Geo. K. Bartlett [recorder]
Kansas City, Missouri
September 8, 1937
Western Historical Manuscripts Collection
University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri
For many years the sole occupant of the two room cottage at 1112 Cedar Street, Nevada, Missouri, was Charles Johnson, an aged Negro, defined currently as "an ex-slave about ninety-five years old."
He had many friends among white people, not only in his own neighborhood, but throughout the city, for he practiced the courtesies and politeness of the Old South.
He was very comfortable in his small white cottage, on its acre of ground. The yard was fenced, the lawn was well kept, as were the many shrubs, rose and lilac bushes, the honey suckle vines, beds of blooming annuals and perennials.
"Yes Ma'am", he said the day he was interviewed, "I'se glad to talk to people, but I'se jist an old culled man that's not much account no more".
He was not feeling very well, he continued, but was sitting up, pleasant and smiling, and dressed as though expecting visitors.
"No Ma'am, iffen I is well enough to cut grass tomorrow, I aint goin' to do it." "No Ma'am", then he smiled and went on, "I jest got that did yestiday."
There were several photographs hanging on the walls in which he was greatly interested and immediately proceeded to tell their stories. Among them was an enlarged snapshot of a Negro man and woman standing on the grass beside the cottage. It was easily recognizable as a picture of
himself although it must have been taken many years ago when he was comparatively young. He pointed at it, and proudly exclaimed:
"Dats my wife dar with me. She was fond of pitchers; dat was tukken twenty-two years ago."
Events of twenty-two years ago seemed to be a common remembrance for him, but the photograph looked much older.
There were many other photographs of kin folks, among them one of a pleasant appearing colored girl and a man.
"Dats my wife's niece and her husband. She sho was a good lukkin gal", he said with enthusiasm.
"Yes, Ma'am, you is right. My wife is dead, she died twenty-two years ago."
"Yes, Ma'am, I was a born slave. My master's name was Caleb Goodlow. My mistress, Mrs. Goodlow. She cared for me and raised me from a little fella."
"Parents?" he replied. "I dont know nothin' bout no parents; cant remember ever seein' 'em."
"No, I never was sold. I was freed when Lincoln freed all de cullud folks. My wife was sold, but I knows nothin' about that. I dont even know who raised her. She was raised close by Springfield, but she was freed, and her master deeded her this property and grounds."
"Me? Where did I come from? I came from Virginia to Missouri in 1885. I didnt work any for the first two years, but after that I worked for the J. A. Daly Sand and Construction Company here in Nevada, until Mr. Dale died; twenty-two years ago."
"No, wife and I never had any chilluns of our own, but my wife's niece lived wif us til after she was married, and I haint been able to do very much work for twenty-two years."
"Yes Ma'am, I kept my own pigs and made my own meat, and I had my own garden, chickens and kept my own lawn until the last few months. I gets my old age pension and am very thankful for any favors showed me, no matter how small. But I'se feelin' porely lately, feelin' porely and very tired."
"Yes Ma'am, you all kin come back agin in a few days when I am feelin' better and maybe I kin tell you some stories about my life and slave days. I'll think 'em up and be all ready to tell you. Yes, Ma'am, you come back some time agin."
When he was visited again a few days later the feeble old man was too ill to further discuss details of his life. And that same day, at a few minutes before midnight (June 2, 1937), passed one more of the race which knew slavery; one whose life was centered in the days of "twenty-two years ago."