My master always treated me like I was a human being

Posted by | December 14, 2012

I spent a large portion of my life in the Chief Vann house with my old master, Mr. Edmondson. He had a daughter by the name of Jennie. Jennie had a waitress who was named Tein. Another of his daughters was Sug, whose waitress was Fannie. Another one of his daughters was Georgia whose waitress was Elvie. These were all of the single daughters that Mr. Edmondson had when I was with him, but he had three married daughters whose names were Harriet, Sallie and Sue. Harriet married Bob Anderson, Sue married Street, and Sallie married Dr. Mathis.

Levi and Mandy BranhamLevi and Mandy Branham, Spring Place, GA, about 1920.

One of my young masters was John Edmondson, another, Tom Polk Edmondson. I was Tom Polk’s waitman until he went to the Civil war between the North and South. Bill, the youngest, was quite small. All of the waitmen and waitresses stayed in the Edmondson house now known as the Chief Vann house. The room in which we stayed had a fine carpet on which we slept. Mr. Edmondson gave us fine blankets and we surely did sleep warm and comfortable.

My old mistress, “Miss Beckie,” was very good to us. She took more pains with us darkies than our parents did, simply because she had more to care for us with, and too, she loved us. Occasionally “Miss Beckie” would give us tea for medicine. She had a hard time getting this tea in me, but I had to take it after all. Sometimes she would give us peach brandy which I was always glad to get. Sometimes we would pretend that we were sick so we could get sweetened coffee and buttered biscuits which certainly tasted good to us darkies. I thought as much of “Miss Beckie” as I did my mother.

When all the white boys and girls would be away “Miss Beckie” would gather the little negro children around the fire and talk with us. One day I said to “Miss Beckie”: “Why do we little negro children have to work for you?” She said, “That’s the way our fore-parents fixed the matter.” I said to her, “when I get grown I am going to change the situation somewhat.”

My Mistress told me that the negroes were brought from Africa so that they could be enlightened and that they may be taught to serve God. That may be so, but I hardly know what to think of it. I had a colored friend who is now dead, who always argued with me that negroes were brought from Africa to be enlightened. It seems that the negroes do not stick to one another as the white people do. If one negro has money the others will stick to him, but if he has no money they are all down on him.

The negro race is a peculiar race, so far as color and mind is concerned. Some are black, some dark black, some are dark brown and some light brown, some are yellow and some are nearly white. To me they resemble Joseph’s coat. They all have many different minds. I believe the North Georgia negroes had better treatment and were more enlightened than the South Georgia negroes.

The Vann House, Spring Place, GAThe Vann House circa 1930. Branham’s memoir was published the year before.

Once upon a time Major Jackson and I carried a drove of mules that belonged to Mr. Sam Carter to South Georgia. The white man in South Georgia to whom we carried the mules, said he did not allow negroes in his house. I said to him, “I was reared in white folks’ house.” He said, “the negroes here would steal if they had to steal the dish rag.” This white gentleman treated us very nice. Some of those negroes down in South Georgia said they wished Mr. Carter would bring them a sack of flour, because they had had no biscuits since last Christmas and it was almost Christmas again.

The old colored folks in South Georgia told me that the negro foremen were as hard again on them as their owners were. One old negro in South Georgia told me that they had to steal or perish because the white folks did not give them enough to eat.

I thank the Good Lord that my master always gave me plenty to eat and treated me like I was a human being.

from “Memoirs of a Slave/My Live and Travels,” By Levi Branham (1852-1944), published 1929 by the A. J. Showalter Company of Dalton, GA. Online at http://www.murraycountymuseum.com/ms_3_1.html

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