Drums and Shadows, by Georgia Writer's Project, , at sacred-texts.com
Grimball's Point, lying at the northwestern end of the Isle of Hope on the marshes and creeks that run from the wide Skidaway River, is one of the characteristic spots of Savannah's rural landscape. The lowland spreads grassy flats against the horizon; the squawks of marsh hen rise from the long reeds on Grimball's Creek; all the year round a familiar sight is the Negro fisherman sitting patiently in his small bateau or trudging with his plump catch up an old oak-shaded shell road.
A few white residents maintain comfortable summer homes at Grimball's Point, but the settlers scattered on the southern part of the point are Negroes, former slaves and descendants of slaves who once worked the great plantations on the Isle of Hope and other near-by islands. Some of the inhabitants are employed on Grimball's Point hunting preserve, while others are farmers or fishermen. Their abodes are frame bungalows with front porches or little shacks of one or two rooms, but most of the dwellings are surrounded by sun-dappled yards, fenced with boards or chicken wire. Each has its backyard pump as there is no running water.
Of the ten Negro families on the point, young and old believe in signs and auguries. "Catfish Tom" William, Habersham Gibson, and Solomon Gibson professed to know that "some signs sho do wuk." Thomas Tuten, who has spent his fifty-eight years on the island, warned us that "yuh sho has tuh watch people cuz dey kin do yuh." Aging Aunt Cinda Smith, employed on the old Wiley place, is given the respect
of all the settlers as one who can read signs and interpret dreams.
Solomon Gibson's wife, Mary Liza, 1 a slender black woman of about forty, came to the island from Skidaway upon her marriage. She was an amiable person, not at all disinclined to an interview.
"I kin cook and wash an ion an make baskets an do anyting roun duh house," she said. "Yes, I belieb in many signs. Yuh musn sweep out duh doe aftuh dahk an it bad luck tuh split a tree wen yuh's walkin. Deah's two signs uh det. Ef duh dog holluhs aw a owl hoffuhs, 44b somebody is gonuh die. I lun all dis frum duh ole people an I know it's true."
Bruurs Butler, 2 well past three score and ten, worked for "Capm Wiley" for nearly thirty years and is still an able field hand. He owns his small house, which is equipped with electricity and a radio.
"I wuz bawn on DeRenne place," he told us, "an my mothuh an fathuh wuz owned by Mistuh DeRenne. My fathuh wuz a second sergeant in the Confederate Ahmy. None of us lef duh plantation aftuh duh waw. I wuk crops fuh Mistuh DeRenne till I wuz a young man."
We asked if there had been any Gullah Negroes on the Isle of Hope in the old days and he nodded.
"Use tuh be many 'Golla' people roun yuh but dey all died out. Dey tell me them people could do all kine uh curious tings. Dey could make fahm tools wuk fuh um jis by talkin tuh um. 39a An," he added soberly, "some of um could disappeah at will. 69c Wist! And dey'd be done gone.
"Yuh askin me bout signs? Well," he appeared amused, "yuh'll fine that ef yuh believe sumpm is bad luck an yuh look fuh bad luck, yuh gonuh fine bad luck. Deah's some signs that come frum Gawd, though, and these is unfailin. Lak dreams an foewahnin not tuh do dis aw dat." 22a
One of the oldest of the residents is white-haired F. J. Jackson 3 who remembers his childhood days on "Massuh George Wiley plantation" when many freed Negroes stayed on to work in the cotton fields. Years have weakened his
once sturdy frame and slowed down both thought and gesture, but the light of humor still gleams in his dimmed eyes. We found Jackson in the kitchen of his comfortable frame bungalow, a new house built to replace a little old shanty that was burned down. He was making a casting net, his twisted old fingers still deft with the cords. He conversed like one glad of congenial company.
"Does I membuh ole times?" he repeated in answer to our question. "Yes, I dohn git away frum dis place much now an uh jis sit roan an tink ub a long time ago. Deah wuzn no automobiles an duh only way tuh git tuh Savannah wuz by duh mule an caht aw git in duh road wid yuh foots. Not many uh duh people still livin wut come long wid me. Dey's bout gone. Me an ole man Bruurs Butluh's bout duh onlies ones lef uh duh fus settluhs.
