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introduction | 19th century hoodoo | 20th century hoodoo | 21st century hoodoo



Born in Somerville, Tennessee (circa 1847)

Interviewed by an Unknown WPA Worker (circa 1939)
and Transcribed by Ann Allen Geoghegan

old wooden shack somewhere in rural Coahoma County Mississippi

This is an extract from "Mississippi [Ex-Slave] Narratives Prepared by The Federal Writer's Project of The Works Progress Administration For the State of Mississippi."

Julius Jones, an ex-slave and a Union veteran of the Civil War, was born near Somerville, Tennessee, circa 1847. He had been married six times and was about 92 years old when he was interviewed in Coahoma County, Mississippi, circa 1939. A lucid speaker with a phenomenal memory for names and dates, he provided a great deal of historical and genealogical information as well as describing the forms of conjure that were practiced in Tennessee during his younger days.

The picture is of an old shack in rural Coahoma County, in the Yazoo Delta region of Mississippi. It was not the home of Julius Jones, but it is typical of those that were once common in the area where Jones lived at the time he was interviewed. The electric power lines and the boxy air conditioner in the window are the only changes that mark this as a modern photograph. Coahoma is a Choctaw word that means "Red Panther." The county seat is Clarksdale, Mississippi; where Highway 61 crosses Highway 49. Prior to 1930, the county seat was in Friar's Point, on the Mississippi River.

Because this interview subject used terms unfamiliar to modern readers and the transcriber employed spellings not commonly found in the literature of hoodoo, a few explanatory notes have been added [in brackets]. In addition, some paragraphs have been broken into sections for easier reading and annotation.

Interviewer: Unknown WPA Worker
Date: circa 1939
Transcribed by Ann Allen Geoghegan

I has heared my grandma and grandpa say that my family came from Arkansas. They was brought to Tennessee by slave traders and sold to Mr. Calvin [Jones] and his wife, Miss Mildred Jones, who had three children, all boys, Elic, Tom, and Monroe.

The Joneses lived in Sumerville, Tennessee [This is the transcriber's misspelling of Somerville, Tennessee, a town in Fayette County, in the south-western part of the state, just east of Memphis and a little north of the Mississippi state border] and their big plantation where the slaves all stayed was about a mile and a half in the country. My father, Nat Jones, and mother, Cessler Jones, had five children, Calvin [Jones] and me was the boys; Lithia [Jones], Beckie [Jones] and Catherine [Jones]was the girls.

All of us lived in the quarters in log cabins. My grandma Jancy looked after all the children while the grown folks was working in the fields. There was one big room where everybody ate dinner and supper. The breakfast was sent to the field by the children that was big enough to carry it.

I never did see my mother or father except on Sunday. I stayed in the house they did, but they left in the morning for the fields before I was awake, and when they got back I was asleep. They sure did work their slaves from before day till after dark.

We didn't know nothing 'tall 'bout money 'cause we never seed none. The eating what they give us sure warn't nothing to brag on. Most of the time we didn't have nothing excusing meat and bread and the biggest part of the meat was possums, coons, and rabbits. Course in the summer time they would give us greens and cabbage out of the big garden what they planted just to feed us. Once my father stold some hog meat. He made us children get under the bed to eat it so nobody could see us if they came by the house. He always fed us under the bed when he got hold of something he didn't want nobody to know nothing bout.

There was an old woman on the place named Charlet. [This is possibly the transcriber's spelling of the name Charlotte.] She did the weaving of the cloth to make our clothes. The cloth the pants was made out of was dyed a dark color. Everything else we wore was just the natural color. Children didn't have nothing to wear no how but shirts, and the women folks wore things that looked like shirts only longer. There wasn't no difference in the cloth they used in the winter and in the summer.

There was a shoemaker on the place. He made everybody shoes but they warn't no count like shoes is now. Sometimes we didn't have no shoes to wear. I recollect going hunting once with my young master, and I had to cover my feet with old carpets.

The overseer's name was Bryant. He was the boss, as my master didn't live on the place. He had two or three colored men for leaders, which is the same as drivers. There was about two thousand acres in the place and so many slaves in it that they hired them out to the neighbors.

Bryant was the one what did the whipping. I had an uncle named Abe Jones. He whipped him till his shirt all stuck to his back and my mother had to put grease on him to get the shirt off. What he was getting punished for was telling the slaves they was going to be set free. They took Abe after that to town and locked him up in jail. We ain't never heared of such a thing before as a slave being put in a white man's jail.

That man Bryant gave my mother a beating once when she was sick. Some says that beating caused her death. I can't say that it did and I can't say that it didn't, but I do know, she never got up out of that bed no more till she died and they carried her out.

After she died my father got an ax and went to Mr. Bryant's house to kill him. Somebody at the house seed him and he ran off to the woods and hid. They shot at him as he ran, and the shot hit him in the heel but that didn't stop him and they had to get the hounds out 'fore they could find him.

