t my foot, it’s the briar.’ But it was his foot. He turned his foot and he grabbed the briar. The rabbit run off from him and told him he was born and bred in the briar patch. That rabbit was always scheming."

The following tale had the same general premise as a story I had heard all my life, but with a slightly different emphasis on the characters:

"I remember my daddy would tell me about the rabbit and the turtle. They were going to have a race. And so the rabbit was just dancing around, knowing he was going to beat the turtle running. The turtle would just crawl along. But that turtle had a wise head. He had went and placed a turtle at every stop. Wasn’t only him, you know, . . . all turtles look alike. The main turtle starts out with him, but he done placed turtles all along, you know? Starts out with him, and every time he stops, there was a turtle. ‘I’m going to get away from you now.’ He’d run and run and he’d stop. There was a turtle. When he got to the last end, there was a turtle but the turtle done beat the race. There were many turtles lined up along the way."

There was one account that gave insight into the local community as well:

"My daddy would be around some of those masters ‘cause he told me one thing. His owner had a load of money on a slide. I believe he had 4 sets of horses pulling that slide. He rode that slide, but he was little, and he was with them all the time. They carried that money and put it in a hole. And they covered that money up. He couldn’t course himself back to that money for nothing. After they was dead and gone he really didn’t know. He was with them when they buried it. But he was so little. All that was thicket. Somebody said they found it, but I don’t think they done found that money. Somewhere it’s just loads of money buried. See they was going . . . the Confederates with the war coming on . . . they was going to take all that money. They buried that. Some people got killed getting their money. Sure did."

I was especially interested in the second folktale. It had the same general premise as the familiar story, The Tortoise and the Hare, but it conveyed a different message to the listener. In the "traditional" rendition, the turtle wins the race against the rabbit more so because the rabbit is lazy and makes the mistake of falling asleep. In the informant’s version, the turtle wins because he has outsmarted the rabbit. The intellectual emphasis had been shifted to favor the turtle. As in so many African American folktales, the story was teaching the lesson to triumph through intelligence.

The passing dig which stated, "You know all turtles look alike," was very funny considering the racial remarks whites have always made about blacks. It was an example of how hidden messages and thoughts in the stories could be conveyed without the white possibly interpreting the true meaning. These three accounts became especially meaningful knowing that the informant’s father, grandmother, and grandfather had all come from slavery at a nearby plantation.

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CHURCH LIFE AND EDUCATION

[see also Church Histories]

As stated in Chapter 3 [not included in this web site], the church is one of the most valued aspects in this African American community. In Brazoria, the importance of the church has a rich historical background.

"Back then, your social life, your education, your spiritual life, and everything surrounded the church. That was all they had. This circle was the universe and you didn’t know nothing else. These were communities. All you done was walk and rode horses. These were separate communities. All that was woods and you went through a trail to get over here. Sunday was reverence . . . you didn’t even go fishing on Sunday. Only the necessities, like feeding the animals or something. If you wanted a whipping . . . You know how kids go dancing and things . . . you cut a step around them old people and you’d get whipped."

The informants told of the historical basis for their religious faith.

"You had people that came from the plantations, but they came for certain reasons. If people didn’t have faith in God when they come out of slavery, what would have happened to them? Their life . . . they trusted Him with everything. If they didn’t have the belief that He would take care of them, they’d have died off. See, when they come out of Africa, they lost their names, they lost their religion . . . Some of the expressions of worship came from that. ‘Amen’ means ‘I agree.’ You’re not supposed to say ‘Amen’ if you don’t agree. If you agree, you’re supposed to know."

"Since the church is thought to be the cradle of all activity, it was something that they were building churches a year after freedom. Christianity was used as a means of social control for the slaves. Be obedient to masters and they’d be rewarded in Heaven. Assemblies weren’t allowed without supervision. They were allowed to go to established white churches. If they had black churches, sometimes white ministers preached there. They could express themselves better in black churches – they had similar experiences. The church has had the greatest influence in this area. It was a place to meet people. Unload your burden. The church was the support system."

Those interviewed discussed church formations in the immediate area studied. Church not only provided spiritual support, but a social foundation as well.

