Emma Crockett

She spoke a lot of words but said little to the white woman who came to interview her about her days as an enslaved woman near Livingston, Ala.

You could blame it on her failing memory. After all, she was 80 when the WPA writer knocked on her door. But like a lot of former slaves in Jim Crow Alabama in the 1930s, Emma Crockett knew better than to say too much to the white woman who would publish her words for the whole world to see.

"Sometimes I can’t get my mind together so as I can tell nothing,” Ms. Crockett told the interviewer. “I can't tell you so much about the war because my recollection ain't no count these days. All I knowed was bad times and folks got whupped, but I can’t say who was to blame; some was good and some was bad.”

Keeping your own counsel, as old folks used to say, was more than a trite expression among Ms. Crockett and her peers; it was survival.

Oil on hardboard, 12X16.

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