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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Thelma Stevens, February 13, 1972. Interview G-0058. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Witnessing African American prisoners as a young child

Stevens briefly describes her remembrances of seeing African American prisoners while she was a young child growing up in Montgomery County, Mississippi. Stevens recalls that she felt the prisoners, who worked on a nearby farm, were treated as subhuman and argues that her disdain for how they were treated left a lasting impression on her forming perceptions of race and race relations.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Thelma Stevens, February 13, 1972. Interview G-0058. 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

Well, of course, I grew up on a farm in Mississippi, and my mother died when I was six. * * See addendum for additional information regarding Stevens' early life. And I lived on the farm, then until I was about ten. And I think one of the things that I remember with great agony of spirit, even as a child, since I was a child, was some of the things that happened around in the county where I grew up. I grew up in Montgomery County. And our farm house was about three quarters of a mile from the farm house of the farm that was used for prisoners. It was called a county farm in those days, as I recall. And black men - no women, as I recall - black men were brought to that farm to work. They wore suits with stripes, you know. And for a child to see that was frightening. And it happened that the man who ran the farm was named Mr. Jim Reed, and he had a daughter whose name was Ruby. And she was one of my closest friends. We were little tykes together, you know, three years, four years, five years old. Together, you know. And I visited her, she visited me. And when I would go to her house, one of the things that would just haunt me, even in the night I'd have nightmares over it, was the way the prisoners were treated. They would be sent to the dining room, a very old ramshackle dining room, and what . . . they had to eat out of tin plates. They weren't human beings. They were treated like animals. They ate out of tin plates. They had what was called in those days corntack with sorghum molasses. I don't know if you've heard of such . .
I've heard of it, but I've never eaten it.
Well, that's practically all they had. I don't know what else they had. Maybe they had black-eyed peas and cabbage and things like that too, but it was a very sad kind of thing. And they were whipped with a rawhide whip, and when they were sent out to the fields to work, to plow, or work on the roads, or whatever it was they did, they always had men around with guns, you know, to guard them. That kind of thing. And that was one of the things that haunted me, as much as anything else, as I grew up. What in the world makes people treat people like that, you know, and I . . .