Sixty five Years in Eufaula
By David Frost
Vol. 7, No. 3, 1985, pp. 30-37
I am DAVID FROST, Jr.
This is an account of my life in Eufaula, Alabama and my family struggle for survival.
This account parallels the struggles of Blacks in the rural south during this period. It presents a series of my experiences and is written with the dialect and grammatically terms of the section in question, and in my own tongue.
My New Year’s resolution for 1977 was to finish writing the story of my life, and the history of my family tree. I have started to write several times in the past, but I stopped. Now I plan to write every time I get a chance.
I was born January 22, 1917. So I have a long story to write. Maybe I can get it all in one book. I can remember back to the time I was three years old.
It was two things in particular that had lasting effect on my life.
No. 1–Watching my parents make moonshine in our back yard in a washpot, which I will write about later on in this book. No. 2–Listening to my parents tell the story of
Willie Jenkins being lynched here in Barbour County? And how the Peterson boy was lynched here in Eufaula. My parents would tell it just like it had just happened.
However, later on I learned that the Peterson boy had been Lynched a little before I was born.
The Hegley girl (colored) worked for some white people on Cherry Street here in Eufaula. The Peterson boy was her boyfriend. Every night, the Peterson boy would meet his girl friend and walk her home from work. The streets were not lit up with lights like they are now and the Peterson boy would wait out in the street until his girlfriend get off work and then they would walk home.
But this particular night, a white girl came out the house. She was walking straight toward him like his girlfriend had been doing and he did not know she was white. Thinking that it was his girlfriend, he said, “Here I am.”
It frightened the white girl because she was not expecting anybody to be out there. So she screamed, which frightened the Peterson boy and he ran away.
The Peterson boy lived on the Bluff on the Chattahoochie River here in Eufaula. A mob got together, led by Dr. Britt, who- also lived on Cherry Street and they went to the Peterson’s boy’s home and took him away from his parents and sisters and brothers, tied him behind a wagon, and dragged him through the streets of Eufaula and took him out near Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. They took him and castrated him and hanged him on a large oak tree and they shot him to death.
In those days, when I was young, you could hear talk of white people lynching a colored person every week. I heard that in 1882 Tuskegee started to keeping records of lynchings in the United States. I wonder if Tuskegee has the record of the of the Peterson boy? Of course, I know it was many more lynchings that I did not hear about.
Listening to my parents tell about the lynching of the Peterson boy made me very afraid of white people. My mother taught me never to touch a white woman.
We lived five miles out the city of Eufaula on the Old Batesville Road. Going back and forward to town, we had to go through a place called Prime Bottom where a white man named Mr. John Brown and his wife used to run a store. Most of the time we would stop our wagon by the store and buy some things. One particular time we stopped and my mother had to hold the mule. She gave me a nickel and a stone jug and told me to go in the store and get a gallon of kerosene. I went in the store and the white woman drew the kerosene and went to hand it to me and her hand almost touched my hand and I dropped the jug of kerosene and broke it because I did not want that white lady to touch me. Mrs. Brown got another jug and gave us another gallon of kerosene. When I got back on the wagon, I got a good scolding from my mother for breaking the kerosene. I could not understand me being so afraid of white people and my mother was not.
My mother, Mary Bishop Frost, and my father, Samuel David Frost, Sr. married in 1916. In 1918 my parents rented a farm on the Brown place which joins the Major Frost plantation and when I first remember myself, my parents had a mule named Ada and a one-horse wagon and my mother was doing the farming and my father was working at the sawmill. I haven’t been able to figure out how my mother did so much work and, at the same time, having a baby every year. In 1919, I had another brother born in October. At that time, I was just beginning to remember things. My mother would take us to field on a wagon and leave me and my sister on the wagon in a cotton basket while she picked cotton.
After my mother had worked all day and my father had worked all day at the sawmill, my mother would cook and we would eat and when our beer was ready to run, which was in a 30 gallon barrel in the closet in the house, my parents would take it out of the house in the backyard and cook it in a washpot and run it through a pipe about as big as my finger and about half as long as I am tall. Sometime they would work all night and make enough to drink. I would stay awake and watch as much as I could.