"There are more Baptist churches because of preference, I guess. In any community, even in Houston, there are more Baptist churches than any other religion. They probably took the religions of their owners. Then these old Baptist preachers saw a need to organize the churches. The early churches only had 20 or 30 members. Over here, it’s mostly Baptist. In Mims, they’re mostly Methodist. Some from the Mims community go to the AME and some go to Grace."

"They had little trails that run through the woods. The only method of getting there was to walk. They’d go to church, stay til evening, go to church that night, and walk home that night. They spent the day socializing. They didn’t get to see each other too often during the week because of farming. But now, in the city, you’re next door neighbors but you don’t know them. Where we are, we knew everybody in the area. Not as much tightness now, as the way it was when I was growing up. Alot of people wouldn’t go back home on Sundays. They’d come up from way down there and eat dinner, and they’d go back to church that night. They’d go to church and walk that 5 miles back home. They’d already be psyched up to make that trip."

"The church was sort of a place for the people in the community. Schools were scarce then, so church was sort of a gathering place to exchange ideas and information, what you have. All those things were done through the churches. They were trying to organize churches so the people could have a religious belief and there probably wouldn’t be so many wrongdoers."

Jerusalem Baptist was founded in 1886, St. Paul’s Missionary Baptist church in 1867, Grace Methodist in 1870, Zion Temple AME in 1884, Magnolia Baptist in 1889, and Macedonia Baptist in 1803. This information is listed with the founding deacons’ and trustees’ names on the cornerstones of each above mentioned church. The cornerstone has a symbolic meaning to each church community. If a church has a cornerstone, that signifies that the church mortgage has been paid off – that the people, themselves, own the church instead of a mortgage company or a bank. A copy of the original mortgage is placed behind the cement mortar of the cornerstone. Because the cornerstone holds such a liberating meaning for the religious community, I chose to include a detailed history and a copy of the cornerstone inscriptions for each of the six churches represented (see Appendix E) [included in this web site under Church Histories].

In addition to the detailed written accounts, the informants told of the early days of the churches in the area.

"I remember when Magnolia didn’t have a church. They had church services in a tent. Where the little house is now, that’s where the tent used to be. Grace church used to be way out there. Back then, there was nothing down there but dirt road. You had to ‘bog-in’ just to get to church. The old Grace church was probably the center of the community. The road came, so the church moved after the road. Grace is United Methodist, and you know it’s rigid when it comes to education, and it still is. You don’t have a degree, you probably not going to pastor. Israel Campbell was sent after slavery to set up churches. Set St. Paul’s up, set up one in Cedar Lane, and I don’t know where else. Jack Yates was his assistant." [Jack Yates became, later, one of the most powerful churchmen and community leaders in the Fourth Ward Community of Houston, Texas. At some point in the future we will attempt to insert a link from this site to a web site dealing with that community's history].

"There are alot of churches because there was alot of people in this area. There were disagreements. Macedonia came out of St. Paul’s association. St. Paul’s belongs to Lincoln Southern District and ours is South Texas Association. They had an argument over about which association to belong."

"My daddy was a member of St. Paul’s Baptist church in the beginning. And he stayed there for a while. St. Paul’s was just a young church. Then a confusion rose up, and he said he didn’t want to be in confusion serving the Lord. Because you know you can’t serve the Lord mad. You can’t worship Him mad. So he and my grandmother, they decided to take one acre off this land and build a church. So they did because they wanted peace. And they built that church for his family and my grandmother’s family and my mama’s family. Later on, his friends wanted to come with him. He told them that they could come in peace. But he wanted peace."

"Jerusalem was organized as Jerusalem Free Missionary. They recognized that they had been set free. You could serve and go where you want to. They bought one acre in here to build a church here. That building was a high sharp point. And not how you build a church now. There were two side rooms. One at the back and one at the front. The choir was on one side, and the minister was on the other side. The minister would face the choir. The congregation was in the middle. They changed that later. Jerusalem belongs to the American Baptist Association."

The early churches served an additional need for the community, an educational need. All of the early African American schools in that area were housed in the churches.

"Church was a social gathering for information, and later they started schools in the churches. Before my time, they were going to school in the churches. They’d find someone in the community that finished 7th grade or someone who could get something over to the students and at that time there were very few Negro schools. I think it was whites that came in and taught when it first got started. My mother said they used to have school in the church. Then they had school in a little building sitting out from Jerusalem. Jerusalem school came on after St. Paul. My great-grandfather’s kids went to St. Paul’s school. When I got old enough I went to St. Paul’s school. One class was taught in the church. There was another teacher in the main little schoolhouse shack. They taught the children and the children learned. It ceased being at St. Paul and they made it one school. They consolidated the school at Mims, the one at Magnolia, and put it all at Jerusalem. Schooling at Jerusalem went until the 7th or 8th grade. The school at Mims was where the community center is now."