"Yes, I membuhs duh plantation days. Massuh George wuz a slave dealuh to duh waw, an he tuk us all, muh grandaddy, Lewis Hargray, an muh maw, an muh daddy--I name attuh him. Massuh George use tuh buy an sell but he wuz a good man an lot uh his slaves stay wid im on duh fahm attuh freedom. Dat big house in duh ben uh duh road wuz weah he lib, an dey still got duh ball an chain an duh banjo table in duh house now.
"Wen I lef duh fahm an moob tuh duh pint, ain but five wite families yuh. Ain no roadn nuttn, jis woods. I done a lot uh huntin an fishin. Deah wuz plenty uh deahs roun yuh.
"I use tuh go back tuh duh fahm on Satdy night fuh duh big times. Dey hab wut yuh call shouts. Wut kine uh music did us hab?" Jackson's aged eyes twinkled. "We use drum an fife an we made duh drum frum holluh beehive lawg. 25b I tell yuh how we done it. Yuh cut duh lawg an tak a deah hide an stretch obuh duh hole. Den yuh cut a hoop ban dat could lock roun duh lawg. Den yuh cut strips uh deah hide an make bans tuh hole duh head cuvvuh tight. How yuh make duh fife? Well, yuh jis cut reed cane.
"Lots uh udduh tings we make our ownsef," said the old man. "All duh fishin cawd made out uh deah hide, and we make mos uh duh house needs sech as cheahs an tables, baskets an buckets an stools, an sometime spoons an beds and Cubbuds. Oh, deah's much I caahn tell off han."
Jackson's wife, who was not many years past middle age, came in about this time, greeted us, and sat down to listen.
"Wut dis bout signs?" Jackson laughed. "Sho I knows a few. Deah's some dat foetell wut comin. Wen yuh see duh hawgs bring straw in deah mouf, it's a sho sign wintuh goin tuh be cole. Ef duh roostuh come in duh doe an crow an den go out, it's sho sign uh sorruh in dat house. Duh owl is a true messenjuh uh det, 44 an wen yuh see a bunch uh crows flock up, yuh jis watch out fuh a fewnul. Deah's many signs an wunduhs. Duh Bible tell us so. I had a buckeye fuh many yeahs dat keep off bad luck. I use tuh have a hawse shoe ovuh duh doe uh duh ole house wut bun down, 11a but I ain put one on dis un yet.
"Rootn?" he shook his head disdainfully. "I seen duh root man say he tak wuhrums an pins an tings out uh people, but belieb it's some trick. I ain got no fait in dat stuff."
"But I have," put in his wife. 1 "Muh brothuh-in-law wuz fixed by his wife. 15 Not muh sistuh but anothuh woman. He tun intuh a invalid an laid down helpless fuh twenny-five yeahs. None uh the medical doctuhs couldn hep im, an sevral root doctuhs wuz called in. 48a One of um said nuthin couldn be done fuh im cuz the pusson that put im in this fix wuz dead an theah wuzn nobody tuh throw it back tuh. So he had tuh linguh on till finally it reached his haht an he died."
Jackson scratched his bristly chin and smiled sheepishly. "I do belieb in some room," he said, "but uh didn wannuh talk too fas. I seen a root man tak is bag an in it wuz needles an pins an grabeyahd dut an sulphuh an rusty nails, an he made it crawl. 48e
"But nuttn evuh done me hahm," he went on in his gentle voice. "I alluz got wut I want all deze yeahs. Cuz yuh know wy? I hab a black cat bone."
We had heard of the potency of the black cat bone. Other Negroes had told us that it could ward off conjure, cure sickness, or even give its possessor the power to fly. Thus far, however, we had met no one who had acquired so miraculous a charm.
"How did you get the bone?" we excitedly queried. We summoned up visions of Jackson creeping in the dead of night to some lonely spot near a cemetery and shooting a black cat between its glowing green eyes. The actual facts proved far different.
"Wen I wuz a young man," said Jackson, "I ketched a big black cat. Den I made a big fyuh in duh yahd an put on a pot uh watuh an let it come tuh a bile. Den I tied duh black cat up an put im in duh watuh alibe an put a weight obuh duh pot tuh keep im in and uh let im bile tuh pieces. Den I strain duh stoo an separate duh bones an I shut muh eyes an pull duh bones tru muh mouf till uh got duh right one. All deze yeahs I kep dat bone an nuttn ebuh do me no ebil."
92:1 Mary Liza Gibson, Grimball's Point.
92:2 Bruurs Butler, Grimball's Point.
92:3 F. J. Jackson, Grimball's Point. Deceased July, 1940.
94:1 Della Jackson, Grimball's Point.