Conditions of Life: The Slaves' Experiences on the Plantation
What did the former slaves say about the conditions of their existence on plantations throughout the South? How were they treated and what effect did factors such as the size of the plantation have on their experiences? Moreover, how much space did plantation conditions allow for family life and the development of community values? For these questions the narratives provide answers that illuminate the slaves' perspective and reveal the strength of bonds within their group.
Comparing their early years in slavery to the poverty and hunger they were facing in the 1930s, some spoke well of the food and clothing that they had been able to depend upon the master to provide. Others, not caring to discuss their feelings about enslavement, merely allowed that their masters were not too bad, that they had gotten along all right. Among those who faced the question straightforwardly, many had bitter words for painful memories. Katie Darling, like hundreds of others, recalled the cruelty of physical abuse and simply said that she had nursed children "in them bullwhip days." Another woman, speaking in the dialect of South Carolina coastal Negroes, gave direct answers to the interviewer's questions: "See um sell slabe? I see um. Dey put um on banjo table and sell um just lak chicken. Nigger ain't no more den chicken and animal, enty [isn't it so]? . . . W'at I t'ink 'bout slabery? Huh--nigger git back cut in slabery time, enty?" Carter Jackson, who was a slave in both Alabama and Texas, said simply but clearly, "It was Hell"; Delia