A high premium seemed to be placed on education in the community. Even today, almost every household visited displayed a picture of a graduating senior in cap and gown.

"My granddad’s sisters could all read and write real excellent. My granddad took trigonometry. But his kids didn’t have the education they had. My grandmother went off to college and came back and married my granddad. I think she went to Austin. My mother’s side came out of the Strattons. My granddad on my mother’s side was different from the granddad on my father’s side. He tried to educate all his kids. My mother went to Central in Galveston . . . it was a black high school. My mother finished high school there. My father could read and write. They taught him at home. His mother could read and write. Maybe she had learned in slavery. I don’t know how she learned. Maybe some of the white peoples did with the womens and things."

Although school was important, it had to be scheduled around the agrarian responsibilities of the students.

"School was centered around your activities, which was farming. When I started school, I started in October and went through March. 6 months. You pick cotton and everything up in October, sometime into November too. You’re planting after March and April. Then they put another month on to make it 7 months. That was mostly in the black schools because they were doing the hard labor in the fields. Especially if you were staying on the whites’ place or something."

The past tradition of celebrating religious activities together began as a necessity. Church would be held once a month at each church. If the people wished to go to church each week, they would have to attend someone else’s church. Provisions were made for the anniversary homecoming services as well. Celebrations would occur in October after the crops had been harvested. "The reason was, that at that time people had money if they made a cotton crop. They’d give so much money so the church would have money to run it. The harvest time. What people made they shared it with the church."

The celebrations were on alternating Sundays so that the people could attend all of the services to fellowship with their neighbor. Jerusalem Baptist held their services the first Sunday in October because they were the oldest in that area. St. Paul’s is the second oldest, so they celebrate on the second Sunday of October. Macedonia’s services are held on the third Sunday in October. I do now know exactly when Zion Temple AME, Grace Methodist, or Magnolia host their anniversary services.

Some of the informants felt that there had been a decline over the years in the religious faith of the community.

"It’s been hard. The Lord brought them through the hard times. Before freedom the old master carried them to church. They was having a hard time. They were treated like an old mule or something. I don’t know . . . we’re kind of doing better so we’ve pushed the church aside. They learned how to sing and pray in slavery because it was kind of rough. Not kind of, it was real rough. They had to slip off and do that. They didn’t allow it. But those old people were religious."

"It was ‘sister’ and ‘brother.’ They had church. They had great revivals. They’d take in sinners. It used to be where the church windows could open. Now the only way you can hear anything, you got to come inside. Sinners used to be able to come to the windows and be drawn in. Now the only way to be drawn in, you have to already be in."

"The church was important in those days. You don’t have the rip in the community because of religion. Here you’ve only been taught the pure of heart . . . not what denomination you are. Now it’s different. The younger folk have grown weaker and wiser. They’re weaker, and they know different things. All the people were strong and those old people were from the Mother Wit, you just know those things. But now, you read, and instead of going right, you look . . . These parents should teach their children at home. Some of them have been raised right. Some have gone to Sunday school every Sunday, but they just turn. They got physically weak. All them old people grew to be old. This has been a wonderful community, but the younger folks are not a strong as the older people was."

"We always tease about the three Baptist churches. They come together for Easter and other occasions. We sometimes wish they were just one. But I don’t think that will ever happen. I think the younger generation would go for it, but I don’t think the older people would. After all, if we go to Heaven, we’re going to be up there together."

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RACIAL ISSUES

I was told numerous stories during the course of this study about the social injustices done to the informants’ families. Some of the stories included losing land and/or money to whites in the area. Other accounts addressed the physical atrocities which occurred at that time such as various beatings and hangings. Because of the racially motivated power structure, blacks had little or no recourse in these matters. Most of those stories were told with the tape recorder turned off. I will respect the wishes of the informants to keep those issues out of print. However, one can not examine the survival tactics of this rural, African American community without acknowledging the racial climate it has had to endure.

