Yaller Gal – The Fortnightly Word

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2019-04-12 01:18Z by Steven

Yaller Gal – The Fortnightly Word

This Cruel War: An Evidence-Based Exploration of the Causes and Ramifications of the American Civil War

One of the things that keeps us from easily accessing primary sources is their language. Though documents from our past are in English, it’s often a very different creation than we know now. I enjoy discovering and understanding words almost as much as I enjoy history. From time to time, I’ll share one of these new old words that I come across. By learning about words we no longer use, we can better understand the past.

The Word this Week is “Yaller Gal.”

I first came across this word while reading some of the slave narratives recorded in the 1930s. Here are a few of examples of how they were used:…

…The word was also used to describe varieties of grits (“yaller hominy”), cake, and even cats. In that light, it seems pretty obvious that “yaller” is “yellow” in a Southern dialect. But while yellow hominy, yellow cake and yellow cats all make sense, what is a yellow girl?

Though Mrs. Southwell’s quote above might be evidence enough, another from Texas makes it clear.

“When massa come home that evening his wife hardly say nothing to him, and he ask her what the matter and she tells him, ‘Since you asks me, I’m studying in my mind about them white young’uns of that yaller nigger wench from Baton Rouge.’ He say, ‘Now, honey, I fetched that gal just for you, because she a fine seamster.’ She say, ‘It look kind of funny they got the same kind of hair and eyes as my children and they got a nose looks like yours.’ He say, ‘Honey, you just paying attention to talk of little children that ain’t got no mind to what they say.’ She say, ‘Over in Mississippi I got a home and plenty with my daddy and I got that in my mind.’” –Mary Reynolds, Black River, Louisiana.

Plainly speaking, a “yaller girl” was a mulatto, a person of mixed-race conceived through some combination of black and white parentage.1 The four examples used above don’t go into too much detail. It was, for the time, a very understood phrase.

A yaller girl had very light skin, but was still considered nonwhite. For many enslavers, when it came to yaller girls, the more white the better. Of course, she could not be purely white, but the more white in her, the more she was wanted as a sex slave…

Read the entire article here.

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Voices of Slavery: ‘They Were Saving Me For a Breeding Woman’

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Women on 2016-08-28 01:55Z by Steven

Voices of Slavery: ‘They Were Saving Me For a Breeding Woman’

This Cruel War: An Evidence-Based Exploration of the Civil War, its Causes and Repercussions

Virginian Luxuries, artist unknown. c1825.

During 1929 and 1930, an Africa-American scholar named Ophelia Settle Egypt, conducted nearly 100 interviews with former slaves. Working then at Fisk University, she was the first person to ever conduct such a large scale endeavor. Accompanied by Charles Johnson, a black sociologist, she was able to get the former slaves to open up about the waning days of the institution. In 1945, she finally published her Unwritten History of Slavery, which collected thirty-eight transcripts of the interviews. Each account, published anonymously, painted a fuller picture of black slavery in Tennessee and Kentucky, where most of the interviewees had resided.

This first account, entitled “One of Dr. Gale’s ‘Free Niggers’,” is surprisingly candid about the rape of slave women by their owners, as well as other aspects of such relationships.

Just the other day we were talking about white people when they had slaves. You know when a man would marry, his father would give him a woman for a cook and she would have children right in the house by him, and his wife would have children, too. Sometimes the cook’s children favored him so much that the wife would be mean to them and make him sell them. If they had nice long hair she would cut it off and wouldn’t let them wear it long like the white children…

…Then there was old Sam Watkins, – he would ship their husbands (slaves) out of bed and get in with their wives. One man (a slave) said he stood it as long as he could and one morning he just stood out side, and when he (the master) got with his wife (the slave), he just choked him to death. He knew it was death, but it was death anyhow; so he just killed him. They hanged him. There has always been a law in Tennessee that if a Negro kill a white man it means death.

Now, mind you, all of the colored women didn’t have to have white men, some did it because they wanted to and some were forced. They had a horror of going to Mississippi and they would do anything to keep from it. A white woman would have a maid sometimes who was nice looking, and she would keep her and her son would have children by her. Of course the mixed blood, you couldn’t expect much from them…

Read the entire article here.

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