FOUNTAIN HUGHES(FH) and HERMOND NORWOOD(HN)
As part of our continuing series of stories culled from the Spoken Word collection at the American Folk Life Center of the Library of Congress, here is a remarkable recording: the memories of an ex-slave named Fountain Hughes. It was recorded in Baltimore, in 1949, by Hermond Norwood.
FH: Talk to who?
HN: Well, just tell me what your name is?
FH: My name is Fountain Hughes. I was born in Charlottesville, Virginia. My grandfather belonged to Thomas Jefferson. My grandfather was 115 years old when he died. And now I am 101 years old.
HN: Who did you work for? Uncle Fountain? when?
FH: Who did I work for? You mean when I was a slave?
HN: Yeah, when you were a slave. Who did you work for?
FH: Well, I belonged to B. [inaudible]. We were slaves. We belonged to people. They’d sell us like they sell horses and cows and hogs and all like that. Have a auction bench. And they’d put you up on the bench and bid on you just the same as you bidding on cattle you know.
HN: Were you ever sold?
FH: No, I never was sold.
HN: Always stayed with the same person.
FH: All, all. I was too young to sell.
HN: Oh, I see.
FH: We didn’t know nothing. Didn’t allow you to look at no book. And we all had our jail centers, just same as we was in jail. Now, I couldn’t go from here across the street, or I couldn’t go to nobody’s house out I have a note from my master. And if I had that pass, I could go wherever he sent me. Tell you the truth, when I think of it today, I don’t know how I’m living. None of the rest of ’em is living. But still, I’m thankful to the Lord. Colored people that’s free ought to be awful thankful. And some of them are sorry they are free now. Some of them now would rather be slaves.
HN: And what would you rather be, Uncle Fountain?
FH: Me, which I’d rather be? You know what I’d rather do? If I thought that I’d ever be a slave again, I’d take a gun and just end it all right away. Because you’re nothing but a dog. You’re not a thing but a dog. But still I don’t like to talk about it. Because it makes — it makes people feel bad you know.
Fountain Hughes was recorded by Hermance Norwood in Baltimore, Maryland in 1949. Hughes’s story comes to us as part of the American Talkers Series, produced by David Isay and City Lore in New York.