A little before I was six years old, my parents stopped making moonshine for a while. My father bought a two horse wagon and by this time he had two mules, one named Maude and the other one named Rhodie. My father began to haul lumber for Hicks Lumber Company. I always got to go with my father.
We had to go through Eufaula and go through the covered bridge that reached across the Chattahoochie River to go to the Georgia side. We would always leave home before day in the morning. When day broke, I would be up on the lumber hack shelving lumber down to my father for him to load on the wagon. Every piece of lumber he loaded on that wagon, I shelved down to him.
Sometimes it would be so cold and frost all over the ground that father would make a fire to warm by. My hands
would be so cold, I could hardly get down off the lumber hack to warm them. My mother bought me a little pair of brown gloves which helped a little but that lumber soon tore them up.
On my sixth birthday, my mother told my father that she wanted me to stay home and help her because she wanted to make me a birthday cake. They had an argument because my father told her he needed me to help him work. However, my mother won the argument and my father agreed to let me stay home with mother and she cooked me a birthday cake and that seemed to be the happiest day of my life. That was the first time in my life I had got enough cake to eat.
In February, 1923, my parents started to buying a small farm from Mr. Ray Irby, who was a very fine man and always helped us. My parents built a small two-room house of rough green lumber from the sawmill. Everybody in the community helped and they built the house in one day, except for the chimney which took a little longer. However, when that lumber dried, it was cracks in the house everywhere. My mother solved that problem by getting some paste board boxes and sealing the house.
That year my father went up north to Pittsburg to work in the steel mill. Before my father left, he hired our cousin Charlie Jackson to work and plow for us while he was away. Charlie was about eleven or twelve years old at that time.
We would work on the farm up until Thursday night. On Friday, Charlie and I would take the mules and wagon and go haul a load of lumber to the plainer mill at Lugo to get some money to help out. My father would send money from up north, but it seemed that we would always be in a tight.
In 1924, my father went back up north to work for the last time. He came back before the year was out and started to work for Reeves and Marshall Wholesale.
Along about then, a whole lot happened. My father started back to making moonshine and he bought his first car for $10.00. It was a 1914 Model T Ford.
We children would get to go to town often after my father got that car because he would carry us along to help push up those hills and for us to fix flat tires.
We had our small moonshine still and we would make moonshine at night, sometimes a quart, sometimes a half-gallon, and when we started to make a gallon at the time, we thought we were in big business.
Along about this time, we were still farming, also cutting and hauling firewood to town to sell. Also burning and selling charcoal. Also my mother would raise chickens. Every Saturday, my mother would carry two fryers to town to sell to Mrs. Hicks for 25 cents each. That was a lot of money. The rest of the people would pay my mother only 15 cents a chicken.
It was against the law to have any kind of whiskey. Only the rich white people could have whiskey and the law would not bother them.
About the time, a white man bought my father a copper still and taught my father how to make good moonshine. The white man would bring my father sugar to make whiskey. Sometimes our house would be full of white people with their girlfriends, drinking moonshine.
We were always afraid of the law, but when these white people were at our house they told us we did not have anything to worry about and the law never came. However, if a crowd of colored people gathered up around our house we would always see the law coming. Of course, when we saw the law coming, my parents would give one of us children the whiskey to run to the opposite side of the house from the way the law was coming and we would run and hide the moonshine in the woods.
One time, some of us children were in the yard and one of the laws, Mr. Marshall Williams, told us to go in the house. However, I did not go fast enough for him, so he kicked me. I turned around and hit him upside his head as hard as I could. Then the whole gang came after me. I could not get in the house, so I ran under the house. While they were figuring out how to get me out, my father came back. I came out then because I was now ready to fight.
Mr. Williams told my father, “David, that boy you got yonder ain’t got good sense. I told him to go in the house and he acted like he didn’t want to go, so I kicked his butt and he turned around and hit me and if it had not been for the good Lord, I would have killed him.”