"Parents didn’t tell their children alot about slavery. They thought it would cripple ‘em . . . Mentally! It would harm them and mess up their future hope. My daddy and mother would sit down at night and they’d be talking. They’d tell me. Some things I didn’t want to know. They’d start telling me about slavery and I didn’t want to hear about that. Some of the things they were saying I didn’t want to hear because it didn’t sound so good. It wasn’t no music to your ears. They’d talk about these things at certain times."

The people explained how the most basic freedoms in life were not realized by the African Americans during slavery. The inhumane treatment of blacks during those times seems unfathomable.

"Sometime my daddy would sit and laugh at himself. I believe he was the oldest child. My grandmother was a cook. There’d be a gang of black children would be in the kitchen. They had a tray for food. Like for slop. They’d pour the food in there and they’d all get down there and be eating. She’d fix her child some food and he‘d sit up at the table and be eating. He saw all them children down there eating like pigs and he didn’t want to do that. He was older and he had experienced all them things."

"And it used to be in slavery times, . . . you take the black peoples, they was very religious and they believed in church and they’d get to singing and they’d get happy. And when they’d get happy, they’d liable to holler out. And old master would come and he’d beat ‘em. Sometime they’d get to praying and then the spirit would start to get high, what they’d have to do . . . they’d have to put their head under a washpot so the sound couldn’t come out. Some way so the sound couldn’t come out, ‘cause if the sound come out he’d come and beat ‘em ‘cause he didn’t want them to worship the Lord. They had hard times."

"Alot of times the black women had to go with those masters in order to save their husbands. They’d beat them up, bury some alive, hang ‘em. Cruel people. The Jordans were not mean people, especially to my daddy and his family. They weren’t mean like others around here. Auctioned them off. You take my grandmother _ she was sent to Caney (Cedar Lane). She had three sisters. She didn’t know where they were sent. After my mama was married, my grandmother came down here to visit my mama and she found her three sisters."

After freedom, the Jim Crow Laws of segregation prohibited blacks and whites to share public facilities.

"My grandfather was a barber. He had two barber shops in Brazoria. One was white and one was black. Even though he was black, he cut the whites’ hair. But the blacks and whites couldn’t go to the same barber shop."

"Later funeral parlors were black and white. Freeport doesn’t have a black funeral home. But they have a big white one. Very seldom do they get Negroes’ business. Angleton has a Negro and a white one. West Columbia has two ---- a white one and Negro one."

Because the people of the community has been through such a traumatic experience, before and after freedom, they banded together to celebrate their survival.

"In the early 1900’s they had huge celebrations to celebrate the 19th of June. It was closer to the period. People made contributions. Brazoria had Emancipation Park. Huge celebrations. Then people got where they thought it was undignified to celebrate."

[The community now has a very large Juneteenth celebration at the Mims Community Center, a community center near the Mims Community, where many of the people who lived on the Mims Plantation settled].

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BURIAL PRACTICES

Because of the Jim Crow Laws, there were no funeral homes or morgues that specifically dealt with the African American population in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Therefore, the community was forced to take care of their dead themselves.

"Alot of people started dying. The 1900’s. It was a Flu epidemic. Most people just died of old age. They didn’t know names for some of these diseases. I think they had things and they’d die, and not know why. They fell dead. But if they fell dead, it was heart attack. They didn’t know alot of things. TB was what people had. Coughing. Now that was what people had to be particular with ‘cause you could sure catch it."

"If somebody died they’d sit up with ‘em. They had what they called ‘toning’ the bell. Someone died, they’d tone the bell. No matter what time of night it was. Each church had a bell. There was one person who did the bell. There was a certain sound. For funerals, there was a different tone. I’ll never forget that sound. If you were sick, people in the community would come and stay with that person. When they passed, they’d get the man to tone the bell. He would get up and tone the bell. Some would go down there and then go back and tell their neighbors. That’s how the word got around."

"When someone would die, all the neighbors from far around would come to your rescue. And out of some of them, some would swaddle them. Before undertakers came along and they would clean that person up. Swaddle them and take care of them. That’s what the old people would call it. Put clothes on them. They called it swaddling, undertaker shops way back yonder. They’d lay them up there on a cooling board. At their house. People would sit around and drink coffee and visit. They’d sit in the house in my mama’s day."

