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(transcript) Oral History Interview with John Wesley Snipes, 1976 September 20 and November 20. Interview H-98. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
(series) Series H. Piedmont Industrialization. Southern Oral History Program Collection (H-4007)
John Wesley Snipes
Chapel Hill, N. C.
Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Interview conducted on September 20 and November 20, 1976, by Brent Glass; recorded in Bynum, N. C.
Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series H. Piedmont Industrialization, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Original transcript on deposit at The Southern Historical Collection Louis Round Wilson Library.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-CH
digitization project, Documenting the American South.
An audio file with the interview complements this electronic edition.
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Library of Congress Subject Headings, 24th edition, 2001
LC Subject Headings:
[Interview conducted] by
Original transcript on deposit at
The Southern Historical Collection
Louis Round Wilson Library
Brent Glass: I want to start by telling you that this tape will be made for your purposes and my purposes, and if you don't want anyone to listen to it it's fine with me.
John Snipes: There's not anything that I object to, as I know of.
BG: OK, fine. Well, after we're finished I'll send you a copy of the tape or the transcript that we make from it, and you can look it over and see if there's anything that you want to add to it or subtract from it, OK?
Snipes: That'd be all right.
BG: Could we start, Mr. Snipes, by your giving me your full name?
Snipes: John Wesley Snipes.
BG: And where and when were you born?
Snipes: I was born in Baldwin Township June 27, 1901.
BG: So were you born in the town of Bynum?
Snipes: Just a little ways up. It's the same township. That's my father's house right in front of the store yonder. But I was born on up on a piece of land my grandfather gave my father a few miles up the road. I went to school here. I was born June 27, 1901 and I was one of nine children; I was the fourth child. My father and mother were both born in 1872.
BG: What was your father's name?
Snipes: Charles A. Snipes.
BG: And your mother's name?
Snipes: Daisy Hackney.
BG: You said your grandfather gave your father a piece of land. Did you know your grandfather?
Snipes: Oh yes sir. He died in 1912; I was eleven years old. Fletcher, William Fletcher Snipes. He gave him a hundred acres up the road here. There was nine of us children, and Poppa and Momma was born in '72; they married in '95. Marvin was born in 1896. Betty was born in 1898. Jesse was born in 1899, and I was born in 1901. Brooks was born in 1904. Grady was born in 1906. Edna was born in 1909. Then Frank was born in 1913 and Thomas was born in 1916.
BG: I almost stopped writing there [laughter]. You've got nine altogether?
Snipes: Yes sir: four dead and five are living.
BG: What can you tell me about your grandfather Snipes, William Fletcher Snipes? What was his occupation?
Snipes: He was a big landowner. He inherited from my great-grandfather Wesley Snipes a 640 acre grant from England, one square mile.
BG: Who was that grant from England given to?
Snipes: My great-grandfather Wesley Snipes. He handed it down to my grandfather Fletcher, and my grandfather handed it down to my father. It's up here next to, adjoining Polk Landing and Fitch Creation and the Twin Lake Golf Course, up here off of Chapel Hill highway about a mile to the left of the Chapel Hill road. It runs all back in there. It's been added to; there's a thousand and four acres in there. And they've got it listed as University Land Company; it belongs to the University Land Company, a thousand and four acres.
BG: And who is that University Land Company now?
Snipes: Well, it was J. J. (Joe) and Cash Haggerty from Rocky Mount and Wilson. They've got plants at both places. Old man Cash Haggerty
(that old uncle) is worth $46 million; he's got two nephews. But old man Cash never was married. And he put it here locally in Cash Haggerty and J. J. Haggerty (Joe), and then they for some purpose switched it to the University Land Company. That's the way it's listed now.
BG: Well, let's start then with the grant to your great-grandfather Wesley Snipes. That was one mile square, 640 acres.
Snipes: Yes sir.
BG: Did he farm that land, do you know?
Snipes: Yes sir. Well, he farmed it a little and just had a few hogs for his own use, and a cow or two and killed beef. And they raised honey, and they had the pumpkins and corn and wheat and stuff like that: raised all of that.
BG: Did he own any slaves that you know of?
Snipes: Not that I know of, not my grandfather on the Snipes side. Now on the Hackney side he did. My grandfather John Joe Hackney, my mother's father, he owned old Uncle Hanks Hackney.
BG: Well, before we get on to your mother's side, your great-grandfather Wesley Snipes received this grant.
Snipes: As far as I've always been told. We had a proported deed written by goose quill of this grant. My grandfather died an old bachelor there by himself, and he turned it over to my father. Then when my father died in 1954, when the lawyers settled up the estate I ain't never known what went with that grant [laughter].
BG: I see. Well, was he from England, your great-grandfather?
Snipes: Yes sir. I got the history of when they left England. They went from England to the Barbado Islands, and from the Barbado
Islands to Cross Creek, Fayetteville down yonder, where the muddy water and the clear water crosses. Then they moved on up here. There's a building up here on the present old place that was made out of logs, and I'd say just roughly the old building is about eighteen foot wide and about twenty-four foot long, with a door on each side. And it was sawed: at the time they'd put a log on two workbenches, and one man got up on the workbench. And the logs were sized with a cross-cut saw up and down this-a-way, one up yonder and one down sawing up and down like this. Just a few years ago somebody went there and sawed out two of those top logs. And I'm satisfied they was 150 or 160 years old.
BG: Is that house still standing?
Snipes: Yes, it's still standing, or was about a year ago. A fellow carried me in there in a Jeep. Two logs have been sawed out; they just cut it off from the notches, cut it off about a foot or two from each one and left that building standing. The editor of the old Progressive Farmer, Clarence Poe. . . . . In the state fairground at Raleigh they've got a section of old country of yesteryear, I mean old, old things. Well, Clarence Poe, the editor of the Progressive Farmer, came up here and asked for that building about seven or eight years ago to be moved and put on the fairground at Raleigh. But the family didn't want it tore down. It's an old log house; and it's still standing there, or it was about a year ago. But it's real old.
BG: So the Snipes, then, have been in Chatham County ever since just about the beginning of Chatham County?
Snipes: Yes sir. Where our old house is sitting, up here, Chatham County has given off a lot of land to Orange County and also Lee County.
That county line has been moved. Seventy-five or eighty years ago that county line was moved over to Orange. We were setting right on the edge of Orange County at that time. And Chatham gave Orange oh, I reckon fifteen miles further on up. Chatham was a big county at one time. And it's the only county in the world that I've ever heard tell of (and the records bear this out) that ever shipped a solid carload of rabbits to New York. Chatham rabbits; we were known for Chatham rabbits. They caught them in hollows and boxes. And you could go in New York seventy-five years ago and call for Chatham rabbit on the menu in New York City [laughter].
BG: Wow. I tell you, I didn't know that.
Snipes: Rabbits run just like ants or grasshoppers. They shipped them by the carload to New York.
BG: Can you tell me a little bit more about your father's family and this piece of land up here? Your great-grandfather might have been a farmer, you think?
Snipes: Yes. Not a big farm, but just made a living. Weren't one-tenth of the land cultivated. It was in timber, forest.
BG: And how about your grandfather?
Snipes: Same way, yes sir: just a small farmer.
BG: And then your father? How about him?
Snipes: Same way. We'd have several acres of cotton, 12-15, maybe 25 acres of corn. And had a few tenants on the place.
BG: How many tenants would this be? Do you have any idea?
Snipes: Usually we had three tenant houses; there was somebody in them most every year.
BG: Would these be black or white?
Snipes: Both, some white and some black.
BG: I meant to ask you, do you have any record of your great-grandfather's fighting in the Revolutionary War? Wesley Snipes?
Snipes: No sir, neither one on my father's side. On my mother's side, now I have his old musket, sword and pistol that he carried through the Civil War.
BG: Through the Civil War?
BG: But now you don't have any recollection of your great-grandparents fighting in the Revolutionary War?
Snipes: No sir, I don't have no record of none of that.
BG: All right. Now let's go on to your mother's side, the Hackney family. What can you tell me about them?
Snipes: Well, my grandfather John Joe Hackney married Elizabeth Josephine Snipes. See, my father and mother were cousins.
BG: Oh, I see.
Snipes: That was on my mother's side that they were Hackneys. And Grandpa went and fought in the Civil War. He hired a hand to fight with him. I forgot what nationality he was but (I've got a record of it) his name was Feroni. I believe it's in there in the Bible. He carried him all the way through the Civil War. Then he had this old colored man, old Uncle Hanks Hackney. He had belonged to grandfather John Joe Hackney's father Joshua Hackney. And Joshua Hackney, the father of John Joe, they built this church down here at Mount Gilead in 1824 at Hackney's Crossroads; there's a Hackney's post office there. And that's on my mother's
side. Joshua Hackney was my mother's grandfather, which was my great-grandfather.
BG: Is that in Chatham?
Snipes: Yes sir. It's right across the way on the Mount Gilead road. Mount Gilead Church is where the Hackneys settled there. Oh, there's hundreds of graves. The first person ever buried in that there cemetery was Geneverite Hackney. And that church was built in 1824, which has been 150 years.
BG: Is that still standing?
Snipes: Oh yes sir. It's a live, wide-awake church. And then right there they had a post office; it was Hackney post office for years and years, just sort of a country post office. And when they carried their mail back by horse and buggy you probably got mail about twice a week or [laughter] something like that, maybe three times a week. Write a letter this week and if it was a mile or two up the road maybe they'd get it next week [laughter].
BG: Well that's about like it is now [laughter], sometimes.
Snipes: One cent postage then, then later on two, three, and now it's thirteen.
BG: Yes, right. Was your mother's father a farmer also?
Snipes: Yes sir.
BG: About how big a farm did he have?
Snipes: Just a small one. Had about two hundred acres of land, and they just were average. Had a few hogs, a few sheep, a few geese. They'd kill a beef in the fall, and they'd hang it up and dry it way back then. They made their own hominy. They'd burn the ashes and drip lye onto the
ashes; and that was to take the husks off of that hominy corn. Then they made their own lye soap. And they picked their own geese, the down, the soft feathers from under the geese to make the pillows. And they swapped their sheep wool for yarn cloth. They'd carry this sheep wool up here to the old tanning yard, the cowhide and the sheep wool up there, and they'd swap cowhides for tanned leather. Then they treated these feathers; I don't know what they did to them, but they treated them anyway.
BG: Would this be both your mother's family and your father's family that would do that?
Snipes: My father's family never did. My father's family, as I have any record of it, never did have no sheep or geese, but my mother's side did.
BG: How large a family did your mother come from? How many brothers and sisters did she have?
Snipes: Oh, let's see: there was Kemp Hackney, Daisy Hackney, Clarence Hackney, Gita Hackney, Ben Hackney and Dixie Hackney.
BG: That's six.
Snipes: Let's see: Kemp, Clarence, Jack, Ben, Daisy and Dixie. That's seven.
BG: Oh yes, so you left out Jack. And your father, how big a family did he come from?
Snipes: Just one sister; two.
BG: Oh, two altogether. What was her name?
Snipes: Berta Snipes; married J. B. Atwater in Durham.
BG: OK. Now, what do you remember doing with your grandparents?
Snipes: Oh [laughter]. My grandmother was my buddy; I stuck right under my grandmother. And of course I went about a whole lot with my grandfather.
BG: Now which one would this be, the Snipes?
Snipes: On my mother's side. If you go back you'll take when my father and mother was married in '95, see there was Marvin in '96, Betty '98, Jesse '99 and me 1901. That was four children in four years. And my mother was sickly, and they carried me down to my grandfather's. And they practically raised me. I went to school here in 1907, I reckon--when I was six years old, and I was born in 1901. My grandparents practically raised me.
BG: This is your grandparents Hackney?
Snipes: On the Hackney side, yes sir.
BG: And what kinds of things would you do there? Did you help them on the farm any?
Snipes: Yes sir. I'd help them feed the pigs and the cows, and I'd hold the old gander's head for them to pick down off of him, the feathers you know to make feather beds and pillows. Nobody at that time didn't have mattresses. I'd never seen a mattress 'til I was a great big boy. They had straw ticks made out of wheat straw, and then they had the feather beds. And they had to make them feather beds. They raised the geese to pick the feathers. It took a whole lot of feathers to make a feather bed [laughter].
BG: I bet.
Snipes: And every spring my grandfather and them would round up twenty or twenty-five geese in this old log-boarded barn. We'd catch
'em, and I'd hold their heads. Them old ganders would bite you, pinch you. I was little fellow; I'd jump on him and hold his head for grandma to pick his soft feathers out from under. They didn't pick the wing feathers and the tail feathers (they were stiff, you know), they picked his soft down. You could have a barnfull [laughter] and wouldn't have ten pounds [laughter].
BG: Really, 'cause they're so soft.
Snipes: And old fellow said it takes a thousand pounds of feathers to weigh a hundred [laughter]. You'd have a barnfull, but you wouldn't have many feathers. The same way with shearing sheep. My grandfather got old, and I'd help hold those sheep. And the skin on the sheep will stretch, pull way up. You can just take hold of the sheep. My grandpa'd pull the wool up and clipping along, and he was nervous and his hands shook. And he'd just chip little patches of blood all off, you know; those sheep'd be bloody from their head to their tail [laughter] when they got the wool off. Started at the hind end and sheared him on up to the front, and just turn it over. He'd have forty or fifty little skins where he'd pulled the skin up and he'd clip it off with the scissors, you know. His hand would shake.
BG: So you helped him do that too?
Snipes: Yes, I'd hold the sheep [laughter] for him to shear them.
BG: Do you remember any things that you particularly enjoyed doing with your grandparents? Did they like to tell you stories?
