- Historic Sites
Ed A Black Sharecropper’s Story
DRAWN FROM INTERVIEWS WITH JANE MAGUIRE
February 1976 | Volume 27, Issue 2
I tell him to my knowin the dead rabbit had been there for three days, if not longer.
He belt it up and smelt it. “That ain’t nothin,” he say. “It ain’t ruint. It will help me travel.”
When he got to the railway trestle, he stop and wash the rabbit, and I reckon he eat it, because when I left he was buildin a fire.
One Saturday about ten or twelve men, white and colored, was workin on my place with the peanut picker. We didn’t get through until near sundown. I had about four tons of hay to haul in before the rain come. “Who will help me haul in my hay?”
All of them holler, “Not me, not me.”
A white man named George spoke. “I will,” he say. The next mornin before day he come back with a truck and woke me up. “I’m ready to help you.” By eight o’clock that mornin we had it all in. I paid him five dollars.
Him and his wife busted up, and he leave and stay off one or two years. Then one night about twelve o’clock someone knock and call my name.
“Who is it?” I ask.
“George. Don’t you know I help you haul in your hay that Sunday mornin?”
I open the door.
He told me to get up and make a fire. Me and him set and talk. He told about drivin a big transfer truck haulin produce from Florida to Atlanta and how he was goin to bring me some beans. I was settin up there believin him. Once I ask did he want to take off the overcoat he was wear in, and he say no.
“Ed, would you give me a quilt and let me stretch out here in front of the fire?” I didn’t hurry about answerin, and he brung up the hay again. “You know I did you a favor.”
The colored didn’t go to the white and the white didn’t go to the colored to spend the night. I ask myself why he doin it. I give him the quilt.
My wife say, “If you go to sleep, I’ll stay woke.”
We both go to sleep. When we knowed any thin it was day. I built another fire. Soon as he woke, George say, “Let’s go down to the barn.” We walk out there. “Ed, I been tellin you a bunch of stories. The reason I had to tell you that, I didn’t want your family to be scared. I want you to do me a favor.”
“What is it?” I ask.
“I want you to pull off your clothes and give them to me. This is a right new suit I got on. If you can get the letters out of it, you can wear it; if you can’t, burn it up and get shut of it.”
He pull off his coat. He was wearin a gray khaki chaingang suit.
“I’ll try to find you some.” So I goes to the house and get my one white shirt and my one pair of Sunday pants. I tell him, “Put this on.” He change into my clothes and come back to the house to wash his face and comb his hair. He look nice.
“In two weeks’ time you’ll hear from me.” I never have.
Helpin your neighbors was different. One lady thank me still. Her husband runned away and lef her with three chilien. Out in the country sometimes it was hard for a lady to get a job. A lot of the white people cook for theyselves.
The last time I seed this lady, she grab me and hug me and told some of ‘em at the Piney Grove church homecomin, “This man helped me when I couldn’t help myself. He let me have food out of his garden and out of his kitchen to feed my chilien, and I love him for it.”
In panic times if you couldn’t get a job and make enough to feed yourself and them in your family not able to work, you’d have to figure another way to live.
McLeod was a born burglar. He would steal the sweetnin out of a ginger cake or a thing so minor you wouldn’t miss it, but as he got it he’d carry it across the road and give it to someone there.
If there was somethin particular you didn’t want him to take, it was best to say so.
We had about seventy-five chickens my wife had raised that bunched theyselves up on the east side of the house in the shade. One time me and my wife come back from town and driv up in our yard, and there was McLeod settin on the porch lookin at the chickens.
Since Mac was a known chicken thief, I walk right straight ta him. “Don’t bother my wife’s chickens.”
“Well, I’m glad you told me not to get them, because I was just thinkin about sackin them up.”
“I’ll help you out any way I can if you don’t bother them.”
That night he went to his mother-in-law’s chicken house and help hisself to as many as he could get in two big sacks without smotherin them. Some of them was stickin they heads out of the holes he had cut in the sacks.
The next mornin he come to my house and ‘minded me I say I’d help him. I took him in my wagon to Rochelle, where he try to sell them chickens on the street. Some he took ten, fifteen, or twenty cents apiece for.
How come he to sell them so cheap was because they was frizzly chickens—with feathers curly like a curlyheaded man. When they young, they look very pretty with curly feathers all over, but they molt and get to look near about half naked.
They scratch a lot. I always said they was scratchin for a livin. But many folks claim they was very good for scratchin up a conjuration somebody had put down in your yard.
Frizzly chickens is no different from any other chickens once you get the feathers off. But people don’t like to eat them. Even at such a cheap price Mac was told, “I don’t want them buzzards.”