FIRST VISIT TO THE COUNTRY.
In September, 1874, early one Sabbath day, I went up the river in a boat to visit Rev. Peterson's church; it was raining and they thought I would not come. I made some visits and said we must get the people together and organize a Sabbath school. It was then nearly noon and they thought I could only eat in a white man's house and so sent me to one of their friends, with a boy for a guide. "How far is it?" I said. "Only up dar," said the boy, but "up dar" meant two miles in the mud. After a little lunch, I returned through the mud and rain the two weary miles. So much for yielding to prejudice. We organized the school and had a meeting of two and a half hours. They took me back in a cart as I was too weary to walk. The next morning I visited another plantation. Wherever I called, the women and children would accompany me to the next cabin, and when we left this one we were recruited by its inmates and so on until I had a large crowd. Then we stopped and had a Bible reading of at least an hour. That was my usual plan of work on those plantations. I found no trouble getting a congregation or pulpit.
About noon, on the Sunday of which I speak, we went in a skiff up the river about five miles to Palmer Elkin's church. They had expected us the day before and so were not ready for us. But I visited and had a meeting as usual during the afternoon and another in the cabin where I lodged until late at night. The next morning a large congregation met me and we organized a Sabbath school, a new thing for both of these churches. The pastor could read a little and we made him superintendent. Through the Sabbath school we led the young people into the churches, for even as early as this many of them were losing their interest in the preaching. Through the Sabbath school many also learned how to read. In 1879 myself and others helped to organize seventy-five new Sabbath schools. They would run for a month or six weeks and then die. We started them off again the next time we visited them and so kept on, until they were strong enough to run the year through. I do not sing. You ask how I could get along without music. I found no difficulty. I had my Bible and with that I could interest an audience two hours, and even when I had those with me who understood music I found that best of all were the
"Beautiful words of the Bible!
Tender and strong and true!
Beautiful words of the Bible!
Old, but yet ever new."
So much singing in all our churches leaves so little time for the Bible lesson. I often wish the choir and the organ might be silenced and the people listen to God direct from His word, which brings conviction to hearts that remain untouched by pulpit eloquence and music. I remember sitting in a church beside a friend who seemed spellbound with the music. I softly asked, "Do you know the words of that hymn ?" "O, no, but the music is grand." "Poor child," I said to myself, "it is the melody in the ear that charms you, it does not touch your spiritual nature, nor will it help you to live a better life."
The colored people loved the Bible in those days; now they listen to organs and choirs like white folks. Do not misunderstand me. I do love music that impresses the meaning of words. But no one climbs to heaven on musical scales. We make too much of the art or science of music, also of the eloquence of the preacher. O, teachers, when your children ask for bread why do you give them a stone?
There were many little villages up and down the banks of the Mississippi where only colored people lived; they called them "free towns." Some one or a number of persons together bought a small tract of land and sold it out in lots. I found the people generally more anxious to own a home then than they are now. Perhaps one reason is that since then many have been driven away from the homes they purchased. I knew many then who went two and three miles from their work on the plantation so as to rest at night in their own homes. These were usually the better class of laborers. I remember a white man who owned a large plantation and was complaining that the laborers moved so often. I said, "Cut a slice off your farm and sell it in lots to each laborer, taking a mortgage until he pays for it. Then when his home is near you he will take a greater interest in your property." But he said, "No, that will ruin my plantation and ruin colored people." So you see it was a difficult matter for the negro to own a home there. I have known a great many who have paid for their homes with long years of toil and then because of some flaw in the deed caused by their ignorance of law or something of that kind, have lost all. Many others have been driven away from their home because of prejudice. Do not blame our dear people till you hear both sides of the story.
WORK IN THE COUNTRY.
In Southern Louisiana our Bible readings during the winter were usually held in private houses because the churches were very open and seldom any fire. Sometimes there was a log heap fire outside the church where we went out to warm and came in to get cold. I never tried the going out, talking and being on my feet kept me warm. In my travels over the plantation I seldom retired until after twelve. We usually organized some kind of work, Sabbath schools, temperance societies, or woman's missions. After the general meeting closed at the church the officers of these followed me to my lodging place to get an extra lesson respecting their duties. Often I took these trips alone, no one seemed strong enough for the journey, or there was not money to pay railroad fare for two.