My father told him, “That’s something I don’t do, kick any of my children and don’t you kick any of them.”
Mr. Williams asked my father, “Is you got good sense?” Mr. Williams told my father, “You teach that boy how to act when white people come around because I don’t want to hurt him.”
Somewhere down the line, after I stopped being afraid of white people, I began to hate most white people.
It is many colored people in their graves because they forgot to say sir to a white man. I remember one my uncles who forgot to say sir to a white man and the white
man wanted to kill him. From that day on, my uncle and me stayed as far away from the man as we could. The man is now dead and so is my uncle.
However, all the colored people did not always lose when they came face to face with a white man.
I remember Bishop D. Ward Nichols in St. Luke A.M.E. Church in Eufaula, telling how everybody, no matter how little you think of them, is good for something. He said once he was in a small town in Florida, and his sister had been telling him how the white people there were and they did not like to see colored people dress up. He said he had to catch the train at a small station where they had to stand outside. He said a white man came up cursing every colored person that was there. He said the man started on just the opposite end of where he was and came toward him, cursing and asking the colored people where they were going. He said he was the Bishop and he was very scared and he did not know what he was going to tell the white man when he got to him. But, he said, just before the white man got to him, it was a colored man sitting down that did not look like he was fit for anything. The white man cursed him and asked him where he was going, old nigger. The colored person did not say anything. The white man asked again, “I say, where are you going, old nigger?”
The colored man said, “I was going to Atlanta, but if you call me a nigger again, I will be going to hell and I will send you on in front of me.”
In 1932, all the people that owed the bank were being foreclosed on. The bank was taking everything they had. When they came to our house, my mother was in the bed sick. Mr. Beasley was the boss, so he came in the house and told my mother how sorry he was to have to take the little we had, which was a little corn and one mule. In the meantime, while he was talking to my mother, he had already sent Mr. Edmond Drewery and the other man with him to our lot to catch our mule.
In the meantime, Mr. Beasley was walking out the house. We told mother that they had caught our mule. I had never seen my mother get out of the bed and put her clothes on so fast before in my life. By the time Mr. Beasley got out of the house and in the yard, my mother was out there too and told them to take the bridle off that mule and put her back in the lot. They got mad with my mother but she and all of us was ready to fight. That same day, they took everything from my grandfather, including his mule, wagon and buggy. That same day, they went and cleaned out my great-uncle, Rev. Lee Jackson. Mr. Beasley told Rev. Jackson that he had never seen such a nigger as my mother before, but he was going back and take every chair out of her house. Well, that has been 45 years and he hasn’t been back yet.
When my father was in prison, we still tried to make moonshine whenever we could get as much as 10 lbs. of sugar. My mother would send us children to make moonshine. We would make such a poor grade until our mother had to go with us and try her hand. However, we all failed and were no longer able to buy sugar, so we had to stop.
That year, 1932, coming up to the 28th of May, at night we ate everything in the house for supper. My mother thought all of us were asleep, I heard my mother praying and asking God to please make a way out of no way for us to get some food. I could not sleep all that night, laying in the bed and wondering how we were going to get our next meal of food.
However, soon the next morning, my mother’s prayer was answered. My Uncle Henry Bishop came by and bought a yearling cow from my mother to barbecue at Cedar Hill Church, celebrating the 28th day of May. The cow weighed about 300 or 400 lbs. My mother sold the cow for $3.00. In those days $3.00 was a lot of money. My mother took that $3.00 and went to town and bought enough groceries to last a long time. My mother knew how to make the groceries last. We never had quite enough to eat, but it was enough to
keep us alive.
In our section, we did not celebrate the first of January, when we were freed from slavery. We all celebrated the 28th of May. My mother said, although we were freed January 1, we did not find out that we were free until the 28th of May, and that is why we celebrate that day. Along about this time, the government was giving away some dark brown flour. When my mother found out about it, she would walk to town and stand in line all day long and if she was lucky, they would give her a 24 lb. sack of flour.
