Dortch, Charles Green

Dortch, Charles Green

804 Victory Street, Little Rock, Arkansas
Age 81
Interviewer Samuel S. Taylor

"I was born June 18, 1857. The reason I don't show my age is because I got Scotch-Irish, Indian, and Negro mixed up in me. I was born in Princeton---that is, near Princeton---in Dallas County. Princeton is near Fordyce. I was born on Hays' farm. Hays was my second master---Archie Hays. Dortch was my first master. He brought my parents from Richmond, Virginia, and he settled right in Princeton.
"My father's name was Reuben Rainey Dortch. He was an octoroon I guess. He looked more like a Cuban than a Negro. He had beautiful wavy hair, naturally wavy. He was tall, way over six feet, closer to seven. His father was Dortch. Some say Rainey. But he must have been a Dortch; he called himself Dortch, and we go in the name of Dortch. Rainey was a white man employed on Dortch's plantation. Rainey's name was Wilson Rainey. My name has always been Dortch.
"My mother was named Martha Dortch. I am trying to think what her maiden name was. My sister can tell you all the details of it. She is five years older than I am. She can tell you all the old man's folks and my mother's too more easily than I can.
"My father had, as nearly as I can remember---lemme see---Cordelia, Adrianna, Mary, Jennie, Emma, and Dortch. Emma and Dortch were children by his first wife. Cordelia was his stepdaughter. My brothers were Alec and Gabe. There is probably some I have overlooked.
"The Indian blood in me came through my mother's father. He was a full-blooded red Indian. I can't think of his name now. Her mother was a dark woman.
"My father was a carpenter, chair maker, and a farmer too. All the work he did after peace was declared was carpentry and chair and basket making. He made coffins too just after peace was declared. They didn't have no undertakers then. He made the bottoms to chairs too. He could put a roof on a house beautifully and better than any one I know. Nobody could beat him putting shingles on a house.
"My mother was reared to work in the house. She was cook, housekeeper. She was a weaver too. She worked the loom and the spinning wheal. She gardened a little. But her work was mostly in the house as cook and weaver. She never went out in the field as a hand. My father didn't either.

Kind Masters
"My father seemed to have been more of a pet than a slave. He was a kind of boss more than anything else. He had his way. Nobody was allowed to mistreat him in any way. My mother was the same way. I don't think she was ever mistreated in any way by the white folks---not that I ever saw.

Attitude of Slaves toward Father
"There wasn't any unfriendliness of the other slaves toward my father. My oldest sister can tell you with clearness, but I don't think he ever had any trouble with the other slaves any more than he had with the white folks. He was well liked, and then too he was able to take care of himself. Then again, he had a good master. Hays was a good man. We made a trip down there just a short while ago. We hadn't been there since the Civil War.They made it so pleasant for us! We all set down to the same table and ate together. Frank was down there. He was my young master.

Thirty Acres-Not Forty
"They gave us thirty acres of land when we came out of slavery. They didn't give it to us right then, but they did later. I am going down there again sometime. My young master is the postmaster down there now. He thinks the world and all of me and my oldest sister.
"I don't mind telling people anything about myself. I was born in June. They ain't nothing slipping up on me. I understand when to talk. There are two of us, Adrianna Kern---that's her married name. She and I are the ones Mr. Frank gave the thirty acres to. I have a younger sister.

Slave Work
"I don't know how much cotton a slave was expected to pick in a day. The least I ever heard of was one hundred fifty pounds. Some would pick as high as three and four hundred pounds.
"My father was not a field hand. He was what they called the first man 'round there. He was a regular leader on the plantation---boss of the tool room. He was next to the master of them, you might say. He was a kind of boss.
"I never heard of his working for other men besides his master. I believe he drove the stage for a time from Arkadelphia to Camden or Princeton. I don't know just how that come about. My sister though has a more exact remembrance than I have, and she can probably tell you the details of it.

Boyhood Experiences
"My father used to take me to the mill with him when I was a kid. That was in slavery time. He went in a wagon and took me with him.
"The biggest thing I did was to play with the other kids. They had me do such work as pick berries, hunt up the stock, drive the sheep home from the pasture. And as near as I can remember it seems like they had me more picking berries or gathering peaches or something like that.

Food, Houses, Clothes
"Corn bread, buttermilk and bacon and all such as that and game---that was the principal food. The people on our place were fed pretty well. We lived off of esh cakes and biscuits.
"The slaves lived in old log houses. I can almost see them now. Let's see---they usually had just one window. The slaves slept on pallets mostly and wore long cotton shirts.