Snipes: I fought the Civil War. My grandfather and old Mr. Isaac Morris--I. J. Morris lived just across Polkberry Creek about a mile. . . . And in the summertime when I was a little fellow my grandfather, about
every week he'd go over there to old Mr. Isaac Morris's. And I'd sit down and play in the sand, and him and Mr. Morris would go over the Civil War. I knew every word of it by heart: what they done at Gettysburg. "Well, John Joe, you remember that day we went in there? There was about fifty of us went in there and captured so-and-so?" "Oh yes, Isaac, I remember it." Well, one day my grandmother said something to me about the Civil War. I said, "Oh yes, I was there. I know all about it." She said, "Hush your mouth. You weren't even born!" [laughter] I said, "Well, I've heard it a thousand times from Grandpa and old Mr. Isaac Morris, a'fighting the Civil War." I said, "I've heard it; I know it by heart." [laughter]
BG: Did you enjoy hearing it over and over again, or did you get a little tired of it?
Snipes: Yes sir. Well, I just heard it so much I could tell it as good as they could, just about. But they enjoyed old buddies getting together.
BG: How about any kind of times on the farm where a number of farm families would get together for corn shuckings or. . .?
Snipes: That was an annual affair in the fall. About the time of the frost they'd get up the corn in big piles and have a big dinner and have a neighborhood corn shucking. That was a common custom back up until fifteen or twenty years ago. They don't do it any more 'cause they've got these combines and pickers and all to pick it in the field and shuck it in the field. But that was a big occasion, those big old corn shuckings and cutting frolics. Everybody used a wood stove, and in the spring before the sap riz they'd go out and out down maybe an acre of pine and split it
and stack it up for stove wood for that summer. And they'd cut it before the sap riz in the spring, maybe early March or late February. And it was a much better grade of stove wood than it would have been after the sap started to rise.
BG: How about sorghum? Did they raise sorghum?
Snipes: They raised their sorghum. And they'd take a forked stick. The stalk standed up like this, and you had to get that old fodder off of there. We'd take a forked stick and just beat right straight down, and it'd knock off the fodder on each side, you see. We just beat the fodder down on the ground so that you'd get to the cane stalk. Then you cut the top of that cane out, and then you carried it to this mill. And they had an old-fashioned grinder with a long pole and these cogs in here. You stuck that cane in there, and the mule went around about a thirty or forty foot circle, and that turned that. And that squeezed the juice out. Most of them cooked it in the neighborhood, sometimes on the same place, sometimes they'd cook it one place or another. They cooked their own cane sorghum. You stood there continuously and skimmed off that green. The stalk would cause a green scum on it. And then they'd put it up for wintertime.
BG: Did you ever make candy out of sorghum?
Snipes: Oh yes, the old-fashioned pulled candy. [laughter] That was about the only courting anybody ever got to do then. They'd have a party and cook pulled candy, and the girl on one end, you know, and you on the other. I don't reckon it was clean; I think it was nasty. They'd drop it and just pick it up and keep on pulling it 'til it'd get tough, you know.
BG: Now what was this: you'd make the candy and have a candy pull?
Snipes: Yes sir, you'd have to pull it. And you'd just keep pulling it and just lap it back and pull it out, and lap it back and pull it out. One'd have a hold of one end and one a hold of the other. You'd have about a two foot rope when you stretched it out. Then one'd take both ends and you'd pull again; the other one'd take both ends and you'd pull again. And they made the candy that way. They made about everything they eat. They knit their own stockings, and the men did their own shoes and everything. Weren't no money. Long about 1905 cotton was five cents a pound. My grandfather on my father's side run an old post office up there at old Kilgo. He used to run a blacksmith's shop that pulled teeth; let me bring you the box. [Interruption] This plucker come here from England about 1824.
BG: What are we looking at here?
Snipes: Tooth pluckers.
BG: Oh boy!
Snipes: [laughter] Cold steel! And up until I was married the only dentist I ever went to was my father and grandfather. And they'd get me down and put their fist in my forehead and not put nothing on it, just reach in there and get the tooth. And it'd be me and them 'til they turned me loose [laughter].
BG: Boy! That's quite a thing to save. I would save that if I were you. That's really something. What about a doctor? Was there a doctor when you got sick?
Snipes: There was nine of us young'uns, and I believe about six of
them were brought into this world by what we called the old granny-woman: old Emeline Cotten, my old black mother.
BG: Would you know if that's C-o-t-t-e-n or o-n?
Snipes: That's right, C-o-t-t-e-n, Cotten.
BG: Now who was she?
Snipes: She was a neighbor. They had a little piece of land. I believe my grandfather give them about twenty-five acres, and they had a house there right adjoining the place up there at my father's.
BG: On the Snipes' . . . ?
Snipes: She brought, I believe, the first six all into this world. Then we had an old dokey doctor, old Dr. Mann. There was two of them brought into this world by old Dr. Mann in a horse and buggy. And he drank. He'd come down and he'd come about half shot. Then the other was later on in 1916; they was getting a little bit more civilized then [laughter].
BG: What can you tell me about Emeline Cotten? What do you remember about her?
Snipes: Old Emeline Cotten, she had one son Tom Cotten, and he married . . . his wife was named Effie. They done a lot of helping in hog killing time about drying up the lard and cutting out the meat just right and fixing the sausage and fixing the lard just right. They cooked that fat and made the lard, and strained it and all such of that. And that was all left up to Emeline, Tom and Effie.
BG: We were talking about Emeline Cotten.
Snipes: Old Auntie Emeline, she done all of the grannywomen jobs
in the neighborhood at that time. There weren't no local doctor in what you might say the early nineteen hundreds when Marvin in '96, '98, '99 and 1901 and 1904. There wasn't no doctor in miles and miles of there.
BG: So she would deliver the babies?
Snipes: She delivered all the babies.
BG: Would she do anything else as far as health care was concerned?
Snipes: No, nothing else so far as health was concerned. If you had the measles and couldn't break out she'd get some sheep balls and make a tea and she'd make you break out. That was the old remedy: sheep balls, then boil it and drink that sheep ball tea [laughter] and you'd break out or die on it [laughter].
BG: When you say sheep balls you mean the. . .?
Snipes: Manure, the manure.
BG: Oh really?
Snipes: Yes. You'd go to the barnlot. It was principally grass, you know, sort of like a rabbit's, balls about like rabbit balls. And [laughter] I'd of rather had the measles than to drink that sheep ball tea.
BG: Yes, I would think. And that was one of her remedies?
Snipes: That was one of her remedies. And they'd kill a mole and out off its foot and tied a string around it, and tie it around your neck when your baby's cutting the teeth, you know. And them old superstitions. . . . Of course now we I reckon are more enlightened now than we were then. But those old home remedies, we all lived anyway [laughter].
BG: Well, did people pretty much go by them and believe in them?
Snipes: Oh, absolutely believed in them. A baby couldn't cut teeth
without a big mole's foot tied around his neck, and he wore it there like a locket. Sulphur and lard for itch.
BG: What's that?
Snipes: Sulphur and lard for the seven year itch. Everybody had the itch and lice, you know, long about then. Old Auntie Emeline would take some hog's lard and some sulphur and make a sulphur and lard for the itching. We all went to school in a long old one-room schoolhouse with a big pot-bellied stove in the middle. Well, didn't nobody ever get no higher than the eighth grade or ninth grade, nohow; they were through then anyway. And they just had one teacher, and all in the same room. And in cold weather when we all got hot you could get around that old stove. You could tell whoever had the itch 'cause you could smell that lard [laughter], you could smell that sulphur and lard.
BG: What did they do, rub it on their chest?
Snipes: Well, they'd get it between the fingers, you know; the seven year itch would get between the fingers. And they'd be a' scratching. They'd get close to that stove and you could smell that sulphur and lard; you could point out the ones that had the itch. They was ashamed of it. They wouldn't let you know they had it, but you knew who had it by smelling them. It was right amusing.
BG: Well, you lived a good time with your grandmother and grandfather Hackney. Did they discipline you? How many of the other children, I should ask, lived with them?
Snipes: None. See, I was what they called a kneebaby. See, there was four young'uns in four years, and my mother was sickly. I was the fourth young'un, and weren't nare a one of them big enough to wait on
theirselves. So when I got big enough to wean my grandmother come up there and got me to take some of the load off of my mother.
BG: Why did they call you a kneebaby?
Snipes: Well, there was another litte'un just a month or two old, and there I was about eighteen months just a'walking, you see. I weren't big enough to wait on myself. And they took me when I was about eighteen months old and kept me. The babies come so fast [laughter] that they was all the same size.
BG: Right. Well, how would your grandmother discipline you then?
Snipes: I don't know if she ever whipped me in my life. I done just as I pleased down there; that's the reason I liked to stay down there. And I stayed down there off and on 'til I married. I stayed down there two winters in 1915 and '16 and went to school. But I stayed there to get in their wood. I'd cut their fireplace and stove wood. When I got home in the evening after school I'd cut up enough wood for that night and the next day, and get up wash water (maybe fill up four or five tubs so Grandma could wash). She was getting old. I'd sort of help them that much, because they were both getting old.
BG: Well, did your grandmother have any rules about how to behave around the house, or any kind of sayings?
Snipes: I respected them, and I'd mind. I didn't do anything mean in their sight, [laughter] but I did it out of their sight.
BG: [laughter] Like what? Did you have many chums down there that you. . .?
Snipes: Get behind the barn and smoke--wonder I hadn't have burned the barn up. And of course now I know they could smell it on me when I
come back in the house. But I'd slip and smoke rabbit tobacco. My grandfather chewed the old homemade tobacco that grows in the field. He'd plant him a row or two and then sun cure it and hang it up. And then long after the sun cured it he'd take in a damp day while it was in the high order. He'd stem it and twist it up in twists, and he'd put it in the closet. And he'd have maybe two or three bushel baskets full of twisted tobacco in there. And he couldn't miss it. I'd get me a twist every once in a while, and then I'd have to carry mine out. I'd just cut me off a piece or break me off a piece and carry the balance of it over to the barn and hide it. But I'd have to get a whole twist at the time. Then later on he got to buying tobacco by the box. Tobacco weren't but about five cents a plug, but it come two plugs side by side. And if I got a plug I had to get two. If my grandfather left it level then I'd have to get two plugs to make it level. If it was one up and one down, if I just got one he would notice it. I'd have to get two plugs, one on each side, to leave it up and down. So I had to outsmart him, and he couldn't tell in this little square box how deep the tobacco was going down. And every time I got one plug I had to get two to leave it exactly in the same shape.
BG: And where would you get your plugs from?
Snipes: I'd get it out of his box, and I'd carry it to the barn and hide it. And [laughter] I've chewed tobacco ever since I was four years old.
BG: Oh boy! And you think your grandparents wouldn't have approved of that?
Snipes: Well, they wouldn't when I was that little. Later on they all used tobacco many years in some form.
BG: Did your grandmother dip snuff?
Snipes: Yes sir, dipped snuff; my grandfather chewed tobacco. The stronger it was, the better he liked it. And I never smelled anything on my grandfather. He was a big, round man; wasn't very high, maybe 5 feet 6 or 8 inches, not as tall as I am. But he weighed about 230 or 40. And he lived to be eighty-four. But he had an old little brown jug under the stairsteps. Where we went up the stairs there was a little closet under there, a little dark closet. And he had a little brown jug under there, and I'd catch him every once in a while in the morning slipping out off in the hall there to this little closet. He'd keep that little brown jug full of homemade whiskey, old stumper or white lightning. He'd take a swallow or two every morning, I imagine. But I wasn't big enough for a long time to know what he was doing; I realized later what it was. Never smelled him, never heard tell of him being drunk in my life.
BG: Just got himself started in the morning, I guess, huh?
Snipes: Just sort of a little tonic to shoot him off [laughter] every morning, I reckon.
BG: Well, he must have worked pretty hard on the farm.
Snipes: He did, up until he died. Grandmother died in 1921, and my grandfather died in 1924. He lived three years more. Grandpa was eighty-four, and my grandmother was about eighty.
BG: Well, tell me about your father's parents. Did you have much to do with them? Did you spend some time with them?
Snipes: No. My great-grandmother, Grandpa Fletcher's wife, she died a good many years before Grandpa was dead. And he come in a separate house out there and lived with us. He begin to get feeble, and he died in 1912.
BG: You didn't know him too well?
Snipes: Oh yes, I knew him. I lived near them. I waited on him a long time in his old age there. But my father and my father's family, we tended to him. He died at home in 1912.
BG: Well, did your parents discipline you very much?
Snipes: Poppa was strict. Didn't have nothing to do much but just turn around and look at you, and you minded, absolutely minded.
BG: Did he ever put a switch to you?
Snipes: Oh yes sir. [laughter] He kept my hind end stripped half the time, 'cause I was mean as a snake, mischievous rough. I'd get into everything. I wanted to try everything there were that come along: chew tobacco, dip snuff, get sick; try it again, chew rabbit tobacco [laughter]. He'd catch me once in a while and wear me out, and it didn't do no good. I went right on doing it again.
BG: How about the other children in the family? Were they mischievous?
Snipes: Not as bad as I was. There were so many of us, I just accepted the job of being the black sheep of the family [laughter]. I accepted that myself, I believe. My older brother finished state college and worked with the citrus people in Florida for twenty years. And then he went to the mountains and worked for the government up there at the Tennessee Valley project. Brooks, he finished at state college; and he was county agent at Wilkes County for so many years, and then he came back here in the county at Chatham. I tried three years to get out of the sixth grade. I'd start, and we'd get to go to school by October, maybe November, December and January. And then we'd have to start cleaning up and plowing and one thing and another, start farming. And I didn't learn nothing. I went.
