The US government did a series of interviews with former slaves in the 1930’s. Project Gutenberg, has posted some of the interviews from Virginia. They’re called “Slave Narratives – A Folk History of Slavery in the United States – From Interviews with Former Slaves”.
I found some songs in one of the the interviews that I thought were interesting. Below you can read excerpts from the interview, plus the songs. It was done in February 1937 with Mrs. Fannie Berry, Ex-slave from Petersburg, Virginia. The first part of the excerpt is about what happened to Mrs. Berry after the slaves were freed…
Now, Miss Sue, take up. I jes’ like to talk to you, honey ’bout dem days ob slavery; ’cause you look like you wan’ta hear all ’bout ‘em. All ’bout de ol’ rebels; an’ dem niggers who left wid de Yankees an’ were sat free, but, poor things, dey had no place to go after dey got freed. Baby, all us wuz helpless an’ ain’t had nothin’.
I wuz free a long time ‘fo’ I knew it. My Mistess still hired me out, ’til one day in talkin’ to de woman she hired me to, she, “God bless her soul”, she told me, “Fannie yo’ are free, an’ I don’t have to pay your Master for you now.” You stay with me. She didn’t give me no money, but let me stay there an’ work for vitals an’ clothes ’cause I ain’t had no where to go. Jesus, Jesus, God help us! Um, Um, Um! You Chillun don’t know. I didn’t say nothin’ when she wuz tellin’ me, but done ‘cided to leave her an’ go back to the white folks dat fus own me…
Here Mrs. Berry told some songs. The first one I found interesting because it has the “kemo kimo” sound that we find in some versions of Froggie Went a Courtin (which has Ki-Me-O in it)…
…here’s another one we use to sing. ‘Member de war done bin when we would sing dese songs. Listen now:
Kemo, Kimo, dar you are
Heh, ho rump to pume did’dle.
Set back pinkey wink,
Come Tom Nippecat
Sing song Kitty cat, can’t
You carry me o’er?
Up de darkies head so bold
Sing song, Kitty, can’t you
Carry me O’er?
Sing Song, Kitty, can’t yo’
Carry me home?
Here Mrs. Berry talked about the war and mentioned a song from the end when the slaves were finally free…
I wuz at Pamplin an’ de Yankees an’ Rebels were fightin’ an’ dey were wavin’ the bloody flag an’ a confederate soldier wuz upon a post an’ they were shootin’ terribly. Guns were firin’ everywhere.
All a sudden dey struck up Yankee Doodle Song. A soldier came along [and] called to me, “How far is it to the Rebels”, an I honey, wuz feared to tell him. So, I said, “I don’t know”. He called me again. Scared to death [I was]. I recollect gittin’ behind the house an’ pointed in the direction. You see, ef de Rebels knew dat I told the soldier, they would have killed me.
These were the Union men goin’ after Lee’s army which had don’ bin ‘fore dem to Appomattox.
The Colored regiment came up behind an’ when they saw the Colored regiment they put up the white flag. (Yo’ ‘member ‘fo’ dis red or bloody flag was up). Now, do you know why dey raised dat white flag? Well, honey, dat white flag wuz a token dat Lee, had surrendered. Glory! Glory! yes, child the Negroes are free, an’ when they knew dat dey were free dey, Oh! Baby! began to sing:
Mamy don’t yo’ cook no mo’,
Yo’ ar’ free, yo’ ar’ free.
Rooster don’t yo’ crow no mo’,
Yo’ ar’ free, yo’ ar’ free.
Ol’ hen, don’t yo’ lay no mo’ eggs,
Yo’ free, yo’ free.
Sech rejoicing an’ shoutin’, you never he’rd in you’ life.
Yes, I can recollect de blowin’ up of the Crater. We had fled, but I do know ’bout the shellin’ of Petersburg. We left Petersburg when de shellin’ commenced an’ went to Pamplin in box cars, gettin’ out of de way. Dem were scared times too, cause you looked to be kilt any minute by stray bullets. Just before the shellin’ of Petersburg, dey were sellin’ niggers for little nothin’ hardly.
Junius Broadie, a white man bought some niggers, but dey didn’t stay slave long, cause de Yankees came an’ set ‘em free.
If you’re interested in reading more interviews, go to Project Gutenberg and look up “Work Projects Administration”. We also started a collection of Historical African American Kids Songs and we posted more songs from the Slave Narratives in Texas.
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