'I Never Did Buy Nothing On Time'

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It is well that we are all having these discussions now, in this great Christmas season. In much of the antebellum South, the enslaved knew these last weeks of December as Holiday. Holiday was generally a good time, you could secure passes to see relatives on far-off plantations, get plenty of time off, and the master would often come down the hovels and hand out new clothes, cider and whiskey. 

But for many slaves Holiday was also a season foreboding, for the start of the New Year often brought the selling and trading of slaves, and thus the destruction of families. I mean not to ruin your own personal Holiday, and all that it means to you. But I find that this is the time when my thoughts turn to length and breadth of my family, and the great sacrifices that were made so that my Holiday would be different.

Below are some audio excerpts of interview conducted with freedman and ex-slave, Fountain Hughes. He was born in Charlottesville in 1848, and claims his grandfather belonged to Thomas Jefferson. He died in Baltimore in 1952, where my mother was born, and would have been a two-year old girl. (There's a shout-out to North Avenue in there that's just haunting.) Here is a newspaper article on Hughes. Here is a transcript of his interview. 


In the first excerpt, Hughes offers some advice for all time. In the second two, he discusses his days as a freedman and then as a slave. It's gripping testimony. Be prepared.


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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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