Two years influenza broke out, and they closed the school down. I didn't get to go a month that year, I don't reckon. I just got tired of sixth grade and married; I never did get no further.
BG: Before we get into school, maybe we could talk a little bit about games you liked to play with some of your childhood friends. Did you have many friends growing up?
Snipes: Oh yes sir. The little old country schoolhouse was right there pretty close, and my father was schoolteacher.
BG: Oh, he was a schoolteacher as well as a farmer?
Snipes: [laughter] In the winter. We had school about three months a year, all in the same room. My father taught school. I saw an old voucher here a while back, and I think he got I believe it was fifteen dollars a month.
BG: What were his qualifications to teach in school?
Snipes: He finished high school, that was all.
BG: So you played with the children over at school. What kind of games would you play?
Snipes: See, my mother knit all of us stockings. She'd knit it out of white cotton thread. And she knit well-wore stockings, not socks. When I was eight or nine years old I wore knee stockings that come up to my knee. But my mother would sit by the fire at night and knit all of those, different lengths of them for different ones in the family. And then we'd get red oak bark, and get that inner bark next to the wood, the thin bark, and boil it and make a dye. And she dyed all of our socks. Then when we wore the feet completely out we'd take and unravel them and make a thread ball. Then we'd take the top of an old shoe and cut the shape of a cover
of a baseball. It'd come around here, and then come around here, and then the one would come across this a'way. They're sewed together with four seams. We'd cut tops of an old shoe out (an everyday shoe or something) and make us a horsehide cover, we called it. And that was our baseball. Played with thread balls most of the time. Didn't nobody have no store-bought balls or store-bought glove or nothing.
BG: What did you use for a bat?
Snipes: We'd take us an ash and straighten it out, dry it, and cut it out, and take a drawing knife and scrape it down sort of in the shape of a bat. It didn't make no difference whether it was forty inches long or two foot or three foot or what, just so it was in the shape of a ball bat. There weren't no [laughter] distinction or regulation.
BG: Where might you play?
Snipes: We had a little place over in the straw field. I don't even know whether the bases were regulation bases or not; I doubt it very much, though. We had a rock at every base, and if you slid into it you were liable to bust your head open [laughter] or knock your kneecap off or something. But there were some big games that day and time.
BG: Who would play, just boys from around?
Snipes: One school. There were five or six little old country schools about two or three miles apart. We'd play each other along about school closing or Easter or something like that. School usually closed about Easter.
BG: Well now, where was your school located?
Snipes: Are you familiar with any of the land up at Chapel Hill Road? Are you familiar with where Fitch Creation is?
Snipes: Well, Fitch Creation is sitting on our little old ball ground. We had a big boys' ball ground and a little boys'. As you turn there close to Manns Chapel Church, as you turn down towards the golf course, that was our schoolhouse right on the left there. Where you hit Fitch Creation's houses, that's sitting on our old schoolhouse lot, that old ball ground and schoolhouse lot. And that's where my wife was raised, right there. The Connie Smith land, R. B. Fitch and them built houses all over it. The Haithcock and Smith land there was where my wife was raised.
BG: How about hunting or fishing? Did you do much of that when you were a boy?
Snipes: Well, we didn't have nothing to fish. I mean, there's nothing but little old branches and creeks, and not much water up in that area. And we didn't get to go nowhere. I'd never seen the river 'til I was a great big boy. We rabbit hunted. Now, that was a big occasion: go out and kill thirty or forty rabbits a day.
BG: What would you kill them with, guns?
Snipes: Sticks and guns, and the dogs'd run them down and catch them. We'd just take the entrails out in real cold weather and hang them up in the smokehouse with the hide on them, and dry them out. Then we made rabbit hash, and cooked them. And they replaced a whole lot of meat, hog meat. There was a lot of quail way back there, a lot of turkeys. Chatham County has been blessed with rabbits: just thousands and hundreds of thousands of them way back seventy-five years ago.
BG: And you were telling me that Chatham County supplied. . .?
Snipes: It's the only county in the United States that ever shipped
'em by the carload, a carload of nothing but rabbits with the entrails taken out with the fur on them: just pack 'em down and fill the whole car full. Like this place over here Rabbit's Crossings, they've shipped them from there here in Chatham County, and Devil's Tramping Grounds and over there at Hogs Crossing and all that. They shipped them by the carload. But the foxes got so they destroyed them, and we don't have that many rabbits now, very few.
BG: Let me ask you about these corn shuckings and cutting frolicks and so forth. Would there be music at these?
Snipes: Sometimes they'd wind up with an old-fashioned square dance, and move out everything after supper. See, they wouldn't shuck corn but well around Thanksgiving, and chances are it'd be cold by that late in November probably. And they had the big fireplaces. And they'd move out everything and put on a log fire. Now I was little, but them bigger ones, I expect they'd go out to the woodshed once in a while. The longer the dance the redder the eyes got, and they'd have the old-fashioned square dance with all figures, you know. Maybe some old neighbor would have an old banjo with about half the strings on it. It didn't make no difference, just so it was making a fuss sort of [laughter]. I weren't big enough to get in on all that. I'd have to sit off and look through the door, peek through the hole. But they had good times.
BG: Well, did you enjoy living on the farm?
Snipes: Oh yes sir.
BG: What did you like about it?
Snipes: The freedom, I reckon. When you'd caught up, when you'd done your day's work you'd go out and sit on the porch. Weren't nobody
right near us much of the time; weren't too thickly settled. On Saturday dinner in the summertime and farming time my Daddy'd let us off. We'd come home. There were nine of us, and if you had about five or six pair of overalls they would fit any two in the crowd. But it didn't make no difference which one got them on first [laughter], because they were so near the same size. My mother made them little old britches. She used to make little old britches 'til I was up twelve or fifteen years old. Never had a store-bought pair of britches 'til I was grown, I mean a great big boy. I don't know whether we was clean or not, but she washed every Monday morning. And she had four or five tubs of water and build a big fire in the yard. And she washed with homemade lye soap. And she didn't wash no more 'til next Monday morning. We had maybe one or maybe two changes. We'd have one on and the other on the line or in the wash, one: that was all the clothes we had. We handed them down from one to the other just like stairsteps [laughter]. If this one outgrow them this year there was one right behind you to pick them up next year, so it didn't make much difference.
BG: So you'd get off from work on Saturday afternoon and come home?
Snipes: Just play around the yard, just stay around the house.
BG: But it's hard work, isn't it, around the farm?
Snipes: Yes sir. We farmed four mules one time; we had about four or five mules. We raised corn, potatoes, garden peas, cotton--never no tobacco. That land up there was not to amount to anything. Very little tobacco. But we raised a lot of corn, cotton. The boll weevil come, you see. First the red spider come, and it hit the cotton. And that slowed people up. And then later on the boll weevil.
BG: When would this be?
Snipes: That red spider must have hit along about 1911 or '12, 'cause it was about four or five years before the boll weevil. The boll weevil was in the late 20's. It was about World War Number One when the boll weevil hit the worst, and it got so we couldn't make no cotton. We didn't have the stuff to spray it with, and the boll weevil'd eat it up.
BG: What kind of jobs would you do on the farm when you were getting up a little bit older? Say would you do plowing?
Snipes: Oh yes, plowing, cutting wheat, pulling fodder, shucking corn, sowing wheat, cutting firewood. See, you'd cut fifteen or twenty cords of wood a winter for fireplace wood. Two or three great big old fireplaces, and three or four foot long. We'd cut down trees as big as them out there, and just cut them down with an axe. Didn't have no saws; weren't no such a thing as a chainsaw.
BG: Did your father grow food just for home consumption?
BG: Or did he try to market his. . . ?
Snipes: We never did have nothing to sell in the food line, for it took every bit to eat [laughter].
BG: And how about the corn?
Snipes: We kept enough corn to fatten up the hogs. And then about every three or four weeks we'd take three or four bushels of corn and carry it to the old grist mill up there and have it ground into corn meal.
BG: Which mill would this be?
Snipes: Pritchard's old mill, Lessie's grandfather's.
BG: Where was that?
Snipes: That was just about a mile or so. It was right there at them Mitchum boys, above Manns Chapel Church up there; it's where the Wilsons live now. Between the Mitchums and the Wilsons there, between Manns Chapel and Damascus.
BG: Was that on a creek?
BG: What creek would that be? Do you know?
BG: Barnes Creek.
Snipes: I think that's right.
BG: You'd carry it up there with your dad?
Snipes: Yes, we'd carry it in the wagon, maybe two or three sacks of corn, and go up there. And they'd grind it. They'd take out their toll. Maybe if you carried a bushel of shelled corn they'd take out a gallon of corn for toll. Then that way we kept corn bread all the time. Of course you could eat it for mush and muffins or most anything you wanted.
BG: Where would you carry your cotton?
Snipes: The old Alliance cotton gin was right there close to home. My grandfather run an old cotton gin and a post office and a blacksmith's shop over there. I don't believe you're familiar with it. It's on that creek right below Leon Mann and Romy Mann. Romy Mann lives right there. I believe my great-grandfather was the old post office. Part of that old lumber is out there in that field now in an old shed or something. It was Kilgo.
BG: I'll bet if I brought a map of Chatham County you could show me where some of these places are, right?
Snipes: I've got a map. I can show you anything you want. I've got a map of every county in North Carolina.
BG: Do you?
Snipes: In North Carolina. [Interruption]
Snipes: On this old Snipes place here where my great-grandfather Wesley and Grandfather Fletcher, where this old log--we used it for a granery--it's in a big oak grove. And there was a big rock, I reckon four or five foot high and as big around as . . . I'd say twenty-five or thirty feet around. And right on the top of that there was a pinnacle, and the Indians had pestled out a thing shaped just like a top. It was big at the top, but they pestled out in this rock. Then it went down to a peak sort of. And it was supposed to have held exactly a peck of corn. They ground their meal, legend has it, at this old Indian rock. Well, there's two: there's one over there at the Nelly Blake place. And they'd take something like a mallet or something to beat that corn up, maybe and sift it. They claimed the Indians used that. Now that was handed down from my great-grandfather; whether that's right or not I don't know.
BG: Is that rock still there?
Snipes: I think that in cleaning up down there, I think with the blasting one time, I think that one's gone. Then there was one about as big as a bale of cotton over there across the creek. And it set up like an egg, and right in the top of that. . . . Now somebody bought that rock, somebody from Chapel Hill, and got a front-end loader or something out there and loaded that thing up and carried it away from there. They bought that rock there in the old Dollar yard. Earl Dollar is in there close to the old Blake place. But it helped to claim at that time just a peck of corn.
Now whether that's right or not I don't know. I don't know that I ever measured it.
BG: After you ginned your cotton where would you bring the cotton? Would you leave it there at the gin?
Snipes: No, we'd bring it back home and put it on the shelf, or either bring it on down to Carrboro, to the cotton mill there at Venable; the old Venable Cotton Mill there at Carrboro, way back yonder before it was ever named. It was Venable for years and years, Venable post office; it was Venable, North Carolina. And then Mr. Jule Carr (he's related to my people just a little bit), he started them Carr Mills, the Julian S. Carr in Durham. He started that other cotton mill there, and then they named the place instead of Venable it was Carrboro.
BG: Right. Well, you would carry your cotton that far rather than carrying it over here?
Snipes: Well, yes. We got a little better market there at Carrboro. We'd sell it there, and carry the cotton seed there. They shipped cotton seed there to the oil mills. They bought cotton seed there later on, long in the teens, '12 and '13, long in there and on up 'til. . . . I carried cotton there 'til 1925 or '6, I reckon. But the boll weevil just about broke me from trying to raise it; it'd eat it up. We'd carry the cotton and seed to Carrboro. And Mr. Dave Neville run a store there, and they bought. . . .
BG: We were talking about Carrboro, about bringing your cotton down to Carrboro. And you said you would bring it there rather than bring it over here to Bynum because you could get a better price. About how much
could you get?
Snipes: Well, right in the World War Number One it got up to forty cents. But it didn't stay there. Before that it was five, six cents in the early nineteen hundreds. But on up into the World War Number One it got to forty cents.
BG: What were they paying here for the same?
Snipes: There would probably be a cent or two under the market, maybe thirty-eight. They had a little better market, we always thought, at Carrboro.
BG: But it would be worth it to you to take your wagon all the way down? Did you have a car by then?
Snipes: No. First car I ever bought was in 1926.
BG: So it would be worth it for you to take your wagon all the way down to Carrboro and sell your cotton there?
Snipes: Yes sir. Well, see, weren't but one company store here, and most of the time when we carried our cotton then we bought our fall shoes. And maybe we'd buy then a little coffee and sugar and all for winter-time, you see. We didn't have that excess. There were several factors in it. We'd just rather go to Carrboro. It was about the same distance, a little farther to Carrboro maybe. But we had all those stores and drugstores and things there at Carrboro that we didn't have here. But that Depression was rough, I'm telling you.
BG: Well, before we get to that, let's back up a little bit. You said you carried cross-ties down there also. How would you prepare those back on the farm?
Snipes: Every morning (me and my wife lived up there in the woods)
we'd get up. And she'd cook breakfast and we'd eat breakfast. We'd take a cross-cut saw and we'd go over there in the woods, and I'd cut down four big white oaks. She'd help me saw them down with a cross-cut saw. And the four things would make two each, to keep the two lengths across there. She'd go back home and fix dinner and all, and I'd get on top of the crossties, stand up there and hew down both sides. And then I'd get maybe two ties out of each one. I wanted to make eight ties.
