Kansas City, Kansas
Mrs. Sarah Fine at 95 Years Recalls Slavery Days
Fort Scott, Kas. -- Echoes of slave days were revived near Fort Scott the other day when Mrs. Sarah Fine tuned down her radio and recalled memories of southern plantations and Civil War times.
Mrs. Fine is a former slave, Ninety-five years old last May, she lives with "Queenie" in a little cottage in Pleasanton. "Queenie" is a little brown and white dog.
As Mrs. Fine settled back in her favorite chair on the front porch of her cottage, her eyes left the 1939 surroundings and she gazed back through the years to bring life again in her clouded memories.
She was born in 1814 in Benton County, Missouri, near Warsaw and Clinton. Her mother and father were slaves on the plantation of Sam Parks, a kindly gentleman with a characteristically sprawling 12-room house and six children.
Sarah was named Parks, because the pre-war custom was to name all slave babies after the plantation owner. She was one of a family of 15 children, all husky active Negro slaves. Four were older than she but today she survives them all. Asked how her mother found time to care for the 15 children, she told the reporter, "She jus' fed the chilluns and turned 'em loose."
Her mother did all the cooking for the 40 persons on the plantation besides milking the cows twice a day. Mrs. Fine's life on the plantation was a peaceful one despite the heavy work. Mr. Parks was a kind master, never beating the adult slaves or mistreating them in any way. Occasionally he switched a Negro boy or girl, but by the time they were ten years old, they were disciplined.
Not all the slave owners in Missouri and the South were as kind to their charges as Mr. Parks. On a plantation about three miles from the Park place, the owner was in the habit of calling his slaves up like cattle every Monday morning and beating them "to make them good for the rest of the week."
Work on the plantation was hard. Mrs. Fine plowed and hoed in the fields, doing the work of a man. "Oh, I was stout as an ox", she said. But when Saturday rolled around the slaves got their weekly vacation. They had no duties until the ensuing Monday morning when plantation life began anew. Over these workless weekends and in the evenings during the week, the Negro slaves would gather before a fire and amuse themselves with the slaves greatest pleasure, singing. "Any evening going by the plantation you never heard such singing", she said. "We sang while we were working, too." Mr. Parks was not one to overlook the education of his slaves. The white children taught the slave children to read and write. Every night after supper the slaves were assembled for a little home schooling.
Self Sufficient Unit
A plantation in the days before the Civil War was a self sufficient unit. Everything needed for life and comfort was raised on the land. For a time Sarah's duties were to make clothing, spinning countless yards of wool and cotton. The slave children born on the plantation were the property of the owner. "O, the white people were proud of those little colored babies", she grinned, "They knew there were money in their pockets." Asked whether slaves were happier free or on the plantation, she said. "Well I don't know. Some were happier free and some weren't, according to how they lived and were treated."
Then with the North and the South treading their separate ways, Lincoln proclaimed his famous Emancipation proclamation and the slaves were automatically freed. But the plantation fared badly after the slaves had departed. Mr. Parks called all his slaves together and told them that they were free to go their own way. They all left. The white owners were not experienced in caring for themselves and soon after the last slave had left, Mr. Parks died. Mrs. Fine firmly believes "he grieved himself to death over the loss of his slaves."
Sarah's father was a man with foresight. Seeing the freedom eventually in store for all of his race, he saved his money, which he made little by little through sales of baskets and brooms made in his spare time. His custom for years was to take a wagon load of his wares to town every Saturday and sell them..
Sarah was 15 years old when she and her family were freed. They came to Kansas and her father took up a government claim on some land near Turkey Creek in Linn County. Food and clothing were supplied to the slaves on the plantation, but no money was given them. Hence, the little money saved by Sarah's father gave them a start in their new life of freedom.
The town of Pleasanton has just a few houses when Mrs. Fine moved there as a young girl. She married Joe Fine, who died 18 years ago. Mr. Fine was a hard worker, an ex-soldier who had served in the Civil War. Often he had a hard time making a living; in fact, Mrs. Fine believes he worked himself to death. They lived on a farm near Sugar Creek, not far from Pleasanton.
Mr. and Mrs. Fine had eight children. Four of whom are living. They are: Bert Fine, Pleasanton; Tom Fine, Wichita; Robert Fine, Kansas City; and Sarah Fine White, Independence. Asked how many grandchildren she had, Mrs. Fine answered, "Well I don't know. It's hard to tell -not so many- only ten."
Today Mrs. Fine lives alone in her little cottage with "Queenie" and her radio. She is perfectly capable of caring for herself, but enjoys the visits of the neighbors who drop in daily. Her son and his wife live nearby and are always visiting Mrs. Fine. Her radio is her main source of enjoyment now that her eyes have gone bad. She is familiar with most of the programs of the airlanes. Other than her failing eyesight she is in good health, has a clear mind and recalls vividly pictures of the past.
-From The Fort Scott Tribune