Walter Calloway, Age
Ole Joe had real
Interviewer: W. F. Jordan
lives alone half a block off Avenue F, the thoroughfare on the
southside of Birmingham on which live many of the leaders in
the Negro life of the city. For his eighty-nine years he was
apparently vigorous except for temporary illness. A glance at
the interior of his cabin disclosed the fact that it was
scrupulously neat and quite orderly in arrangement, a
characteristic of a great many ex-slaves. As he sat in the
sunshine of his tiny front porch, his greeting was: "Come in,
white folkes. You ain't no doctor is you?"
negative reply, he explained as he continued, "Fo' de las'
past twenty-five years I been keepin' right on, wukkin' for de
city in de street department. 'Bout two mont's ago dis mis'ry
attackted me an' don't 'pear lak nothin' dem doctors gimme do
no good, De preacher, he come to see me dis mornin' an' he say
he know a white gemman doctor, what he gwine to sen' him to
see me. I sho' wants to git well ag'in pow'ful bad, but mebby
I done live long 'nuff an' my time 'bout come."
about his age and antecedents, he began his story: "Well, sir,
Cap'n, I was born in Richmond, Virginny, in 1848. Befo' I was
ole 'nuff to 'member much, my mammy wid me an' my older
brudder was sold to Marse John Calloway at Snowdoun in
Montgomery county, ten miles south of de town of
"Marse John hab a big plantation an' lots
of slaves. Dey treated us purty good, but we hab to wuk hard.
Time I was ten years ole I was makin' a reg'lar han' 'hin' de
plow. Oh, yassuh, Marse John good 'nough to us an' we git
plenty to eat, but he had a oberseer name Green Bush what sho'
whup us iffen we don't do to suit him. Yassuh, he might rough
wid us but he didn't do de whuppin' hisse'f. He had a big
black boy name Mose, mean as de debil an' strong as a ox, and
de oberseer let him do all de whuppin'. An', man, he could
sho' lay on dat rawhide lash. He whupped a nigger gal 'bout
thirteen years ole so hard she nearly die, an' allus
atterwa'ds she hab spells of fits or somp'n. Dat make Marse
John pow'ful mad, he run dat oberseer off de place an' Mose
didn' do no mo' whuppin."
"Same time Marse John buy
mammy an' us boys, he buy a black man named Joe. He a preacher
an' de marster let de slaves buil' a bresh arbor in de pacan
grove ober in de big pastur', an' when de wedder warn't too
cold all de slaves was 'lowed to meet dar on Sunday 'fo'
"Yassuh, ole Joe do purty good. I speck he
had mo' 'ligion dan some of de hifalutin' niggers 'tendin' to
preach nowadays. De white folks chu'ch, hit at Hope Hill ober
on de statge road, an' sometimes dey fetch 'dere preacher to
de plantation to preach to de slaves. But dey druther heah
"Nawsuh, we didn't git no schoolin' 'cep'in'
befo' we got big 'nough to wuk in de fiel' we go 'long to
school wid de white chillun to take care of 'em. Dey show us
pictures an' tell us all dey kin, but it didn't 'mount to
"When de war started 'mos' all I know 'bout it
was all de white mens go to Montgomery an' jine de army. My
brudder, he 'bout fifteen year ole, so he can go 'long wid de
ration wagon to Montgomery 'mos' ebery week. One day he come
back from Montgomery an' he say 'Hell done broke loose in
Gawgy.' He couldn't tell us much 'bout what done happen, but
de slaves dey get all 'cited 'caze dey didn't know what to
'spect. Purty soon we fin' out dat some of de big mens call a
meetin' at de capitol on Goat Hill in Montgomery. Dey 'lected
Mista Jeff Davis president an' done busted de Nunited States
"Atter dat dar warn't much happen on de
plantation 'cep'in' gangs of sojers passin' th'ough gwine off
to de war. Den 'bout ebry so often a squad of Confederate
so'jers would come to de neighborhood gatherin' up rations for
Gin'ral Lee's army dey say. Dat make it purty hard on bofe
whites an' blacks, takin' off some of de bes' stock an'
runnin' us low on grub."
"But we wuk right on 'twell
one day somebody sen' a runner sayin' de Yankees comin'. Ole
mistis tell me to hurry ober to Mrs. Freeman's an' tell 'em
Wilson's Yankee raiders was on de way an' comin' lak a
harrikin. I hop on a mule an' go jes' as fas' as I can make
him trabel, but befo' I git back dey done retch de plantation,
smashin' things comin' an' gwine.
"Dey broke in de
smoke house an' tuk all de hams an' yuther rations dey fin'
what dey want an' burn up de res'. Den dey ramshack de big
house lookin' fo' money an' jewelry an' raise Cain wid de
wimmin folks 'caze dey didn't fin' what dey wanted. Den dey
leave dere old hosses an' mules an' take de bes' we got. Atter
day done dat, dey burn de smoke house, de barns, de cribs an'
some yuther prop'ty. Den dey skedaddle some place
"I warn't up dar but I hearn tell dey burn up
piles an' piles of cotton an' lots of steamboats at Montgomery
an' lef' de ole town jes' 'bout ruint'. Twarn't long
atter dat dey tell us we'se free. But lawdy, Cap'n, we ain't
neber been what I calls free. "Cose old marster didn't own up
no mo', an' all de folks soon scatter al ober, but iffen dey
all lak me dey still hafter wuk jes' as hard, an some times
hab less dan we useter hab when we stay on Marse John's
"Well, Cap'n, dat's 'bout all I know. I
feel dat misery comin' on me now. Will you please, suh, gimme
a lif' back in de house? I wisht dat white gemman doctor come
on iffen he comin'."