Each One Teach One: The Education of the Texas  Freedmen 

Texas Slave Narratives - Education Excerpts 2




Education Excerpts 1

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Hiram Mayes thinks he was born in 1862, a slave of Tom Edgar, who owned a plantation in Double Bayou, Texas. Hiram lives with two daughters in a rambling farmhouse near Beaumont, less than three miles from his birthplace on the old Edgar homestead near the Iron Bridge. For thirty years Hiram has served as Worshipful Master of the Masonic Lodge (Negro) in the vicinity. Native intelligence gleams in his deep-set eyes, but his speech shows that he received little schooling.

"I never did bother with Sunday School much, me. Dey one on de bayou and a white lady, Miss Joseph, am de teacher. Dey wasn't no school but after I git free I go to school on de edge of de woods. Dey have teacher name Runnells and a old blue-back speller to larn out of".


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Susan Merritt, 87, was born in Rusk Co., Texas, a slave of Andrew Watt. A year after she was freed, Susan moved with her parents to Harrison Co., and stayed on their farm until she married Will Merritt. They reared fifteen children. Susan has little to say of her life from 1865 to the present, stating that they got along on the farm they worked on shares. Since her husband's death Susan lives with a son, Willie, west of Marshall, Texas, on the Hynson Springs Road.

"Young missy Betty like me and try larn me readin' and writin' and she slip to my room and have me doin' right good. I larn the alphabet. But one day Missy Jane cotch her schoolin' me and she say, 'Niggers don't need to know anything,' and she lams me over the head with the butt of a cowhide whip".


Tom Mills was born in Fayette Co., Alabama, in 1858, a slave of George Patterson, who owned Tom's father and mother. In 1862 George Patterson moved to Texas, bringing Tom and his mother, but not his father. After they were freed, it was difficult for Tom's mother to earn a living and they had a hard time for several years, until Tom was old enough to go to work on a ranch, as a cow-hand. In 1892 Tom undertook stock farming, finally settling in Uvalde in 1919. He now lives in a four-room house he built himself. A peach orchard and a grape arbor shade the west side of the house and well-fed cows are in the little pasture. Tom is contented and optimistic and says he can "do a lot of work yet."

"What little school I went to was German, at D'Hanis and Castroville. I went to the priest at D'Hanis and to the sisters at Castroville. No education to amount to anything. That was after we were freed. I went to school at the same time that Johnny Ney and his sister, Mary, went to school. I would like to see Johnny and talk to him now. Your grandmother and her sisters and brothers went to that school and I remember all of 'em well. One of them boys, George, was killed and scalped by the Indians, and that was caused by them boys playin' and scarin' each other all the time".


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Charley Mitchell, farmer in Panola Co., Texas, was born in 1852, a slave of Nat Terry, an itinerant Baptist preacher of Lynchburg, Virginia. Charley left the Terrys one year after he was freed. He worked in a tobacco factory, then as a waiter, until 1887, when he moved to Panola Co. For fifty years he has farmed in the Sabine River bottom, about twenty-five miles southeast of Marshall, Texas.

"Course, I didn't git no schoolin'. The white folks allus said niggers don't need no larnin'. Some niggers larnt to write their initials on the barn door with charcoal, then they try to find out who done that, the white folks, I mean, and say they cut his fingers off iffen they jus' find out who done it.

"Bout a year after the Yankees come to Lynchburg they moved the cullud free school out to Lee's Camp and met in one of the barracks and had four white teachers from the north, and that school run sev'ral years after surrender".


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A.M. Moore, aged preacher and school teacher of Harrison Co., Texas, was born in 1846, a slave of W.R. Sherrad who, in the 1830's, settled a large plantation eight miles northeast of Marshall. Moore worked as a farmhand for several years after he left home, but later attended Bishop and Wiley Colleges, in Marshall, and obtained a teacher's certificate. He taught and preached until age forced him to retire to his farm, which is on land that was once a part of his master's plantation.

"Then I went to school at Wiley and Bishop Colleges here for four years and I hold a county teacher's certificate. I have taught school in Harrison and Gregg Counties and in Caddo Parish, in Louisiana. I started preaching in 1880 and for several years was District Missionary for the Texas-Louisiana Missionary Baptist Association. I have preached in and organized churches all over East Texas.

