Eli Coleman

Eli Coleman was born in 1846 and has a long memory of enslavement.  He also lived a long life after Emancipation.  In this excerpt, he describes his experiences immediately after being freed, and his ultimate move to Texas from Kentucky.  He also reflects on the state of African Americans in the early 20th century, notably discussing sharecropping as re-enslavement.

*Historically-used terms that are offensive, marginalizing and/or disparaging have been removed from the transcripts and replaced with [redacted].  See more information.
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When Master said we were free, we all began to take on. We didn’t have no place to go and asked Master could we stay, but he said no. But he did let some stay and furnished teams and something to eat, and work on the halves. I stayed and was sharecropper, and that was when slavery started, for when we got our crop made, it took every bit of it to pay our debts and we had nothing left to buy winter clothes or pay doctor bills.  

. . . I’d heard the railroad was building in Texas and they hire lots of [redacted]. I get a horse from Master, and roll up a few clothes and get my gun.  I never got very far before the Indians took my horse away from me. It was about fifty miles to a train and I didn’t have any money, but I found a White man who wanted wood cut and I work near a month for him and get $2.00. I get on a train and come a hundred miles from where that railroad was going across the country, and I had to walk near all that hundred miles. Once and now a White man coming or going let me ride. But I got there, and the job pays me sixty cents a day. That was lots of money those days. Near as I remember, it was 1867 or 1868 when I came to Texas.  

. . . Since the [redacted] been free it’s been Hell on the poor old [redacted]. He has advanced some ways, but he’s still a servant and will be, long as God’s curse still stay on the [redacted] race. We were turned loose with nothing and have been under the White man’s rule so long we couldn’t hold any job but labor. I worked almost two years on that railroad and the rest my life I farmed. Now I get a little pension from the government and the White folks are sure good to give it to me, because I ain’t good for work no more.   

Formerly enslaved person
Birth Year (Age)Interviewer
WPA Volunteer
Enslaver’s Name
Eli Coleman1846 (91)UnknownGeorge Brady
Interview LocationResidence StateBirth Location
Themes & KeywordsAdditional Tags:
Emancipation, Sharecropping,First person, witnessed extreme cruelty, Union Troops,