Dey didn’ pay me nothin’ fer gittin’ my legs cut off

Posted by | October 26, 2012

“I went to West Virginia to work in de coal mines. I made eight dollars and one penny er day er drivin’ er mule in dem mines. Later on, I made ten er twelve dollars er day loading coal. ‘At wus hard work but de more you worked de more money you made. Awe, I could load about four er five cars er day. Dey wus cars dey use in de mines, dey holds four er five tons.

“Naw, we ‘ad plenty ob work to do ever day in de week. I never did git laid-off none, not one day. I’d work about three er four months though and den I’d jes stay off er week er two. Naw, I wouldn’ git tired er workin’, jes tired er go in’ to work ever’ day. Naw, when I’d go back dey would always put me back to work.

“I still shot craps most ob de time when I wudn’ at work and I made money when I gambled. Sometimes I’d win two er three hundred dollars. “Naw, dey don’ lock you up fer gamblin’ up there. They don’ pay no attention to you. Naw, I wouldn’ lose near as much as I’d win. Naw, I didn’ save none ob my money. I wus a fancy dresser in ‘em days and I spent most ob my money on women.

“Naw, I never did git married. I wouldn’ marry no woman pig-in-the-sack. Dey might be ar ‘possum in ‘at sack. I had to try ‘em before I married ‘em and when I tried ‘em, well, I jes never did marry ‘em. I would er married one though but she wanted to git married too quick and we fell out.

“Dey got me in de army in 1918. I wus sent to Camp Lee, Naw, I didn’ do no fightin’. I jes stayed at de camp. Naw, I wudn’ scared, I wanted to go to France and fight. Some uv ‘em wus scared though but most uv ‘em wanted to fight. Naw, dey wudn’ nothin’ but colored men in my company. We ‘ad some white officers though. When der war wus over dey sent me down here to Camp Gordon. Den dey let me out.

“I stayed around here fer a while and den I went to Tom Creek, Va. I got a job loadin’ coal at de V. I. C. mine. I worked there ’bout four years and ‘at’s where I got my legs cut off.

“One Tuesday mornin’ I went to work and dey wudn’ no empty cars on de tracks to load de coal in. I walked up to where de cars wus, and when de engine started to pushin’ down to where we wus er gonna load ‘em I went to swing on one to ride down there and my foot slipped and I fell under de [car?]. De wheels run over me and cut off both my legs up above my knees. I wus in de hospital for seven months. When I got out dey sent me to de poor farm. My cousin, Ethel Brown, come ‘air and got me and carried me back to West Virginia to live wid her.

“Naw, dey didn’ pay me nothin’ fer gittin’ my legs cut off. Dey aint never give me one cent. Dey give me some artificial legs but I aint never been able to use ‘em. You see when you git both yo’ legs cut off above yo’ knees you can’t git about on no artificial legs and crutches. You see when I gits to standin’ up on ‘em legs and crutches I can throw my legs out in front of me but, wid my legs like ‘at, how is I gonna git my crutches off the ground then and how is I gonna git my legs back under me again. You can’t do it so you jes falls down. If I had jes one knee joint I could git about on ‘em legs all right.

Archie George
Interviewed by William Jenkins
Atlanta, GA 1939
Federal Writers’ Project papers (1936-1940), #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

One Response

  • Frank Slider says:

    When I read and hear stories like this and the thousands of other injured and killed workers that are undocumented, I am not too concerned about some of the present day workers compensation abuses that I hear about. For a hundred years companies maimed and killed workers with no accountability whatsoever. Sometimes the companies didn’t even have the decency of returning the body home or providing a burial for the family at the company’s expense.

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