"I have heard a great deal of talk about the pateroles---how they tied ropes across the road and trapped them. Sometimes they would be knocked off their horses and crippled up so that they had to be carried off from there. Of course, that was sometimes. They was always halting the slaves and questioning them and whipping them if they didn't have passes.

How Freedom Came
"The way I understand it there came a rumor all at once that the Negroes were free. It seems that they throwed up their hands. They had a great fight at Pine Bluff and Helena and De Valls Bluff. Then came peace. The rumor came from Helena. Meade and Thomas winded the thing up some way.
Sherman made his march somewhere. The colored soldiers and the white soldiers came pouring in from Little Rock. They come in a rush and said, 'Tell them niggers they're free.' They run into the masters' and notified them they were going to take all the Negroes to Little Rock. It wasn't no time afterwards before here come the teams and the wagons to take us to Little Rock.
"When they brought us here, they put us in soldiers' camps in a row of houses up just west of where the Arch street graveyard is now. They put us all there in the soldiers' buildings. They called them camps. They seemed to be getting us ready for freedom. It wasn't long before they had us in school and in church. The Freedmen's Bureau visited us and gave us rations just like the Government has been doing these last years. They gave us food and clothes and books and put us in school. That was all done right here in Little Rock.

"My first teacher was Miss Sarah Henley. I could show you the home she used to live in. It's right up the street. It's on Third Street between Izard and State right in the middle of the block---next to the building on the corner of Izard on the south side of Third Street. There is a brick building there on the corner and her house is a very pretty one right next to it. She was a white woman and was my first teacher. She taught me, as near as I can remember, one session. My next teacher was Mrs. Hunt. She was from Ohio. My first teacher was from Ohio too. Mrs. Hunt taught me about two sessions. Lemme see, Mrs. Clapp came after her. She was from Pennsylvania. Mrs. Clapp taught me one session. I am trying to think of that other teacher. We went over to Union School then.
Charlotte Andrews taught us there for a while. That was her maiden name. Her married name is Stephens. She was the first colored teacher in the city. Mrs. Hubbard teached us a while, too. Mrs. Scull taught us right here on Gaines and Seventh Streets where this church is now. They moved us a long time ago down to the Mess House at the Rock Island for a while but we didn't stay there long. We came back to the Methodist church---the one on Eighth and Broadway, not the Bethel Church on Ninth and Broadway. There was a colored church on Eighth and Broadway then. They kept sweeping us 'round because the schools were all crowded. Woods, a colored man, was one of the teachers at Capitol Hill Public School. We were there when it first opened. That was the last school I went to. I finished eight grades. Me and Scipio Jones went to school together and were in the same class. I left him in schpol and went to work to take care of my folks.

Occupational Experiences
"Right after the Civil War, I went to school. I did no work except to sell papers and black boots on the corner of Main and Markham on Sunday. After I stopped school I went to work as assistant porter in the railroad office at the Union Station for the St. Louis, Iron Mountain, Southern Railway and Cairo and Fulton. That was one road or system. I stayed with them from 1873 till 1882 in the office as office porter. From that I went train porter out of the office in 1882. I stayed as train porter till 1892. Then right back from 1892 I went in the general superintendent's private car. Then from there I went to the shop here in North Little Rock---the Missouri Pacific Shops---as a straw boss of the storeroom gang. That was in 1893. I stayed in the shop until 1894. Then I was transferred back on this side as coach cleaner. That was in 1895. I stayed as coach cleaner till 1915.
From that I went to the State Capitol and stayed there as janitor of the Supreme Court for three years. In 1917. I went back to the coach cleaning department. That was during the war. I stayed there till 1922. I come out on the strike and have been out ever since. Since then I have done house cleaning all over the city. That brings me up to about two years ago. Now I pick up something here and something there. I have been knocking around sick most of the time and supported by the Relief and the Welfare principally.

Ku Klux Klan
"I don't remember much about the Ku Klux Klan. They never bothered me, and never bothered any one connected with me.

Powell Clayton
"I have stood at the bar and drank with Powell Clayton. He had been 'round here ever since we had. He was a very particular friend of my boss'---the bosses of my work after the war and freedom. They were all Yankees together. They would all meet at the office. That was while I was working my way through school and afterwards too. He was strictly a 'Negroes' Friend'. He was a straight out and out Yankee.

