In honor of Black History Month, this February we are releasing a special four-part series that highlights African American experiences in Southern Appalachia. Our third week features excerpts from interviews conducted in 1976 and 1977 with Bruce Mosley, of Rabun County, Georgia. Bruce was born in 1908, and shares stories of his grandmother’s memories of liberation from slavery. To read the rest of Bruce’s story, pick up a copy of Foxfire 8.
Bruce Mosley Transcripts
FF: How old are you Bruce?
BM: Aw, you wouldn’t believe if I was to even tell you. I’m comin’ up with the old timers. I’m twelve years older than my wife (Selma Mosley, see Foxfire 7). I was born in nineteen and eight—you’ve been to school. And my birthday is August the 30th. I’ll be 69 this August comin’, the 30th.
FF: I’d like to know about your family.
FF: I’d like to know about your family? Where your parents came from?
BM: Well my parents—I’ve never seen my father. I never have seen my father. But there’s older people here—Harley Penland (See Foxfire 8), Jesse and Louis’s father?
BM: You know Jesse and Louis. Their father knowed my father. He come from Charleston, South Carolina into this part. He come from—there’s two kinds of Spanish people. You know that? There’s two kinds. There’s two nationalities of Spanish people—there’s a black Spanish and then there’s a white Spanish. Well my father was the black Spanish. And they originated from Spain. When they was, when this country wasn’t civilized. None of these places—the Indians owned it.
Miss Leslie—Miss Leslie’s mother, Miss M. Walsh, she brought my father into this country from Charleston.
FF: Alright, now, did he just work for her or was this before the Civil War? When was it?
BM: Yeah, it was before the Civil War. But this was back when there was slavery time.
BM: Now my grandmother Polly, what I told you I forestated, I was born and raised up under Screamer Mountain yeah? Under the Bleckley spring. She was—Tom Duckett, he passed, he was the cashier at the bank—
BM: —and he said that Polly was a hundred and three year old. I asked him for that, I asked, “How old was Mama?” I called her Mama. She raised me from a day old. My mother had inflammatory rheumatism when I was born—a day old—and they had to turn her in the bedsheet, her skin was so tender and so sore. This was a rheumatism that killed people back in them days. And they had to turn her in a sheet, they couldn’t grasp her. Hurted her to catch a hold of her. And they’d turn her in the sheet, and my grandmother’d take me and raise me on a bottle when I was a day old—Polly. And as I grew up into the world, I called her Mama. And my mama was named May—she’s dead now. Well I called my grandmother Mama yet.
BM: My grandmother, Polly, I just told you, come from Murphy, North Carolina. She was three-quarter Indian—Cherokee.
BM: My grandmother, she kept in and carried me everywhere she went to.
BM: She used to carry me up on Screamer and take a pine knot in these tote bags? And knock pine knots, these rich pine knots, off of logs that we built fires out in the woods—coon huntin’ and campin’ out—tote ‘em out. And she’d sit down and she’d go to talkin’ about these high mountains, way on back to Tallulah Falls Gorge and oh how they’d walk from Murphy across Hiawassee and to Towns County and Blairsville and Young Harris. They’d walk from over Murphy across through where there’s just a panther trail—a pig trail. And her mama—I believe she said her mama died back when she was just a real young. Her name was Maggie. And they was real old. You know they must’ve been old when there was slavery.
BM: My grandmother, she would go backwards and forwards with some of the people to Murphy to see her folks. And they—her father died out and I don’t know, she used to name her sisters. She really didn’t know ‘em. They passed when she was just a little girl, and scared to even try to find out. And she’d go into the cook kitchen to cook for these big, rich white people. And they’d make these old pat-out biscuits with their hands. They didn’t let ‘em roll ‘em out, you know. They didn’t want them to do nothin’ nice. They just mean. They had it, but you had to do it the hard way—call it slavery.
BM: She saw these Yankees when she was seven year old. And where they come out from, was the top end of New York. I say up around Bronx and on up as far as Niagara Falls. And way up in Maine.
BM: But anyhow, the way Mama told it, it was the truth, ‘cause she was really a God-servin’ old lady. And she said that this Mosley man that had them under bondage, said, “What in the world are we goin’ to do?” And says, “What are they up to? What are they goin’ to do?” And these old big geese, you know, you’ve seen ‘em in people’s yards? And they’ll blow at you, they’ll bite you.