Let me tell you about a meeting in a little free town about two miles from the village. I came there in the morning and drummed up a meeting, as we say, for the women and children, and a few men, which lasted from two until five in the afternoon, but it was quite cold, so at night we met in a private house. Forty-five persons were crowded into that little room. Many of them were young people who had learned to read. I supplied the people with Bibles in those days. Oh, these meetings were wonderful inspirations to me! Like Paul's they often continued till midnight, but there was no sleeping Eutychus present. I had been traveling for seven days, and working at least eighteen hours out of the twenty-four, and yet this meeting kept me wide awake. I can shut my eyes and see that eager company. The teachers in churches with cushioned pews seldom get up the enthusiasm we felt standing close together, reading by dim light. There was not much singing; they could sing after I was gone, but that sweet old book, the Bible, was the great attraction. Pastor, if you want to feed your flock, and keep them interested, let them all have their Bibles, and each read verse about, and search in every corner of every verse. The answer to most questions are right there, if you look sharp and read and reread. Our meeting finally ended. The family gave me a bed in a cold room. I was very weary, fell asleep, and awoke in about an hour with a hard chill. I called the wife. She came to me, her husband arose and made the fire; the mattress was carried out and laid on the hearth. Some of the sisters came in to help care for me, but the chill continued until 10 a. m. the next day. They wanted to go for a doctor. I said, "No." They did go, but he was not at home. The poor people were always much alarmed when I was sick in their homes, because, they said, "If you die here white folks will say we didn't take care of you, and your friends in the North will say the same." (I have several times been dangerously sick.) Two of the women came to me in great distress that day and said, "Sister Moore, I fear you will die." I asked, "Is there a road to heaven from this little room, if so all right." Then they laughed, and I laughed, too, but I told them not to fear for I was immortal and could not die until my work was done. By noon I was able to sit up. They got a buggy and took me to the village where a meeting was appointed for 2:00 p. m. I conducted the meeting, got well, and went on with my work.
When I traveled over the country I carried my black-board illustrations on a large piece of paper. I drew them with colored crayon, and pinned them up to the walls of the cabin or church. One was called "Wings and Weights," to explain Col. 3d chapter.
I drew two ladders, reaching from earth to heaven. A man on the lower round of one with the weights mentioned in Col. 3:5-9 fastened to his feet, arms, back, head, etc., therefore he stuck and could not move an inch. On the other ladder was a man just flying up towards heaven with the wings given in Col. 3:10-17, fastened all over him. How eagerly they listened. It was a joy to teach them God was with me.
Another lesson was on "Home." I drew a large house. It had a door called "Watchfulness"; windows, "Cheerfulness"; kitchen, "Economy and Health"; bedroom, "Cleanliness and Purity. "A lamp called love, from which streamed golden rays into every corner of the house. Above the door I said was written, "Watch to keep whisky and all bad company out, and yourselves from the saloon, your children off the streets." Over the window, "Be always pleasant and kind, let the children be joyful at home, encourage each other as much as possible."
The people were too extravagant. They did not know how to save or how to cook. I pictured a sweet wife with a clean dress, a glad welcome for her husband, who first saw that wood and water were in and then sung the crying baby to sleep, instead of scolding because supper was not ready. I had much to say about the bedroom. That lamp with the love streaming all over the house was the climax. One night as I was teaching the lesson, a poor wretch of a man walked right up to me saying, "I once had a home just like that, but it is gone. My wife is dead, my sins killed her. My children have gone to the bad," and then he burst into tears and cried like a child. I took his hand tenderly and we sank on our knees. I prayed: I think all in the house were in tears. Then I told them how to be loving and kind and patient with each other's faults, and keep sacred the marriage vows. All hearts were tender and the lesson found its way in. Praise the Lord for His presence and power!
My charts about temperance and missions, found on page 243, always helped to impress the truth. Many of them said I thought all the world had the gospel but we poor black people. I placed in many churches and homes the motto, "Christ is the Head of this House," and said carry all your disagreements to the Head of the house, and don't say, "I'm boss here."
