(Minnesota ex-slave narrative found in Archive of Folk Song, Music Division, Library of Congress.)
Mr. Johnson was 76 years old Monday, June 7th, the day I called on him. He couldn't remember anything at all about slavery, though as he said there is not a great deal of difference in the way most of the Negroes lived and got along for a long time after the war. Only the white man realized the true significance of freedom for the black man.
Like most Negroes who were slaves, even those who boast that they had it easy in those days, Mr. Johnson had at least one grievance. He said, in almost perfect English, "Coarse I wasn't ole enough to know nothin' bout the treatment in those days, but one thing I do know that sticks in me. My grandmother on my mother's side had 21 children, an' my mother said none of 'em ever knew where one another was because everyone of 'em was sold to different ones of the whites, an' all of 'em taking the whites' name, natchly nobody could find 'em. My mother said almost all the time 'round my grandmother's cabin there was weeping and wailing everyday or so when the'd come to buy some of 'em; 'Coarse as I say, I never saw it but I tell you it must a been awful.
"Did you grow up in Missouri," I ask. "Naw," he replied.
"But I reckin I would uv if it hadin' been for my father pullin' a good one on his ol' master.
"You see my dad used to hall grit to the mills all the time, most genally he had to cross the Iowa line, - that was a free state, but no one was worryin' 'bout him gettin' way, cause they trusted him, an' course there was all his family he'd be leavin'.
"Well, then when they was forming sides for the Civil War father got wind of it that they was going to send as many of the slaves as they could further south. I reckin 'twas cause they thought 'twould be too easy for most of 'em to get away, if they staid too near the border of the free state line. Well, my father and another one of the slaves on the place, each one of 'em had a horse of his own. So, early one morning they dumped all of us in the wagon. There was my father and mother, and brothers and sister, an' the other man an' his wife an' family. Well they covered us up just like they would if we was a load of grit to keep it from gettin' wet when it rained. Well, when we got to the state line it was good day day light. At the line there was a bunch of rebels standin' 'roun' an' all of 'em knowed father. Father said he got so nervous as he was drivin' through. One of the
rebels said, "'Nother load of grit, hey, Joe?"
"Yessuh," said he and on he went.
"Well, when the ol' master discovered they had run off he come over in Iowa, after us but father had gone an' tole the union men what he'd done, and when the ol' master showed up, they told him he'd better get back cross that line. We landed in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. That's where I was brought up.