BM: And said them Yankees soldiers, you know, they had them old long swords? They decided to whack one in the head on and it just go to floppin’ and yelpin’ and said, “Don’t you kill my geese!” He says, “Be quiet there lady!” And you know, she never took no orders from nobody tellin’ her to be quiet. ‘Cause she was white, but she didn’t know what this was all about. And he says, “You sit down. Set down and see what’s goin’ on. You don’t even know what you”—and said the old man, he’s a’wantin’ to get a gun. Old man Mosley what was yonder—he didn’t know, he didn’t know if he was goin’ to shoot some of ‘em. And some of the soldiers mounted him right fast and just wrestled him onto the ground with one hand, and took his old musket shot gun, his old cap and balls. What they call a paper back. Go off today and kill you tomorrow. And them old muzzle-loaders, they have machinery in there, you know the old hammer cock back? And they wrestle him right on the ground, and he wanted to fight, he wanted to put up his dukes, and they just slap them. My grandmother was tellin’, says she called his name, but I forgot his given name. He says, “You know, we’ll have to tell you what we’re up for,” says there’s plenty more goin’ on ahead. And they went into South Carolina, all over Georgia, plumb on into New Orleans—Louisiana, Mississippi—that was some of the worst places down through there. And they’s a few of ‘em down there today that would run it over the colored people again if they could do it. But you see, the law’s changed. Everything is changed. But anyhow, they told ‘em, “We come to free these colored people.”
“No you ain’t,” he says.
“Yes.” They had to sheriff him up against the wall. He called her somethin’—dinosaur? He says, “What am I goin’—“ Says, “You just, these folks comin’ to take our — away from us.” Says, “Yeah, we ain’t comin’ to take ‘em away from you.” Said “They gonna go in peace, if we have to carry ‘em back with us.” Says, “Lady, you’ve had these folks under bondage long enough.”
BM: Said, “Don’t you understand that they’re bein’ freed?” Says, “We hate to give ‘em up. But we’re gonna have to.” Says, “If you fight back,” says, uh—and these Yankees had their guns with them. They had them same old musket guns, but they would shoot more. They was more accurate then the ones they had. They had just had an old single-barrel and powder horn and shot that they put down in that hammer to make it go off. And they had little bitty old short caps. By the time they done all that loadin’ one gun while they been a hundred and two of them killed by the Yankees. Well, the Yankees had double barrels and pump guns, and they had these old cap and ball pistols. Had one on each side and a scabbard. So my grandmother said she held her mother’s apron strings so tight—they had these old long aprons on—that her hand was sweatin’. My grandmother wanted to turn her loose, but she couldn’t walk far. She couldn’t walk far. She went to cryin’, and said, one of these white boys—says, “Where’s your hammer?” Said he didn’t know, they’d done got scared too. Said, “Where’s your axe?” Says it’s at the wood pile. He says, “Go get it.” And shoved him, he said get that axe. “Fetch me that axe.” And he brought him the axe, says, they were standin’—one of ‘em—beside a big crib, bigger than this house, full of the prettiest white corn you ever saw. You know how them folks would gather corn, put it in the crib you know? And the ear—and he busted that lock off, and the door flew open and it was stuffed so full of corn, it come just runnin’ out on the ground—just poured out on the ground. And one of the other soldiers got up in the crib and he was pushin’ it out on the ground with his feet, to make the rest of it come out and knocked in the back end of the crib. And Mama was seein’ this, said she was peepin’ out an old wooden window. And the geese come up, was eatin’ corn, and they says, “Where’s the smokehouse?” And he told him where the smokehouse was at, it was right next to the crib, right around back. And they went—and see they kept locks on these doors to keep the colored people from getting’ up and goin’, said folks had to steal a lot of times to get somethin’ to eat, pretty good you know. And they even locked from ‘em. They wouldn’t even trust ‘em to go in the meathouse and cut off—they’d cut the meat off theirselves, the white would. And allow it out to them piece by piece. And if there was any left, they’d give it to the dogs first. Now, I’m tellin’ you how brutal they was, you know, up to the day you got a heart. She has and I have and my wife has—that makes you feel pretty sad about things, to hear how folks was treated and to see how far that God has brought us along today to change all of that. Well anyhow, they got out one of the biggest hams they had. There was about, I imagine, about noontime when the Yankees was wantin’ lunch. They didn’t go out—there wasn’t no cafes or nothin’, just