As I speak of this country work I am often asked, "What kind of a bed did you have and what did you have to eat?" and all such questions. The laws of sight say you cannot see two objects clearly at the same time. Now I was so intently seeing those men, women, and children that other things only got a passing glance. It was the immortal soul that I saw distinctly and the almost crushed to death intellect of those dear black people. I remember that they were very poor, that often there was only one spoon for the whole large family with which to sugar their coffee, and sometimes there was no sugar for the coffee. The beds were soiled and hard, and I also remember how glad they were to share all with me. One night I slept in the only bed and the wife and three children on the floor with only a blanket over them, while the husband went?I do not know where for his bed. Since I have been North these last years I have often thought that the larger the house the less room. The same is often true of the richer colored people. I know we rode in a cart from one plantation to another with old chairs for seats, and that the harness was composed of leather, rags, and twine; but since I had no better to give them and they had not better and no money to buy better I was polite enough not to call attention to these deficiencies, but I did teach temperance and economy. Yes, I have taught economy North and South with all my might. If you, dear reader, only used your money for comfort and health you might be able to help those poor people and then sit down and show them how to live decently, and in order. This I did when it was practical, as all who know me will bear testimony. It will not pay to tell you about the broken chairs, the scant raiment, the dirty dishes, the soiled bedding, but this I know, I slept sweetly usually from 1 a. m. to 5 a. m. in each night. I seldom on these trips retired till after midnight. The God who shut the lion's mouth must have closed the mouths of certain troublesome insects so that they did not trouble me, and though the food was not healthy yet God kept me well and vigorous so that I could be used to do His work. Glory to His name.
Perhaps some extracts from my diary may throw further light on my country work, and the condition of the people at that time, in the early 80's.
While waiting at the depot for the train, I show the agent my temperance dynamite, and ask him if we can have "no license law" in this parish. He says: "Yes, if it were not for the niggers," and remarks, "Liquor is as free as water in this parish." I ask him to explain, and he replies: "Every storekeeper treats all who come into his store to buy. It is the custom to give free drinks. I have been a merchant for years and have given away barrels of whisky. This custom has only been since the war." I said, "You do it as a bait to win their custom." "It is done for some purpose," he remarked. "Any one can get at least two or three drinks if he asks for them in any of the stores." I then saw how this was a scheme to cheat the poor colored man, who is especially fond of liquor, and when he is a few drams ahead he will buy anything they ask him to buy; but I said this only to myself.
The train is here, and I go on to Morrow Station, eight miles distant. No one here to meet me, as they promised. I introduce myself to a colored man, who goes off and hunts up a colored woman. She takes me half a mile to the home of an old sister, who is delighted to see me, and says she has often heard of Sister Moore. She owns forty acres here and has a good crop. She is a widow. She calls her grandson to get the buggy and carry me to Big Cane, a church six miles distant. Meanwhile she gives me supper, and while I am eating, a boy comes from Big Cane for me. By this time the family are all in. They have left the cotton patch, which is near by. I read the Bible and have prayer. Only one of all the number here can read, and she is not a good reader. The boy has left his buggy at the depot. Nine of the company follow us to the depot. It is now sundown, consequently it is long after dark before we reach our destination. Bettie Hicks, my hostess, has a fire and supper?for supper, squirrel and cornbread, that and nothing more. I am very cold, but as soon as supper is over we start for church, one mile distant. No stove or fire in the church, but there is one outside. You can go out and warm in the cold wind by the fire. There are quite a number present, many of them children. The teacher here is also a preacher, and he seems glad to have me come. He says "his scholars want to be Christians." They are poorly clad. I fear they will freeze. I talk to them from John 3: 14-18: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness," etc. All give good attention and I believe some have really grasped the plan of salvation. Quite a number of older people are here now. I show my temperance dynamite and talk a little about missions.
At last we are home again. Such a little mite of a house?about 7xI4 feet! The father and son go to sleep at a neighbor's. I used to know Bettie the wife and the children?boy fourteen, girls twelve and ten years old. Bettie and the children can all read a little. We have had a nice fireside talk, Bible lesson and prayer. It is now twelve o'clock, so we retire.
Next morning at nine we go back to the school. I hear some recitations and talk to the children. They have remembered nearly all my last night's lesson. At half-past eleven a. m. Bettie and I start in the buggy for another church, three miles distant. They did not receive the right notice. No one ready to hear, but we send around and hunt up the women and have a meeting. All are discouraged. We made them a visit last summer and started mission work, but they say no money must go outside of their church. They are too poor and need it all. The children would not attend the sewing-schools and parents are too lazy and ungrateful towards those who wanted to help them. All the women said with one voice: "We will not bother with them any more." Sunday school closed. The preacher only comes here once a month. No stove in the church. everybody looks cross and defiant. Now what shall we do? Go and tell Jesus. Then we have a quiet little talk and find that the children did piece one quilt, sold it for one dollar, and that they gave to missions. Besides, several of the children know "Right Hand Glove" and some of the rules of politeness in "Helps." Quite encouraging. Now I really have found something to praise.
