Drums and Shadows, by Georgia Writer's Project, , at sacred-texts.com
Rows of faded gray houses, huddled close together and facing on narrow dirt lanes, house the population of Springfield, a Negro community lying west of Savannah near the city waterworks. In the neighborhood are several wooden churches of various denominations, a well constructed modern brick school building, and a number of stores that supply the six hundred odd Negroes of the community.
Many of the houses are shuttered, dim and quiet. So somber an atmosphere prevails that it is easy to imagine the spectral figures that the Negroes claim they see wandering at night along the twisting pathways. It is not surprising to be told of the sinister powers which are constantly at work and against which many inhabitants of this locality are always on guard.
A familiar figure in the neighborhood is James Washington, 1 famed locally as a fortune teller and root doctor. It is said that Washington's patronage is growing steadily; 22a, 22e, 48 each day new clients visit his dilapidated house, seeking advice or perhaps a cure for some puzzling ailment that has descended upon them.
The consulting room is smoky, airless, and reeking with a queer pungent odor. The shades are drawn down tightly, and when a visitor is being given advice the door is shut securely against intrusion. The furniture is scant, consisting of a lamp on a plain table, a couch for the visitor, and placed directly across the room a wooden armchair in which sits
the dealer in magic. The most remarkable object in the room is a "spirit picture," showing the head of one of the creatures of the "shadduh worl." The eyes are closed, the face bears a rapt, exalted expression, and the picture fades off into a dim mist of clouds.
Washington uses no cards or crystals. "I kin tell duh fewchuh jis by lookin at duh pusson," 22a, 22e he told us, "cuz I wuz bawn wid a double cawl 4 wut wuz sabe fuh me till I wuz grown. Duh spirit show me ebryting. Ain many people hab duh powuh tuh see tings, but I got dis gif frum Gawd.
"I hab a deep knowledge uh magic. Deah's magic wut gahd yuh frum hahm an deah's ebil magic wut kin put yuh down sick aw eben kill yuh. 8 Wen yuh bin fix, yuh caahn git well wid regluh medicine. 15 Yuh got tuh git a han gense duh fixin. 6 Magic roots hep a lots. 48 Duh haiah is one uh duh mos powful tings yuh enemy kin git hole ub 10 cuz it grow neah duh brain an a han made outuh haiah kin sho affec duh brain."
The credulous neighbors constantly seek Washington's aid, for there is much talk of conjure among them. His recent acquittal on a charge of assault and robbery was interpreted as evidence that he possessed the ability to "fix duh cote so dey couldn nebuh sen im up."
We were told of a woman who had a spell cast upon her by her own sister. 15 Wishing to verify our information, we decided to pay the unfortunate victim a visit.
The house stood at the dead end of a narrow street. A high wall separated it from its neighbors and the barren ground encircling it was littered with refuse, tin cans, and large piles of rocks. A fierce looking dog prowled restlessly near the high arched gateway and bared his teeth at the intruders. At our request a neighbor obligingly called over the fence to the sick woman, 1 who a moment later came limping towards us.
Her age was uncertain; she was gaunt and sickly in appearance. Her outfit consisted of a dull gray waist with a turban to match and a faded blue skirt. Large brass earrings dangled from her ears, making her lean face appear still more woebegone. Certainly there was something wrong with
the woman, for she dragged listlessly with the effort of walking the short distance from the house.
We inquired about her health but when we asked about the "cunjuh" which had been put upon her, she looked at us distrustfully, saying, "Muh huzbun tell yuh bout dat." With that she left us abruptly.
Soon the man 1 appeared, a bent figure in ragged blue overalls, with a battered felt hat on his grizzled head. Unlike his wife, Stephen Bryant was talkative and friendly, and he told us readily of his wife's strange predicament. "She wuz cunjuhed by uh own sistuh," he began. "Some days she all right an kin cook an clean up; den all at once tings git tuh runnin all obuh uh body. 5 Sometimes she fall down an hab tuh be put tuh bed."
We asked Stephen if he had consulted any root doctors 48 about his wife's condition and he said, "I hab monuh dozen root doctuhs tuh uh but dey dohn do uh no good. I keep on tryin an maybe some day I fine duh right un tuh reach duh cunjuh."
In this instance retribution seemed to have come swiftly, for Stephen told us that the sister who had caused the conjure was now "laid up uhsef wid cunjuh, fuh someone cas a spell on huh too."
When we asked Stephen if he believed in evil spirits, he nodded in affirmation. "I sees um all duh time," he said. "Dey is lill an wite an hab no head. 54, 55 Yuh nebuh see um till attuh duh sun gone down. Yuh dohn bodduh um none an dey leab yuh lone.