BG: So we were in the middle of preparing crossties.
Snipes: Well, when it would come a rain maybe I had two or three days I couldn't plow. Well, I'd hew all my crossties that day. I'd have to take a drawing knife and skin them and saw them off. I had to get them out to the road. Then the next day I'd take those eight crossties with a two horse wagon and carry them to Carrboro. And at that time they'd bring about a dollar.
BG: You would get a dollar for how many crossties?
Snipes: A dollar apiece for about eight crossties. Well, then I could buy maybe a twenty-four pound sack of flour, five pounds of meat, five pounds of sugar and, oh, maybe salt and pepper and stuff that usually a family have. I'd buy my stuff with that, and then maybe I'd even catch up for it to rain no more in two or three months. If I didn't get a chance to cut no more I lived on that 'til we cut some more.
BG: Well, why would you wait 'til it rained?
Snipes: I couldn't plow. See, I'd have a leisure day. I couldn't plow the field; it'd be too wet to plow.
BG: I see. So you'd cut some wood then.
Snipes: I'd go out there and get me enough [laughter]. I told my wife then, I had about two pairs of overalls, but I told her I kept wearing them in the Depression 'til I could put on five pair and still scrape my butt [laughter]. The whole seat wore out of them [laughter]. That's how poor we was in the Depression, I'm telling you right.
BG: Now by the Depression do you mean after 1929, or before then?
Snipes: Well, it was during '29. That was the reason we left from up there; that was about the year we left. We left them up there on Thanksgiving Day in 1929.
BG: Well, let me just go back. There are a few things I forgot to ask you. I wanted to ask you: with nine children in the house, how big a house did you have? And what was the sleeping arrangement there?
Snipes: [laughter] We had a three-room house, besides the little kitchen. We had two rooms built this way, and a little shed, then a shed off of there for a cook room.
BG: Let's see: now if this was the entrance to your house, did you have a front porch?
Snipes: No sir, wasn't a porch at the period.
BG: So you'd come in and there's be what, one room?
Snipes: There'd be a room on each side.
BG: Was there a hall in the middle?
Snipes: No sir. When you'd come in the door then there was a door
that went in that room. But you could come on through, and they built a little shed room off to the right there. Here'd be the front door. And these rooms would be like this, cut across this way. When you come in, then you could go into this room. It didn't have no outlet at all. But when you'd come on through this room, I don't know why but they had a little shed room right there, and then a kitchen off like that.
BG: Was the kitchen connected?
Snipes: It was connected to this one. That was just two rooms.
BG: So where would you all sleep?
Snipes: There were two beds in this little old shed room here for the boys, and the bunch of us slept in here. Poppa and Momma slept in this one. And Grandpa slept over here sort of in this corner. He died in 1912. I was standing there looking at him when he died. And then the girls--well, the girls stayed in there. We stayed in here with Grandpa, most of the times until after Grandpa died. And then we stayed in here and the girls stayed in here.
BG: I see.
Snipes: And my father and mother stayed in that one.
BG: So how many boys would sleep in the bed?
Snipes: Three. We'd just pile it up. That's anyway to keep warm. Two or three of us were piled up.
BG: Now what about mealtime?
Snipes: We had a long table.
BG: Would you eat in the kitchen?
Snipes: Yes sir. And also we had a little old dining. . . . At that time we did all eat in the kitchen. There was a big fireplace, and
we all ate in there. But after Grandfather Fletcher died, my Grandpa Fletcher Snipes died, we moved out to Great-grandfather's old big house later on.
BG: And that would be 1912?
Snipes: I believed they moved in there in 1913.
BG: And how big a house was that? Was that bigger?
Snipes: It was a good deal bigger. It had a basement, a big basement. It was about five or six rooms. But it burned.
BG: Did you have any particular seating arrangement when the whole family would sit down?
Snipes: Oh, didn't have no chairs in the kitchen at all, except my Daddy was at one end and my mother at the other. We had a long bench on each side, wooden bench. My father'd sit at the head of the table and my mother at the foot. And they'd stack us young'uns in the two benches, four or five on each side there. A few times, well most of the time later, there was eleven of us eating at one time: nine young'uns, my father and mother. Then the older ones begin to get out of school, you know, later on.
BG: What might be a typical dinner or supper for you?
Snipes: Oh, it'd take a peck of snap beans and two pones of corn bread. It'd take a gallon of ice potatoes, and maybe a pot of cabbage or turnips or turnip greens.
BG: How many times a week would you have meat?
Snipes: We didn't have much. We didn't have none except what we raised. Now sometimes we'd have ham for breakfast, as long as there was ham. We'd kill about four hogs or three hogs, and maybe we'd have five or six hams. But we didn't start cutting those hams 'til long up in the spring
when they took the meat up, which started long about Easter or something like that. We'd eat on the shoulders first and let the hams season a little more. Shoulder meat weren't too bad fresh, I mean before it got too rank and old. But we'd keep them hams. We'd put molasses and black pepper on them hams as flavor to them, and we'd keep them on up until the summer and fall when we didn't have no vegetables maybe, until hog killing time.
BG: Would there be a prayer at dinner time?
Snipes: We'd never eat a meal without my father saying a blessing. I believe if you'll always say a blessing and ask a blessing from God you'll always have something on the table. And we don't miss a meal; I've never missed a meal without giving thanks to God.
BG: Now that sort of reminds me that I didn't really ask you about going to church when you were a small boy. Who would you go to church with? Or would you go to church?
Snipes: We was raised to go to church from the time we was eighteen months old. Momma carried us in her arms 'til we got on up like little stair steps. Manns Chapel was right there in sight of where we was raised, just six-seven hundred yards. [Interruption]
BG: We're going to talk for another fifteen minutes or so, and then we'll call it for today. So your parents took you up to Manns Chapel?
Snipes: Yes sir. My father a lot of the time was superintendent of the Sunday school. And I was raised in the old-timey Methodist shouting method.
BG: What do you mean by that?
Snipes: Well, they had these old revivals or what we used to call
protracted meetings. And I was raised in a Christian home, of which I'm mighty proud. We'd hitch a two-horse wagon. My father and mother would sit on a spring seat (it was a little better seat than just a plank across there), and they put wheat straw in the wagon bed. And they'd stack us young'uns in that wagon bed, and then maybe about a crackerbox full of three or four chickens and cakes and pies. And we'd go to those. When they started on Sunday they lasted through the week, maybe 'til the next Sunday. We was raised in an old-fashioned shouting Methodist. And as the revival got on over into the middle of the week, when the preacher got to sort of stepping on their toes everybody in there, almost, started shouting. I was talking about it last night. They've got away from that.
BG: Now what do you mean by that? I mean, stepping on people's toes?
Snipes: Well, telling them about their sins, just laying it on the line. Maybe the preacher'd get right smart hot and lay it on the line to them. And they'd get up and get to shouting when they give the invitation at the altar call and all such as that. Well, they didn't think, I reckon, little bitty old barefoot boys. . . . My Daddy put me on the front seat with him, and I'd wear little old knee pants and I was barefooted, barelegged and barefooted. I went barefoot; didn't have no shoes in the summer. I'd stub my toe and there'd be sore toes. Well, the preacher might have thought I was sitting there on the front seat scaring the gnats off of my sores on my toes. I was shooing the gnats off of them and the flies, but I was listening to everything he said. I was taking it all in, but he might not have thought so. I knew what he was talking about. We had as good a Christian people in Manns Chapel old church as . . . well, I just think that they were tops, just out of this world. We run about eighty
or ninety to a hundred average attendance. And I didn't think that church would ever fall down and go down low. Recently it's got down to four members--four attendance, not members. I think the superintendent told me they have four one Sunday or two, and maybe then seven. Maybe one's parents would come with them or something, but running from four to seven.
BG: Was this a Baptist church or Methodist?
Snipes: Methodist church.
BG: Oh that's right, shouting Methodist.
Snipes: Manns Chapel.
BG: Well, did you ever get swept up in the revivals and start shouting?
Snipes: I never shouted, but I felt like it many a time, when I was little even. I'd sit mighty still. I'd be sitting there maybe shooing the gnats off of my sore toe, but I knowed everything that was going on. I might not seem to have been attentive, but I knowed what he was saying and knowed what it meant. But them were great days back then. I think the country has got away from the old-time religion. That's what they lived on then, was the old-time religion. Now I was listening to a program last night with Pat Boone and Billy Graham and them. It come on last night. I come in from church and just turned it on and got the end of it; didn't get all of the program. But I think that there's a turning back. We've had about four or five years of the biggest increase in crime rate that the world has ever known. But I think the trend will switch back; I think the pendulum will switch back, because I think people are going back to the church and going back to God. They swung away from that. Human life now, the way most of the criminals feel about it, is no more than an animal or
a rabbit or something. But crime has got too high in the United States. I think that the trend is going to turn back to God; I hope they do.
BG: Well, now who would you give credit to for teaching you right from wrong?
Snipes: I think it was a principle that my mother and father. . . . I loved my grandmother better than anything on earth. She'd make me squat down every night; I never did go to bed without saying my little bednight prayer. "Now I lay me down to sleep; I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen." And I'd scoot into bed, jump into bed just as far in the bed as I could get [laughter]. I think that it was the life that they led. They were Christian people. My grandmother, my father and mother, I'm proud to say, awful proud to say that they were Christian people.
BG: And they taught you?
Snipes: The principle, the philosophy of life was to love everybody, to be kind to everybody and treat everybody right. Of course there were mean people back then--not too much, weren't too much. They didn't have the communication then, the way of traveling and going about from place to place. See, I was born before the automobile was, and I was born before the airplane was. The airplane down at Kitty Hawk weren't 'til 1903. I remember the first automobile. Mr. Bruce Strowd's father, who used to live just above us, adjoining plantation, and then his father moved to Chapel Hill (well, his grandfather lived there too). . . . Bruce Strowd at Chapel Hill Strowd Motor Company, Bruce was just a young boy, and they took an old gasoline engine and took some old wheels. We lived right on the side of a little sandy dirt road, public road. Bruce took this gasoline engine, and it was an old type of engine with alternate
stroke. It would hit "pow, pow, pow, choo, choo, choo; pow, pow, pow, choo, choo, choo." It'd skip; you've heard them, and you know what I'm trying to say. Well, we was plowing out there a little, (I just could reach the plow handle; I believe it was in 1907 or '08) and we heard this fuss coming down the road. It just scared the mule to death. And I run around there and got him by the bridle, trying to hold to him 'til that thing passed. And Bruce Strowd come in sitting on a goods box, come right by the house in a little four wheel contraption, him and Mr. Seaton Smith of Chapel Hill (that's my wife Lessie's uncle.) [laughter] That's the first automobile that was ever in Chatham County. It had a gasoline motor, but it was a woodsaw motor. And he had it geared so it would propel, you know, and it would go along about five miles an hour. And it went "chooka, chooka, chooka, pow, pow, pow, pow." And then there was a streak of smoke; he had a smokestack, and it'd fly in there. And that just scared the old mule to death [laughter]. The greatest thing we'd ever seen in all our lives. I believe it was about 1908; I was about six or seven or eight years old.
BG: I think I'm going to stop this for now.
END OF INTERVIEW
John Wesley Snipes: Back yonder fifty or sixty years ago anybody hardly ever went over the eighth or ninth grade around here. Weren't one out of a hundred that ever went off to college. The commencement at Chapel Hill, when I was little, was a big day for us. My Daddy and Mother would prepare for that day, and we'd hitch up a two-horse wagon and fill it full of wheat straw. And my father and mother would sit on a spring seat, and us nine young'uns would be back there on some quilts and wheat straw. And we'd drive twelve miles to Chapel Hill in a two-horse wagon. There'd just be hundreds of horses and mules tied out on the campus in them woods there; I reckon it would be about where Memorial Hospital is, and a little beyond Memorial. No, it'd be across the railroad there. We'd hitch horses all down in there. We carried a big cracker box full of chicken and pies and cakes, and people was just eating dinner everywhere. That was the commencement. And we didn't care nothing about the baccalaureate sermon or Doctor so-and-so making a big speech. We'd be out there around the lemonade stand [laughter].
BG: Well, what would you do when you got down to campus?
Snipes: Well, we'd just march around. They'd sell two paper cups of ordinary lemonade for a nickel, or one pink cup of lemonade for a nickel. We'd always grab the pink and [laughter] a little bit of old coloring would color a barrel, you know. They'd get one cup of pink lemonade for a nickel and two plain for a nickel. And we'd have thirty or forty cents maybe, and we'd drink lemonade all day--maybe eat ice cream [laughter] and stuff like that, and spend our little barrel of money and just see the crowd. There were just hundreds and hundreds of farmers there with their horses and mules. Way back when my Daddy and Mother first started to going there a
lot of them went there in oxcarts (drive an old bull, you know).
BG: Would you ever go to Chapel Hill any other times?
Snipes: No sir, hardly. I never did see Chapel Hill no time much except at commencement. That was the first time I ever saw it in my life. And I didn't have no other business up there 'til I got up a bigger boy and all.
BG: Would there ever be any music?
Snipes: Yes sir. Well, sometimes we would listen at the band. They'd march, you know. We'd never heard a band; didn't know a drum from a clarinet or nothing else, I don't reckon. It was just to be in a crowd, it looked like.
BG: When did people stop doing that?
Snipes: It was looked forward to every year. I was born in 1901, and I reckon I was twenty years old before we stopped going. That was an annual event.
BG: Why do you think people stopped going?
Snipes: I don't know why they stopped. Just thousands and thousands of people. They was marching all over town. There'd be little ice cream stands and hot dog stands and lemonade stands and popcorn. I'd love to see some of the old pictures of the way it used to be at commencement.