One young lady who can read says she will go on with the work with the children, and one sister offers the use of her house, as there is no fire in the church. But they need all the money and will not give any away. I read the "Commission" and reminded them that the Spirit told them when they were converted: "Go ye into yonder world, and tell both saint and sinner what a dear Saviour ye have found." (Many of the colored people tell this experience.) Then I tell about the 856,000,000 that have never even heard that there is a "dear Saviour," and here I have found several good Christian women who have resolved they never shall hear if they can help it. Then I read Romans 10: 12-16: "For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek; for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him," etc. After that read W. W. Colley's letter from Africa and pray.
Now I have talked till my throat is tired. It is five and one-half p. m. I drink coffee and eat cornbread and pork, then start for Morrow Station, eight miles distant; go to a little cabin, wait till ten and one-half p. m. for the train?no depot here?get to Alexandria at 2 a. m., sleep till 7 a. m. This is Saturday; leave at 9 a. m. for La Moria, arrive at 11 a. m. It rains?yes pours down?no one at the depot for me. I get into a cane-wagon and ride a mile in the rain to the house of the Sunday school superintendent. Started a Sabbath school here in June this year. This is my third visit, but the first for four months. The school has lived all the time. A great revival; forty-one baptized; they say it is the result of our Sabbath school work. Many of them are the scholars of the Sunday school. The pastor is very ignorant; cannot read many verses in the Bible correctly. He is a good man in some ways. Notwithstanding the rain, several of the young converts have come to see me. Now it is night; we have a Bible-reading.
It is now 11 p. m., Saturday. My throat again too tired to talk any more. Such a cold house?we shall freeze to-night! No! No. I have repeated several times, Ps. 4:8, "I will both lay me down in peace and sleep: for thou Lord only makest me dwell in safety."
Sabbath morning, 9 a. m. At Sunday school no fire?a little stove, but no wood,?we gather sticks and make a fire. About twenty are present. We have a Sunday school, but all suffer with the cold. The sun comes out; it is now twelve [p. m.] The old people are here; quite a congregation; many of the converts. I teach them the lesson of "home" that I have taught so often lately. Then we have a missionary meeting; reports from a few women, $2 for missions. We talk about the Sunday school and finally decide to divide it into four branches to meet in the homes of the sisters in four different neighborhoods from 12 to 2 p. m. This will not interfere with the regular Sunday school for all who can attend it, and this arrangement only to last during the cold weather. I will let you know how it succeeds. It is now four p. m.?a long session?but one thing ran into another in such a way that it did not seem long. Now it is seven p. m. A company of fifteen are here for a Bible-reading in the cabin where I am to stay all night. Wish I could tell you about our lesson. Eleven p. m. I am again tired.
Monday, 8 a. m. I am on my way to the depot for Lacompt. Have sold seven dollars worth of books to these people, and ordered them seven dollars worth more. Feel quite sure that this dark place has brightened since last June. Ten a. m. No one at Lacompt to meet me. I go to the Quarters. It is very cold, and I am threatened with a chill. I find a quiet little cabin and try to get warm. Too sick to do anything to-day or to-night, only talk to a few women who come in. There has been a revival here, but the Sunday school is dead.
Tuesday morning. I am better; have had a two hours' talk with the pastor; things look a little dark. If I had more strength I might brighten up things a little. Now I have a children's meeting. Find they remember much that we taught them last year. One young man promises to open a Sunday school in his home next Sabbath. Leave for Alexandria at four p. m. Arrive at 6:30. We have a meeting appointed for to-night. I go to the church. Door locked, no light; go to a neighbor's, hunt up the key and have a light. Now we have fourteen present?all discouraged. I read about Noah, and tell them the right road is never crowded. Read Matt. 7:13-14. "Enter ye in at the straight gate." Most of my talk is for my own heart but it has helped the others. Now we have a good meeting and all seem encouraged, even myself.
Wednesday, Nov. 26th, 11 a. m. I have been around visiting--all but two of my women discouraged: the sisters are indolent. This is the harvest of the year, making sugar, picking cotton, etc. All are busy?it is cold and no fire in the open churches; makes it hard to have meetings, and yet the great reason is that we do not put God's work first.
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