"I’ll tell you what my daddy told me. There was this one man that died ... went down and swaddled him. They tied the handkerchief around to hold his mouth together. Under the mouth over the top of the head to keep the mouth from coming open. And they laid him up there. They was going to bury him and do what they was going to do and some of them was crying and all. When they did, he come to himself and looked up and they done swaddled the man and he had that thing tied around his head and he was standing at the doors listening. Everybody broke out of there and ran! Even the mules broke loose and ran. Everybody was gone and left the man. See he wasn’t dead. They thought he was dead. Like now, I say so many people are killed by the undertakers. If they ‘die off’ you’re already gone. When they stick that needle in you, that’s it. So often in those days the people were getting off them cooling boards. They wouldn’t be dead. They’d let ‘em lay out over night."

Because there were no funeral homes for the deceased to be embalmed, the burial process had to occur quickly before decay began. Also the community was responsible for sometimes building a coffin as other options were not available.

"The oldest black funeral home is Viola in Bay City. Viola started in the 1930’s. Before then, they buried them before they processed. There wasn’t embalming. They used to bury them and not embalm them. You had to bury them quick. You can’t keep them long. ‘Cause there’s no undertaker. If you don’t bury them the next day, they start smelling."

"One time, they said a man died so hard he went to Heaven. His eyes was what they called purging. His eyes was foaming. They had money over his eyes. And my daddy wasn’t scared of nothing. They asked him to get the money off his eyes. His children didn’t want nothing to do with him ‘cause he touched his eyes and they were purging. The money was to hold the lids. That’s what they always used. I guess because it’s got a weight."

"Sometimes they’d build a casket. Somebody would build a wooden casket. Wooden coffin. It may not have been from the family. Maybe anybody who was a carpenter or anybody who could do it. My daddy was good about making caskets. And he’d put a cover over them. He’d cover them with material on the inside. My brother and I would be playing and he would always be making a casket. My granddad on my mother’s side built his own coffin. He used to build coffins. My mother said somebody died and he let him have his coffin, and he had to go buy him one."

The informants spoke about the burial practices in further detail. They explained that there were several old cemeteries where burial took place. Some of the churches in the area had cemeteries. However, many of the older burials occurred on private property owned by an Anglo Jordan descendant. Burials on this property possibly began during slavery. [See David Bruner's paper on the Juden Cemetery].

"They used to bury you 7 foot. When they buried you, they buried you in those days. They didn’t want to be bothered with it, they wanted to make sure you stayed buried. They put them down further ‘cause there was no embalming back then."

"Back in them times they didn’t put anything on ‘em for the memory. No sign on it to show who it is. There’s many a grave out here . . . Most of them aren’t marked. There’s graves all along in here. You don’t know who it is. They marked the grave with a stick or something like a particular design. But eventually that will fail. Twenty years go by and nobody knows who’s buried there. There’s not even a hump in the ground anymore. In fact, it may be a sink in the ground . . . because the wooden caskets when they rot cause the ground to sink. It had all that dirt . . . they took up all that space. When they start rotting, the weight of the dirt and the water cause it to sink."

"You’ve got some cemeteries like the Jordan Cemetery [Juden Cemetery] where you’ve got to get up in the woods to find. Someone from the Jordan Plantation just started letting people that worked for them bury and their kin. I guess in slavery times they were buried there. We just always knew people were buried there. People were burying there before that individual got that place. The master probably told them that’s where they could bury the people. They didn’t want to put no gap in there ‘cause they didn’t want no one rustling their cattle. You got to remember cattle rustling has always been popular in Texas."

"The man that has it now probably just has respect for the graves and he just doesn’t bother it. What cleaning it gets now is probably what the cattle do. When the old peoples died out they wouldn’t let them come out any farther. You could go down in the slough, but you couldn’t come out any farther. Around that sink. It was all cleared off at one time, but it’s done growed up now."

One of the major problems that the Jordan cemetery presented was the lack of entry into the burial area.

"The landowners would let you bury over there but they wouldn’t let you have a way to get in there. So when you come down here to bury somebody you had to take the body and put them though the fence and go over there and bury them. You had to put the casket through the fence."

"They never did stop us from burying at Jordan. You could carry someone over there now and bury them, but we don’t want to. We wanted our own place. When they got ready for the cattle to run, they didn’t fence it off. That’s the problem with a hand-me-down cemetery. All this used to be woods. Nothing would keep the cows from going through there and tearing everything up. We had been burying in there with the cows and things, and we got tired of the cows walking over the graves."