BG: Well, did you do any marketing when you were down there?
BG: Did your parents bring any kind of thing to sell?
Snipes: No sir.
BG: Just a holiday?
Snipes: Just a holiday. It was a big day.
BG: How about Fourth of July around here?
Snipes: Fourth of July used to be, of course out in the country, ball games. We had big ball games every Fourth of July. I've seen five hundred to a thousand people right there in that ballground. They'd have a ballgame in the morning and one in the afternoon, and have a little tent out there selling drinks and lemonade and ice cream and sandwiches and all of that. But them days is gone now. They've got this softball they play at night. Of course we never did see a night ballgame. See, some of the most famous, the especially famous people who have played on this ballground are Bun Hearne, the coach of Carolina. He was raised here. All these Hearnes and Bud Hearne was raised here; he played on that old ballground. He got to be coach at Carolina. *
BG: Let's get back to. . . .
Snipes: Commencement? [laughter]
BG: No, no. We could talk about holidays, because we're on Fourth of July. I was wondering whether there were any other kind of holidays where you'd have neighborhood get-togethers?
Snipes: Thanksgiving. We looked forward to them, and Christmastime, of course, and Easter. Thanksgiving my grandfather, he was a possum hunter, and he'd always catch him two or three big possums along in the fall after the frost bit the persimmons. And he'd put them in a box and fatten them. And he loved possum. Of course we'd have the turkey, and they had big dinner spreads.
BG: Did you ever eat any squirrel?
Snipes: Oh yes sir. We used to set rabbit hollows and catch rabbits and eat squirrels too, and quail. We looked forward to Thanksgiving. And
corn shucking, all back there then they had these old neighborhood corn shuckings. And maybe seven, eight, ten farmers, you'd have a big corn shucking this evening and a big supper that night. And all of them would help you. Next week you'd have one, and it went around like that.
BG: How about candy pulls?
Snipes: Oh yes sir, old-fashioned homemade candy pull, you know.
BG: How would that work?
Snipes: Well, a boy and a girl. / they'd love to. . . Have you ever seen them pull it?
Snipes: Well, they put this candy, sugar and water stuff, on and boiled it 'til it was a syrup. Then they let it cool a little. And then when you could work it up and get it in a ball, something like about the size of a baseball, then you could pull it out two foot long. You could work it down to small, say the size of a broomhandle. And then a girl and a boy face each other, and she'd pull that a'way and he'd pull this way, and maybe he'd reach over in the middle and that would double it. And she'd reach over and that would double it twice, you see. The more you pulled it the fluffier and the whiter it got. There'd be somebody to judge when it was pulled enough, you know. And then you'd get another ball.
BG: Didn't your hands get kind of sticky with all that?
Snipes: No sir. They'd put a little flour on their hands.
BG: Oh, oh, I see.
Snipes: Oh, candy pullings was big doings [laughter] way back yonder. I ain't heard tell of one in forty years that I know of.
BG: Let's move on to when you got married and started your own farm. When would that be?
Snipes: April 18, 1919 when I got married. My wife was fifteen and I was seventeen.
BG: How come you got married so young?
Snipes: Well, we got to courting.
BG: How did you meet your wife?
Snipes: She was a tenant that lived in a house on my father's place, a little old girl seven or eight years old. From then on I knew her from the day she was born at my father's old place there. Her mother died when my wife was, I believe she was about three years old or something like that. Then her uncle took her and raised her there on the farm in the tenant house where my wife's mother died. It was on our old big plantation, the old Snipes plantation. It was 640 acres, and it was a grant from England, a square mile.
BG: Right, you mentioned that the last time. What was your wife's maiden name?
BG: What's her first name?
Snipes: Lessie, Lessie Mae Smith.
BG: So you knew her since she was a small girl. You grew up together.
Snipes: Oh yes, yes sir. We were born and raised together.
BG: How did you court?
Snipes: Well, we went about a mile and a half to an old one-room schoolhouse through the woods. There was about four or five families. I was thinking about it the other night; sometimes there'd be as many as
twenty-five of us. And we walked about half as far as from here to Pittsboro through the woods on those paths.
BG: To go to school?
Snipes: To go to school. And it was just one room.
BG: And that's how you got to know each other?
Snipes: Yes sir, we went back and forth to school together, then went to church together (I mean the same church).
BG: Which church would this be?
Snipes: Mann's Chapel. It was originally the old Shady Grove. We lived adjoining that plantation.
BG: Well, did you have a chance to be alone at all with your wife before you got married?
Snipes: Not much. Just walking, and maybe we'd get behind sort of going to school, you know. [laughter] We'd lag along behind, maybe drop a book or something and we'd get behind. We could whisper and talk a right smart [laughter].
BG: Did people think that was kind of young to get married at that time?
Snipes: Yes sir. We just surprised the whole neighborhood. My oldest brother, he was in World War Number One; he's living in Florida now. There's not but one in our precinct, a World War I veteran from November 11, Armistice Day. I checked everywhere, and I knew this man Partin from up here near Mann's Chapel. As far as I know he's the only living World War Number One veteran in Baldwin township. There's some in Center township. I remember when he came home. I remember I was plowing on November 11; I was sowing wheat on November 11, 1918. And I
heard the old steam whistle, "Whooooo." I could hear it at Carrboro and at the tobacco factory at Durham. It was a still day, like today.
BG: You could hear the one from Durham, the Bull Durham?
Snipes: Easy. I heard it for years. But it was telling the news. I believe the armistice was signed about five o'clock over there, but we didn't get it. . . . The differences in time, I believe it was up about midday when we heard it. And the neighborhood bells commenced to ringing. We had a little old neighborhood telephone. Well, we didn't know what in the world had happened. And we throwed the harness back on the mule and crawled on the mule and rode to the house and said, "What's happening?" They said, "Well, the war has ended." That's all. We didn't call it armistice; "The war is ended, and Buddy'll be coming home." That's been a long time.
BG: That's your brother who'd be coming home? Well, now the next year you got married?
Snipes: I got married in 1919.
BG: In April?
Snipes: April 18.
BG: So it was a few months later you got married.
Snipes: Yes, it weren't long [laughter], from November 'til April.
BG: Now tell me what some of the comments were of your parents when they were told you were going to get married.
Snipes: Well, I slipped down here and got a fellow to carry me about a week before that to get my license. I rode a mule down here and I went to Pittsboro and got my license. Old Mr. John T. Johnson was register of deeds, and he was a friend of the Atwaters. And when I walked in I was
large to my age. He says, "Hello, John Atwater. What in the world are you doing over here this time of night?" I said, "I want some marriage licenses." He says, "Who do you want them for?" I said, "I want them for John Snipes." "Do you know him?" I says, "Yes, I do." He said, "Do you know who he's marrying?" I said, "Yes, I do."
BG: Well, you told the man that you were John Atwater?
Snipes: Yes sir.
BG: Oh, I see.
Snipes: [laughter] I was buying them for John Snipes. And so he issued the licenses. I carried them back home. And our old two-storey house, the weatherboarding, of course, runs from the top to the bottom. And between those studdings I laid it up on the sill. Never will forget it, laid it up on the plate, hid them about four or five days before Sunday. This was about the first of the week. Well, I went to look for them about Saturday, Friday or Saturday, and they weren't there. And I figured that this old studding run straight up from the plate to the bottom and they fell all the way down to the sill, fell down there I reckon sixteen or eighteen feet. Well, I had to ease off a piece of weatherboarding, and I found them. That Sunday I went in horse and buggy to church, and my wife walked through the path to church. When she came out of the Sunday school she crawled in the buggy, and we lit out there in the road with that horse and buggy and come right along down yonder. The magistrate lived out yonder, A. T. Ward, [unclear] We asked his wife where the magistrate was. She said he was down here Sunday evening, sitting down here on the porch with a bunch of men talking. Well, I drove on down there in the buggy, me and her. I had the horse in a
lather. He got in the foot of the buggy, and we carried him back up to his house. And he got the Bible and he married us.
BG: Did he know what you had come for?
Snipes: Yes sir [laughter]. He had to marry us. We had the license. And we were related. Cousin "Don" Ward was a justice of the peace, I believe most of them called them then.
BG: So what happened? You went home?
Snipes: No, we didn't go home. We lit out and went up to a friend, Jack Norwood's and Nettie Norwood. They lived up there and they were friends of ours. And we spent the night there.
BG: How do you spell that last name?
Snipes: N-o-r-w-o-o-d, Norwood.
BG: Oh, right.
Snipes: Well, so next morning we got up, and we thought we'd go by my wife's Daddy's, her foster father's. And he was out and about plowing, and he was whistling. He looked up and seen us, and it done got out over the neighborhood telephone. He done got the word. He didn't even quit a'whistling; didn't come to the house or nothing. I think that her mother said, "Well, now you've played it. You've made a mess now," or something. That was about all that was said. But he was whistling, and it didn't have a bit of tune in the world to it. If it'd been "Old Black Joe" you wouldn't have known what it was. But he was a'plowing [laughter] and a'whistling right there near the house.
BG: Now this is her stepmother who said this?
Snipes: Yes. Well, it was her foster mother that raised her, yes sir.
BG: What did your folks say?
Snipes: Well, we come on home, and [laughter] my wife said all night what my mother said to her. I forgot what it was now. But they sort of got reconciled to it. And we had a tenant house (my Daddy did) over there, and we together had thirty dollars [laughter]. So we got up some little household furniture and moved over there in a little new tenant house. Next morning I broke me a garden, broke me up a good garden. And we planted about four or five acres of cotton. That was in 1919. We had a cotton crop in 1919. Used to plant about the middle of April or the first of May or somewhere along there, plant cotton. So I got my cotton in.
BG: Now you didn't have a tractor or anything?
Snipes: No sir, nothing but a mule. My Daddy had five mules. So he let us take one of the old mules, and we kept him. We planted our cotton.
BG: What else did you plant?
Snipes: I planted a little corn, raised us a pig for a little piece of meat. When it come a rainy day she and I would go over in the woods, and it took four oak trees to make eight crossties, about two lengths eight and a half foot crosstie. About seventeen feet would be about all the running feet we could get out of it. Well, me and her would saw them down with a crosscut saw. And then she'd go back to the house and clean up the house and cook dinner, and I'd jump on them and hew them. Then when I went to dinner she'd come back with me, and we had to saw them off then with the crosscut saw and skin them. And I'd take them eight crossties the next morning on a wagon and carry them to Carrboro. They'd bring about seventy-five cents apiece, something like five or six dollars
for the crossties.
BG: For the eight of them?
Snipes: Yes sir.
BG: That would be a day's work.
Snipes: That would buy enough flour and meat and sugar and coffee; maybe get ten pounds of sugar and two or three pounds of coffee and maybe a forty-eight pound sack of flour. Well, maybe it wouldn't rain so I couldn't work no more then two or three weeks or maybe a month. But when it come another rain I'd do the same thing. And that's what we lived on that summer.
BG: That was the only cash you got?
Snipes: That was the only money we had.
BG: So how large an area did you actually work farming? Now you had some timberland that you could cut down.
Snipes: Oh yes, we had some big fields all around the house, different fields of maybe, oh across the branch there there'd be five or six acres, and maybe over yonder three or four acres.
BG: So you couldn't hire anybody to help you?
Snipes: Oh no sir. I wouldn't have had nothing to pay him with.
BG: So you and your wife had to work the whole farm yourself? What did she do on the farm?
Snipes: She went to the field with me. She chopped cotton, and then laid by the cotton. She helped me pick cotton. Then I loaded it up and carried it to the gin. And I think the first bale of cotton, a five hundred pound bale of cotton, as I remember. . . . Cotton jumped up high right after the war. It was thirty or forty cents. We'd never heard tell of
cotton being like that in our lives. Well, a five hundred pound bale of cotton at forty cents'd bring you a couple of hundred dollars. Well, we thought we was rich.
BG: How much cotton could you raise in a year? How many bales?
Snipes: I had about four.
BG: Four bales.
Snipes: It'd be approximately, gross, about eight hundred dollars.
BG: Where would you take it to be ginned?
Snipes: We had old Alliance Cotton Gin up there near Mann's Chapel church. It was an old community gin. My grandfather run a store and a post office; and the post office was Kilgo (K-i-l-g-o)--which this younger generation don't know nothing about.
BG: It would be baled there also?
Snipes: Yes sir.
BG: They had a bale?
Snipes: They ginned it and baled it. And my grandfather had a man that helped him there run a blacksmith's shop. And he pulled teeth. Everybody in that neighborhood, if you had a toothache and had one that had to come out, you just went there. And he'd put his fist in your forehead. And you could sweat all you wanted to if he ever got a hold to it. I've got the old pulling tins in yonder.
BG: Yes, you showed me the little . . . looked like a wrench or something.
Snipes: [laughter] Didn't put a thing in the world on them but cold steel.
BG: Yes, you showed me that once before. Let me ask you a little bit
more about the farm. You farmed for about ten years, you told me.
Snipes: We moved down here on Thanksgiving Day in 1929.
BG: Now how far was your farm from Bynum? Was that just on your old family home place, right?
Snipes: It's up here at Polk's Landing. There's a thousand and four acres. The old Snipes place, where we turn off right up here and go up through the country it's about six miles, something like five or six miles.
BG: So why did you finally give up farming?
Snipes: The last year I raised four bales of cotton; and I carried a five hundred pound bale of cotton to Chapel Hill and it brought me twenty-five dollars: five cents a pound. The boll weevil hit. And I had four or five bales at four and five cents. And I told my wife, I said, "Never will I work on the farm and spend maybe seventy-five or a hundred dollars for fertilizer, and it'd take every bit of cotton I make to pay that fertilizer and not have a dime for the whole year for my work." So I quit.