When my father did get out of prison in August 1932, we were gathering our crop (pulling fodder). We were thinking that things were going to get better as soon as my father got home, but it did not work that way because my father could not find a job and the $10.00 that they gave him when he left prison was soon gone.
However, my father soon got hold of 25 lbs. of sugar and he went in with Mr. John Walker and he started back to making moonshine. Mr. John Walker was the father of Lloyd Walker. Mr. Walker was old and a former slave, but he knew how to make good moonshine.
While we were sitting around the still watching the moonshine run, Mr. Walker would tell us how things happened back there in slavery times. Mr. Walker said they would fasten his mother up with a large, big-limbed man and force her to breed from him. He said if she did not want to have the man, they would take her out and beat her and put her back with him. He said his mother had no other choice. He said his mother had three sets of children and her master sold all of them except him. He said he was sickly and looked puny and no one would buy him. He said his master sold one baby out of her mother’s arms to a man in Geneva, Alabama. He said they never saw him again. Mr. Walker said the plantation he lived on, when it rained, the slaves would sing, “more rain, more rest.” The master would ask what they said, they said, “more rain, grass grow.”
In 1938, I married Lillian Catherine Webb. She was a schoolmate of mine and a playmate. She went on to finish school, but I had to stop halfway through the seventh grade and go to work. Me being the oldest of 12 children was rough in those days.
After I married, I got me a job at the sawmill, working for Mr. Woodney Lawrence for $1.00 a day. I never could make ends meet, so I put me up a small still of my own, making two and three gallons of moonshine at a time. I would work at the sawmill at day and at night, once a week, I would make moonshine.
In 1939, somebody told the law that I had a whole lot of people around me on the weekend and I was making a lot of money. So the law set out to catch me to get some of the whole lot of money that they thought I was making.
One day the law came to our house searching for moonshine. After they could not find any, they went around my yard and in my crib and picked up all the empty bottles and jugs they could find and told me they were going to take me down and let me pay them a little fine because they had heard I was making a lot of money and I ought not mind paying a little fine. I told them that I was not going with them.
They told me, “Oh yes you are.” And told me to go in to the house and put on my shoes. I went in the house like they told me, but I did not come back out. I got my rifle and stepped out the back door and went down through the woods. By that time, my wife had fainted and a crowd had gathered around my house.
The law gave my father a bond for me to sign and told him to tell me when to come to court. They told my father they were not going to hurt me because I did not have good sense. My good judgement told me that they were mad at me and I should stay out of their way until court.
However, my cousin Elijah Snipes told me that he knew where a fortune teller named Rev. Gardner could fix me so the law could not bother me and they could not convict me in court. My cousin Elijah took me to Rev. Gardner. Rev. Gardner told my fortune. I mean he told me a lot of lies. He told me to give him a dime out my pocket. He took the dime and took some kind of little roots and sprinkled some kind of powder on it and he sewed it up in a small rag with my dime which make a joe-moe. Rev. Gardner told me to take my joe-moe and wear it in the toe of my shoe and when the law saw me, they would look the other way. He also told me to catch him nine ants and bring them to him and when the day of the trial come, he would fix those ants and take them to the courthouse and the judge could not convict me. Rev. Gardner charged me $3.00, which was over a half week’s work at that time.
Me being very young, I believed what Rev. Gardner told me and the next day, I went to town. Two of the city police saw me and they did not look the other way, like Rev. Gardner said they would. They arrested me and took me to
the jailhouse and told me to get out the car and, as I was getting out the car, one of the laws knocked me down and got in my stomach, stomped and kicked me until I was almost unconscious. Then they put me in jail and told me they were teaching me some sense. A few minutes later, they sent Mr. Bill Irby to turn me out.
That day, I started to planning and trying to figure out how I could get all the white together who had mistreated me and kill all of them at one time. I was never able to figure out how to get all those people together at one time, because more than a dozen people had mistreated me. I knew that if I killed all those people, some of them would kill me. But I figured it was worth it.