"The young people wanted a way to get in there, but they couldn’t get a way in there. We decided we’d buy land. The young people and some of the elders formed a Cemetery Committee. They formed the association. They had to form a cemetery club. Anybody could bury in there. Anybody could buy a plot. You paid fifty dollars for a plot. We wanted to buy on the road. We bought three acres. Everybody in the community knew about it. Our relatives were some of the ones that had bought that. Some of them are buried out there. We got together, and when we got it straight we called the women in. My nephew was the head of it, but he got killed."

Of the six churches in the immediate area, only two have a cemetery on the church grounds. One of these is St. Paul’s and the other is Jerusalem Baptist.

"In the old Grace cemetery they didn’t have no conveniences to get where you needed. Grace had a cemetery, they just couldn’t get to it. This time of year, this kind of weather ... In the summertime when it was dry, they could go back there to bury. They still had to have a wagon. The wagons would bog down trying to get back up in there. Then they brought the church up on the road. They buried several people out there at the newer church. Come to find out there was a conflict of interest burying at the church. Some ruling in the Methodist church said they couldn’t bury on the church grounds anymore."

"You take the cemetery down at St. Paul’s. There are Macedonia people that used to belong to St. Paul’s buried there. When they broke off, they didn’t carry the cemetery with them. They still come down there. There were only two people that bought plots down there. They paid five dollars for their plot. Everybody else just buries there on account of the church. Where the church is today . . . we bought that. The cemetery still don’t belong to the church. It belongs to the heirs of the one that donated the 2 acres for the cemetery. It’s private property but they just let people bury over there. The reason why Macedonia don’t have a cemetery up there . . . the land was one acre. Most of the black churches bought two acres."

"Jerusalem has their own, but the cemetery doesn’t belong to the church. It’s for the community. It belongs to the people. Now if you were a member of Jerusalem, they kept records. When you died and stuff like that. They had one book and it was destroyed. I’m looking for information. It’s just lost. Nobody knows."

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ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF LIFE

AGRICULTURE AND LAND ACQUISITION

Some of the ex-slaves stayed on the plantations after freedom to become tenant farmers. Some could not afford land of their own, therefore, they were forced to stay in a sometimes disadvantaged position.

"Some of the land was bought. Some may have been given. Of course 25 cents an acre then was a high price. They came out of slavery without anything. Back then 25 cents was a whole lot. There was some that couldn’t pay that, they just come out and didn’t have anything. Ex-slaves stayed in close proximity to past plantations. There were so many sharecroppers that lived up in here. They worked for the master and he paid ‘em. Craig had houses all strung all over his place, and the people that was working for him ... he turned around and leased out kind of like sharecropping. That was where I was born ... The Craig place."

Depending on the landowner, the tenant farmer would get a certain percentage of the crops he/she raised. Most of the people interviewed agreed on the normal distribution for that area at that time. The tenant would pay the landowner 1/4 of the cotton and 1/3 of the corn, in exchange for renting the land.

Sometimes an additional amount had to be paid for the cotton ginning fee and the corn milling fee. At times, the cotton businesses would accept the seeds in payment for the ginning fee. This only helped the farmer temporarily. He/she would need to buy their cotton seeds right back the following year in order to plant their crops. If for some reason the farmer’s crops failed, then he/she would be in debt to the landowner the following year for two years’ worth of materials.

"Craig wasn’t as rigid, he took whatever they gave him. He wasn’t too hard. We’re talking about the son, not the old one. It’s down at Cedar lake and 2611. That was one place where employment was after slavery. Craig was a big cane farm. Craig had his cut off in 12 or 20 acre blocks. He had ditches back there. You can still see them. It was probably first cut for drainage. Later it was used to divide it up."

"Every generation do what it has to do to stay alive. That filters down to yourself. You do whatever you have to do to survive." An early minister at St. Paul’s urged the people to get their own land. "I don’t think that was unique during that period. That was told to all sharecroppers. Maybe something more to it in that area. But it tied in with sharecropping at that time."

"A few of them did do something on their own. The second generation. They didn’t get the property till after they were free. After freedom was declared, my daddy’s daddy purchased 121 acres of land from Rebecca Cummings. My granddaddy bought alot of land in Mims Community."