BG: So why would you bring your cotton to Chapel Hill?
Snipes: Carrboro. When the old cotton mills was running there.
BG: They would buy it.
Snipes: They used it there, yes sir.
BG: Now how many years did it go like that? Was it just that year, or had it been getting worse and worse each year?
Snipes: Well, see, that 1929 in the fall of 1929 was the beginning of the Depression. Everything just went all to pieces. You take now right after 1918, along about then people were wearing seventeen and
eighteen dollar silk shirts. I remember that same shirt you could have bought it for seventy-five cents in 1929.
BG: Well, during the twenties did you live pretty well?
Snipes: Yes sir, we thought we did. [laughter] We didn't have nothing, but we were happy.
BG: Did you ever move out of that tenant house?
Snipes: Yes sir. My father moved down here then in 1921 out of the big house, and she and I moved in the big house. There were two or three tenants, four or five. We had some colored tenants and some white tenants. There were four or five families on the place. And I sort of kept the old place together there for ten years, about eight or nine years after my father moved on to Bynum.
BG: Why did he move to Bynum?
Snipes: Well, he had all them other children that needed to be in school. And at that time they were consolidating the school. When they was consolidating the school they built this big schoolhouse out here that took care of an area of twenty-five miles, eighteen or twenty miles, I'd say, around Bynum. They had some old Model T buses, and they was busing them in here. He moved right yonder in that two-storey house there in front of the post office. He lived there 'til he died in 1954. My father and mother were born the same year.
BG: Where did you bring your corn when you raised your corn?
Snipes: We'd carry it to the mill and grind it.
BG: Which mill would this be?
Snipes: About the only grist mill at that time was one here at Bynum that made corn meal. And we'd bring wheat; we'd plant a little wheat and
bring a bushel or two a week and get flour. We'd never heard tell of self-rising flour then.
BG: So during this time, during the twenties, you wouldn't consider yourself prosperous but you weren't poor. You weren't starving.
Snipes: That's right. Well, I hustled all the time. When I got through laying by there'd be about a month or two before you started to gather it. I'd get out and cut crossties. I worked public work here and yonder. I worked some on right-of-way to highway, to help cut a right-of-way. I worked some at the sawmill. Seventy-five cents a day, a dollar a day. It was mighty slow, but six days were six dollars. We kept going.
BG: You said you had tenants.
Snipes: Yes sir.
BG: About how many during that time?
Snipes: Well, at one time there was about three on the place, I believe after my father moved down here. There was about three left, and then one of them moved off. It got down to two, and then it got down to one.
BG: They would farm some of your land and you'd take a percentage of their crops? Is that how it worked?
Snipes: Yes sir. A third and fourth: a third of the grain, I believe, and a fourth of the. . . . Sometimes we furnished mules; they plowed with our mules. But sometimes they owned their own mules. It would depend on which a'way. Then we'd have to stand for the fertilizer and buy the fertilizer, and sort of look after them.
BG: In order to get your money for fertilizer and seed and things like
that would you have to borrow money?
Snipes: Well, Atwater and Lambeth here had a big company store. After we got our land broke in the spring (in other words, we had started a crop) we could come down here and say, "Now Mr. Atwater, we want a ton of fertilizer 'til middle of November 'til we sell some cotton." We could buy it on credit. They furnished everybody for fertilizer, almost, around here.
BG: What if you had a bad crop one year and couldn't pay? What would happen?
Snipes: That's the reason that Atwater and Lambeth went broke [laughter]. They had thousands of little old mortgages. And when it did flunk, maybe if a man splurged a little and had a big farm and bought $300 worth of fertilizer, well that's still on the books now and ain't never been paid. They had a mortgage on an old cow, maybe, a mortgage on two mules. And the old mule's dead and the cow's dead. Atwater and Lambeth was a big corporation at one time. They owned the cotton mill and the grist mill.
BG: Did they own the cotton mill too?
Snipes: I mean the cotton gin, the J. Modell cotton gin. They ginned cotton and made corn meal and flour and all like that. Well, Mr. J. B. Atwater of the firm of Atwater and Lambeth, at one time he kept the whole time for the cotton mill on top of that. He kept the labor time.
BG: What do you mean, kept their labor time?
Snipes: Well, say there was a hundred people working in the mill that worked twelve hours a day, they'd come in and put in their time. [Interruption]
BG: Well, we were just talking about the farm you had and your reasons for quitting the farm. Were you sure of getting a job in Bynum?
Snipes: No sir. I didn't even have a prospect. It was Thanksgiving Day, 1929. And that old big house right over yonder, you can see the front porch post up and down right behind them trees. He had two rooms upstairs vacant.
BG: Whose house was that?
Snipes: Mr. Walt Hatley. And I rented those rooms for five dollars a month. We put in our application down at the mill, and I think they put me to work the next night.
BG: Did you have any children with you at that time?
Snipes: I had one daughter, Vivian. I think they started me off at twelve and a half cents an hour.
BG: What were you doing?
Snipes: I was sweeping, twelve hours a day. We worked fifty-five hours. We worked 'til Saturday at twelve o'clock. Fifty-six hours, I believe it was. Well, I don't know whether it was fifty-five or six. Let's see . . . sixty-five hours. Well, then about the middle of the week they put my wife to work in learning to wind. She got about twelve cents an hour.
BG: Did they pay you every week?
Snipes: They'd pay off every two weeks. And what we would do, if we had in sixty hours at twelve cents an hour, when Saturday dinner come we wouldn't have no money. We'd pawn our time to Mr. Durham, the merchant down here. We'd pawn our time to him. We said, "Now we'll pay you for both weeks next week," if we got five or six dollars worth of groceries. In other words, we'd give him an order on our time, an order on our check. Then when the two weeks was out. . . . It was rough; I'm telling you, it
was rough. But we ate, three meals a day.
BG: Did he charge you interest for that?
Snipes: No sir. He started with nothing, and he got to be wealthy fast.
BG: So which Durham would this be?
Snipes: Mr. C. E. Durham, the one that's had the stroke. Mr. Frank Durham was Warren Durham's father.
BG: His brother, you mean.
Snipes: Frank's his brother and Warren's his son, old Mr. [unclear] son. Yes sir. Well, then later on when the World War Number Two, it started, well after Roosevelt come in and N.R.A. Let's see, that was in thirty. . . .
BG: That was in the early thirties.
Snipes: We thought, well they was going to let us make eight hours and pay us thirty cents an hour. Well I just thought, "What in the world would we do from three o'clock 'til evening?" Go to work maybe at seven o'clock and get out at three, and eight hours. And I'd think, "Well, then we've got from then 'til night and going to get $2.40." I didn't see what in the world. . . . I thought I could save that money. I didn't have no idea what we'd do with all that much money. It just weren't conceivable, hardly. Well, then things begin to move up to take good care of that $2.40 [laughter], and we didn't have no more then than we did when we was getting twelve or fifteen cents an hour.
BG: What hours would you work when you first started over there?
Snipes: They put me on nighttime.
BG: You'd get there at what time?
Snipes: Go to work at six o'clock every evening, come off at six the next morning. Take some time off, for thirty minutes sometimes. Sometimes we'd work straight on through.
BG: And would you eat a sandwich or something?
Snipes: Carry a potato and a sandwich, a biscuit with a piece of meat in it or something. And that was it. And we'd make it all right. I don't know [laughter] how in the world we did it.
BG: Well, what other kinds of jobs did you have there?
Snipes: Well, I worked on there from 1929 'til '46.
BG: Were you a sweeper all that time?
Snipes: No sir. I run the lapper room. I got to head of the lapper room. And I run both sections, was responsible for both sections. And I got on daytime; later on I got on daytime. And I weren't getting nowhere, and I got to messing with timber in 1946.
BG: Before we get onto that, I just want to ask you one thing about how you got from sweeper to the supervisor of the lapper room. What jobs did you have in between?
Snipes: Well, I run the opener. That's where they open the cotton. We had a little cement walk from the warehouse to the opener room, and we would open about twelve bales of cotton. And I'd have to take the hoop off of it and take the bagging off of it, and feed it in the hopper. And then they had the finisher. And then I ran them openers three or four years, and then I got to operating the finisher, where they finish the lap before it goes to the card. I stayed on them lappers for, I don't know, several years on daytime. I got on daytime. Then my wife still stayed on nighttime. And that made it pretty well, 'cause one of us was there
when my daughter went to school out here in this old schoolhouse (not the one that burned up, but the other one).
BG: Did you ever have any other children besides that?
Snipes: We had a baby born, Jewel. She was born when we lived up at the old place. She was born and lived about three weeks. She wasn't healthy; I mean, she was sickly, and she died. And Vivian was born in 1923, December 21 (I believe), 1923. One reason we moved to Bynum: they had started these old Model T buses, and we were almost a mile from the public road back in the woods. My wife would have to go with her to the bus every morning. And she'd leave home a'crying; and then she'd have to go over there and stand on the side of the road 'til the bus come that evening, and march her back through the woods. We just couldn't put up with that, it looked like. So we moved here where she could walk to school.
BG: How did you feel about working down there at the cotton mill?
Snipes: I didn't like ne'er a day of it. I had too much ambition; I had too much ambition to work for somebody else. But the N.R.A., that's when we went on the forty cents an hour, or thirty cents an hour.
BG: Did the mill stay open during the whole Depression?
Snipes: Yes sir. Well, it got down into. . . Me and a Mr. Suet had to split five days. He'd work three days one week and I'd work two, and then the next week I'd work three and he'd work two. And he finally got mad about something; he quit and I got the whole five days. Then when it went on that there getting off at three o'clock I went to buying cedar. I'd sharpen my axe at night, and when the lights blinked for three o'clock I'd light out down here. There was a fellow that had about
a hundred and fifty acres of cedar down here. And I bought the cedar. And I cut cedar posts and towed them out there. I could go down there and cut maybe forty or fifty, and I got eight cents apiece for them. And I'd pile them out here, and a truck'd come by and buy them off me. I'd pile up two or three hundred; then I'd sell them to him. And I paid the man that I got the cedar posts from two cents, and I sold them for eight. I could cut a gang of them from then 'til dark, and then walk about a mile. I'd come on in about dark and bring back some with me. Then I got to messing with timber, and I got pretty good on estimating timber. I got to buying timber. I bought some of the biggest tracts all over North Carolina that anybody's. . . . I'm the oldest old timber buyer. I've bought from Murphy to Manteo: two or three thousand acres down yonder in Carley Swamp, and I bought eighteen hundred acres ajoining Polk Air Base on Little River at Fayetteville. And I bought a 32,000,000 feet tract over yonder in Halifax County.
BG: Thirty-two. . . ?
Snipes: Million: the biggest tract that's ever been sold. I helped Mr. Hancock. I was working with Hancock Lumber Company estimating timber then.
BG: Well thirty-two million what?
Snipes: Feet. And Mr. Hancock went there, and that was in World War Number Two. He went there and run a plane mill day and night, and when he left there they pulled him for between $500,000 and $600,000 of income tax. That's been a long time ago; it was in the forties. But anyhow, then I started buying timber. I bought some of the biggest tracts that's ever been sold in North Carolina, I reckon. Then in 1946 I told my wife (living
right there in that company house), I said, "This is my last day at that mill. I ain't going to get nowhere."
BG: Now all this time you were doing this in your spare time?
BG: You were still working at the mill?
Snipes: Saturdays and after three o'clock. Me and Mr. Bryant, he lived right there. That extra outside work, I picked up four or five hundred dollars. And I told Bill one day, I said, "Let's go into sawmilling." I said, "The Moore boys up here have got some mills, two or three sawmills. So let's rent one of them, and me and you take that mill." And we'd buy the horses. We bought a pair of mules, a black mule and we bought a snaking horse.
BG: Was he a cotton mill worker also?
Snipes: No sir, he was a carpenter. But carpentry, it got dull. So we started in 1946. Mr. Moore bought an $800. International motor unit for power for the sawmill. No, he bought an $800. Moffit mill and about a $1,000. International engine to pull it with. And we started to buying our timber, and sawing it and hauling it to Pittsboro and giving him half of what we made just for the use. We paid him for four years. I reckon on this $800. Moffit mill and $1,100. International motor (approximately $2,000) we paid him back $30,000. interest on it. We'd give him half of what we made for four years. And we got up there to where maybe we'd have $700 or $800. profit on Friday. If we had $800. me and Bill'd take $400. and give Bland $400. Me and Bill had to split ours. Then the Moore boys put in a planing mill up there, and they had eight mills. And they put me to buying for all the mills. I bought timber for
every one of them. I got started at that. And then I started long about 1955 buying for an old millionaire in New Canaan, Connecticut. He furnished the money. He'd send me the money: a fellow Northrup Dawson. He lived in New Canaan, Connecticut in the summertime, and he had a big Del Ray beach, Florida home. And he had had a seat on the Stock Exchange, and he sold that, Mr. Northrup Dawson, for I forgot how many million. Well, I called him and I told him that J. B. Jolston Lumber Company'd gone into the hands of receivers. And they had about fifteen or twenty tracts of land.
BG: J. B. who was this?
Snipes: J. B. Jolston Lumber Company at Carrboro.
BG: How do you spell that?
