03709_0148: Turnips Today, Turnips Tomorrow

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George Carter, 1842, Virginia, Black, formerly enslaved, Savannah, 17 January 1939

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my pappy an' mammy too. Us ain't wu'ked so hard at Maasa Carter's, mos'ly pickinin' 'backer. I 'members when I ain't high as a goat knee I wuz pickin' worms off duh 'backer leaf. I ain't wu'k in duh fiel's long though 'cause Massa make me a house boy. I waited on duh tables an' shine duh spoons, an' fo'ks. Hab tub wu'k hard sometime though w'en dey hab duh 'ceptions.

"W'en I wuz sixteen yeah ol', Massa sol' me an' some mo' Niggers down Sout'. 'Cose us ain't want tuh go, but us hab tuh. Us wuz chained togedder all duh way frum Norfo'k tuh Savannah. An' w'en us got heah dey put us in a slabe pen right under whar B. H. Lebey's sto' use tuh be. Duh nex' mornin' wuz sale day. Dey brung us heah fuh duh Central Railroad. I wuz de only one not sol' tuh duh Central. Dey says I'se too young. Massa McAlpin he done wants me but duh Pres'dent ob duh road tell 'em dat Doctor Arnold hab duh fu'st pick tuh buy me. Doctor Arnold, he been duh doctor fuh duh railroad. Doctor Arnold, he want me fuh a house boy. 'Cause Nellie, she duh doctor's wife, done spent some time in Vaginee at Massa Carter's home, an' she know dat I'se a fuss-class waiter on duh table."

I am interested in the subject of slavery, so I ask, "George, do you remember where any other slave pens were located at that time?"

"Yas suh, good as if it wuz jist yestuhday." He is animated.

"Dere wuz a pen under duh Pulaski House whar dey lock up duh Niggers w'enebuh dey got heah in duh night, an' duh man what hab 'em in charge done stop at duh hotel. Duh reg'lar jail wa'nt fuh slabes but dere wuz a speck'lator jail at Hab'sham an' Bryan Street. Dey lock up duh slabes in duh speck'lator jail when dey brought 'em heah tuh de auction. Mos' ob duh speck'lators come in duh night befo' duh sale an' stop at duh Pulaski House. Duh slabes wuz took tuh duh pen under duh hotel."

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1 would like to listen to George talk about slaves and slave pens all day but I haven't the time. I reach for my watch, to see what time it is. It is missing, of course; I remind myself that the interest is due.

"George, how did you find your new master?" I ask.

George replies, "I ain't fin' 'im, he fin' me."

I am confused a little. I have listened to lawyers ask leading questions; I must try that method.

"George", I ask, "wasn't Doctor Arnold good to you?"

George grins, I do not believe anyone can beat that grin with only six teeth.

"Yas suh, he sho' wuz." He becomes a little meditative. "Though lot ob times, I wuz beg off a beat'n. by Doctor Arnold's mudder an' her good fren' Mis' Hab'sham. I 'members duh only time I is ebuh been whip. Duh massa he done tol' me tuh don't let any dem peddlers an' visitors in duh do' 'less he done tol' me tuh, I done fuhgits dat bery day, an' w'en a man done come tuh sell some wil' ducks, I jist let 'im in wid his muddy boots an' all. Den duh doctor come out ob duh libery an' seed 'em; I know den dat Massa done got it wrap up fuh me. 'George,' duh Massa wuz mad, 'I hab nebuh whip yuh befo', but I'se gwine tuh gib yuh Hell dis day!' He do so."

George talks on; I do not interrupt him.

"W'en duh Massa done fust got me, he come home one day wid a shoe-shine box, what duh head superuntendent done made fuh 'im; he say: 'George, dis box is tuh shine my boots wid.'"

George is motionless for a moment, then he rises from his chair and hurries into the adjoining room, as he passes me he

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murmurs, "I'se gwine tuh show yuh muh pritty shoe-shine box duh Massa done gib me."

I twist about in my chair and watch him. He kneels beside the bed and begins to fish about under the bed; he has found it. He tries to pull it out. The box is just a little higher than the bed railing and it will not come out. I step into the room to help him; I reach for the box myself. George brushes me away; the box is sacred to him; he does not want me to touch it.

He continues to struggle with the box; I look around.