"People were buying their land. My grandfather was telling me about all them moving in together. My great grandfather owned alot of land. It’s like up here, there’s a lot of brothers who bought side by side and all that stuff. It’s not exactly one family , but alot of brothers. If you bought so much land, they named it after you. People always said you came out of slavery and they gave you so much land. . . you bought it!! Here in Texas especially."

As more African Americans could afford to buy their land, they started allowing tenant farming on their own property. The blacks could make a more substantial profit when dealing with people from their own community.

It appears that the early farmers and early churches of that area settled along a body of water referred to as a slough (see Appendix B) [not included on this web site. A "slough" is also sometimes referred to as a "slew"; in either case the pronunciation is like "slew"].

"The reason they got up along that slough, is because it was higher. What you could call a pond, we call a slough. It comes on down and the lake line is maybe one of its boundaries. Some of the roads or passageways were by the sloughs, because they were high. See all this was woods. They could have settled along there to possibly have a water source. It wasn’t deep enough to travel on. But sometimes people raised fish in there. Sometime they could get them on a line and sometime nets."

"The original water source was like an open well, ground well. 10 or 15 feet in the ground. 4 by 4 wide. Water comes in there. But nobody dug it. Sometimes it dries up some in the summer. There used to be alot of families in here. That wasn’t the source of drinking water. For washing or for the cows. Animals. The people didn’t drink the water out of the sloughs, even back then."

"They dug an open well. Maybe this father and his son dug a well and all his family got water from there. They’d haul it in a wagon or whatever. That slough must be some kind of boundary line. It goes up there by the Jordan Place and comes on through, comes on through. That’s where the people were living. Through there."

The farmers in the area raised mostly cotton and sugar cane. "We’re talking after slavery. That’s dealing with cotton. People had sugar cane for syrup." Most of the ex-slaves knew how to make syrup, so they continued to tap this resource.

Several of the descendants described the syrup-making process:

"People cut the cane and hauled it to the mill. The mill was set up. They have some stalks up there, they put a load . . . They’d pull those stalks right close up to the mill. One somebody feeding that mill, pushing that cane through the mill. And they have levers up on that mill and it’s going round and round. Used to be with horses. Round and round, and you’d put that cane through the mill and it’s going round and round. Used to be with horses. Round and round, and you’d put that cane in there and the juice squeezes out and either go in a barrel or it got piped to a pan. You fix it where it’ll strain on into the pans. Or it’ll come into a barrel and you put in it a pan. And you start a fire under there and it’d boil. Let it boil. First thing you put in there, a little bit of lime. That brings the dirt to the top. Skim that, and keep skimming the dirt that comes to the top. Keep skimming that off. And then when it’s practically clean, it’s time for some more to come in. You put that juice in the next pan. And then that one in the next one. When it gets to the last pan it’s ready to come out for syrup. And there’s a hole there. Pull that lug out, and you got something sitting there, and let it run out. It’s pure syrup. How can you tell it’s syrup? Just like when you’re making sugar. Those big bubbles come up and have a gloss to ‘em. When you get so experienced you don’t have to try it. You let it out of there, can it up, and it’s good to eat. My daddy had a sugar mill. I learned that then. I’d watch him and I’d say, ‘Now you don’t think I can do that?’ I was small size. I guess that’s where he caught his, from watching others during slave times."

Four of the male descendents explained the importance of the moon and the astrological signs in this agrarian society.

"My father and grandfather taught me how to plant, when to plant, and they didn’t need to tell me when to plow, I knew that. When I got old enough, I knew it by then. To know when to plant I looked at the almanac. McDonald’s almanac. You’ve got crab signs and twin days. Do not plant on them days. All but corn . . . I plant that whenever I want. A twin day is two crabs together. It’s in the almanac. The signs of the Zodiac. There’s something to those signs. The scorpion, that’s a good sign. I know my dad planted something on the ram one time, and nothing happened. I learned that from him. They come every month. They rotate around each month. There I believe twelve signs and they come a couple or three times a month."

The informants talked about other signs from nature that signaled when to plant.