Snipes: J-o-l-s-t-o-n. They had about eighteen or twenty tracts of land where Mr. Jolston had bought land, timber and all. He had some mighty poor sawmill men. They'd cut it and mess it up, cut half of it and it'd get wet in there and they'd move out, and they'd tell him all of it was cut. Well, the Sanford Bank was going to close out on J. B. Jolston for $29,000, I believe it was. I called Mr. Dawson in Connecticut and told him that I wanted it. I said, "I'll handle it for you." He said, "What do you want me to do?" I said, "Wire lawyer Jim Phipps at Chapel Hill a $5,000. binder." And he said it'd be on its way in an hour's time. Well, I took all that land then. Right out there where Bill Dixon is at Chapel Hill, ajoining the University, there was 218 acres. Well, the bank had all these eighteen or twenty acres, about twenty tracts of land appraised and itemized. Well, I looked at the itemized sheet and I saw that two hundred and something acres a joining (250 acres, I believe it was)
the University, they had it appraised at $18,000.
BG: You were saying about Cary Lumber Company?
Snipes: Over yonder on the Durham-Raleigh highway I got land everywhere: all over Durham County, Lee County, Chatham County and all up in yonder around where Chestnut Ridge Church is. There's five or six big tracts in there. I told Mr. Dawson, I said, "I'm going to start selling them off." We didn't take no capital gain on them. Well, I sold them off there, I sold off enough that he had his principal back and had $60,000 profit. Well, he was paying me this chicken feed all along out of what I'd sell. And he called me one night and he said, "John!" He said, "How much more land have we got?" I said, "You've got four more tracts." He said, "Well, if you'll sell them three tracts for $30,000 (that was the principal to start with) I'll set you up." No. "If you'll sell them four tracts for $30,000 I'll be all right." I said, "I'll do you right." I went and sold three of them for $30,000, and I had a hundred acres left up yonder where New Hope Camp is and Chestnut Ridge Church, way up yonder between here and Efland. And he deeded me that 96 acres as a commission. That 250 acre tract right here where Bill Dixon got a riding thing here in Chapel Hill. . . .
BG: Where is this now? What does he have out there?
Snipes: You go down there and turn down by. . . . Go right opposite the DuBow's and turn this a'way.
BG: Turn right?
Snipes: That's right. Out there I think they have a riding ring out there. Well, I believe that 250 acres of land five years ago was selling
for about five or six thousand dollars an acre. [laughter] It'd have brought a million dollars if he had kept it.
BG: But you sold it?
Snipes: I sold it. I sold that 250 acres for $18,000.
BG: What about the 96 acres he gave you?
Snipes: Well, he gave me that. And I put the deed in the trunk. One day I was sitting here and a friend of mine from Pittsboro come over and said, "My father-in-law has got a lot of money to invest; he sold a lot of stock at three or four times what he give for it, and he wants to put it in land." He said, "Have you got any land?" I said, "No, I ain't got but about 100 acres." I said, "I thought I'd give that to my grandboy." We cut the timber off of it, and my wife asked me, "What's that land worth since you cut the timber off it?" I said, "Oh, I reckon it would bring a thousand or twelve hundred dollars; it was worth ten or twelve dollars an acre." He said, "Well, my daddy-in-law is getting into something he don't know a thing in the world about." He said, "Let's go look at that hundred acres." I said, "All right." I said, "What can you sell it for?" He said, "I can sell it (he don't know nothing about land) to him for $3500." I said, "Well, if you can I'll give you $500. Just get me $3,000. and you can have what you get over it." Well, he sold that. And then a man come running to me one Saturday morning--no, one Friday evening late. Right out on the Jones Ferry Road there was sixty acres out there. He said, "That man wants to sell that." I said, "What does he want for it?" He said, "He wants $6,000." And I run up there with him to look at it. I said, "Well, what do you want out of it?" He said, "I want $200." I said, "Well, I'll take it. I'll pay for it in the morning." My son-in-law
and my daughter had a '56 white Ford. I didn't have no car or nothing but my truck. I run down and borrowed the thing. And on Saturday morning I went flying to Pittsboro. I went in there to the Lumber Company ('cause all of them trusted me, I'm glad and thankful). I said, "Mr. Steadman, I want $6,000. this morning." It was $6,000. for this piece of land. I said, "I want $6,000. and I'll bring you the timber." He says, "All right." He got it up. I said, "I want it in cash." And I went flying back out there on the streets. My wife hollered at me before I left to bring her some hair spray or something from the drug store (which she ought not have bothered me with). I throwed that $6,000. in the glove compartment and run in the drug store. And when I come back there was a man getting in there putting the key in the switch. I run up there. There was two white '56 Fords sitting as close together as from here to that yonder, and I had put my $6,000. in his glove compartment and he was fixing to crank up. I run down there and said, "Hey, mister, wait one minute." I opened the door and run my hand in there and pulled that money out, and his eyes got that big. [laughter] I said, "Mister, yonder sits my car. I put my money in your glove compartment." So I went up there and paid that man for it. I cut about $7,000. worth of timber off of it.
BG: Now how were you cutting this time? You had a tractor?
Snipes: I got Mr. Bryant. I had quit and Mr. Bryant was running the mill. I was just messing with land and timber. He cut me about $7,000. worth of timber off of it. Then I come and I built that little old store. One night I was sitting there after I sold that (that was in 1953). . . .
BG: But who would do the cutting for you? You'd hire somebody to do it?
Snipes: A man'd cut it by the thousand. Yes sir, he'd cut it for thirty dollars the thousand. I had that much drag left; I mean, I had enough to pay for my stumpage. Well, I had the deed to that sixty acres of land. My wife says, "What're you going to do with that old land out there on the Jones Ferry Road?" I said, "I'm going to give it, the land, to the grandboys." I was sitting there one night; it was raining. And you know the little girl, I reckon, Wilbur Partin's wife.
BG: Vinnie, Vinnie Partin.
Snipes: Yes. Well, I was sitting there, and I'd never seen the little girl. She come running in there and said, "Mr. Snipes, don't you own that sixty acres out there across from my father-in-law?" I says, "I don't know. I've got sixty acres out on the Jones Ferry Road." But my wife had asked me, had said, "What are you going to ask for it?" I said, "I'm going to ask a thousand dollars." She had a pocketbook about that long sitting right in yonder; it was drizzling and raining. Her husband wasn't saying a thing. She was a business little woman. And she said, "I want that piece of land. What will you take for it?" I said, "I don't care nothing about selling it. I'm going to give it to my grandboys." I said, "Just what would you give me for it?" She said, "I'll give you $2,500. I'll give you $2,500." Well, it just scared me so, I said, "Well, how about $3,000?" She said, "I'll split the difference with you," and started peeling off hundred dollars bills. She said, "I'll give you five hundred dollars now, and you fix the deed tomorrow." Well, I almost had to take her up. I let her give me $2,750. She told me in less than eighteen months got offered $60,000. for it [laughter], a thousand dollars an acre. And she built a great big home out there.
And that land now is two and three and four thousand dollars an acre. I didn't have a dime in it.
BG: Now she bought the sixty acres for $2,750?
Snipes: $2,750. [laughter] Well, that was profit to me.
Snipes: I done got a thousand dollars out of it.
BG: She lives down there now, doesn't she?
Snipes: She lives down there as far as I know.
BG: I think her family lives down there. I think she's back in Carrboro now. She's an older woman, right?
Snipes: I think that she married this Wilbur Partin; I think Wilbur probably was in the Army when he married her or something like that. She's from overseas, but I don't know where: Belgium, Ireland, I don't know.
BG: Oh, she is?
Snipes: Yes, she's from overseas.
BG: Oh, I'm thinking of a different person then.
Snipes: She's a ball of fire.
BG: Her last name is Partin? / Snipes: Wilbur Partin's wife. And they live out on the Jones Ferry Road, four or five miles out there. It's oak woods there, and the prettiest lots. The doctors and all built all around it there, and Mr. Ferguson lives right across the road from her.
BG: I'd like to know if we could go back to Bynum for a minute, and to the Jay and Muldell Company. When you'd go there, did you have to punch a clock?
Snipes: No sir.
BG: Were there any rules?
Snipes: No sir. Well, you were supposed to be there when the lights blinked. At six o'clock you were supposed to be on the job. And we were so afraid we'd lose our job I'd be there an hour sitting there and it dark, sitting there 'til it was time to start, or a half an hour.
BG: Well, would they fire you if you were late?
Snipes: If you stubbed your toe they'd fire you. They'd fire them here for not putting out the lights late at night, at one time in the history of Bynum. Old Mr. Bynum used to go around over the hill at nine o'clock and see who was up. And if you was up he'd knock on the door and tell you to cut the lights out and get into bed.
BG: This is the man who first started the mill?
Snipes: That's right. Well, it was almost as strict when I first come here.
BG: Well, what kind of rules were there? Do you remember any of them? Could you smoke on the job?
Snipes: Not in and around the office. Jobs where you'd start up all your machine and get them to running and maybe they'd run thirty or forty minutes (your doffers), well they'd step out in the road out there and smoke. But you didn't smoke in the mill because it was too inflammable.
BG: Right. What other kind of rules might they have?
Snipes: That Depression, the people marching every day wanting jobs. Of course the cotton mill was two storey. You'd start up your machine. If it was running all right you could go to the window and lean out and get fresh air out of that dust--because, you see, so many cotton mill people die of brown lung, they call it.
BG: Did many of them get that?
Snipes: Oh yes sir. We was talking about two men died. I set here and seen them go across there coughing every breath. From here you could hear them 'til they got to the post office, coming along a path going out there for groceries or something, coughing every breath. But totally during the Depression just droves come in from Ramseur and Saxapahaw and Burlington; all of them come hunting jobs. Well, they ain't got no jobs. They said a fellow went down to the office, and as he was going on down the walk there the fellow leaning out the window fell out and killed him there on the sidewalk. But this other fellow going on down the road, he'd been down there and asked for a job. He said, "No, we ain't got no job for you, not unless somebody dies." He turned around and was leaving; he started on back and this fellow fell out of the window and got killed. So he was running back down to the office and said, "How about that man just fell out of the window and got killed? Can I have his job?" He said, "No." He said, "The man pushed him out gets his." [laughter] They told that as a joke. But it was rough, I'm telling you right.
BG: Well, did you know anybody who would get dismissed?
Snipes: Yes, they fired them for nothing. Just get mad with them and fire them.
BG: Was there a curfew in town where you had to be in by a certain time?
Snipes: Not after I started working. But there had been, there had a curfew. They had some restrictions. Some of them would send us to church every Sunday. And if they'd get drunk and get in a fight or something down there, the superintendent would say maybe, "Well, you can come back on your
job, but you're going to have to straighten up there a little. You're going to have to be at church Sunday morning. I'm expecting you there for four Sundays or five Sundays." Now them restrictions was put on lots of times.
BG: How about you? Did they ever. . .?
Snipes: No sir. I never did. They threatened to fire me one time. I had never seen no homebrew. They'd take and get a can of yeast and five pounds of sugar, and take an old crock or five gallon jug down in the woods. They'd put that yeast and sugar in there and fill it up with water and let it work off. And it was strong! I never seen none. And then they'd have reed quills, the boys'd go down there and suck it. You couldn't tell how much you were drinking. And when you first started to drinking it, it weren't no more than a Coca-Cola or sweet apple cider. Well, I followed them off down there in the woods. Never been raised up there in the sticks, and I didn't drink. Still don't drink, and I ain't never drank. But I got to sucking on that thing with them, and first thing I know the world started turning around. And somebody run (I reckon they thought they'd get my job) and told the superintendent that I was down the river drunk. He called me to the office next morning and asked me about it. I said, "Well, yes sir. I drank some stuff that I had never seen." I said, "I didn't know that stuff was like that. I got sick; the world started turning around, and I laid down and went to sleep down there. The mill was standing part of the time and [unclear] ." He said, "Well, I'm going to have to fire you." I come on home. That night he sent for me, and he said, "Come on back on in the morning." I went on back to work, and never lost another day from it. But I got drunk.
BG: He tried to scare you, huh?
Snipes: Yes. I reckon I got drunk. I didn't know what was going on. The world was going around and around [laughter].
BG: Let me just ask you a couple of more questions. Did you live up in a mill house up there?
Snipes: No sir. I never lived in ne'er a one but this one, except Mr. Hatley's.
BG: So you rented that from him?
Snipes: And then I bought 80 feet by 180 feet from Bill*
* Bill Bryant
from that house there, and paid him cash for it. I kept saving a little money, me and my wife. Then I decided I didn't want this lot. And I sold it to Andy Dawson yonder. He got a pinch into something and he started to building this house, and he got to where he couldn't finish it. I believe that I had let him have some money and sold him my lot, and he owed me fourteen hundred dollars. Then he let me take the house. I bought it and finished it.
* Bill Bryant
BG: When would that be? Around what time?
Snipes: Lord have mercy.
BG: Before the war?
Snipes: About 1949. And then there was an old store sitting where that brick home is. I bought from down yonder the road up to this telephone post and that old store for $1,000.
BG: Well now, on the village people didn't own their homes, did they?
Snipes: No sir.
BG: Now what would they be rented for?
Snipes: Fifty cents a room a week: a three-room house a dollar and a half a week. I believe they've gone up to seventy-five cents now.
BG: Was there indoor plumbing in those houses?
Snipes: [laughter] No sir. No water, plumbing or nothing.
BG: Where would they get their water from?
Snipes: Well, I've known for years and years they toted it from a well right there. But since they built this new water plant about twenty-five or thirty years ago they got a spigot up and down the street. Then if you wanted to pick it up at the street and run you a pipe in the house, some of them done it on their own. But they run it up the hill; I think there are seven or eight spigots up and down the hill.
BG: Where would this other well be? The first one?