"We raised six children and two boys and two girls are still living. The girls live in Longview and one boy farms. The other boy is a preacher here in Harrison County.

"I have voted in county and other elections. I think they should instruct the Negroes so they can vote like white folks. The young Negroes now have a better chance than most of us had. They have their schools and churches, but I don't think they try as hard as we did. We learned lots from the white folks and their teaching was genuine and had a great effect on us. I attribute the Christian beliefs of our people to the earnest, faithful teaching of white people, and today we have many educated Negro teachers and preachers and leaders that we are not ashamed of."


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William Moore was born a slave of the Waller family, in Selma, Alabama, about 1855. His master moved to Mexia, Texas, during the Civil War. William now lives at 1016-1/2 Good Street, Dallas, Texas.

"I got married and had three chillen, cute, fetchin' li'l chillen, and they went to school. Wasn't no trouble 'bout school then, but was when 'mancipation come. My brother Ed was in school then and the Ku Klux come and drove the Yankee lady and gen'man out and closed the school"


Andy Nelson, 76, is leader of a small rural settlement of negroes known as Moser Valley, ten miles east of Fort Worth on State Highway #15. He was born a slave to J. Wolf, on a Denton County farm, and his mother belonged to Dr. John Barkswell, who owned an adjoining farm. At the death of his father he was sold to Dr. Barkswell. When freed, he and his mother came to Birdville and later moved to Moser Valley, which derives it name from Telley Moses, who gave his farm to his slaves, and sold parcels to other negroes.

"I'se never had no schoolin'. Dey used to think us cullud folks has no use for edumacation. I thinks diff'rent and sends my chillen to school. Dey reads to me from de papers and sich."


Mary Overton, 117 W. Heard St., Cleburne, Texas, was born in Tennessee, but moved when very young to Carroll Co., Arkansas, where her parents belonged to Mr. Kennard. Mary does not know her age.

"My mistis teached me to read and write, but I wouldn' learn. I never went to school neither. She would read de Bible to us".


Martha Patton was born 91 years ago in Alabama, slave to the Lott family, who came to Texas about 1847 and settled near Goliad. After marrying and bearing two children, surviving a famine and scarcity of water, she was freed. She, her husband and others of her family leased farm land on the San Antonio River near La Bahia Mission, at Goliad.

"When de war was over and we moved, de men put up a picket house. Dr. McBride, a soldier, taught school. When de crops was laid by, all de men and women went to school. De chillen went all de time. We had log seats and a dirt flo'. We would have meetin's in de school house. Twasn't fine, but we had good times".


A.C. Pruitt was born about 1861, a slave of the Magill family, in St. Martinville, La. He lives in a settlement of Negroes, on the road leading from Monroe City to Anahuac, in a shanty made of flattened tin cans, odd pieces of corrugated iron and scrap lumber, held together with rope, nails and tar paper. Pruitt migrated from Beaumont to Monroe City when the oil boom came and ekes out an existence doing odd jobs in the fields. He is a small, muscular man, dressed in faded work clothes and heavy brogans, laced with string.

I never go to school but one month in my life and dat in New Iberia. I can sign my name and read it, but dat all".


Harre Quarls, 96, was born in Flardice, Missouri, a slave of John W. Quarls, who sold him to Charley Guniot. The latter owner moved to Texas, where Harre lived at the time of emancipation. Harre now lives in Madisonville, Texas. His memory is very poor, but he managed to recall a few incidents of early days.

"My missus larned me readin' and writin'. After freedom I taught de first nigger school. Dat in Madison and Leon Counties. I's de only nigger what can read and write in two settlements. They was thousands couldn't read and write".


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Elsie Reece, 90, was born a slave of John Mueldrew, in Grimes County, Texas. Elsie came to Fort Worth in 1926 to live with her only remaining child, Mrs. Luffin Baker, who supports Elsie with the aid of her $7.00 monthly old age pension.

There I is, with chillen to support, so I goes to cookin' 'gain and we has some purty close times, but I does it and sends dem to school. I don't want dem to be like dey mammy, a unknowledge person".