"There are certain days in the moon. Three days before and three days after the full moon are good times to plant. You plant beans on those good signs. Now my grandmother could tell stories. She could look at the sky and tell you how many days it was going to rain. She could read the sky, and all that stuff. Me, up in the modern age, I got to depend on the radio. The weather man miss more than grandma missed. My great uncle could tell you when it’s going to rain . . . lightening in such and such a place. It’s going to rain for so many days. Sometime so many hours! The old people could look at the moon and tell you. They had no warning other than nature to go on."

Many talked about the food preservation techniques.

"My mother’s father, if he didn’t raise it, we didn’t eat it. We got everything from the farm. My children won’t eat the chickens out there. They’ve played with ‘em! There wasn’t no refrigeration. They canned it. They salted the meat. People didn’t take the chance to put it in the ground to keep it cool. Dogs are pretty good about scratching. They also had smokehouses. They’d get some tin and make a smokehouse. That’d cure it."

The gender roles in this area seem well-defined from past recollections of the informants and by my observation.

"The women could double up and help the man do his work too. I’m sure some men did double up and help her, but you know ... he had to make the living. But the wife still had to help him. In them days they had milk cows and things like that. They used to get milk from the cows, not like they do now. You don’t want to take the chance now. They didn’t have the contamination and the chemical plants that they do now. You don’t know what you’re going to get now. Too many chemical plants and too much exploring. The rainwater isn’t pure anymore either."

The informants felt that other environmental changes were causing problems in their community as well.

"You didn’t have the insects that you do now. You used to be able to plant your crop. Things changed. Now they’re weaker and wiser. I can go out there and try to raise something now and I don’t get nothing. Times brought about a change. I don’t know if we got weaker and wiser, that we’ve learned so much ... we started tampering with the seeds. There were certain seeds that withstood things. There used to be a certain corn that withstood things. There used to be a certain corn that if it was dry, it’d sit there and wait for it to rain and then it’d grow up. You can’t find none of that anymore. We got to experimenting ... We wanted everything to grow in a hurry. Back then, everywhere you see a field it was something growing."

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RECIPROCITY

As mentioned earlier in this thesis, when a baby was born in the community, others came to help the family. When a church had an anniversary celebration, others came to congratulate one another. When someone died, it became a community event to make the coffin and bury the deceased. The people revealed that no matter what someone needed, the community helped.

"They didn’t expect anything back in return in them days. When you got something, you got it. It was over. It was good for the whole community. Once you gave something, you gave it. They had friends and all that. People were pretty good about helping people. People just gave vegetables to you. If you didn’t have any, they just give it to you. ‘Course you’d go pick ‘em. they may pick some and come over and bring it to you if you were sick or something."

"Them old people were Christ-like. They’d go in someone else’s field and help them chop cotton and they weren’t talking about trying to kill them or something. Now you have to be so careful. People would all work together. Together you stand, divided you fall. Even the farmers would help one another. Plowing, chopping, picking cotton ... they’d help one another. One’s through and the other one ain’t through, you go help them. Everybody trying to get through before it rains. Back then, you killed a hog, your neighbor got meat. If they killed a hog, you got meat. If you were in need, you got help. They just gave it. You’d feel good doing those kinds of things. Everybody working together, loving together, and everybody was friends. Wasn’t doing things for spite. They was real. The elder people from far and near have stuck together."

"It was carrying out their religious. . . That was what the Lord wanted. To serve others. You’re a Christian and you’re supposed to be Christ-like, ‘cause He died to save us. He left his church in the hands of His apostles and disciples, and told them what to do. When we go to church we go to worship. We serve in our daily life. We’re helping others. We’re commissioned to do a job. Help others."

"My daddy’s house was a place where people came, some of them would be there all through the week. And on Sundays when they would have church, that was the headquarters where they would go eat dinner. And in those days, those people would fix dinner and they wouldn’t charge no money for that. If they wanted to spend the night, sometime they spent the night. That was the preacher’s home. They would receive them and keep them and not tell them no."

"You’re supposed to help one another whether you’re kin or not. That’s the way I see it. We should stick together as a whole. It has been a pretty good community. Everybody has stuck together. As a community, we must stick together for one another or they wouldn’t get nowhere. In those time, you had to band together to make it anyway. You shared ... Somehow God took care of you."

It seemed to me that reciprocity, possibly stemming from religious values, has been the most influential part of the survival of this community. From birth to death, and everything in between, the people seemed to have helped each other in a collective effort.

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Carol McDavid 1998