“Slavery Days Better for Negroes” – Former Slave Annette Harris, 8/10/1913

“Slavery Days Better for Negroes” – Former Slave Annette Harris, 8/10/1913

“If my white folks were living they couldn’t drive me off the old plantation in Warren county.” Thus spoke Annette
Harris, a little black woman of 80 who is the leader of the Georgia State Capitol scrub brigade from 4 in the
afternoon to 8 in the evening on their mud and dirt moppIng up daily tour. This is about the only feature of the
capitol building that has not been exploited in the prints and a brief talk with the small. spry negro proves that
“thereby hangs a tale.” “Why couldn’t they drive you off, Auntie?” was asked the woman. “Because slavery days
were better than freedom days, and I’ll say it anywhere to anybody, and say it till I die!” Questioned further she
declared that she is 80 years old; that she was born and raised on ‘he plantation of her former master. William
H. Blount, of Warren county, Georgia, long since dead: that she came to Atlanta just after “freedom,” fifty years
ago, and has been working at the capitol fifteen years.

The Best Master

“My master,” said she, “was the best man in the world. He certainly was good to me and the rest of his niggers.
He used to give us little cotton patches and corn patches on which we raised stuff for ourselves. and we could
go anywhere we pleased just so we behaved ourselves and did our work and had a ‘pass’ to keep the ‘paterroler’
from taking us up.” “You had rather be a slave than a free woman?” “Of course I had. It was better to be a happy
slave for thirty years with a good master and have everything needed given you for your work. with no trouble
and no care for the future. than to be fifty years free and still working hard at 80, and having to do everything
for yourself. “You must remember, chile. I was fed and clothed and had a home to live in and my doctor’s bills
paid, and taken care of when sick-why, sometimes Old Master would send three miles for a doctor to tend me
when I was ailing!” “How now, and ever since freedom?” she asked herself. “I has to look to myself, has to
pay house rent, has to buy coal or wood, has to buy food, has to buy clothes, indeed has to ‘find’ myself in
everything that I just must have. So you see slavery days was surely the best for me, and I would go back
to the old plantation in a minute if I could.”

True Charity

She said that she had nothing against anybody and that the state-house officials were mighty kind men, with
a me here and a quarter there for her. She did not object to work, and with the wages she got and extra change
kindly given she managed to eke out a living: but how could a happy slave that had everything done for her say
that to be a scrub woman at 80 years of age was better, even with “freedom,” than the old plantation?’ “How many
children have you? “Only two living. I had fifteen children, eleven daughters, and four sons-all gone except two,
and they have to hustle for themselves and families.” The little old woman walks a mile to the capitol every afternoon
and works until about 8 o’clock at night. Just imagine an octogenarian on her knees under the great dome of the
statehouse of a great state like Georgia with ‘Wisdom, Justice and Moderation” written on her coat of arms, scrubbing
for dear life day in and day out the whole year round! Or, balancing herself on a step-ladder of giraffe tallness and
bathing the glassy faces of grand windows wide enough for a Pullman to pass through, and reaching heavenward
in their stately height: It is a good thing for this ex-slave. Annette Harris, that she enjoys fine health. “Thank the Lord,”
she exclaimed. that I can still see good, and hear good, and work good, and has only a little rheumatism from working
in the water, but the old home ain’t what it used to be. and I’ll never see the old plantation no more!” I threw a knotty
question at her which has made philosophers tighten on their thinking caps for half a century, and is not settled yet.
She met it with perfect simplicity and frankness, not to say saneness. “Is the negro race better off free than it was in
slavery?” “No. sir; I don’t believe it is, taking ’em altogether. Of course, some is better off, because there was good
masters and bad ones. but the most of them was good. I tell you my belief. As to me, I know I was better off on the
old plantation. The great body of the race can hardly be better off free because they have suffered more than they
used to. “Here’s the difference. Slaves had to work and it was a good thing they did. Free negroes don’t have to work;
but if they don’t they suffer and get into all sorts of trouble. There’s a heap more stealing and crime among negroes
since slavery days than In slavery days. Don’t you know it?

They Lock ‘Em Now

Why, boss, in slavery days they didn’t lock the doors on the old plantation. Since ‘freedom’ you better lock ’em
and keep ’em locked. Free folks of my color that wont work are going to steal a living. That”x the reason the
chaingang’s full of ’em. I never heard of a chaingaing on de old plantation!” And with this parting shot the small
black leader of the capitol scrub brigade resumed her duties at the head of a column of earnest assistants whose
daily task consists in mopping up the broad, smooth floors of the great building which seems to possess a
powerful magnetism for mud and dust and all varieties of trash. I despair of giving a suitable descripion of
Annette Harris. octogenarian leader of the enemies of all unclean matters, as she triumphantly led the charge
in the name of a cleaner statehouse as one bent on the utter destruction of all vestige of the soiled. A pathetic
figure like that, still marching, day after day, with a Bann tread from the gray milestone of the stooping octogenarian
with possibly the centenary goal “the sea-mark of her utmost sail.” could have been properly described by
only one man who ever wrote English-Charles Dickens-whose mighty soul was attuned to the mellifluent
music of a sympathy so universal that it swept all creed and class and color-Charlas Dickens, alone,
could have done justice to the little old black scrub woman for thirty years a happy slave-at 80 a
poor old scrub woman-though free!

call to chat