Sunday, 19 October 2014
The narrative opens "I was born in 1844. I was twenty when peace was declared. I was born in Virginia." Now I don't know for sure who named Virginia, but if it was her mother the likelihood is that she had little or no education so named her after the state as she didn't know many other names to call her. Though if she was named by the family that owned her at the time they probably didn't care enough to think of a name for her.
What strikes me about this opening is that she knows her exact age when 'peace' was declared even though at the time of the interview Virginia was 93. This was most probably the biggest thing that happened to her throughout her entire life after having been born into slavery.
Though Virginia was born in Virginia she wasn't there very long as she goes on to say "but I was sold, put up on a stump like you sell hogs to the highest speculator". This was a sad but true fact of slavery people were being sold and auctioned as if they were simply cattle. For someone of such a young age at the time it sounds disturbing to us now but it was completely acceptable at the time in states such as Virginia.
On the following page Virginia recalls a meeting she had "I member they was a white man called Dunk Hill and he said, 'Virginia, who free'd the niggers?' I said 'God free'd the niggers.'" This small recollection tells me a lot about Virginia as just from her grammar 'they' instead of 'there' shows me that she didn't have much of an education from a young age and continuing into her later life she will have been around a lot of people who weren't educated as a young age as well because then her grammar would have most likely improved, this was probably due to the segregation that followed the liberation from slavery. Just as well she refers to her peers as 'niggers' when responding to the 'white man' this is most probably because she didn't know any better. If this poor women had been born into slavery she would have been referred to as a 'nigger' from an extremely young age.
A surprisingly small amount of people know where the term 'nigger' comes from and this is because it tends to be a very taboo word especially for the 'white man' it comes form the Spanish word Negro which descends from the Latin word Niger. This meant either 'colour black' or 'to blacken'. It is the way the term was used which built it's offensiveness as it was supposed to refer to the 'extremely unsophisticated'.
"Old master whipped me with a little peach stick because I let Frankie"..."go up the ladder." This is the only mention of brutality from her master and Virginia says she was "always treated good". What is strange to me about this is that she doesn't seem have any problem with the fact she was whipped, it's almost as if she had been brainwashed into thinking that it was acceptable behaviour, but if you were born into it surely that's what's normal?
To end her interview Virginia says "I never went to school a day. After we was free'd we stayed right on the Murphy place. They paid us and we worked on the shares. That's the reason I say I done better when I was a slave." That final sentence sums up Virginia's entire experience of being a slave, it was fine, possibly even good. She had food, a bed, a roof over her head, she didn't have to worrying about making rent, she just worked, ate, socialised and slept. Virginia was very fortunate to have been treated well, a lot of other slaves weren't so lucky but to me it seems as if Virginia put it down to one thing, "I always been easy controlled"