Mr. Whitehead was called the nigger taker. He was the one what got the hounds and caught my father. Old Master didn't let no whipping go on about that till he was right there to see to it that it wasn't given too hard.

That was the only trouble I ever 'member betwixed the colored and whites [before the Civil War]. What happened [that was troubling], the niggers didn't get hold of [didn't hear about], and if they did, they better not talk bout it. We wasn't 'lowed to leave the place 'less we had a pass. If we slipped off, the patrollers would sure catch you.

We never worked after dinner on Saturday and sometimes they would give us the whole day.

We didn't have no celebration on Christmas. The children would hang up their stockings in the cabins and get candy and cake put in them. The grown folks were given a day or two to go hunting or fishing. There wasn't no form of amusement, not even a corn shucking.

When folks got married they didn't have no wedding 'cause they didn't have nothing to dress up in. The young master just married them and that's all there was to that.

The biggest thing the niggers done was working congerations. [This is an attempted phonetic spelling for "conjurations," that is, conjure or hoodoo.] The funny thing bout that was they could hoo-doo hoodoo each other but they sure couldn't hoo-doo the white folks.

One young nigger cussed the old conger man [conjure man, root doctor] on the place. The old man reached up and cut off some of his hair, put it in a sack and throwed the sack in the water. That boy acted mighty bigity till that hair started floating down stream. Then he got scared most to death. He ran all day trying to get that hair back. He most went crazy 'fore he got that spell lifted.

[This is an example of working with personal concerns, that is, a bodily link to the subject. The use of hair as a personal concern is common in this sort of spell. The work is magically prepared or fixed by placing the item (usually with at least two other ingredients) in a tied packet (a "sack" in this telling; probably a small muslin tobacco sack or pouch, like a mojo bag). Tossing the sorcerous item into a running river is a form of laying a trick through deployment in water that may either be intended to cause the subject to leave town or to cause a slow "sinking," so that the subject will gradually sicken and die. Additionally, hair, because of its relationship to the head, is specifically used to drive people crazy or give them headaches, thus Julius Jones mentions that the subject "ran all day" (like the river) and "most went crazy" (due to the work having utilized his head-hair.]

Them hoo-doo men could do them things, no doubt bout that. I is heared of them putting lizards and scorpions in folks' closets, and somebody in the house would die.

[Unnatural poisoning through agents such as lizards, scorpions, snakes, and spiders is generally a type of "Live Things in You" spell. It is more often contracted through ingestion of the verminous animals than through skin contact, but there are several old accounts such as this one in which the victim was poisoned by sitting in a dressed chair or wearing dressed clothing.]

I was conjured once, and only once, in my life by a man who gave me some whisky in a black bottle. Two minutes after I swallowed that whisky, pains went through me like a knife. I begun running fast as I could 'cause I knowed right them I had been hoo-dooed. I would have died if a man hadn't told my wife three things to mix together and give me.

[The preferential use of a black glass bottle (as opposed to a clear glass bottle) to hold dangerous or powerful magical and medical formulations was commonplace among 19th and early 20th century professional rootworkers, as recounted in numerous interviews with victims, clients, and patients of the era, but the practice has fallen out of favour in recent decades. The presumption is that the black glass hid the whiskey's contents, which might have included potent (or toxic) roots or herbs, or drowned animals such as lizards, snakes, scorpions, or ground puppies. Although the three ingredients in the restorative tonic are unremembered or unnamed, the use of three-ingredient tonics, three-ingredient spiritual cleansing baths, and three-ingredient mojo hands to remove bad conditions is very common in hoodoo up to the present time.]

'Fore I took it he said, "If you ain't conjured, this will kill you, but it will cure you if you is." I knowed I was, so I took it and it proved I was, 'cause right then I started getting better, and shortly I was well.

If you gets conjured the only way for you to get cured or have the spell lifted is to go to some one who knows more bout it than the one who conjured you.

Some folks wore different things in their shoes to keep the spells off. I don't believe nothing like that could help none.

[Wearing items in one's shoe is an example of protection against foot track magic. Rural 19th century prescriptions could be as simple as salt and black pepper powder; by the 20th century, special spiritual supplies like Fear Not To Walk Over Evil Powder and Jinx Killer Powder gained in popularity as shoe dressings.]

Spirits don't show their self now like they used to. There was a time you couldn't stay in certain houses they bothered you so. My grandmother sent me to the crib one night for to get some corn. When I got nearly there I could hear fiddling and dancing going on. The crib was the place dances had been held.

Mr. Canons' place was next to ours. He had so many slaves and nothing much to feed them on, they all went hungry. Every evening if you passed his graveyard you could hear babies crying, you sure could hear it, and I ain't the only one what could prove it.

You know that boy Julious that drives the dray around town? I raised that boy and he sure has turned out to be a good man. His mother died when he was little and I took him to care for. One day I gave him a sound whipping 'bout something he done wrong. That same night when I went out in the yard, I seed his mother just hovering over his little wagon. I seed her just as plain as if she had never died.

