Slavery and the Making of AmericaPhoto of African-American children reading
Time and Place Slave Memories Resources The Slave Experience

The Slave Experience: Education, Arts, & Culture
Intro Historical Overview Character Spotlight Music in Slave Life Personal Narratives Original Docs
Personal Narratives Education, Arts, & Culture
Photo of George Johnson
Photo of George Johnson
Credit: Library of Congress
They openes a nice school ... Quoted from George Johnson
to the audio recording of this interview.
Personal Narratives

Interviewee: George Johnson
Interviewer: Dr. Charles S. Johnson

CSJ: I want you to tell me how you got your name?

GJ: I got my name from President Jeff Davis. He was president of the Southern Confederacy. He owned my grandfather and my father. Brought them from Richmond, Virginia. My grandfather was a blacksmith. My father was a young kid, wasn't grown. And my father had learned how to write a little bit in Richmond, Virginia, before they brought him down here. Grandpa used to keep chalk in his shop to mark ??? things; and my father take a piece put in his pocket and pass in front master Jeff's house he write on the sidewalk. And so one morning master Jeff come by and saw that writing on the walk, he go back and ask the cook, [old lady named (?)] Meli, Meliza: "There's writing on the sidewalk, who writing out there?" Say, "I don't know master Jeff." Say, "Come out there I show to you. I can read it." So he read it. He say, "Meliza, if you can find out who ever wrote on that walk out there, [I carry you down (?)] to the store and give you a free dress." She say, "Yes, master, Jeff." So, one morning she's out, throw out some dishwater. And she peek under the dishpan and she look down and saw my father down on his knees writing on the sidewalk. She told master Jeff. Master Jeff sent for the boy to come to the shop. Come to the house, and, ah, asked him who learned him how to write? He said, "Master Jeff, I learned how to write Richmond, Virginia. A white woman learned me how to write. Before you brought me down here." "You did?" "Yes, sir." He give him a pencil and [say] "Write my name." My father's name, Isaiah. He called them, "Ike, write my name." He wrote Jeff Davis' name. He said write, "Joe Davis." He wrote, "Joe Davis." "Write Vicksburg." He wrote "Vicksburg," you see. "Ah ha, Ike, that's pretty nice for you." And he send him on back to the shop and master Jeff's son from Richmond, Virginia, and got two teachers. They opened a nice school. Educate all his niggas. And made my father a civil engineer. And then made Isaiah Montgomery his bookkeeper. And on and on they made different ones ??? farmers, carpenters, sawmills, gins and all like that. That's just because of, of, of, of my father and Isaiah Montgomery. Isaiah is born Davis' Bend. He born on, on the Hurricane Plantation. Just [giant ??? (?)] from Brierfield. I was born on Brierfield. Master Jeff had five plantations over there: Ursino, Brierfield, Hurricane, Palmyra and Lick Place. It all belong to master Jeff. And ah, had all those niggas from different places, on those plantation to come to that school. Nice school. He give them all a formal education. When they all got free, they could take care theyself. They had so much business they couldn't hire [people (?)] who got business, you just can't give a nigga a education so he can tend to his business. Everyone learned tend to master Jeff's business. Everyone admired him. Obeyed him. Don't care where he's going he obeyed master Jeff.

In the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) sponsored a federal project dedicated to chronicling the experience of slavery as remembered by former slaves and their descendants. Their stories were recorded and transcribed, and this site presents dozens of select sound recordings and hundreds of transcriptions from the interviews. Beyond the content of the interviews, little to no biographical information is available on the individuals whose interviews appear here.

printer-friendly formatemail this page to a friend
About the Series K-12 Learning Feedback [an error occurred while processing this directive]Support PBS