All I Know about Freedom
But, as I was saying, the slaves was still hunting a better place and more freedom. The young folks is still hunting a better place and more freedom.
The slaves heard the news of freedom in different ways—some earlier, some later, some secretly, but all hopefully. "Everybody talk 'bout freedom and hope to git free 'fore they die." They all expected freedom and wanted it, even if "it wasn't like what they thought it would be." Nor did they all think of it in the same way. To some freedom was a word, a strange word—"When I first heard them talking about freedom, I didn't know what freedom was." To others it was a person—"Big children all laugh and say: 'All niggers free, all niggers free.' And I'd say: 'What is free?' I was looking for a man to come." To still others it was a place—"right off colored folks started on the move. They seemed to want to get closer to freedom, so they'd know what it was—like it was a place or a city."
Being free as a jay bird or a toad-frog, as they said, they obeyed the first impulse, which was one of flight or movement. Some were gone before the master was halfway through telling them they were free. Others went off and came back because they "didn't have no place to go and nothing to eat Seemed like it was four or five years before they got to places they could live." Some stayed on for a time and worked on shares, until the master died, and then they scattered.
The masters, too, reacted to emancipation in different ways. Some said: "You all go on away You have to look out for yourselves now." Others said: "Go if you wants, and stay if you wants." Some gave their Negroes a small piece of land to work. "But the mostest of them never give 'em nothing, and they sure despise them niggers what left 'em"; ".... a heap of the marses got raging mad and just tore up truck They shot niggers down by the hundreds." Still others made the Negroes work on for several months or a year