Now my story  can be told since we got

the emancipation and Mr. Lincoln done

freed all the slaves. He died for that,

you know.  That actor fella up and

shot and killed the President but we

had already been declared free. But

this all happened long ago and that

Great War seemed to go on forever.

afore that war ever got started,

we was slaves.

There was my brother, Moses, and me

and we escaped from Alabama, you

see, with just the clothes on our backs,

but Moses had a knife and I had my

banjo. I couldn’t hardly leave my

banjo behind,  you know.  Moses

laughed at me over that.

We snuck off in the middle of the

night, goin’ through rivers and criks

to throw off the dogs and I can tell

you, I was scared of the water

moccasins and alligators but you

are more scared of the dogs and the

men and their guns and ropes

so you just keep goin’ because  you

know, sure as God made lil’ green

apples that if you get caught you

will be beat to death or wish you had.

We just kept goin’.

I hated to leave Susanna behind like

that but she was a house slave and

a’sides, she was gonna have our

baby.  Moses and me, we made it to

Louisiana but you know, you are

still not safe.  We stole potatoes in

some fields and green corn that is

not too good to eat when you have

to keep moving; we just kept goin’.

Then from New Orleans, we headed

north following the big Mississippi river.

We didn’t always know which way to go

but we just didn’t know any better.

And we had heard tell  that if you

follow the big river long enough,

you will get away from the south

and slavery.  So, that’s what we did.

We hid in the grass and weeds by

day and we trudged forward,

north, by night.

sometimes we could hear the dogs,

from a great distance.  We was both

bit up from the mosquitos.  We

was hungry and we was tired but

we kept going, doing all that we

could to keep from  getting caught.

sometimes we laid down in the river

and breathed through reeds

whenever we heard anybody

getting too close.  It was a

terrible time, let me tell you.

In Springfield, we found refuge

and when a young white feller

said he was going to California

and that there warn’t no slavery

in that place, Moses and I ast

if we could go along with him.

He said we had to pretend we

was his slaves and tho’ Moses

and I didn’t much like the idea

We could see the sense of it.

This fella knew someone who

made up fake papers for us,

and got us some better looking

trousers and shirts so we didnt

look so raggedy, and we

traveled along some more

until we made it to St Joseph

where we joined a wagon train

going to California and we all

worked hard to pay our way

and be allowed to travel

with this group.  and our

friend, he turned out to be

a good feller.

At night there would be fires

around the wagons and I’d

get out my banjo and play

everything I knew and all

the white folks on that

wagon train, you know,

they all liked to hear my


Come hard times, crossing prairie

and mountains and desert,

rivers and all sorts of places

on that trail that you would

not believe unless you saw it,

and those white folk would moan

and complain about how hard it

was, Moses and me, we’d just

smile to our selves ’cause white

folk don’t know nothing about

a hard road.  We could tell them

plenty about a hard road.

Acourse we didn’t try to tell

any of them anything.

Oh, Susanna, don’t you cry

for me. I had a dream and

you were running down the

hill to greet me and when I

had that dream, I told Moses

I knew you were dead.

Moses and me, we done

made it to the promise land.

It is called California. And

that feller who helped us out,

he found gold in California and

got rich.  He gave us our fake

papers and that helped us get by.

Nobody really cares about those

things in California. Everybody is

busy getting rich.

Moses and me, we worked

for a woman who did laundry

and got rich doing that.

Can you picture it?  People

got rich doing every manner

of thing, and at night we went

to the saloons and I played my

banjo for the white folk.  They

clapped their hands and tapped

their feet.  I played  Oh Susanna

don’t you cry for me  I came from

Alabama with my banjo on my knee.


Sandra Lee Smith

Originally posted May 26m 2010

Updated October 16, 2018




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