However, all that hate I had bunded up against white people have disappeared now. In fact, it all did not disappear until years later when Dr. King continued to teach to love everybody. I have found out that I am a combination of Dr. King and Malcolm X because I will also fight like Malcolm X would.
The Supreme Court passed the law in 1954 that the schools had to be integrated. I was at PTA one night and Dr. T. J. Lee got up in the meeting and said the Supreme Court had ruled that the schools be integrated and we should prepare our children to be ready to go to integrated schools. The people started grumbling and told Mrs. Smith to make Dr. Lee sit his crazy self down because he knew very well that no colored and white was going to school together in the South.
Soon after the Supreme Court ruling, the white people got very busy in Eufaula to buy up all the colored people’s property that was close to the school. They also built the colored a new school which was better than the white school.
In the meantime, I was still living in the country, but I owned some property close to the white school in Eufaula and the Housing Authority was trying to buy my property for only $3,200. I had heard about Thurgood Marshall and I tried to get the group to hire him for our lawyer. However, we contacted Mr. W. C. Patton of Birmingham and he advised us to hire Atty. Fred D. Gray of Montgomery. We did hire Atty. Gray.
That was when I got a chance to meet the great Dr. M. L. King Jr. At that time, he was at his home getting well from the stab wound he got from that woman in New York.
Atty. Fred Gray sent me, Rev. Lee Holmes, Rev. Adolph Cuming, and Mr. Steven Tate by his home to see Dr. King.
In the meantime, Atty. Patterson had outlawed the N.A.A.C.P. in Alabama and most of the colored people were afraid to mention the name of the N.A.A.C.P. in Eufaula, but I was not. We had to stop having our meetings and stop paying our dues in Eufaula. That was in November, 1957. I took me out a life membership in New York. So far as I know, I am the only lifetime member of the N.A.A.C.P. in Eufaula la. Atty. Fred D. Gray went to work for us here in Eufaula la and, although the white people were able to get the colored people from around the white school, they had to pay all of us a fair price for our property.
In the meantime, the State of Alabama had come up with all kinds of tricks to keep colored people from voting. I took my wife to register to vote. They took out a book and asked her all kinds of silly questions and then told her she could not register because she did not pass. However, my wife and I studied and got the answer to every question that they asked. So when the board met again in the next two weeks, we had to drive 20 miles to Clayton to meet the board. When we got to the board, they would not let me go in with my wife. I had to stand out in the hall. My wife went in and soon came out. I asked her did they register her. She said, “No.”
I went to the door and asked why they did not register my wife?
Mr. Stokes jumped up and pointed his finger in my face and told me they had examined her and she did not pass and he did not want to hear any more about it. His face turned red like he wanted to fight.
My wife said they did not ask the same questions that they had asked before. They told her they had 200 different questions and they could ask her any on of them they pleased. I think history will record that those people at the board acted very childish. However, I came home that same day and wrote the Justice Department in Washington and Mr. Stokes did not hear any more about it until they had him in Federal Court in Montgomery.
When colored people started to registering to vote and we got Atty. Fred D. Gray in Eufaula so that we could get a fair price for our property, it made a lot of white people mad. They would ride by my house at night and throw rocks on top of my house.
The white people were determined to block me from making an honest living, so they sent three carloads of law to
my night spot on Saturday night. My place was packed with people. The laws came in with their rifles and pistols and got in the middle of the crowd and took his rifle and shot two shots straight through the top of my building. They then went across the road to my house and started shooting at my porch light with their pistols and rifles until they shot holes all in my house and shot out my porch light.
That did the work for them. My customers stopped coming to my place and I had to close up. The holes that the law shot in my house and my night spot are still there for any one to see who wants to.
When you have the officers of the law enforcing economic pressure against you, you just cannot make it.
I had no other choice but to start back making moonshine. I had spent quite a bit of money building my night spot, so I was determined to make it pay off. So this time, I put me up a still in the basement. I would be making moonshine and peeping out the window and watching the law ride along the highway looking for my still. One of my white friends told me that the state, county, and city spent many thousands of dollars trying to catch me and send me to prison. I knew when I put that still in that building that sooner or later the law was going to catch me and probably send me to prison. But I figured that being in prison could not be any worse than being tormented by the law all the time.
