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