There was a class that were ignorant and no-account. They never had much of a chance; you’ve got to say that for them. Once in awhile, one of them would sort of pull himself up by his bootstraps and make something of himself. He’d work hard enough and not give everything to his no-account relatives. But there was a class, and they were the poor white trash—well, up there above my grandmother’s, the people who lived further up the mountain, they’d raise a garden, can the beans, then open the cans of beans instead of going out to the garden and picking them, because it was easier.
They’d kill a hog, eat every bit of it right away, never try to keep any of it. They just wouldn’t go to enough trouble to have anything, because you could have things if you’d go to the trouble to. And the thrifty colored people and the people who tried to help themselves could make a very good living, take care of things by themselves. But you had to conserve, you had to be thrifty, and you had to go to extra trouble.
It just wasn’t worth it for them, so they lived on the verge of starvation; they inbred—they had all sorts of deformities due to the inbreeding—and while they never had much of a chance—it wasn’t that they never had a chance, it was just that they weren’t willing to take advantage of a chance when it was given to them. And they had all sorts of devious ways to try to get things from other people. One man, for several years, worked in different sections of the country on the fact that his wife had just died. She always died under very bad circumstances which left him in dire need. He made a lot of money that way.
And they were always ready to sell their votes at election time—and they did very well at selling their votes—they’d get cows, and sometimes they’d pay as high as a hundred dollars for a vote, I’ve heard. When it was close, every vote counted, and they would go down and hang around the polling places until the end of the day, and regardless of the fact that the vote was by secret ballot, it was pretty well known how it was running by the end of the day, and then they’d just get higher and higher in the bidding for the votes.
There were some sheriffs who, if I could remember their names, I wouldn’t—the one who sent his constituents candy boxes with five dollar gold pieces under each piece of candy—as I say, it’s not new.
Mrs. Mary J. Jones
(b. 1910 in Clifton, NC)
Interviewed June 7, 1976
Southern Highlands Research Center
Louis D. Silveri Oral History Collection,
D. H. Ramsey Library Special Collections,
University of North Carolina at Asheville
Online at http://toto.lib.unca.edu/findingaids/oralhistory/SHRC/jones_mary.html