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James Green, Texas

Collected by the Federal Writers Project, Works Progress Administration
Publishing Information

James Green
February 8, 1938
James Green is half American Indian and half Negro, who
believes in Fate, and indeed his nearly half century of life has
been so crowded with the unexpected that there is little wonder
he considers himself a victim of destiny. He was born a slave,
then became a "free boy", only to be kidnapped and sold in
Virginia slave market to a Texas ranchman. His mind is
remarkably clear and his reminiscences are interesting, not only
because of his own eventful experiences, but because they shed
colorful light upon the moral conditions that existed in Texas
slave colonies.
1. This old ex-slave is a strange appearing black Redskin with an intense
expression, piercing eyes, and long white hair the texture of cotton. A
research worker discovered him sitting on the porch of a comfortable
San Antonio house at 323 North Olive Street, chatting away like a
youngster to his wife. He is ninety-seven and his wife, Lizzie, is eightysix. During the Civil War they slaved on adjoining ranches in
Columbus, Texas. But thereby hangs a tale which can best be told in the
old man's own words:
2. "I never knew my age until after de Civil War when I was set free for
de second time. Then my marster gets out a great big book and it
showed dat I was twenty-five years old. It shows more too: It shows I
was twelve when I was bought and $800 was paid for me. Dat $800
was stolen money, cose I was kidnapped. Dis is about how it come:
3. "My mother was owned by John Williams of Petersburg, Virginia. I
come born to her on a plantation, and den my father went about getting
me free. He was a full blooded Indian, and had done some big favor for
a big man high up in de courts, and by and bye Mr. Williams comes to
my mother and says I am a 'free boy'. I never knowd what was mixed
up in it, but Mr. Williams used to laugh and call me 'free boy, Jim'. I
never had to do much work for nobody but my mother.

It seems he likes to make niggers suffer to make up for his own squirmin' and twistin'. We walks down where de houses grows close together. or ever see her. "'Delia. Mr. Before I start they tells me to run any direction I want and after I had run five miles to climb up in a tree. It was a part plantation and part wild country. I was told to carry de water for de stock. Mr. and it was owned by two men. After dat I never got thinkin' of runnin' away. Vitus dance. He had St. I gets up like I was told. . 10. 11.4. and pretty soon we comes to de slave market. "'All right. moster. As soon as I stood straight I got a funny feelin'. "I sits there a long time. I was playin' around de house. but one of the nigger drivers tells me kind of nice to climb up as high in de tree as I could if I didn't want my body to be tore off my legs. 9. I was put to work when we got there without eating. Williams comes up and says: 5. "We starts to leave right away for Texas. I ain't ever seed one before and didn't knowd what it was. along comes a Friday. Friday is my unlucky star and it is my lucky star day. They had their heads down not lookin' where they was runnin'. you be a good boy. Williams says to me to get up on de block. I didn't know what it meant. I was told I had to play the part of a runnin' away slave. too. Pinchback and Wright. But de next day they drives me and some other new slaves over to look at the dogs. I knows somehow what was happenin'. Jim. will you let Jim walk down the street with me?' 6. "Then. 7. My master lives there on a ranch in Columbus. one day. and I don't believe no slave ever escaped from Texas in spite of all de stories de niggers tells. "Dat was de last time I ever heard my mother speak. So I runs a good five miles and climbs up in a tree where the branches was gettin' small. 'And. He was the biggest devil on earth. In a few minutes they told me to get down and turned me over to a man named John Pinchback. 8. But I just stood there.' says my mother. Den they chooses me to train de dogs with."Dat night I makes up my mind to run away. "Pinchback was my new master. When they gets under my tree they stops and runs around. The dogs lived in a fine house with a fence around it. Den they looks up and sees me and starts to bark. Den I sees the dogs comin'. It was about so high --(three feet).

