Years ago, when I was working on my dissertation, I read A History of Rome and Floyd County [Georgia], by George Magruder Battey, Jr. (1922). The book has a photograph of Steve Eberhart, an old ex-slave. In the picture, Eberhart is wearing a huge hat with feathers; a Confederate battle flag on one shoulder, the U.S. flag on the other; and a sash with stars and the words "Rome, Ga." He's carrying two chickens. The caption notes that he is the mascot of the local Confederate veterans organization.
The text consists of three items clipped from the Rome newspaper (I think). The third one, dated simply 1920, is a heartbreaker.
GEMS FROM “UNCLE STEVE.” — Steve Eberhart, the slavery time darkey whose gyrations around Confederate veterans’ reunions with live chickens under his arm always stir up the ebullitions of guilty bystanders and others, yesterday submitted to an interview as he filled a place in the picket line at their meeting at the Carnegie Library.
“Steve, how does your corporosity seem to segashuate?”
“Fine as split silk,” promptly returned Steve, who had borrowed that expression in Cedartown.“Well, Steve, do you suppose your opsonic index would coagulate should the Republican administration at Washington send down here and try to get you to accept an office?”
"It mout, boss, but dere ain’t no chance to git dis here Steve to ’cept no place wid dem folks.”
“Wouldn’t you like to represent your country in the jungles of
Steve Eberhart, the ancient Senegambian who dresses up in flags and feathers, mostly just before Confederate reunion time, has written a card in which he pours out his libations of joy and gratitude to the “white folks” for their generosity in giving him enough money to attend the state meeting at Albany. Steve hopes the fountain of satisfaction may overflow for his friends and the wax tapers burn brightly on high, while he stews in the sacred unction here below.—
“I want to thank the good white people of
"I shall ever remain in my place...."
Makes me think of the Cherokees in western North Carolina who wear the war bonnet and stand in front of the tipi with their hands out.
Steve Eberhart learned who he was supposed to be back in the days of slavery, and at some point after emancipation, probably decades before this picture was taken, he decided (perhaps without realizing it) that he needed to keep being the "old-time darkey"-- remain in his place, be obedient to all the white people.
Or is this "puttin' on ol' massa"? I don't know.
White folks loved Eberhart and other African Americans who shared the "remain in my place/be obedient to white people" approach. In fact, several pages after introducing Eberhart, the book's author offers a section that pays loving tribute to them (including another paragraph on Eberhart). Here's a lengthy selection:
Allen Collier: “His occupation is that of a cook. He knows how to prepare something that will satisfy one’s bread basket. His wife, Alice Collier, washed many a garment in her younger days, but as she was suffering from the white swelling, she retired about 15 years ago and has always lived with her old man. She never knew she was an offspring of one of Col. Alfred Snorter’s slaves. Allen does not belong to the aristocratic Shorter crowd, however.”
Charlie Coppee: “Retired drayman. Some eight years ago Charlie quit and has since been doing pretty much as he pleases as a butler in a good family on
Ellen Pentecost Daniel: “A slave of Col. Alfred Shorter. She died in October, 1914, at the ripe old age of 73. One of the most appetizing cooks in her day. She was my nurse and I understand held the bottle for quite a number of Romans, all of whom remember her affectionately. Poor old soul; she never rusted, but wore herself out.”
Steve Eberhart (or Perry): “Profession, whitewasher. Steve came to
Ned Huggins: “Retired Armstrong Hotel barber and retired sexton of the First Presbyterian church. His good word was always ‘Call again.’”
Mack Madison: “An old-time farmer who can always get together a mess of vittles like ham, cracklin’ bread, pot licker and turnip greens, in spite of the boll weevil and potato bugs. He is a shy old rascal, and when he comes to town, which is not often, he keeps out of the way of the police. If you eye him too closely or try to question him, he gets off like a rabbit through a brier patch. He has a sweet tooth, so keeps a bee gum, and is as industrious as anybody in the hive. Once he ignored a summons to court, and two officers brought him in. Asked by a friend why he finally went, he said his legs got in motion and his body had to go too.”
West McCoy: “Retired plasterer; uncertain age. He winks out of one eye because he has lost the other. He sits around on garbage boxes and holds out his hand for a penny, saying, ‘It takes only 100 to make a dollar.’”
Toi Reed: “Had a white beard and could cover lots of ground. His nephew was hanged near the old
Augustus Sams: “Business is wood-chopper and age about 80. He chops wood all around the country, and for the want of a conveyance sometimes walks to Cedartown for a job, and then walks back. He will not quit chopping wood except to go ‘possum hunting or to eat a watermelon. He wears a black felt hat with a curve in it, only needs a turkey feather to make him look like a Dutch admiral; and he carries his lunch in a crocus sack. He has a keen sense of humor, but occasionally when outraged rears back on his dignity like an angry porcupine.”
“Mink” Sims: “A darkey of 25 years ago who hunted and fished a great deal, but was never known to hit a lick of work. He used to sing a song that started ‘Rabbit and the Hash,’ and which brought in the polecat, the jaybird and the other birds and animals of the menagerie.”
“Tip” Smith: “Passed to the other world
Martha Stevenson: “She is short and dark and wears a turban. For a long time she cooked for Mrs. Seaborn Wright, then served Mrs. Bessie B. Troutman at Pope’s Ferry, then was cooking for Mrs. Robt. Battey when Mrs. Battey died and now is indispensable at Mrs. Evan P. Harvey’s. She is nigh onto 75 and spry as a cricket, but occasionally complains of the misery in her side.”
“Uncle Towns:” Never seemed to have any other name, but worked many years around yard and flower garden of the I. D. Fords on
William Walker: “Not less than 80, but gets about like a man of 45. He is a retired plasterer and his earthly home is in Hell’s Hollow. He says he has mixed lots of
The whole book is available at Google Books; the above excerpts are from pages 302 and 370-374.