Snipes: The first well was right there in the mill yard down there. I believe they stopped that up. Now this is filtered water now. That at that time was an old well; there weren't no filtered water. Then there was a big well right yonder right in front of where that pick-up is right over. I think they've got a plank laying over it there--I mean, they've got a cement cap over it. But I've toted water from there and toted water from that house up there from that well, and all around here. They furnished plenty of water for us. Of course they didn't use no big site of water.
BG: What about trash? Where would people dump their trash?
Snipes: They didn't have none; weren't no garbage in the Depression. I never seen a garbage can on the hill 'til money got plentiful [laughter] a few years ago. Never seen what a garbage can was.
BG: They never threw out any garbage?
Snipes: No sir, they didn't have no garbage. Now, boy, Howard, John and Charlie, I expect they're pulling down doubling $2,000 a month
hauling garbage: a thousand or twelve hundred a piece hauling garbage.
BG: Well, how about streets? What were the streets like in the village there? Were they paved streets?
Snipes: No sir. I don't know when from around the church, around there, when that was blacktop (maybe twenty years ago, maybe about '55 or somewhere along there). But up until then it was for twenty-five years just dirt.
BG: Were the people who worked there mostly families?
Snipes: Born and raised here, the majority of them. Now this floating crowd, the people that would get fired somewhere, would come here.
BG: Were there many transient people?
Snipes: Yes sir, there were some a'going and coming all the time. Some wouldn't stay a week. Now you take, there was a boy about. . . . This mill now they're signing up for unemployment: letting them sign up to work two days, and sign up for unemployment. There was a man worked here about two or three years ago, moved and left here and had a full-time job. He came back here two weeks ago and got himself a job here so he could draw unemployment [laughter]. He left a full-time job and come back here and took two days a week in unemployment [laughter].
BG: What do you think about that?
Snipes: I can't see that. I can't see that, can you?
BG: [laughter] No. Well, the families who worked there, did everyone pretty much know one another at the mill?
Snipes: Yes sir. Well, when we first come here many or all of them were kinpeople: the Abernathies, all the Abernathies and the Durhams. There was three sets of Durhams at that time, and there was a gang of
Abernathies: Connie Abernathy and John Abernathy and Will Abernathy and Henry Abernathy, all brothers. Their old father was the nightwatchman before them. And the Tillmans and the Durhams. There was Corrie Durham, his family, Ernie Durham and her family, Mr. Manley Durham and his family. They were just family connected. Atworth Abernathy, she was a Tillman. Abernathy over across the road yonder, they were all in the family, born and raised here.
BG: How about the supervisors? Where were they from?
Snipes: They were all in the family, mighty near.
BG: So people got along with the supervisors pretty well?
Snipes: Yes sir. Well, they were scared not to.
BG: Nobody ever threatened to quit if things didn't get better?
Snipes: No sir. They was afraid to [laughter].
BG: How about a union? Did they ever talk about organizing in some way?
Snipes: One of them there organizers come by and it was whispered around all over the mill that they was going to have a meeting to organize a union up at the schoolhouse.
BG: When was this, about?
Snipes: The old schoolhouse up here. I was working in the mill, and I went. I didn't sign nothing. Next morning I hadn't much more than got in the mill before Mr. Edgar come over, the superintendent, come in. "John, I heard you went to that union meeting last night." I said, "Yes sir, I did." He says, "Do you know if I wanted to I can fire you for not walking fast down that path. I don't have to have no excuse to fire you. I can fire you for not walking fast." I said, "I realize that, Mr. Moore. I'm
aware of that, very much aware of it." I said, "You can fire me just because you don't like me, or anything you want to." I said, "But I didn't sign no paper and I didn't join no union." It scared them all to death, and a man never did come back [laughter].
BG: Mr. Moore scared them all?
Snipes: Yes sir.
BG: Well, was that true? Could he fire you for just about anything?
Snipes: Fire you for anything he wanted to.
BG: Well, did people think that maybe it would be good if they had the union?
Snipes: I think that the majority of people at that time would have loved to have a union, because they didn't have. . . . If you didn't trade at the right [unclear] store--see, Mr. Moore's brother run that Robert Moore store over there--and if you went out of town and bought groceries, why if he didn't like it he could fire you. You'd soon know what to do, I'll tell you that. You better go there and get your groceries.
BG: Hmm. So that was pretty strong control.
Snipes: And old Mr. Manley Durham, these boys. . . . Say they paid off every two weeks. Well, when they got up to making twenty dollars a week, twenty-five dollars a week, they'd go to old Mr. Manley on Saturdays and say, "I'm going to draw two full weeks next week, fifty dollars but I want to sell you my time." "Well, I'll give you forty dollars for your fifty dollar due bill." And you'd give him a due bill and he'd pay it off. When two or three or a hundred or so checks come over here, Mr. Durham'd just take it out, take your check out and cash it.
BG: They would send the paychecks over to Durham?
Snipes: Send them over to the office, and Mr. Durham would be responsible for the spinning room, Mr. Will Abernathy the card room, and the different departments, you know. Well, all the spinning room checks went in the hands of J. M. Durham. And if I had pawned my fifty dollar check to him for forty dollars cash, he took my check. He didn't give it to me; he put it in his pocket. Well, Mr. London's labor laws or something, that went on for years. He made thousands of dollars that route.
BG: This is Durham or London?
Snipes: Mr. Manley Durham, Mr. Carrie's father; he died here recently, ninety-two years old. Well, he bought the time. Where they didn't pay off for two weeks, he'd buy it every week at a discount (let's put it that way). That went on for years. Henry Carter down younder, he's sold his and pawned his one a thousand times [laughter] to Mr. Durham, and some of them old hands.
BG: Is he still around, Mr. Carter?
Snipes: Yes, he still lives down there on the hill. He's the last one of the old ones, about, working in the mill.
BG: When you were working in the mill did you ever feel like you were--you know, they always say the millhands, they called them "lint-heads" and things like this--a second class citizen?
Snipes: Yes sir, felt all the time just like the scum of the earth. I was too independent.
BG: Did people ever make fun of you or tease you?
Snipes: Well, appeared that if you went off to play ball, see. . . . "Bynum cotton mill hands," they'd refer to it that way. It was a low-grade
work, and I weren't happy with it none of the time. But I couldn't help myself. 'Til when I got so I could get away from here, then I got away from there; I got out of the mill.
BG: But you stayed in Bynum?
Snipes: Yes sir.
BG: Did you ever think of leaving Bynum?
Snipes: No sir. I've been satisfied out of that mill. But I built that store. I owned that, and I owned that, and I owned that, and I owned this and I owned that 'til my wife broke her. . . . I got to making money sawmilling. I've made as high as five hundred dollars a week; I've made as high as a thousand dollars or ten thousand dollars a week.
BG: Did you and your wife ever go on a vacation?
Snipes: No sir, never had one [laughter]; never had one in our lives.
BG: Did you ever want to take one?
Snipes: Not specially, no sir, not as I know of.
BG: How about newspapers and things like that? Do you take the newspaper?
Snipes: Take five or six.
BG: You do? Do you like to read?
Snipes: Yes, I read about all the time. I've been taking the Durham Herald for thirty years, I reckon. Then I took the Durham Sun; then it quit. Then I take the Raleigh News and Observer; they just throw it out here on Sunday. Then the Raleigh Times quit; we don't have an evening paper. But I pick up one at Pittsboro or Sanford, the evening paper. I get the Sanford evening paper, and I get the News and Observer, and I get the Durham Morning Herald. I get every one I can get my hands on. I mean,
I like to read.
BG: I know that you want to watch your ballgame. I want to ask you one more question. Can you tell me pretty briefly what became of all your brothers and sisters, where they moved to and what they ended up doing?
Snipes: Well Marvin, the oldest brother, he was a citrus inspector in Florida for the federal government for years. He left there, M. L., (stayed there about twenty years) and then he went to the Log Cabin Association in the mountains working for the government up there. There's a Log Cabin Association in the western part of the state; I believe it's owned by the old five-and-ten-cents Kresses or something that a'way.
BG: So he came back to North Carolina?
Snipes: Yes sir. He came back up there at Silver and stayed there. He's got a retirement under Florida's state law; he's got a retirement under North Carolina state law. And my sister-in-law Willamena (Billy), she had twenty-five years with Florida teaching and twenty-five years with North Carolina teaching. Marvin was born in 1896.
BG: That was Marvin and his sister-in-law?
Snipes: Wife. Then my other sister, she's in Roxboro.
BG: What's her name?
Snipes: Betty. She was born in '88, and her husband died a few years ago. He was with the State Highway Commission in Person County. And Jessie, my third sister, she died with kidney trouble. I don't remember just exactly when Jessie died; 1944, I believe.
BG: Where was she living?
Snipes: She was living here.
BG: Living in Bynum?
Snipes: Yes sir. Then I'm the next child; I was born in 1901. J. B., county agent for Chatham County, he's retired. He's at Pittsboro. And then Grady died. Let's see, Brooks was born in 1904; Grady was born in 1906. He died in '68. Edna was born in 1909.
BG: Well now, let's go back. What did Brooks do?
Snipes: He was county agent at Chatham County; he retired about five years ago.
BG: What did Grady end up doing?
Snipes: Grady ended up, him and his wife, in Rockingham, Richmond County. He done a little of everything, nothing particular.
BG: Did he work in mills down there?
Snipes: No. He done so many little things and nothing in particular outstanding about him. And Doc (Frank Snipes) he was born in 1913. He died in '54 with his kidneys.
BG: Now Edna, you said, was a sister?
Snipes: Edna, she was a schoolteacher. She died at Coates.
BG: In North Carolina?
Snipes: Yes sir, down near below Fuquay.
BG: And Frank, what did he do?
Snipes: He was with the A-C office; he was a chief clerk at the A-C office in Johnson County. He died in Smithfield in 1954.
BG: What's the A-C office?
Snipes: Agriculture. And Thomas (he's the baby, born in 1916), he's living here now. Lives younder in my Daddy's old house.
BG: Did he live in Bynum all his life?
Snipes: Yes sir, lived here all his life.
BG: Did he work over here at the mill?
Snipes: That's the only job he's ever had.
BG: All right. One last question I just remembered. You mentioned the word "public work" before. Now what did you mean by that? You mentioned that you took some public work.
Snipes: Oh, I done everything.
BG: But what do you mean by "public work"?
Snipes: I'd go out and help a man at a sawmill a week when I weren't plowing the ground. I've butchered hogs; I've castrated pigs. In the spring, maybe, at one time everybody here had him two hogs/pigs down here in the woods, male pigs. And when the moon got right. . . . I didn't ever pay no attention to the moon, 'cause I planted my corn when I wanted to and I castrated my pigs when I wanted to. But one time in the spring they'd say, "Well, we want you to castrate our pigs Friday after you get off from work." And I'd go from house to house, I think about thirty-five castrations. And that old man living right over younder--my father was old--he said, "I don't trust these young people. I'm going to get your daddy to castrate mine, when the moon gets right." I told him, "All right." I never lost a pig; and that old man, one of them died [laughter].
BG: You had to wait 'til the moon was full? That's how your lard got. . .?
Snipes: Yes sir. I bought cows and butchered them.
BG: Well, the thing is, by "public work" you mean works not on the farm?
Snipes: Yes sir. Anything to make a little money. I bought out old
Allen's store out yonder at Mann's Chapel. The old man died and they had an auction sale over there. I helped conduct that auction sale. When they sold it all down to it was just all scrambled up, after they got through I asked the administrator, I said, "What'll you take for what's left?" He told me. I said, "I'll take it; I'll buy it, and I'll pay you for it." Then I had me an auction sale [laughter]. I straightened it all up and put it out, some cases of old stuff, and I had me an auction sale after that. I'd go around through the country and see a fat cow, nobody wouldn't buy'em. I'd say, "What'll you take for that old cow?" "Well, I'll take twenty-five dollars for it." And I looked at her, and she weighed a thousand pounds, maybe. "I'll take her." I'd take her home and put her up and feed her a few days, then kill her, cut her up and take it on the pick-up truck and bring the meat down here and haul it over to Bynum. There weren't no health laws then. I'd sell a man, I'd cut him off ten pounds of steak, round steak or stew beef or roast. Maybe doubled my money on the cow. Anything honorable I would try. Now if anybody was in bad shape, worse than I was, if I had two dollars and he didn't have him any he could have both of mine. Bill come to me one day out here and said, "I'm twelve hundred dollars in debt; ain't no way in the world. . . ." He got behind in the sawmill after I done quit. I said, "Well, how much do you need?" He said, "I need twelve hundred dollars." I said, "Well, let me go on down to the bank." I'd go over there and pick up twenty-five hundred dollars; I'd need twelve. I went over there, and I come back and I give him the twelve hundred dollars. I said, "You can just have it to put you back on your feet again." He'd get behind again. He had that house there and I had this one back there,
where he lives now (Bill lives back there now). Ken Cooper called me and told me he'd give me $3,300. for that house back there. I said, "Well, Bill wants it." And so Bill come out here and said, "I want that house." I said, "How much do you want to give for it, Bill?" He said, "I ain't got but $1,800. dollars." I said, "Well, Ken wants it at $3,300. But you've been a good friend to me; you can have it for $1,800. That's all right." But I sold it one time to a boy and his wife right there, and they'd pay so much a month for three or four years. And he stayed out there and made the payments for about a year to the bank. Then he come out here one day and said, "I'm going to leave." He said, "You want the house back, to buy it back? I'll just give it back to you." I said, "No, I'll pay you back every dime you ever paid for it, so you and your wife can get along." So I give him all his money back [laughter].
BG: Well Mr. Snipes, I want to thank you very much.
END OF INTERVIEW