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Ed A Black Sharecropper’s Story
DRAWN FROM INTERVIEWS WITH JANE MAGUIRE
February 1976 | Volume 27, Issue 2
“I tell you what I’m goin to do,” he say. “I’ll take your milk cow for the twenty-four dollars.”
Me and my wife had brung the cow and the calf I swapped for my Model T Ford with us from the Addison place. We brung two hogs, and I had give Mr. Prince one to let me fatten the other in the peanut field. He took both of them.
“No, I’m not givin the milk cow, because it don’t belong to me, it belong to my wife.”
“Well, you could just give me a mortgage on the cow and carry her on with you.”
I goes home and tell my wife, “Don’t give no mortgage on the cow. Don’t give nothin on her.”
My wife was more nervy about some things than I was. She put a rope around the cow’s neck and carry her to my brother’s. Then she make another trip there with the two little pigs she got washin and ironin for her boss lady. Mr. Prince took my pig he was lettin me fatten in his peanut field.
I goes back to him. He was settin on the steps to his porch. “Mr. Prince, it don’t look to me I owe you that much, not twenty-four dollars.”
He had give his boy a long knife. “David, bring me the knife,” he say.
I walk on off. After that he just kept a comin to my house late at night, way in the night, and wantin me to go out in the field with him “to talk it over.”
“How come you can’t talk it over here to the house? We ain’t got to go in the field to talk over no settlement. I didn’t come to your house late in the night to get this place.”
“We’ll go out where it cool.”
“It cool enough for me in here.”
I seed there wasn’t no use talkin. If it had been fair as a lily and he’d said it was rainin and I’d said no, he’d said I was disputin his word. And if you had met him, you’d a thought he was the best man in the world. He wouldn’t pass colored or white except he’d speak and smile, speak and smile.
He’d go to the table every mornin and say a long prayer over it, and then he’d come right out of that house and take every bit of bread out of your mouth. And he’d raise more sand than forty lawyers. “Now, I’m goin to the field, boys, and it’ll pay you all to come on.” He’d plow until about eleven and then quit. “You colored can stand the sun.”
When it come a big rain, he’d say, “Boys, let’s get the cross saw and cut stovewood.” I had a pile of stovewood I don’t know how high in the yard. So did the other tenants and Mr. Prince. He’d get his wood cut that a way without payin for it.
One mornin come a rain. “Let’s cut some stovewood.”
I say, “I ain’t cuttin nare nother stick of stovewood for nobody. I’ve got enough stovewood to last me. What I’m worried about is gettin somethin to cook with this I got.”
After that I’d walk about when it was rainin. He talked around. “Well, Ed’s a good hand, but he sure is mean.” I wasn’t mean. I just wasn’t goin to cut no more stovewood. When you got enough of anythin, you don’t need no more.
When I was fixin to leave, Mr. Prince ask me, “Ed, have you found a place to live?”
“Yes, sir, up there with Mr. Motley.”
“Motley at Rochelle?”
I went to Mr. Motley to get his wagon to move. “I think our deal is off, Ed. Mr. Leslie Prince just been here, and he say you’re a good hand but you’re mean and your wife is sick and your little girl is too small to do anythin.”
I didn’t know what to do. I had stayed in my place and lived in my bounds. You had to be mighty sharp then to make it for your folks. Mighty sharp and straight humble. If you wasn’t, it’d make you have ulcers. You could get ‘em from bein humble and from not bein humble enough.
One thing you was workin for was so the white man would say, “He’s a good nigger.” Then the others would let you alone. If one say you steal, whether you steal or not, if somethin is missin you took it.
Things was burdenin me. I walked back from Mr. Motley’s towards Mr. Prince’s. When I come to the black gum tree which was still scarred up from a lynchin that took place when I was a boy, I set down to study this thing out. The trouble was I hadn’t left Mr. Prince when his other two tenants left. They was smarter than me.
When one of them see what our boss was like, him and his wife and two chilien cleared out just before layin-by time, about July 4. Me and Emmett, the other tenant, was in the barn. Mr. Prince come by and say, “That lazy nigger is leavin. If anybody else want to go, they’re at liberty.” The tenant leavin told us he suspicion the boss’s bookkeepin. He went to pickin cotton by the hundredweight and made money.
Emmett stay till the cotton all picked and the corn gathered and we was bailin hay. It was the last of October when him and Mr. Prince fell out. We had finished everythin but strippin cane. “Ed, if you’ll stay,” Mr. Prince say, “I’ll give you what I been aimin to give you and both the others.”
He didn’t give me nothin but plenty of trouble. I reckon that’s what he was goin to give them and he decide he’d give it all to me.
It took me two days to strip the cane and take it to the mill. All one day I chopped the wood for cookin it. So that was three days’ work. Mr. Prince wasn’t promisin me money for helpin with the cane, but I was supposed to get half the syrup.