“My Name Is Beverly Douglas Taylor”
1906-1994 Charles Town
After the Civil War, freed blacks created their own communities throughout Jefferson County: James Town, Mt. Pleasant, Myerstown, Reedson, Franklintown. They also expanded in established towns such as Shepherdstown, Harper’s Ferry, and Charles Town.
Where people own their land, have a church, and a school, a community is born and survives. Each community above tended to have a cemetery, a Baptist church, a Methodist Church, and a school. Each tended to be established along a railroad, partly because the land was expendable to the previous owner.
This interview was recorded August 8, 1990 in the Perry Room of Charles Town Library. The interviewee begins by describing the Black communities appearing after the end of slavery both in Virginia and the eastern Panhandle. It is important to note that the five grown children of Mr. Taylor reviewed and prepared this text. - ED
“That’s where grandpa was raised at Possum Holler in Front Royal. Of course I guess they destroyed a lot of little towns in this section. Cedar Hill and them places; it used to be a bunch of people there, now you might go down and see one or two houses. You go out Route 11 between Winchester and Inwood. That was a colored section.
“They would give ‘em land, but you noticed all the black settlements, that what land they sold ‘em was either a swamp or hill of clay, with a big bunch of great big timbers on it. Now Franklintown was a whole lot of timbers on it - big oaks as wide as from here to the end of that table (five feet). I remember’d as a little boy, men used to gamble on ‘em. They sold land with the big stumps on ‘em, that was down this part. But in Virginia, I go by and look at black settlement behind the Lattimore land in Virginia, the black’s land. They would let ‘em have more and better land. I know because I look at all that to see what kind of gardens they had.
“Out on our end – how many out at Dogtown (Charles Town)? We had a hundred people. I forget how many houses. We call it Dogtown.
“There were the things that tore the black man to pieces - the little, teeny things, where you had to take your hat off . . . I was working around a white woman and Mamma told us: ‘Never look a white woman in the eye. Always keep your head down. And if we meet ‘em coming from school – a bunch of girls - Momma told us to turn around and go back. Momma raised us to be careful about that white woman. It ain’t no joke: ‘Don’t play if they come. Go in the house. Never look ‘em in the eye. They could say what they wanted. They’d (the men) kill ya’ throw you over a field and say a bull done it.’
“It was the little things they used to they break ‘ya down. I’ve seen it, what they had done to my father. He beat a white man, struck him with a haying thing. He was sixteen years old. Then he was pullin’ time in Berryville jail for it – for this old man’s beating, where the old man whipped all his men except Pop, and he, (my father) made his mind up he would not be whipped. He got the haying hook, something to hang things on with – he found one that was loose and he knew this old man – O’Hurley - was coming. O’Hurley come in cussin’ and all drunk that morning cause they were working on a farm, and this white man was a foreman.
“They kept control of black man. They kept a certain amount of fear in him.
“Those are the things we came up under. But what they did was: I seen ‘em break my father’s spirit. I seen ‘em break my uncle’s spirit. They tried it on me, take tracks away from me twice after I cleaned ‘em up. Backbone – give it to the white man. Slop for us to eat.
“But, I seen what they did to my father and my uncle. They were experts. You can break anything. Horse, dog, cat, anything – break their spirit. Pitiful. I hate to see anything, an animal, with its spirit broken. That’s what they did to the black man, after slavery days. They broke it, any way they could. There was never any time when there was hope. No indeed! See they had the Ku Klux, Paddy Rose, I forget all the kinds of organizations. Halltown had a bunch of guys, they had horses and they’d go around, that was their fun! – tormentin’ and hurtin’ the Negro, you know. And if one was uppity – they would keep on and maybe they’d finish to kill him. He (the black man) had to be two people.
“There’s nothing you could do to make you be recognized. You’re just like that chunk of wood there. Lots of times I’ve seen the hate stare. It goes through you. Sometime, I stepped too fast and stepped over. Then, I’d see it. And I stepped back.
