Each One Teach One: The Education of the Texas  Freedmen 

Texas Slave Narratives - Education Excerpts 1

Mary Armstrong , 91, lives at 3326 Pierce Ave., Houston, Texas. She was born on a farm near St. Louis, Missouri, a slave of William Cleveland . Her father, Sam Adams , belonged to a "nigger trader," who had a farm adjoining the Cleveland place.


Education Excerpts 2

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WILLIAM ADAMS, 93, was born in slavery, with no opportunity for an education, except three months in a public school. He has taught himself to read and to write.

"I's born a slave, 93 years ago, so of course I 'members de war period. Like all de other slaves I has no chance for edumacation. Three months am de total time I's spent going to school. I teached myself to read and write. I's anxious to larn to read so I could study and find out about many things. Dat, I has done."


SARAH ALLEN was born a slave of John and Sally Goodren, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Before the Civil War, her owners came to Texas, locating near a small town then called Freedom. She lives at 3322 Frutas St., El Paso, Texas.

"We had good times. De worst thing, we didn' never have no schoolin' till after I married. Den I went to school two weeks. My husban' was teacher. He never was a slave. His father bought freedom through a blacksmith shop, some way."


JOHN BATES, 84, was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, a slave of Mock Bateman. When still very young, John moved with his mother, a slave of Harry Hogan, to Limestone Co., Texas. John now lives in Corsicana, supported by his children and an old age pension.

"Missy Hogan was de good woman and try her dead level best to teach me to read and write, but my head jes' too thick, I jes' couldn't larn. My Uncle Ben he could read de Bible and he allus tell us some day us be free and Massa Harry laugh, haw, haw, haw, and he say, 'Hell, no, yous never be free, yous ain't got sense 'nough to make de livin' if yous was free.' Den he takes de Bible 'way from Uncle Ben and say it put de bad ideas in he head, but Uncle gits 'nother Bible and hides it and massa never finds it out."


HARRISON BECKETT, born a slave of I.D. Thomas of San Augustine, Texas, now lives in Beaumont. A great-grandson climbed into Harrison's lap during the interview, and his genial face lit up with a smile. He chuckled as he told of his own boyhood days, and appeared to enjoy reminiscing. At times he uses big words, some of his own coining.

"Dey have some school and de chillen larnt readin' and writin', and manners and behaviour, too. Sometime dey git de broke-down white man to be teacher. But us didn't know much and it taken ten years or more after freedom to git de black men de qualification way he could handle things."


JULIA BLANKS was born of a slave mother and a three-quarter Indian father, in San Antonio, in the second year of the Civil War. Her mother, part French and part Negro, was owned by Mrs. John G. Wilcox, formerly a Miss Donaldson, who had lived at the White House, and who gave Julia to her daughter. After the slaves were freed, Julia continued to live with her mother in San Antonio until, at fifteen, she married Henry Hall. Five years later her second marriage took place, at Leon Springs, Texas, where she lived until moving to the Adams ranch, on the Frio River. Here she raised her family. After leaving the Adams ranch, Julia and Henry bought two sections of state land, but after four years they let it go back because of Henry's ill health, and moved to Uvalde.

"No. They were cut off from education. The way my stepfather got his learning was a cullud blacksmith would teach school at night, and us chillen taught our mother. She didn't know how to spell or read or nothin'. She didn't know B from bull's foot. Some of them were allowed to have church and some didn't. Mighty few read the Bible 'cause they couldn't read. As[Pg 97] my mother used to say, they were raised up as green as cucumbers. That old blacksmith was the onlyist man that knew how to read and write in slavery time that I knew of. My grandmother or none of them knew how to read; they could count, but that was all. That's what makes me mad. I tell my grandchillen they ought to learn all they can 'cause the old people never had a chance. My husband never did have any schooling, but he sure could figger. Now, if you want me to get tangled up, just give me a pencil and paper and I don't know nothing." She tapped her skull. "I figger in my head! The chillen, today, ought to appreciate an education."