We didn't have no colored churches on the place. We went to the white folks Baptist Church. All that preachers teaching to us was, when you serve your master, you is serving God.

They didn't allow us to hold no services of our own. We did hold them anyway. We would turn all the pots over so we wouldn't be heared. When pots is turned over in a house they catch all the echo and not a sound can be heard outside.

Old Miss taught us Bible every Sunday. I never 'tended a real service where they had singing and praying and moaners' bench all such as that till I was grown. We didn't have no teachers to learn us to read and write but I sure did learn to read the Bible, how I don't know, but I could read it today or some parts of it, if it wasn't my eyes is too bad for me to see with.

I never seed the like of the poor white folks that lived around us. They was sure bad off. When they moved, they put their belongings in little wagons and had dogs to pull them. That sure was a sight seeing dogs pulling wagons, but they didn't have no other way to get from place to place.

[It is possible that these "poor white folks" were part Native American, as the Choctaws regularly used dogs to pull loads prior to the wide introduction of horses, donkeys, and mules in America.]

When the war came on, I must have been about fourteen years old.

[The war began in 1861, so Julius Jones was born circa 1847 and was about 92 years old when he was interviewed.]

All the men on the place run off and joined the northern army. I was not old enough to join, so they left me behind with the work to do. We couldn't get much news 'bout what was going on. I didn't know what the white folks heared 'cause they didn't let no information out. The war had been going on for two years before I seed any real action.

I was ploughing in the field when I got the word to take all the mules and hide them in the swamp, that the Yankees were coming. After I got them all securely hid out, I walks down to the big road to see the soldiers pass. When they came along, they stopped and made me go to the swamps and bring them, every last one of them mules.

That was in the year 1863. At that time the southern folks had the Yankees whipped, and they would have won that war if it hadn't been for a great man by the name of Abraham Lincoln. That man held a council right then. He 'greed to take all the colored people. Said if they fought on his side he would set them all free. When them niggers heard that free part, they all joined the army.

I fought with them for two years and five months. I wasn't turned loose till 1866. We was mustered out in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and discharged in Memphis, Tennessee. We was offered land, but I didn't accept none.

Mr. Lincoln was sure a wonderful man. He did what God put him here to do, took bondage off the colored people and set them free. Mr. Lee sure didn't leave no such record behind him. They tells me before he died he had a mule and a nigger brought before him and he told the folks to protect the mule and to keep the nigger down.

They says there is always some one can take another's place, but they ain't none showed up yet, to take the place of Booker T. Washington. He was a teacher and educator. There ain't no such man as that now. The ones that have come along since are just out for the money in it.

The people now ain't Christians as they should be 'cause if they were you wouldn't hear about all these here wars whats going on right now.

Soon after the war I joined the church. I got religion while I was in one of those war hospitals. A voice came to me then saying, "You is dying." The Lord spoke and said to me, "Does you believe?" I answered, "I does."

The first meeting I 'tended after that was in a bush arbor. When the call came for moaners, I went to the bench and when I said "Amen" I couldn't rise from that seat. To this good day I has kept up with that good Baptist religion.

After I left the army in Memphis I came on down to Mississippi and got work on a farm near Dublin. Later I moved to Coahoma County. [Coahoma County, Mississippi, like Jones' native Somerville, Fayette County, Tennessee, is an area outlying from Memphis, Tennessee.]

It wasn't no trouble finding work to do, and I was treated as nice as if I hadn't fought in the Yankee army. The K.K.K. was going round for awhile scaring the folks, but after Governor Alcorn got in office, he put a stop to all such as that. The niggers was all allowed to vote. There was colored sheriffs, clerks, and magistrates.

In 1868 I married Minnie Howard [Jones]. We was living then out here on the Sledge place. We had two girls, Lizzie [Jones] and Mannie [Jones]. They is both living and farming here near me. My second wife was named Charlet [possibly the transcriber's phonetic spelling of Charlotte] [Jones], and I had two girls by her, Maggie [Jones] and Ella [Jones]. They is both dead. My third wife was named Emma [Jones], my fourth Catherine [Jones], my fifth Carrie [Jones], and this one you see here is Lula [Jones]. The best one of all them women was Charlet [Charlotte]. She was a better one than the one I got now, though this one does very well. Three of them is dead that I knows of; and I 'speck they is all dead by now 'cept this one. I has only one grandchild. He is living with his ma.

I don't take much stock in this young generation. They don't have right bringing up. My wife reads me out of the paper 'bout them going against their parents and sometimes killing them. Such as that is enough to make you quit reading the paper.

I owns my little home here and I gets a war pension from the government of seventy-five dollars a month. I ain't got nothing to complain of 'cept the sinners, what you can't get to the house of God. I has peace in my heart 'cause I know when the Lord calls again, I will be ready to answer Him same as I did years ago, "I do believe."

This material is reprinted from

Mississippi Narratives
Prepared by
The Federal Writer's Project of
The Works Progress Administration
For the State of Mississippi

and also online at

MSGenWeb Library
County: Coahoma
Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records

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