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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Septima Poinsette Clark, July 25, 1976. Interview G-0016. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Clark's father remembered watching other slaves get whipped without any negative emotional reaction

Clark recalls how her father accommodated to some of the most oppressive aspects of slavery and wonders if his religious views influenced him. She marvels that he and other slaves on the plantation grew accustomed to viewing whippings, serving Confederate troops, or fearing emancipation.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Septima Poinsette Clark, July 25, 1976. Interview G-0016. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACQUELYN HALL:
What kind of things did he say? When he told you stories about the slavery days, how did he talk about it?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Well, I can remember this one in particular. That's right, his mother was there; his mother died on that plantation. And he told about his mother dying, and he said that they put the body in that little. . . . They stayed in this little shack all night long until they could get somebody to make a coffin, and then at night they went by night to bury it, through the woods. They didn't have time in the day. And they got back before sunrise and went right back to work. But he still didn't say it in a violent tone, but this is what they did. I can remember him talking about that. He said that they lighted these flambeaus and went through the woods singing, and how they would sing while they were working to tell the people where they were going to be that night. That's the way they did it. That's the way they sent the message.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What would they sing, I wonder?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Well, they would sing something about "Way down yonder by the cornfield," and that would let the people know . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
That there was going to be a funeral.
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
. . . that there was going to be this funeral and where it was going to be, in the woods by the cornfield.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did he say that Poinsett never whipped his slaves?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
He didn't say that. He was amused at some of the people who had to get whippings. It sort of amused him, I guess, as a boy to see a man wincing and receiving a whipping. And he said they got that because they would steal. I guess they wanted some of the food from the bake-house, is what he said. And sometimes, he said, the cook would put a key out on the outside, and they would get this key and go into a smokehouse or one of the houses where the food was stored. And when they were caught, they got a whipping.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And he thought that they deserved it.
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Yes. It amused him to see them wincing and getting whipped.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why would that amuse him?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
I guess the antics of the slave, and actually not knowing really what it meant, that those people's freedom were being taken away from them.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What was his work?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
To take the children to school and back.
JACQUELYN HALL:
That was the main thing that he did?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
That was the main thing he did while he was there. And then when the Civil War came, he took water to the soldiers who were fighting to keep him a slave, to fight against the people in the harbor who were coming to free him. He really felt that it was perfectly all right. And carrying wood to stoke the cannons to shoot the balls at those ships.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, what did he think when emancipation came?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
"There was a turning to my mind" in his thinking, because he claimed that lots of people cried because they didn't know that they were going to be able to have any food. And they only thought of that paternalistic life that they had, where they were furnished food and that one piece of cloth that covered their body. This is what they told me. And I can't remember the name of that thing that they used to make to cover them, and that's all they had. A man would bring up some cloth, and each one would get a piece and just cover them with whatever, that little shirt thing that they wore; this was all that they had. Well, a number of them felt that they wouldn't have this any more, and so he said they really cried. But there were always some people who were against this thing. There were some people on the plantation who had a different way of thinking, but he never sided with any of them.Dinmont Leasey would not have been a friend of his, because he didn't have that kind of a feeling
JACQUELYN HALL:
Had he ever heard of Dinmont Leasey?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Not as I know of. But I'm just using him, because he could see what was happening. But Dinmont Leasey had had some experience away from plantations, you know, and I guess that helped him. My father had such a. . . . Well, I guess they had Christianized him. Joel Poinsett never had any children. He married late, and he married a woman whose name was McGuire. And she had children. Those were the children that he worked with all the time, taking them to school and bringing them back to the plantation. He was one of the house servants-they used to say "house natives"-and they felt themselves so much better than those who worked in the field. He didn't work in the field. So when slavery was over, he found a job working on a ship.