MONROE BRACKINS, born in Monroe Co., Mississippi, in 1853, was the property of George Reedes. He was brought to Medina County, Texas, when two years old. Monroe learned to snare and break mustangs and became a cowpuncher. He lives in Hondo, Texas. He has an air of pride and self-respect, and explained that he used little dialect because he learned to talk from the "white folks" as he was growing up.

"If they happened to be a slave on the plantation that could jes' read a little print, they would get rid of him right now. He would ruin the niggers, they would get too smart. The' was no such thing as school here for culluds in early days. The white folks we was raised up with had pretty good education. That's why I don't talk like most cullud folks. I was about grown and the' was an English family settled close, about half a mile, I guess. They had a little boy, his name was Arthur Ederle, and he come over and learned me how to spell 'cat' and 'dog' and 'hen' and such like. I was right around about 20 years old. I couldn't sign my name when I was 18 years old."


JACOB BRANCH, about 86, was a slave of the Van Loos family, in Louisiana, who sold him when a baby to Elisha Stevenson, of Double Bayou, Texas. Jacob helps his son, Enrichs, farm, and is unusually agile for his age. They live in the Double Bayou settlement, near Beaumont, Texas.

"Dere school for de white chillen in Double Bayou and I used to go meet de chillen comin' home and dey stop longside de way and teach me my ABC. Dey done carry me as far as Baker in de book when old missy find it out and make dem stop. De war comin' on den and us daren't even pick up a piece of paper. De white folks didn't want us to larn to read for fear us find out things".


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SYLVESTER BROOKS, 87, was born in Green County, Alabama, a slave of Josiah Collier. The old Negro's memory is poor, but he managed to recall a few incidents of slave days. He lives in Mart, Texas.

"'Bout a year after freedom Old Marse give us a piece of land for a church and dis was de school, too. De preacher's name was Christmas Crawford, and dat de reason I 'members it, it so funny to us. De nigger teacher named Nimron. De niggers has de blueback spellers and larns 'rithmetic, too."


ZEK BROWN, 80, was born a slave of Green Brown, owner of six slave families, in Warren County, Tennessee. Zek came to Texas in 1868, with Sam Bragg. Zek now lives at 407 W. Bluff St., in Fort Worth, Texas.

"I don't 'member when de war start but I 'member when it stop and massa call all us together and tell us we's no more slaves. Him talk lots 'bout what it mean and how it am diff'rent and we'uns have to make our own way and can't 'pend on him like. He say if us stay dere'll be wages or we can share crop and everybody stay. My folks stays one year and den moves to 'nother he farms. Pappy keep de farm and mammy teach school. Her missie done larnt her to read and sich from time she a young'un, so she have eddication so good dey puts her to teachin'.

"De way I leaves home am dis. One day mammy teachin' school and me and my sister am home, and I 'cides she need de haircut. 


HENRY H. BUTTLER, 87, venerable graduate of Washburn College, Topeka, Kansas, and ex-school teacher, was born a slave to Mr. George Sullivan on his 300 acre plantation in Farquier Co., Virginia. Henry and a number of other slaves were transported to Arkansas in 1863, and Henry escaped and joined the Union Army. He now lives at 1308 E. Bessie St., Fort Worth, Texas.

"After I was mustered out of the army, I set out to get an education and entered a grade school at Pine Bluff. I worked after school at any job I could secure and managed to enter Washburn College, in Topeka, Kansas. After I graduated I followed steam engineering for four years, but later I went to Fort Worth and spent 22 years in educational work among my people. I exerted my best efforts to advance my race".


SIMP CAMPBELL was born January 1860, in Harrison County, Texas, He belonged to W.L. Sloan and stayed with him until 1883, when Simp married and moved to Marshall. He and his wife live in Gregg Addition, Marshall, Texas, and Simp works as porter for a loan company.

