Sunday, October 27, 2013

Aunt Susie Tells of History " From Slavery to the 1950s"

Susie Amacker Washington
Editor's Notes: The following story was penned approximately twenty-five years ago by Mrs. Carl M. Pierce of Kentwood and is reprinted today at the request of Mrs. Naomi Jackson, the youngest daughter of the late Susie Amacker Washington (1846-1957). Mrs. Washington in buried at Oak Grove AME Cemetery here in Kentwood, LA. Thursday, October 16, 1975

It is not everyone who can remember events of a century but Aunt Susie Amacker Washington, ancient Negro woman of Kentwood, who claimed to be one hundred and eleven years old, can speak with conviction of happenings before and immediately after the Civil War, and tells with pride that her "Old Marster" treated his slaves very kindly, indeed. She is a frail looking woman, hardly five feet tall, but gets about with an ease that belies here more that a century of living in this section. With evident delight, she recalls many details of life before and after the war. Asked if she has any proof of her ages, she replies proudly, "Mr. Rube Womack knows how old I am, and he says I be 112 this year." She was born near Kentwood in 1840. Her "old Marster" was Avery Quillian, who farmed and had a sawmill and gin as well. His only son, Francis, the young "young Marster" was kill in the war, but several daughters married into well-known families of the section, the "Mr. Rube" being the of son of "Miss Cooky" Quillian who married Captain Womack.

She remembers moving with the family to Osyka and back on Tickfaw River a few years later. The "Old Mistress" died in Osyka and was buried there. When asked if she had to work into fields, she proudly declared the " Old Marstar" never worked his slave women int he fields; that he had 15 hands to do the field work, leaving the slave women to do cooking, housework, spinning, and weaving. Her own mother did most of the cloth making for the household, and Aunt Susie recalled how they obtained dyes from various sources, such dye-rocks, maple, sumac, walnuts, and indigo, the latter having been grown on their farms. Her grandma was the cook for the family.

She remembered the privations of her folk immediately after the Civil War, and spoke  in some detail of substitutes and makeshifts for commodities taken for granted today. Salt was obtained by boiling water the dirt from smokehouses and dripping in the after through heavy cloths. Soda, she said, was made by burning corn cobs. (Not a chemist the author can see no connection between corn cobs and soda!)

For coffee, meal bran parched and used. their wash tubs was dug out of huge logs, with partitions left between sections to let the water out. Matches, she said were too high-priced for them to use, so they had to  use flint rocks.

Vividly recalling the time they heard the Yankees were coming Aunt Susie told how she was the one to bury the knives and forks, combs and brushes. She related how they rode up and peremptorily demanded the smokehouse key. When the " Old Marster" refused, they became threatening, so the key was promptly produced. They took half the large store of meat and a load of corn, though no horses was taken. Here the old ex-slave giggles delightedly as she recalled that they did take a saddle horses from a neighbor slaveholder, whom she apparently did not like.

Yes, she knew of some case of cruelty. A neighbor slaveholder was not like her " Old Marster" who fed his slaves plenty of meat to make them strong. Instead according to Aunt Susie, who declared she has seen the incident, slaves on the adjoining place were fed at a huge trough in which milk, " pot-licker"and bread were mixed and from which the negroes ate. He also locked one woman slave up and starve her to death because he claimed she had burned his gin. " She didn't do it, though, " Aunt Susie declared with conviction. She also recalled how, after the war and the slaves were freed. Old Uncle Jim went to the polls to vote, only to be whipped by the white folks.

On the Quillian farm each spring found the white folks and Negroes alike drinking sassafras tea, long considered a tonic in the South. This was sweetened with syrup, though, sweetened with syrup, through, "We had some sugar, " Aunt Susie pointed out. "My father hauled sugar in hogshead form Baton Rouge to Vicksburg, and when he would stop to let the team rest, Old Marster would burn us some sugar.

The old negro recalled how she used to go the white folk church on Tickfaw River, but when a small Methodist church for the Negroes  was built in what is now west Kentwood, she attended there. The Town, she said, was not here, then, the site being nothing but a swamp. She remembers the first store and sawmill in the vicinity. Her great-grandmother, she claims, was brought over from Africa and sold at the age of eleven. She, herself, as she proudly asserted, was never sold.

She married George Washington, who worked as a brickmoulder for Fluker-Kent, and lived near the brick-kiln, what was thriving industry in Kentwood. They had nine children, three boys and six girls. Of the nine, six are now living, the oldest 76 years old. She had great-grandchildren, although they do not live in Kentwood. However, she live in the house with her daughter, her grandchildren, and one great grandchild. Her favorite is in the chimney corner, with a fire burning slowly to take the spring chill out of the air.

Her teenage grandchildren attend a modern high school just outside the corporate limits of the town. Only two generations removed form slavery, they seem to enjoy their grandmother's stories, and frequently suggest that she tell something they have apparently heard many times.

Proof of her age, according to Mr. Womack, who is 84 years old, himself, is not in birth records but in his family history and his own memory. Aunt Susie is well-known among white and Negroes folks of the community, and is prolific sources of local history,