|Frank Cooper was a child when he first spoke to his mother about her experiences being enslaved. This excerpt starts with her reaction to he and his siblings asking her about scars on their backs. After she has given them a taste of her experiences, she goes on to tell them of a time when she was whipped and severely beaten by her enslavers. The excerpt ends with her enslaver attempting to auction her off, only to stop the sale to an enslaver who only wanted to punish her.
Formerly enslaved person
|Birth Year (Age)
|William R. Mays
|Good, Burton, Cooper
|Themes & Keywords
|Family, Gender/Gender roles, Violence
|First person, whipped, witnessed extreme cruelty, slave traders, sold (family)
One day while my mammy was washing her back my sistah noticed ugly disfiguring scars on it. Inquiring about them, we found, much to our amazement, that they were mammy’s relics of the now gone, if not forgotten, slave days.
This was her first reference to her misery days that she had ever made in my presence. Of course we all thought she was telling us a big story and we made fun of her. With eyes flashing, she stopped bathing, dried her back and reached for the smelly ole black whip that hung behind the kitchen door. Bidding us to strip down to our waists, my little mammy with the boney bent-over back, struck each of us as hard as ever she could with that black-snake whip, each stroke of the whip drew blood from our backs. Now, she said to us, you have a taste of slavery days. With three of her children now having tasted of some of her misery days she was in the mood to tell us more of her sufferings; still indelibly impressed in my mind.
‘My ole back is bent over from the quick-tempered blows feld by the red-headed Miss Burton. At dinner time one day when the churning wasn’t finished for the noonday meal, she said with an angry look that must have been reborn in my mammy’s eyes—eyes that were dimmed by years and hard living, three white women beat me from anger because they had no butter for their biscuits and cornbread. Miss Burton used a heavy board while the missus used a whip. While I was on my knees begging’ them to quit, Miss Burton hit the small of my back with the heavy board.I knew no more until kind Mr. Hamilton, who was staying with the white folks, brought me inside the cabin and brought me around with the camphor bottle. I’ll always thank him—God bless him—he picked me up where they had left me like a dog to die in the blazing noonday sun.
‘After my back was broken it was doubted whether I would ever be able to work again or not. I was placed on the auction block to be bidded for so my owner could see if I was worth anything or not. One man bid $1700 after putting’ two dirty fingers in my mouth to see my teeth. I bit him and his face showed anger. He then wanted to own me so he could punish me. Thinking his bid of $1700 was official, he unstrapped his buggy whip to beat me, but my master saved me. My master declared the bid unofficial. At this auction my sister was sold for $1900 and was never seen by us again.’