"Deah use tuh be a ole house right pas ours. Ebry night we would be woke up by a loud bangin noise. Ef we look out duh winduh we could see dis spirit. He was alluz wanduhin roun. Ebry now an den he would tro a rock at a ole gasoline tank an it would make dat noise we heah. 55 We alluz use tuh tink deah wuz buried treasure neah an dis spirit wuz gahdin it. 61 I nebuh did look fuh duh treasure, I dohn wahn tuh fool wid no spirits. Attuh a time dey tuk down duh house an duh spirit nebuh did come back no mo."
Another victim of conjure, 2 a Negro man of about
eighty-eight, told us that although he did not usually believe superstitious tales, his own strange experience had forced him to realize that "folks kin fix yuh." "One time I fall down sick frum a puhculeyuh disease. Nuttn didn do no good till uh hab a root uhmun come in. Right away she tell me a enemy done put down a dose fuh me. 15 She say I wuz fined in fish. Well, den, she tell me tuh drink a haffuh pint uh wiskey and tro way duh udduh res uh duh pint. Attuh uh done dis, uh git well agen. 6
"I knows a case uh fixin right now. It's a young man wut dohn lib fah frum yuh. He alluz complainin bout crickets crawlin unduh his skin an some uh duh neighbuhs say dey see um. I blieb dis mus be so cuz deah's a uhmun roun yuh wut kin make a han tuh put any kine uh insec in yuh body. 5 She kill duh insec an grine it tuh powduh an rub it on duh skin uh duh pusson aw gib it tuh um tuh drink. Wen it entuh duh body, it tun back intuh insec, sometime a lizud aw a frawg aw a snake."
The old man continued, "Ise had plenty sperience bout root wuk, 48 but I alluz try tuh keep way frum dat kine uh folks. I membuh ole Doctuh Sheppard who use tuh oppurate yuh. He hab hunduds uh folks come tuh him day an night. He mustuh been bery good.
"Deah wuz a uhmun name Clara an she wuz good too. She use tuh ketch lots uh Doctuh Sheppard's customuhs. I went tuh uh house once. She show me a box full uh packages an she say dat ebry one wuz a han fuh diffrunt tings. 8b-e I reach out tuh git hole ub em, but she stop me an say ef uh touch em, dey lose all duh powuh. Clara and Doctuh Sheppard bote dead now.
"Ise heahd lots uh stories bout folks wut could fly. Some time back I wuz libin in Woodville wen a man come tru deah. He wuz frum Liberty County. Dis man talk lot bout duh story uh duh Africans wut could fly. He say all dis wuz true. He say he wuz takin awduhs fuh wings an dey wuz all yuh need tuh fly. A peah uh wings coss twenty-five dolluhs. Duh man take yuh measure an a five dolluh deposit an say he collec duh balance wen he delibuh duh wings. Lots uh people gib deah awduh fuh wings, cuz; all deah libes dey been heahin bout folks wut could fly. Duh man jis go roun
takin awduhs an collectin five dolluhs. Das duh las any ub us ebuh heah uh duh man aw duh wings."
Clara Smith, 1 a resident of this community, told us that she too remembered the time when Dr. Sheppard and the woman called Clara, who it appeared was her aunt, had operated a thriving business. "I didn unduhstan much wut dey did," she said, "but dey wuz bote kep busy all uh dat time. Deah wuz alluz; a long line uh folks waitin tuh see em.
"Dey say my Aunt Clara wuz bery good. She could wuk roots an gib good luck hans an tell fawchuns, and fix yuh enemies.
"One time a man come an git muh aunt. He say somebody cunjuh his wife. 15 She ack queah an run away an stay fuh days at a time. My aunt go tuh duh house an dig all roun. She fine a sack filled wid sulphuh, an haiah, 10 an matches, an grabeyahd dut. 9 Den she took in duh house an she fine mo sacks in duh mattress, in duh pilluh, an in duh dressuh draws. Deze cunjuh sacks wuz wut causin duh woman tuh be crazy. My aunt destroy duh sacks an gie duh woman a good luck ban tuh weah 6, 12a, 12c, 12d so no udduh root wukuh could hahm uh. Attuh dis duh ebil spell went away an duh woman wuz cuod."
One of the interesting characters of the section is Ellen Jones, 2 better known as "Pipe Ellen" because of a very evident liking for tobacco. The old woman, an ex-slave, claims to be almost one hundred and twenty-two years old and walks almost daily from Springfield to Savannah. Winter and summer, her frail figure is snugly buttoned into a heavy top coat, so long that the hem trails on the ground. On her white head she wears a dark wool skull cap.
"Pipe Ellen" told us that she firmly believed in conjure and in proof of this she related the following instance: "Right yuh in Savannah a uhmun wut claim tuh be muh frien root-mahk me. 15 I ain fraid tuh tell uh name, cuz she dead now. It wuz Flossie Hopkins.
