Henry Blake Describes His Life After Emancipation
Digital History ID 516
Henry Blake was born into slavery in Little Rock, Arkansas, and was approximately 80 years old when he was interviewed by the Works Progress Administration.
After freedom, we worked on shares a while. Then, we rented. When we worked on shares, we couldn't make nothing--just overalls, and something to eat. Half went to the white man, and you would destroy your half, if you weren't careful. A man that didn't know how to count would always lose. He might lose anyhow. The white folks didn't give no itemized statements. No, you just had to owe so much. No matter how good account you kept, you had to go by their account, and--now, brother, I'm telling you the truth about this--it's been that way for a long time. You had to take the white man's words and notes on everything. Anything you wanted you could get, if you were a good hand. If you didn't make no money, that's all right; they would advance you more. But you better not try to leave and get caught. They'd keep you in debt. They were sharp. Christmas come, you could take up twenty dollars in somethin'- to- eat and much as you wanted in whiskey. You could buy a gallon of whiskey--anything that kept you a slave. Because he was always right and you were always wrong, if there was a difference. If there was an argument, he would get mad and there would be a shooting take place.
Source: George P. Rawick, The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography (Westport, Conn., 1972) Ark. Narr., Vol. 8, 175- 179.
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