Slavery was a commonplace for millions of Americans in the distant 1800’s. Slaves worked on large Southern plantations, as well as small Northern companies. Because of various masters’ viewpoints regarding the slaves’ treatment, as well as the size of the area required for work, the slaves’ lives and their treatment greatly varied throughout America. The legal treatment slightly differed from colony to colony due to the economic structure of the area. The lives of these two eminent slaves, Fountain Hughes and Aunt Harriet Smith, had both similarities and differences. However, despite numerous difficulties that these individuals met in their way, they managed to overcome slavery and become free.
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Fountain Hughes in his interview remembered the period of Civil War and his childhood spent as a slave. Moreover, as an African-American, he recalled his life in the USA since 1860s till 1940s. Speaking eloquently and humbly, Fountain Hughes told that despite emancipation, he still suffered because the family had no means of support. The man explained that he was a slave, who belonged to owners. The former slave’s narration demonstrated that his experience as an enslaved African-American deeply affected him, leaving terrible memories for a lifetime. Fountain Hughes added that his grandfather belonged to the President Jefferson. Afterwards, the former slave Hughes started to confront his interviewer, Hermond Norwood, digressing to the views about those babies who wore shoes and those who bought things on credit. Finally, Hughes said that he would kill himself rather than return to slavery. He added that he was nothing but a dog to the owners. He did not like to talk about hard times, when he was a poor slave. It made all people around feel bad. He could say more, but he did not like to remember those days. Fountain Hughes also discussed Yankees, who destroyed plantation of his master and concluded that he would prefer not to discuss the war that brought only bad memories.
Fountain Hughes recalled his life as a slave in Virginia and harsh living conditions of black Americans during the Civil War. Although the interviewee’s narration remained penetrative, he loudly emphasized that he was a slave. He also mentioned inhuman experience of being sold at auction that was a commonplace at that time. Slaves belonged to wealthy people, who could sell them like hogs, cows, and horses.
In his interview, Fountain Hughes also narrated about how people’s lives changed in the early twentieth century. In the 1940s, individuals preferred to buy things on credit instead of saving them. In the nineteenth century, youth could not spend their money until the age of 21 since authorities could suspect them of stealing. Children also never had money. When the interviewer asked Hughes about what kind of life he would prefer, the former slave responded that he would prefer death to slavery.
Despite the fact that some interviewers attempted to discuss the darkest side of slavery, many of them wondered whether the owners treated slaves well. When John Henry Faulk asked Harriet Smith about whether her master treated her well, her answer was negative. She also did not mention about significant quarrels between people of different races. However, she remembered that poor white people killed her brother and husband.
Harriet Smith underscored that she clearly remembered her past experience. She talked about politicking of her husband and violent repercussions he faced. Smith was more interactive and affective in comparison with Hughes. In her narration, she discussed her own abilities, as well as the abilities of other black Americans. Smith narrated about how the family that owned her was good to her. They never beat colored people. In the interview, the former slave remembered that no one taught her to write and read. Moreover, they did not attend school at all. She added that the only thing she could learn was how to mind her mistress and master. The same thing happened to Hughes. Colored people had no beds when they were slaves. They used to sleep on the floor, and like wild human beings, they could not acquire any particular knowledge. Masters did not even allow looking at books. Some colored people who were born free had minor skills and education.
When Smith gave an interview, she mentioned many facts about attendance at church in comparison with Hughes, who did not go to church at all. However, both eminent slaves preferred to sing. Singing was a commonplace among the slaves despite the fact that they might not know the meaning of the songs. Almost all the songs were about freedom that every slave wanted to gain. However, all of them recognized evil that slavery caused.
Despite the fact that Fountain Hughes and Harriet Smith lived different lives, they sought to escape slavery, be free and live in the world without prejudice and bias. Both of them wanted to survive the tough slavery. The interviews-narratives are subtle, expressive, poetic, and complex. Analysis of Hughes and Smith’s lives in slavery reflected that although slaves might have some similarities in their experiences, they all lived different and hard lives. Smith attended churches and prayer groups with other black Americans, while Hughes did not mention it in his interview. Smith gained freedom and Hughes received help that led to his emancipation from the tyranny he faced. With the help of interviews with Hughes and Smith, the modern listener and reader can get vivid details of the brutal and fierce slave regime, as well as the daily struggle of enslaved human beings.
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