homes and plantations for miles and miles around. Wasn’t no stores or nothin’, they just raised everything they had. All they had was an old blacksmith shop to shoe the mules and horses that they had to ride and they farmed with. So they had a—Mama’s mother, my grandmother’s mother—said, “Come on…” I forgot, she called her that middle name, she said my mother went and the hams was hangin’ down all along. They killed this many big hogs, you know, to have their bacon and their hams. And they had a big old table where the white people eat on. And the Yankees went and knocked the side of the door down, and this big old table wouldn’t go out. It was wider than, that table was wider than the door. A long table where all the white people would come in and have their feast. And the colored people were out still in the cotton field. But they had some bosses over. And they come to dinner whenever they told ‘em to come to dinner. So they had my grandmother’s mother slicin’ the ham for the Yankees. And some of those Yankee boys could cook. And they got those big fryin’ skillets and they put a fire in the stove and—my grandmother’s mother—they said, “No, you sit down.” Somebody, I can’t call that middle name—Magdalena or somethin’—anyway, wish she was livin’ so she could tell you what she told me, but anyway, the Yankees made her sit down. Says, “Come on sweetheart, sit down, you’ve done enough.” You’d hear my grandmother tell that and she’d go to cryin’. I said, “Mama don’t tell me no more.” She said, “I want you to be a good boy comin’ up now. This thing will be changed one day from where it is now.” She said, “’Cause it’s been changed for me up to now. I’ve had a hard way to go, since I got grown.” You know, since this segregation and all come to power, well that was for a purpose. For you and I, and the white race, is to understand one another more. And love each other more and get along.
BM: When we was freed, the colored races growed. They’ve growed so strong, after years upon—you know, we didn’t have a chance. And you all today, to come in here, just as welcome as the flowers in May. And we’re welcome to your parts and all. The Lord’s fixed it. We didn’t have no kind of a chance. We was pushed back. Knocked back, and you’s daren’t say anything. And you’d have to go to the back door and knock if they wanted to let you in. Well what do you want? They’d recognize that dog a’fore they would me.
BM: You see, you all made the first law. There never have been just until a few years back a colored lawyer and a colored mayor. And there’s goin’ to be—I told my wife, I can see it, and I can hope the Lord let me live 69 more years, I don’t know, but we’ll have a colored president some day. ‘Cause, every time you turn on that tv ladies, you can see more and more of high class, educated colored men and colored women that’s really can do the job. But back on up ‘til now, and they did then, ain’t had a chance to do nothin’.
FF: Now people are being regarded as people, instead of what color they are. What they can do just as an individual.
BM: Well them people didn’t know nothin’ about that then. They thought that, well, “I’m white and you’re black, and you’ve got to stay back.” Well, they pushed us back too.
FF: Do you remember, like you know, there’s not too many families down here now, anymore. But did there used to be a lot more?
BM: Oh Lord, yes. There was a sight of colored people, you know, they come out of the valley. They originated from North Carolina—up around Cowee and Prentiss and from Otto back down, they got to comin’ up around Dillard and Rabun Gap. Well Javalin (?) Claude, and brother Gibson and his Aunt Daisy and Uncle Evel (?)—they was, let’s see—there was four colored families that lived up there and they had children. And they lived up there for a number of years. Well, the white people kept movin’ in on ‘em, movin’ in, and they had to have places and their children, the young white races, comin’ in from Franklin, comin’ in from Hiawassee, comin’ in from different parts. But most of ‘em was born and raised up around in Wolffork and Betty’s Creek and up around close to Highlands. And they said, “Well, somebody’s got to ask some of the lawmen”—some of the head officials, they come down around Clayton, and they got to findin’ out, well the colored people got to touch with, they got to workin’ for people down in the fields. Pullin’ fodder and makin’ hay and helpin’ kill hogs—different things, they kept gettin’ people down in here. And they found this spot through here for the colored people, for colored town.
FF: You mean it was designated, white people would buy here and…?
BM: No, this was given to ‘em through here.
FF: Given? They didn’t buy it?
BM: No. It was given to ‘em.
BM: You know, it used to be, as we said a while ago, it used to be you’d never catch a white person wantin’ to live where there was colored people, you know. And now, we can’t turn for a white house.