"They wasn't no school but Marse Bill larnt some his niggers readin' and writin' so we could use them bookin' cotton in the field and sich like. They was a church on the Sloan place and white preachers done most the 'xhorting. Mammy allus say the cullud preachers had to preach what they's told—obey you master and missus".


CATO CARTER was born in 1836 or 1837, near Pineapple, Wilcox County, Alabama, a slave of the Carter family. He and his wife live at 3429 Booth St., Dallas, Texas.

"The Carters said a hunerd times they regretted they never larned me to read or write, and they said my daddy done put up $500.00 for me to go to the New Allison school for cullud folks. Miss Benson, a Yankee, was the teacher. I was twenty-nine years old and jus' startin' in the blueback speller. I went to school a while, but one mornin' at ten o'clock my poor old mammy come by and called me out. She told me she got put out, 'cause she too old to work in the fiel'. I told her not to worry, that I'm the family man now, and she didn't never need to git any more three-quarter hand wages no more".

"So I left school and turnt my hand to anything I could find for years. I never had no trouble findin' work, 'cause all the white folks knowed Cato was a good nigger. I lef' my mammy with some fine white folks and she raised a whole family of chillen for them. Their name was Bryan and they lived on a li'l bayou. Them young'uns was crazy 'bout mammy and they'd send me word not to worry about her, 'cause she'd have the bes' of care and when she died they'd tend to her buryin'.


JEPTHA CHOICE, 1117 Brashear St., Houston, Texas, was born in slavery, on the plantation of Jezro Choice, about 6 miles south of Henderson, Texas. Jeptha was sent to school with the white children, and after he was freed, he was sent to school for several years, and became a teacher. He moved to Houston in 1888 and opened a barber shop. Jeptha claims to have been born on Oct. 17, 1835, which would make him 101 years old. He has the appearance of extreme age, but has a retentive memory, and his manner of speaking varies from fairly good English to typical Negro dialect and idiom.

"Master Jezro was right kind. He had 50 or 60 slaves and a grist mill and tannery besides the plantation. My white folks sort of picked me out and I went to school with the white children. I went to the fields when I was about 20, but I didn't do much field works, 'cause they was keepin' me good and they didn't want to strain me.

"The master and his boys was all kilt in the war and after freedom I stayed all summer. It was pretty tough on us niggers for a while, 'cause the womenfolks what was left after the war didn't have money. But Colonel Jones, the master's son-in-law, took me to live in Henderson and paid twenty-five cents a week for more schoolin' for me and I learned through fractions.[Pg 219] Then I got me a job teachin' school about six months a year and in off times I'd farm. I did lots of different kinds of work, on the narrow gauge railroad out of Longview and I learned to be a barber, too. But I had to give it up a few years back 'cause I can't stand up so long any more and now I'm tryin' to help my people by divine healing."


ANDREW (Smoky) COLUMBUS was born in 1859 on the John J. Ellington plantation, one mile south of Linden, Texas. He continued in the service of the Ellingtons until about 1878, when he moved to Jefferson, Texas. He carried meals to Abe Rothchild, who was in jail, charged with the murder of Diamond Bessie Moore. Andrew was 37 years a servant of Hon. Tom Armistead, and was a porter in the Capital at Austin when Armistead was a senator. Andrew now lives in Marshall, Texas.

"We had a church and a school for the slaves and the white folks helped us git book learnin'. Mos' of the niggers allus went to preachin' on Sunday".


TEMPIE CUMMINS was born at Brookeland, Texas, sometime before the Civil War, but does not know her exact age. William Neyland owned Tempie and her parents. She now lives alone in a small, weather-beaten shack in the South Quarters, a section of Jasper, Tex.

"The white chillen tries teach me to read and write but I didn' larn much, 'cause I allus workin'.