A Broken Thumb in a Political Fight
"I got this thumb broken beating a white man up. No, I'll tell the truth. He was beating me up and I thought he was going to kill me. It was when Benjamin Harrison had been elected President. I was in Sol Joe's saloon and I said, 'Hurrah for Harrison.' A white man standing at the bar there said to me, 'What do you mean, nigger, insulting the guests here?' And before I knew what he was going to do---bop!---he knocked me up on the side of the head and put me flat on the floor. He started to stamp me.
My head was roaring, but I grabbed his legs and held them tight against me and then we was both on the floor fighting it out. I butted him in the face with my head and beat him in the face with my fists until he yelled for some one to come and stop me. There was plenty of white people 'round but none of them interfered. A great commotion set up and I slipped out the back door and went home during the excitement.
"When I went back to the saloon again after about a week or so, the fellow had left two dollars for me to drink up. Sol Joe told me that he showed the man he was wrong, that I was one of his best customers. To make Sol and me feel better, he left the two dollars. When I got there and found the money waiting for me, I just called everybody in the house up to the bar and treated it out.
"They claimed I had hit him with brass knucks, but when I showed them my hand---it was swollen double---and then showed them how the thumb was broken, they agreed on what caused the damage. That thumb never did set properly. You see, it's out of shape right now.

Domestic Life
"I met my wife going home. I was a train porter between here and Memphis. She was put in my care to see that she took her train all right out of Memphis, Tennessee, going on farther. I fell in love with her and commenced courting her right from there. She was so white in color that you couldn't tell she was colored by looking at her. After I married her, I was bringing her home, and three white men from another town got on the train and followed us, thinking she was white. Every once in a while they would come back and peep in the Negro coach. Sometimes they would come in and sit down and smoke and watch us. My sister notice it and called my attention to it. I went to the conductor and complained. He called their hand.
"It seems that they were just buying mileage from time to time and staying on the train to be able to get off where I got off. The conductor told them that if they went into Little Rock with the train there would be a delegation of white people there to meet them and that the reception wouldn't be a pleasant one, that I worked on the road, and that all the officials knew me and knew my wife, and that if I just sent a wire ahead they'd find themselves in deep. They got off the train at the next stop, but they gave me plenty of eye, and it looked like they didn't believe what had been told them.
"We were married only three and a half years when she died. Her name was Lillie Love Douglass before she married me. She was a perfect angel. White folks tried to say that she was white. We had two children. Both of them are dead. One died while giving birth to a child and the other died at the age of thirty-three.
"I married the second time. I met my second wife the same way I met the first. I was working on the railroad and she was traveling. I was a coach cleaner. We lived together three years and were separated over foolishness. She had long beautiful hair and an old friend of hers stopped by once and said that he ought to have a lock of her hair to braid into a watch chain. She said, 'I'll give you a lock.' I said, 'You and your hair both belong to me; how are you going to give it away without asking me.' She might have been joking, and I was not altogether serious. But it went on from there in to a deep quarrel. One day, I had been drinking heavily, and we had an argument over the matter. I don't remember what it was all about. Anyway, she called me a liar and I slapped her before I thought.
"For two or three weeks after that we stayed together just as though nothing had happened, except that she never had anything more to say to me. She would lie beside me at night but wouldn't say a word. One day I gave her a hundred dollars to buy some supplies for the store. She was a wonderful hat maker, and we had put up a store which she operated while I was out on the road working. When I came back that evening, the store was wide open and she was gone. She had slipped off and gone home from the station across the river. I didn't find that out till the next day. She hid during part of the night at the home of one of my friends. And another of my friends carried her across the river and put her on the train. I was out with a shotgun watching. I am glad I did not meet them. She is living in Chicago now, married to the man she wanted to give the lock of hair to and doing well the last I heard from her. She was a good woman, just marked with a high tamper. There was no reason why we should not have lived together and gotten along well. We loved each other and were making money hand over fist when we separated.

"The young people are too much for me. Women are awful now. The young ones are too wild for me. The old ones allow them too much freedom. They are not given proper instruction and training by their elders."

Interviewer's Comment
Dortch's grandfather on the father's side was a white men and either his master or someone closely connected with his master---his first master.
His last master was the father of his half-sister, Cordelia, born before any of the other members of his family. These facts account largely for the good treatment accorded his mother and father in slave time and for the friendly attitude toward them subsequent to slavery.
Dortch's whole sister, Adrianna, is living next door to him, and is eighty-five years old going on eighty-six. She has a clearer memory than Dortch, and has also a clear vigorous mentality. She never went to school but uses excellent English and thinks straight. I have not made Dortch's interview any longer because I am spending the rest of this period on his sister's, and there was no need of taking some material which would be common to both and more clearly stated by her. I have already finished ten pages of her story.

Source Information:
Works Project Administration. Federal Writers Project. Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves. Washington, D.C.: n.p.

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