|Date(s):||1936 to 1938|
|Course:||“America, 1820-1890 (2010),” Furman University|
|Rating:||5 (3 votes)|
Agatha Babino was born a slave of Ogis Guidry near Carenco, Louisiana. She was at least 87 years old when she was interviewed by a member of the Depression-era WPA Federal Writers’ Project sometime between 1936 and 1938. In a mere two pages of her recorded reminisce about her time as a slave, Babino addressed many of the topics common to a slave’s life.
Babino described the plantation where she was born as “a big place, I ‘spect a mile ‘cross it, and fifty slaves.” This number of slaves placed Babino’s owner solidly in the ranks of Southern gentry, a man who had more slaves than about 90 percent of all slave-owners. This is further reinforced by the fact that the ideal number of slaves for an agricultural unit was between 30 and 60, a number few slaveholders ever achieved. On the other hand, Babino’s experience was not unusual because more than half of all slaves in the South belonged to the largest slaveholders.
One of Babino’s memories was the “shabby houses” the slaves had to live in. She described them as “builded of logs” with dirt floors. Housing for slaves was generally poor, and Babino’s memory of a bed that was a plank with moss was in keeping with standard conditions. Slaves were an investment, and any additional costs reduced the value of that investment. An 1846 statement from Louisiana planters of the usual expenses of a sugar plantation showed that an overseer was paid a salary ($400) almost as great as the annual expenditure of food and clothing for 15 slaves ($450).
Babino also recalled having Sundays and Christmas free, although on most other holidays her master had guests, creating more work for the slaves. This too was a common experience for slaves. On these occasions Babino remembered dancing outside to a fiddle and banjo, even sometimes visiting other plantations. This required a pass or else the patrollers would beat them. Patrols were a necessary part of enforcing the Slave Codes. An adaptation of the militia, free white men were called to serve a period of some months to apprehend out of place slaves, monitor slave gatherings, and search for evidence of potential uprisings and other related tasks.
Beatings were as essential a part of slavery as the patrols. Babino said that her master “beat us till we bleed. He rub salt and red pepper in.” She told a story of how the “young miss” came home from college and chose to slap her. She would have gone farther but Babino’s mother offered to take the beating instead. There were few legal protections for slaves, and even those were seldom enforced. It is perhaps not surprising then that Babino’s aunt was one of the many slaves who reacted to the brutality of the plantation by running away, just as it doesn’t surprise to hear she was caught and beaten more.
Babino was intimately affected by many of the issues that concerned African-Americans. She remembered soldiers on both sides of the Civil War: the Confederates who mistook her master’s son for a Yankee because of his blue coat and took his gun, and the Yankees who “take corn and gooses and hosses.” After the war the Ku Klux Klan killed her uncle for not voting Democrat in an election. As for herself, she left the plantation she grew up on, married, had twelve children, and eventually ended up in Beaumont, Texas, to be interviewed about her life.