Mariah Robinson, born in Monroe, Georgia, does not know her age, but from certain facts and her appearance, is probably 90 or over. Her master was Judge Hill. He gave Mariah to his son-in-law, Bob Young, who brought her to Texas. She now lives in Meridian, Texas.

Miss Josephine boards all de Bosque County school chillen and us have to git de food.

Dat de Bull Run battle and he fit under Gen'ral Lee. Dat left my missy de war widow and she mammy come live with her and she teached in de school".


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Clarissa Scales, 79, was born a slave of William Vaughan, on his plantation at Plum Creek, Texas. Clarissa married when she was fifteen. She owns a small farm near Austin, but lives with her son, Arthur, at 1812 Cedar Ave., Austin.

"Dere was a school after freedom. Old Man Tilden was de teacher. One time a bunch of men dey calls de Klu Klux come in de room and say, 'You git out of here and git 'way from dem niggers. Don' let us cotch you here when we comes back.' Old Man Tilden sho' was scart, but he say, 'You all come back tomorrow.' He finishes dat year and we never hears of him 'gain. Dat a log schoolhouse on Williamson Creek, five mile south of Austin.

"Den a cullud teacher named Hamlet Campbell come down from de north. He rents a room in a big house and makes a school. De trustees hires and pays him and us chillen didn't have to pay. I got to go some, and I allus tells my granddaughter how I's head of de class when I does go. She am good in her studies, too".


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Abram Sells was born a slave on the Rimes Plantation, which was located about 18 miles southeast of Newton, Texas. He does not know his age, but must be well along in the 80's, as his recollections of slavery days are keen. He lives at Jamestown, Texas.

"Massa Rimes didn't whip them much, but iffen they was bad niggers he jes' sold them offen the place and let somebody else do the whippin'. Never have no church house or school, but Massa Rimes, he call them in and read the Bible to them. Then he turn the service over to some good, old, 'ligious niggers and let them finish with the singin' and prayin' and 'zorting. After peach [HW: "?"] cleared, a school was 'stablish and a white man come from the north to teach the cullud chillen, but befo' that they didn' take no pains to teach the niggers nothin' 'ceptin' to work, and the white chillen didn't have much school neither".


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James W. Smith, 77, was born a slave of the Hallman family, in Palestine, Texas. James became a Baptist minister in 1895, and preached until 1931, when poor health forced him to retire. He and his wife live at 1306 E. Fourth St., Fort Worth, Texas

"The way I learns to preach am dis: after surrender, I 'tends de school two terms and den I studies de Bible and I's a nat'ral talker and gifted for de Lawd's work, so I starts preachin'.


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Lucy Thomas,86, was born in Harrison Co., Texas, a slave of Dr. William Baldwin. She stayed with her master until 1868. In 1869 she married Anthony Thomas. She now lives with her son at Baldwin Switch, sixteen miles northeast of Marshall, Texas, on part of the land originally owned by the Baldwins.

"I went to school three months. A Yankee named Old Man Mills run a school and I quit workin' in the field to go. Them days, the Klu Kluxers was runnin' round and I seed big bunches of niggers with they heads tied up, goin' to report the Kluxers to the Progee Marshal".


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Mary Thompson was born a slave 87 years ago, in Denton, Miringo County, Alabama. Her mother, Viney Askew, and father, Wesley Jones, belonged to Green Askew, a Georgian. She was 15 when she was freed. Mary now lives at 1104 East Avenue, Austin, Tex.

"I stayed at marster's house eight months, den hired out at ten dollars a month. Dat was de fus' money I ever made and I didn' want to go to school, 'cause I wanted to make dat money. Dat looked like big money to me. I was proud to have it, 'cause I could git what I wanted. I cain't read or write to this day".


Aleck Trimble His skin was of an extremely dark chocolate color, his hair thin and gray. A blue shirt was about his body while blue trousers enclosed his nether limbs. His bare feet protruded as he sat on an old dilapidated chair. Under his flat nose was a gray mustache, and one eye had completely lost its vision. This small negro man was Aleck Trimble who thoughtfully told the story of his life. [HW: Veth, Tex.]