We didn't know nothin' about it."But de nigger husbands wern't the only ones dat keeps up havin' chillen."One day I sees Lizzie (his second wife shown in the photograph) [Editor's note: We have not located the photograph referred to here.' It didn't make no difference if it was a mother or what dat died. But my first wife was a good woman too. It was many years before Fate fixes things so we comes together and marries. I likes her and she likes me. and in the mornin all of you comes to de big house. Their chillen was brown. Sometimes slaves die and get put in a box."Time goes on and de war comes along."After a while de end of de war came. but one of 'em was white as you is. No change come in our life at all. 13. De mosters and the drivers takes all de nigger girls day want. Everythin' goes on just like it did. Her name was Mary Hardy. Half of it must have been over before I knows about it. like cattle. She was owned by Pinchback's brother. 14. Well. But dey was all slaves just de same. and de niggers dat had chillen with de white men didn't get treated no better. but be around."'You niggers come on in. He chooses de wife for every man on the place. But dat William Pinchback was a kind master. She got no more away from work dan de rest of 'em.] workin' in de field when she was a girl. but Pinchback tried to get rid of women who didn't have chillen. All he says to us was: 17. They was about 125 niggers workin' out in the field when old Pinchback come limpin' along. 16. She dies of pneumonia two years after I marries her. 15. I never had no chillen by her. De driver would go and tell Pinchback and he would come out and tell someone to dig a hole. He'd say: 'De rest of you niggers get out on de field and go to work. But nobody could marry any one dat didn't belong to de same moster. De chillen had to go out and work and not even see where the hole was dug.' . No one had no say as to who he was goin' to get for a wife. Don't do nothin'. He breeds de niggers as quick as he can. cause dat means money for him."But more slaves was gettin' born dan dies--old Pinchback would see to dat himself. He would sell her and tell de man who baught her dat she was all right to own. If a woman wern't a good breeder she had to do work with de men. All de weddin' ceremony we had was with Pinchback's finger pointin' out who was whos' wife. One slave had four chillen right after the other with a white moster.12.

21. About half the niggers stays on and about half of 'en starts scattering in different directions. is gettin on good. She looks just like she did when I seed her in the field. Some of us got whipped just de same but nobody got nailed to a tree by his ears. the old man was pressed further and was asked if he could remember any songs the Negroes sang in Civil War days. On dat Friday Lizzie here she comes along over." 24."Den he opens his book and gives us all a name. Saturday mornin' comes and we all stands around waitin'. but they got treated better. De white men in de habit of havin' Negro girls still goes on havin' them. And gives us de gristle -- . And today is Friday. thoroughly pleased with his efforts. We got shoes and what clothes we wanted. white and black folks. However. But after de war folks. I don't know how much dey paid 'em for it."Old moster eats beef and sucks on de bone. Den comes along another Friday. only we all got credit from de store and baught our own food. And what do you think? When he was buried de lightnin' came and split de grave and de coffin wide open. This was the only one he could recall: 25."It wasn't long before old Pinchback dies himself."No great change come about in de way we went on."'All you niggers is free--just as damn free as I am. After he got dun with this he says he will pay any of us niggers forty cents a day to work for him. It was on a Friday again. He tells us: 19. He tells us all about ourself--where we come from and how old we was. 22. and I tells 'en the war was sure over and we was goin' to get freed.18. 23. Den out comes Pinchback carrin' a great big book. We gets together and we marries regular with a real weddin'.' 20. looks down on white men and black women who had children together. too. He says that those niggers who don't want to stay can get out by sundown.The old ex-slave seemed to think that this was a very fitting place to end his narrative and he settled back in his chair. I stayed on for some over a year and got my forty cents like he promises. Before we was free nobody thought nothin' about it."Well we gets talkin' and figurin' and we decides dat maybe we was free."Well times goes on some more. I had my own name dat was give to me by my father. We had de same houses. and my son-in-law.

to make. Caus I wears dem out at de knee. however. Till de story of de Lamb is told. to make.To make. I sings an' I shouts wid all my might To drive away de cold-An' de bells keep a-ringin' in de gospel light. the aged couples daughter. but she took exception to her father's claim that he was half Indian.The song ended. She was asked what she thought about her father's story. To make de nigger whistle. "Right fair enough". she thought it was. De birds just a-sittin' on de tree-Sometimes my clothes gets very much worn. and then the researcher turned to Mollie Huff. that she was present for she remembered an old Negro song that her mother sang to her when she was a child: "I goes to church in de early morn. to make. It was fortunate." 26. accompanied by gay laughter from Lizzie." .