As I said, I never gave up what I thought was right and I never gave up trying to get colored people registered to vote, so the law never gave up harassing me.
Since they had outlawed the N.A.A.C.P. in Eufaula and the colored people in Eufaula did not know what to do, so I went to Birmingham to get some advice from Mr. W. C. Patton. Mr. Patton gave me some information on how to organize a Barbour County Improvement Association. I went around and got a group of people to meet me at the Eufaula Baptist Academy. On a Thursday night, in January, 1962, we met at the school and organized the Barbour County Improvement Association. After organizing, they turned around and elected me president, which I did not want to be. I wanted somebody to be president that had more education than I had, but everybody was afraid. So I accepted the job because I did not have enough sense to be afraid.
The same night I was at the school and we were organizing the Association, the law was out to my house, setting a trap to catch me. My wife told me the dogs were barking all while I was gone. Of course, the law knew I was gone because they knew better than to hang around my house at night when I was home.
The law caught me in that trap the next morning. I had just taken my five year old daughter to kindergarten school in Eufaula, and I was supposed to pick her up that afternoon. However, I could not pick her up because, when I got back home, the law came by and made me unlock my building and they took me in to the still and put handcuffs on me and took me to jail.
While I was in jail my wife said it looked like everybody in town came out to look at my still and take pictures. There were people at the jail ready to sign my bond, but one of the deputy sheriffs took the bond and went off and hid. They wanted to keep me in jail until they could steal everything from around my house that they could get their hands on. My wife watched out the window while they broke in my workshop and took all my tools out. Mr. William Adams was the sheriff at the time and my wife watched him take my grandfather’s scales that he used to weigh cotton with.
Those scales had been in the family for many years and the family wanted me to keep them because they knew I would take care of them. We asked Mr. Adams for those scales and tools until he died, but he never gave them back to us. Mr. Adams had a son that is an attorney in Clayton, Alabama. We are hoping that one day his son will turn those scales back to the family. We forgive Mr. Adams and the rest of the laws for taking those other things, but we will never forgive them for taking those scales.
Judge Jack Wallace gave me a big surprise at my trial. I was looking for him to give me a year and a day, like he had been giving all the other people for making moonshine. But Judge Wallace gave me three years. Then I realized that the one year was for the moonshine and the two years were for my Civil Rights activities.
They sent me to prison in October, 1962. While I was in Clayton jail, waiting to be sent to Kilby, I started to writing to the officials in Barbour County, criticizing them for mistreating colored people. They got very mad with me while I was still in jail. While in prison, I got a chance to learn a whole lot.
There I was with all that concrete under my feet and over my head and steel all around me. I was exactly like Jonah in the belly of the whale and I did exactly like Jonah did. I began to call on God and God answered my prayers.
Soon I had to go before three doctors for them to examine me to see if I was crazy. When I went before the doctors they had a stack of my letters that I had wrote to Barbour
County. They began to read those letters and asked me questions about them and had me to explain everything I had wrote on those letters. They also had a book that they asked me questions out of. I answered all of those questions correctly. Those doctors began to look at each other and said, “This man is not crazy.” They told me I only wrote facts and the people back in Barbour could not stand facts. They told me the ones that thought I was crazy, they were the ones that were crazy. They told me the trouble was there were some people back in Barbour County that did not want me back. Of course, I already knew that and I had planned not to go back to Barbour County when I got out of prison. But I had fooled on my own self, because as soon as I got out of prison, I went straight back to Eufaula and Barbour County and I started right back to making moonshine.
I did not make moonshine long before the law started tearing up my still again. But what made me stop making moonshine for good was, I found out I cannot run fast anymore. Most of the time when I ran, I caught a cramp and fell out. For that reason, I knew the law would catch me. I think I will have to stop making moonshine for good.