"Atter freedom come I go to school to a white lady name' Mrs. Tunsten she had a son name' Waddy. She teach de school at Shiloh and all de white chillun and nigger chillun go to school in de same room. She teach her own chillun in dat school on de Huntsville road. I 'member de stages and t'ings gwine by. I t'ought she was a good teacher, but she whip me half a day one time 'cause I didn' spell "gangrene." She whip me 'till I learn how to spell it and I ain't neber forgit. I kin spell dat word yit. I's satisfy she from de Nor'f. Dere was a ol' stage stan' dere by de school house."

"I went to dat teacher and dat school t'ree or fo' year'. Atter she quit teachin' dey was other teachers what come drappin' in and teachin' t'ree or fo' months."


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Lou Turner, 89, was born at Rosedale, near Beaumont, Texas, on the Richard West plantation. She has spent her entire life within three miles of Beaumont, and now lives in her own little home, with her daughter, Sarah.

"Old missy so kind but what got 'way with me, I couldn't go to school. I beg and beg, but she kep' sayin', 'Some day, some day,' and I ain't never sit in a school in my life."


Irella Battle Walker, 86, was born a slave at Craft's Prairie, Texas. Her parents, Mesheck and Becky Battle, belonged to Mr. Battle, but were sold while Irella was a baby to Tom Washington, of Travis County. Irella learned her A B C's from an o1d slave, Jack James, although it was against the rules. This was the only schooling she ever had. Irella receives a monthly old age pension of eight dollars. She lives at 2902 Cole St., Austin, Texas.

"Old man Jack James work at day and have night school at night. He have long boards for benches and let dem down by ropes from de rafters, and have blue back spellers. He point to de letters with de long broom straw and dat's how we larn our A B C's. I can read purty good, when my eyes let me, but I can't write nothin'.


Sylvester Sostan Wickliffe, of Ames, Texas, was born in St. Mary's Parish, Louisiana, in 1854. A free-born Negro, Wickliffe tells an interesting story about his life and that of his uncle, Romaine Vidrine, who was a slave-holder. Wickliffe has a nicely furnished home in Beaumont, and two of his children have been to college.

"Us live in a purty good house not very far from de big house. Dey have what dey calls a private school. It was kep' by my uncle. Only de free-born niggers went to it. De older ones educated in French and de young ones in French and 'merican, too. After de war dey hire a white man named William Devoe to be teacher. He educate de chillen to de third gen'ration. He come to Texas with me and die 'bout five years ago".


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Wayman Williams does not know his age, but he was a small boy when the slaves were freed. He was born in Mississippi, but the first place he remembers is the Sanama plantation on the Trinity river, in Texas. He now lives on North Falls St., in Mart, Texas.

"Some white school teachers from up North come to teach de chillen, but dey didn't talk like folks here and didn't understan' our talk. Dey didn't know what us mean when us say 'titty' for sister, and 'budder' for brother, and 'nanny' for mammy. Jes' for fun us call ourselves big names to de teacher, some be named General Lee and some Stonewall Jackson. We be one name one day and 'nother name next day. Until she git to know us she couldn't tell de diff'rence, 'cause us all look alike to her. Us have good times tellin' her 'bout black magic and de conjure. Us tell her night birds full of magic and dere feathers roast in ashes work spells what kill evil conjure. If a rabbit run 'cross de path, turn your hat round and wear it hind part befo' to keep bad luck away. A buzzard's claw tie round de baby's neck make teethin' easy. De teacher from de North don't know what to think of all dat. But our old missy, who live here all de time, know all 'bout it. She lets us believe our magic and conjure, 'cause she partly believe it, too".


Caroline Wright, about 90 years old, was born near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Dr. Warren Wortham owned her parents and their 14 children. Caroline was 12 when they were freed. Her father, Robert Vaughn, moved to Texas, [HW: with master, p.2, para. 4 & 5] where he prospered and bought more than 300 acres of Tehuacana bottom land in McLennan County. Caroline and her husband now live at 59 Grant St., Waco, in a little house they bought after their family was grown.

Our marster, Dr. Wortham, sho' was a fine doctor. He never whip us. De young missus learned us our A B C's 'cause dere was no school for de slaves. Dere wasn' no church on de plantation, but us all went 'casionally to a big log cabin and camp shed. Sometime a white would preach and sometime a cullud preacher".