"She fix me wid tuhbaccuh. Yuh see she knowed I lub tuhbaccuh. She wuk a root on me so strong dat she put a big snake in muh bed, an uh could feel tings moobin all tru muh
body. I could feel duh snake runnin all tru me. 5, 50 Den I heah a noise an it keep on, so uh say tuh muhsef, 'A snake is in yuh.' I git up an set duh lamp in duh middle uh duh room. Duh snake show up. I close all duh cracks roun duh house, so nuttn couldn git out.
"Nex ting I know dat uhmun wuz knockin at muh doe. Wen I let uh in, she grab dat snake, tro it cross uh shoulduh an walk out.
"Ef uh hadduh kill dat snake, a man tole me, it sho would ub bin Flossie Hopkins. He tole me tuh git a box uh Debil Lye. Denne dug unduh muh doe step an took a bunle uh roots. Deah wuz red peppuh, an sulphuh, an salt, an some udduh kine uh powduh. He sprinkle dis all roun duh place an say I need nebuh be fraid cuz dis would kill any cunjuh put down fuh me." 6
During the course of an inter-view, which was held later with another woman 1 in the community, we again discussed the subject of conjure. This woman told us, "Deah's plenty cunjuh in dis neighbuhhood. Deah wuz a man and his wife libed yuh. Duh man couldn git wuk an he went away. Attuh he lef, duh wife wuz took sick; dey say she wuz cunjuhed, 15 an dey sen fuh duh huzbun. Wen he git home he git a root doctuh tuh visit uh. 48 Duh root man go tuh duh back step an dig a hole, an deah he fine nails an sulphuh an haiah an some grabeyahd dut. In duh pilluhs an mattresses an in duh dressuh draws, dey fine duh same ting. Dem tings run uh crazy. She ack queah an run away an stay fuh days at a time. Duh root doctuh moob duh cunjuh an she wuz cuod. He gie uh duh powuh tuh disappeah an appeah any time she want tuh. I heah bout lots uh folks wut kin disappeah lak dat. Duh ole folks use tuh tell bout duh people wut could take wing an fly right back tuh Africa. 69c
"I alluz know deah wuz witches an ghos. Attuh I gits married muh huzbun tell me dat he sees ghos. 59 He describe duh ghos tuh me. It wuzn long fo I wuz seein duh ghos too. Sometime he would say tuh me, 'Deah go a spirit. It jis floatin long, ain got no head.' Sho nuff, deah I would see a shadduh floatin by me.
"Sometime muh huzbun see duh spirit uh some frien ub
ours. Dat wuz a sho sign sumpm gwine happen tuh dat pusson, eeduh sickness aw det. One day he see a ghos ub a close frien uh his. Duh nex. day he git a tiligram wut say duh frien wuz dead.
"I knowd folks dat wuz witches; dey nebuh bodduhed me but jis picked on muh huzbun. Ain a night hahdly pass wen dey ain ride im. 69 Deah wuz a uhmun libed on duh same street we did. We use tuh call uh An Sally, duh cunjuh uhmun. She could tell fawchuns 22 an gib hans 8e, 8d an fix yuh enemies fuh yuh. She ain seem tuh like muh huzbun. Ef she pass our house durin duh day, dat night she come an ride im. 69 Dis went on till he staht pinin away. He git disagreeable roun duh home an denne went away. He ain nebuh come back. I tink somebody git uh tuh fix im. 15 Dat sho convince me uh duh powuh uh cunjuh."
The spirits of the dead are believed to return and visit their former neighbors, sometimes as frequently as in life. 56 Their presence is not always regarded with dread but is often looked upon as a natural incident. One woman made the following statement: "I know deah's ghos, fuh I kin see um. Ef any uh muh friens die, I kin see um mos anytime. Dey peah jis as natchul as wen dey wuz libe."
On the fringe of the community was a small store at which we stopped for a few minutes. The proprietress, a robust, good-natured Negro woman of middle age, talked with us amiably and verified the numerous reports regarding superstitions that her neighbors had already confided in us. In parting we inquired if she thought the people's faith in the supernatural was weakening. The woman regarded us with a wide smile. Shaking her head she declared emphatically, "No, ma'am, dey sho ain losin no faith in magic an sech tings. All deah libes dey heah bout um frum duh ole folks. Seem lak tuh me dey beliebin in um mo an mo all duh time."
35:1 James Washington, Springfield.
36:1 Ryna Bryant, Springfield.
37:1 Stephen Bryant, Springfield.
37:2 Charles Singleton, Springfield.
39:1 Clara Smith, 1139 East Duffy Street.
39:2 Ellen Jones, rear 1304 Stiles Avenue.
40:1 Dorothy Johnson, 1201 Murphy Avenue.