This is George's bed-room. And what a room, just big enough to hold a double bed. As he struggles for the box George is tightly jammed between the bed and the wall. The bed is unusually interesting; I have never seen another like it, fine grade mahogany, a simple roll-top foot board, and a decorative head board that rises to a great height with graduations of wings. It is decidedly out of harmony with the jumpers, drawers, and ragged overalls that decorate the cold slate walls.

George has fished out the box; he blows the dust away, and rubs the cobwebs off affectionately. He loves this box.

He sets it before me. Indeed, it is a splendid piece of work, heavy big-grain oak sealed with hand wrought nails and copper bound; the foot rest is large and long. It was made for boots. I imagine Doctor Arnold had a large foot.

"Some day," George says happily, "I'se gwine tuh shine it 'til it shines lik duh sun."

George may shine the copper, but he can never improve the heavy oak. It shines with a natural gloss that comes only after years of handling by human hands.

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"Duh bed," he blurts suddenly, "did yuh see muh pritty bed?" "Pretty" is George's pet adjective. "Yes George," I say. "Where did you get such a pretty bed?"

"Massa Arnold gib it tuh me. Doctor Arnold he done sleep in dat bed all he life, he die in it; I'se gwine tuh die in it."

George grows sentimental. A pathetic thoughtfulness clouds his face; I must draw him away from the tender side of his memories.

"George," I try to put a little cheer in my voice, "I'll bet Doctor Arnold let you have a good deal of time to play, when you were young, didn't he?"

"Yas suh', I 'members play'n wid my fren's Niel Hab'sham, an' Peter Meldrim, an' George Owens, plen'y times. I'se duh younges' ob duh bunch. W'en us saw some Injuns come in duh square I runs fas' is I kin go an' tells Massa. He say I kin go look at de Injuns. De Injuns put up dey tents right neah duh guard house on duh corner ob Whitaker an' York Street. Dese Injuns ain't stay long though, but us boys sho' hung roun' an' look at dem cur'ous peoples an' what dey hab wid 'em. Mos' ob dese ole fren's ob mine hab die out. Duh colored boy what go wid us I lose track ob 'im right atta duh war. He name Williams an' he be a slabe ob duh Woodburys. Jist fo' duh war massa let me fire a enjin on duh Central frum Savannah tuh Macon.

"Ebrybody done heah 'bout de ruckus an' duh shoot'n at Fort Sumter; duh whole town gits 'cited, an' dey dona start tuh gadder tuhgedder. I all time stop muh carriage an' watch 'em march an' drill in duh square. Dey wuz a pritty sight.

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"Den one day Massa say, 'George, yuh gotta go be Cap'n Potter's bodyguard.' I don't wants tuh go but I hab tuh. We leab wid duh train an' goes 'way up duh coun'ry.

"I lak duh fust two days; us ain't done nuffin' but sleep an' tend duh horse. Nex' day though I heah some bullets. Dey go P-I-N-G. Den duh horns blow an' Cap'n Potter say, 'George git muh horse quick!' 'Bout dat time I heah a big bullet go ssssh-sh-boom! boom! -- Dey gits so loud yuh ain't heah duh little 'uns a'tall. I say, 'Cap'n Potter, I can't stay heah I gotta go home.' Cap'n Potter say, 'George yuh is five hun'ent miles from home, an' yuh gotta stay!' He say, 'Yuh gwine tuh see wusser'n dis!' But he warn't talk'n a'tall.

"I run 'way an' jine a wagon train. I see a off'cer I knows. He say, 'Nigger, whar is Tom Potter?' I tol' 'im I ain't know. Den he say 'Yuh bettuh by a damn sight fin' 'im.'

"I drop behind but I keep right on gwin'. W'en it gits dark I'se freez'n. I go in duh woods an' see some hogs. I run 'em out an' crawls in dey warm bed an' kivers up wid duh pine straw an' go tuh sleep.

"Atta I wake up I starts walkin'. Atta while I comes tuh Jonesboro. I slips roun' an' git in duh coach an' hide under duh bench. W'en duh train git ready tuh leab it is plum full ob folkses gitt'n 'way from dey coun'ry 'cause Shurmen is comm'n. I rides 'til I heah 'em holler 'Macon, Georgia.'

"Den I scoot out from under dat bench fast as I could. Eb'rybody hollers 'Look at dat nigger! Look at dat nigger!' Dey started atta me but I run fast an' dere wuz so many folks roun'

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