“I came up under him (the white man). I worked at the quarry for 42 years at U.S. Steel Corporation. They sent me home with the white boy’s work (on top of my own). Then sent ‘em over to see how I was takin’ it. I made up my mind. I know what they done to Poppa. I made my mind up they wasn’t going to do it to me. I laughed and grinned like nothing ever happened. I made my mind up. I worked night and day to do it. None of ‘em handed in any more than I did, when I left. But I worked, gathered slop, built houses, cleaned out what they called cesspools.
“Some white people would get off to their self and tell us (they disagreed with the way things were), but if he had (these opinions) he better not show it. He had to be very careful. So you had all those Paddy Rose and Ku Klux and all that stuff, coming on. Paddy Rose used to have a song: ‘Run, Nigger, Run, Paddy Rose gonna getcha.’ All those things directly after the war. They turned so much power back to the Southern white man.
“He took the beating from the North and took it out on the black man. Every time he’d look at us, he knew he lost the war.
“Those songs were sung around here. They were even sung among us! But we didn’t sing out the song, he (the Paddy Rose) would act! Black history had to be written by the black man, word-of-mouth wouldn’t be enough, but I’ll be gone. This here’s what I’m saying - I’m the last of this group and I got it from my grandfather. He’s as white as you are; he had blue-gray eyes. He said he did never know who his father was, must have been some old poor white man, ‘cause he himself could never amount to nothin’. The trash, it’s just a breed of people, you can give them a job, you can give them all the money and he’ll never get above it. We know it; the white man knows it too. The white man will push him out and give us some.
“Black people went away to find work back in hard times and then came back and found that their homes were sold out from under them. You could walk through McCurdy’s woods and once, you couldn’t see in the daytime. It was just that dark. It was timber; it was all cut out since World War I. Well Franklintown was named after a Negro. Now it’s all white. It’s because the children went away, they’d let the taxes go back. If you go to get that land back in court, you don’t get that land so easy as you think, if someone wants to make a fight about it.
Charles Town Blacks Break with the Republicans
“That was the law of the South. That was what they did. Everything to harass ‘ya. One time, I come into the courthouse, you know where the courthouse is.
“In March, 1931 or 1932, I came in to pay Poppa and them’s dues. To pay Poppa and thems’ taxes, we
had nickels and dimes. Things were as tight as bark on a hickory tree at that day and time. Well, I
came in to pay for us. Well, us Negroes had to stand back and wait. Of course I learned since then,
but being a little younger, it made me go back to the back of the line.
“Mrs. Wise, a Negro woman, and I had to wait until all white folks were out of the courthouse. And I paid it. And the man in charge locked and shut the door up. He wrote the receipt out in the book. So he took Poppa’s receipt and wrote it in the book, then shut it up. I said: ‘Uh, could I get the receipt . . . please?’ You know, you had to have manners!
“He said: ‘When’re you gonna pay your taxes?’
“I said: ‘I don’t own any real estate. I’m just twenty-five. But I’ve got to take Poppa something.’
“He says: ‘I want you to understand: this is a white man’s country.’ I said: ‘I been knowin’ that all my life.’
“He said: ‘When you pay your taxes, you get this receipt.’ I said: ‘Sir, I know, I understand that you’re the boss, but you can’t do that.’
“‘Don’t you tell me what I can or cannot do! You Niggers wait until the very last minute and come in and try to tell us what to do!’
“He then said: ‘I said, “get back!”’
“He must have had a button. And after a while, two policemen came in the door. (Both of them later on ended up in court for stealing and arson). They said: ‘What’s wrong!’ Now they would have beaten my brains out. You’d be surprised how they unbalanced a lot of Negroes’ brains by beatin’ them about the head.
“But what it is, I went out and told Poppa. He come down and Uncle Tom’d, you know we call it – and bowed and he tore the receipt out of the book and gave it to him.