CAREY DAVENPORT, retired Methodist minister of Anahuac, Texas, appears sturdy despite his 83 years. He was reared a slave of Capt. John Mann, in Walker Co., Texas. His wife, who has been his devoted companion for 60 years, was born in slavery just before emancipation. Carey is very fond of fishing and spends much time with hook and line. He is fairly well educated and is influential among his fellow Negroes.

"I was educated since freedom, 'cause they wasn't no schools in slavery days, but after I was freed I went to public schools. Most my learnin' I got from a German man what was principal of a college and he teach me the biggest part of my education".

"When I was 14 a desperado killed my father and then I had my mother and her eight children to take care of. I worked two months and went to school one month and that way I made money to take care of 'em."


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ANN J. EDWARDS, 81, was born a slave of John Cook, of Arlington County, Virginia. He manumitted his slaves in 1857. Four years later Ann was adopted by Richard H. Cain, a colored preacher. He was elected to the 45th Congress in 1876, and remained in Washington, D.C., until his death, in 1887. Ann married Jas. E. Edwards, graduate of Howard College, a preacher. She now lives with her granddaughter, Mary Foster, at 804 E. 4th St., Fort Worth, Texas.

"I began my schooling in Charleston and continued in Washington, where I entered Howard College, but did not continue until graduation. I met James E. Edwards, another student, who graduated in 1881, and my heart overruled my desire for an education. We married and he entered the ministry and was called to Dallas, Texas. He remained two years, then we were called to Los Angeles. The Negroes there were privileged to enter public eating establishments, but a cafe owner we patronized told us the following":


JOHN ELLIS, was born June 26, 1852, a slave of the Ellis family in Johnson County near Cleburne, Texas. He remained with his white folks and was paid by the month for his labor for one year after freedom, when his master died and his mistress returned to Mississippi. He worked as a laborer for many years around Cleburne, coming to San Angelo, Texas in 1928. He now lives alone and is very active for his age.

"My marster, he was a preacher and a good man. None of de slaves ever have better white folks den we did"

"We had good beds and good food and dey teaches us to read and write too".


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LORENZA EZELL, Beaumont, Texas, Negro, was born in 1850 on the plantation of Ned Lipscomb, in Spartanburg County, South Carolina. Lorenza is above the average in intelligence and remembers many incidents of slavery and Reconstruction days. He came to Brenham, Texas, in 1882, and several years later moved to Beaumont, where he lives in a little shack almost hidden by vines and trees.

"I ain't never been to school but I jes' picked up readin'. With some my first money I ever earn I buy me a old blue-back Webster. I carry dat book wherever I goes. When I plows down a row I stop at de end to rest and den I overlook de lesson. I 'member one de very first lessons was, 'Evil communications 'rupts good morals.' I knowed de words 'evil' and 'good' and a white man 'splain de others. I been done use dat lesson all my life".


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BETTY FARROW, 90, now living with a son on a farm in Moser Valley, a Negro settlement ten miles northeast of Fort Worth on Texas Highway No. 15, was born a slave to Mr. Alex Clark, plantation owner in Patrick Co., Virginia.

"I's glad to tell what I knows, but yous have to 'scuse me, 'cause my 'collection am bad. I jus' don' 'member much, but I's bo'n on Masta Alex Clark's plantation in Patrick County, Virginny, on June 28th, 1847. Dat's what my mammy tol' me. You see, we cullud folks have no schoolin' dem days and I can't read or write. I has to depen' on what folks tells me".


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SARAH FORD, whose age is problematical, but who says, "I's been here for a long time," lives in a small cottage at 3151 Clay St., Houston, Texas. Born on the Kit Patton plantation near West Columbia, Texas, Aunt Sarah was probably about fifteen years old when emancipated. She had eleven children, the first born during the storm of 1875, at East Columbia, in which Sarah's mother and father both perished.

"After freedom come, us stays right on with massa and missus. Massa teach school for us at night. Us learn A B C and how spell cat and dog and nigger. Den one day he git cross and scold us and us didn't go back to school no more. Us didn't have sense 'nough to know he tryin' do us good".