“I went on up to the pool room then - you weren’t allowed to loaf on Main Street - I told ‘em what they done to me about the taxes. Reginald Ross could read well, had a good education and was a Pullman porter and done everything. Ross said: ‘Why don’t you go down and see the leading Republican in the area?’ Ross said: ‘You all got your noses stuck his a**’ I said: ‘Here’s one that isn’t going to vote with him.’
“I said: ‘He ain’t the one that’s gonna do it for us.’ I then said: ‘I’m gonna vote on the Democratic ticket.’
You see, we didn’t have a voice! They didn’t care about what he done to me. We were all Republican. The Sheriff and everything were Democrat. We had no votes, you know that.
“I said to Reginald Ross: ‘We are going to stop it, one way or another. We formed a non-partisan political club. The first night we were formed was up there where Fritts owned a building, was a little fish place. We came out, snow was blowin’ down the street in March. Next time, we elected our officers. I got up and nominated Bob Gaiter. He declined. I nominated Billy Hart. That’s the way we formed a non-partisan political club. I was the sergeant-at-arms. I had to take one guy and put him out.
“We had to walk the street armed. You see the black people were all Republican. They were mad with us, the old ones ‘cause we changed from Republican to Democrat.
“We made out. We had 175 folks. The man who refused to give me my receipt, who was elected to his job, later came in that place of ours, when he was running for re-election. We’d give a candidate five minutes.
“He got up and started saying: ‘I don’t know what’s the matter with the colored people. I was good to ‘em. My nanny, my mother’s, she sucked, she nursed her son, my mother nursed (this an’ that). Honest to God, I’ve been good to colored people all my life.’ (This is Old Man R. who called me a Nigger!) Politicians have to have a hide that thick and a yellow streak down their back that wide. A real man can’t be one. That’s right!
“So we elected justice of the peace and Sheriff. We threw them hundred and some votes wherever we wanted ‘em at. We bounced it! We all stuck together and it was the Democrats: they were real happy to see us, we had the balancing power.
“That’s why I say this is the greatest system on this earth. The King James Bible and the Constitution are the two documents worth dying for.
“After that I worked around the polls. I wasn’t drinking. I used every penny I had to feed my kids. And we got power and got recognition. I often wished I could live to see a black woman in the courthouse or go into the bank and see a black man. And I have lived to see it.
“Our parents told us how to survive. And they had to be taught how to survive. The young Negro today, he don’t know nothin’. He’d do things now – just talking to a white girl - that they’d burn the whole building, they’d burn the whole of Dogtown. I told you we couldn’t even look them in the eye. If you working for a white woman, around their house, and she’s getting’ ready to go up some stairs, you’d turn your back. Now when she’s getting through with puttin’ her rubbers on, you turn your back. Momma raised us up to survive. Momma also told us: ‘Keep away from the white man and don’t mention it if he tells you about what he had done with a black woman. It will come back on you.’
“But what helped me more than anything was that Pop and them was high on religion.
And I never could figure out everything I seen in the Bible. I don’t belong to a church today. It’s a Supreme Being, you can call him whatever you want. But everything I saw was white. Comin’ up, I went to Sunday school, had Sunday morning prayer, and the white man had the cow, we had to go get the milk. I looked at all that. Momma and them done the prayin’; the white people done kickin’ and knockin’. I couldn’t figure it out. So I said: ‘Maybe I don’t belong in church; I got a woman that belongs to church.
They are all hints and stuff like that.’ I figure: ‘If Mr. Charlie can make it, I can make it. If Mr. Charlie can knock and kick me like a mule, and took a black woman, used them and be done with ‘em, if he’s in Heaven, then so why isn’t a man cause he’s so Black gets over? Cause we ain’t done nothing to nobody?’
“If I see some of the old SOBs there, long dead and rotten – but if I see any one of them getting in Heaven, I’d step up and pull feathers out of their wings. (Laughing) I’ve got to do something!”