CHRIS FRANKLIN, 82, was born a slave of Judge Robert J. Looney, in Bossier Parish, Louisiana. Chris now lives in Beaumont, Texas, and supports himself by gardening and yard work. He is thrifty and owns his own home.

"After freedom dey have de log cabin schoolhouse. De first teacher was de cullud women name Mary Chapman. I near wore out dat old blueblack speller tryin' to larn A B C's".


PIERCE HARPER, 86, was born on the Subbs plantation near Snow Hill, North Carolina. When eight years old he was sold for $1,150 [Handwritten Note: '?'] to the Harper family, who lived in Snow Hill. After the Civil War, Pierce farmed a small place near Snow Hill and saw many raids of the Klu Klux Klan. He came to Galveston, Texas, in 1877. Pierce attended a Negro school after he was grown, learned to read and write, and is interested in the betterment of his race.

"After us cullud folks was 'sidered free and turned loose, the Klu Klux broke out. Some cullud people started to farmin', like I told you, and gathered the old stock. If they got so they made good money, and had a good farm, the Klu Klux would come and murder 'em. The gov'ment builded school houses and the Klu Klux went to work and burned 'em down. They'd go to the jails and take the cullud men out and knock their brains out and break their necks and throw 'em in the river".


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ALICE HOUSTON, pioneer nurse and midwife on whom many San Angeloans have relied for years, was born October 22, 1859. She was a slave of Judge Jim Watkins on his small plantation in Hays County, near San Marcos, Texas and served as house girl to her mistress, Mrs. Lillie Watkins for many years after the Civil War. At Mrs. Watkins' death she came with her husband, Jim Houston, to San Angelo, Texas where she has continued her services as nurse to white families to the present time.

"My white folks, dey tries to teach us to read and spell and write some and after ole marster move into town he lets us go to a real school. That's how come I can read so many docto' books you see".


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MOSE HURSEY believes he is about eighty-two years old. He was born in slavery on a plantation in Louisiana, and was brought to Texas by his parents after they were freed. Mose has been a preacher most of his life, and now believes he is appointed by God to be "Head Prophet of the World." He lives with his daughter at 1120 Tenth St., Dallas, Texas.

"My paw died and maw and me and the children, Nancy and Margina and Jessie and George, moves to a little place right outside Sherman. Maw took in washin' and ironin'. I went one week to school and the teacher said I learned fastest of any boy she ever see. She was a nice, white lady. Maw took me out of school 'cause she needed me at home to tend the other children, so's she could work. I had a powerful yearnin' to read and write, and I studied out'n my books by myself and my friends helped me with the cipherin'.


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JAMES D. JOHNSON, born Oct. 1st, 1860, at Lexington, Mississippi, was a slave of Judge Drennon. He now lives with his daughter at 4527 Baltimore St., Dallas, Texas. His memory is poor and his conversation is vague and wandering. His daughter says, "He ain't at himself these days." James attended Tuckaloo University, near Jackson, Mississippi, and uses very little dialect.

"I went to three different schools down in the woods before I was nine. White people would come and put up schools for the colored children but the white people in Mississippi said they were not good people and would criticize them. Sometimes the schools would get busted up. We studied out of the Blue Back speller and an arithmetic and a dictionary. I could spell and give the meaning of most nigh every word in that dictionary.

"When I was thirteen they held an examination at Lexington for colored children to see who'd get a scholarship at Tuckaloo University, eight miles from Jackson. I was greatly surprised when I won from my county and I went but didn't finish there. Then I went a little while to a small university near Lexington, called Allcorn University. I loved to go to school and was considered bookish. But my people died and I had to earn a living for myself and I couldn't find any way to use so much what I learned out of books, as far as making money was concerned. So I came to Texas, doing any kind of labor work I could find. Finally I married and went to farming 35 or 40 years and raised five children".