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Kids@Work

COTTON SLAVE, US, 1861

Seely is my one name, I do not have another.

My owners live in the big house and all have a second name. Maybe that name is also mine?

We have no family like they do, with father, mother and children, but we who pick the cotton are like a family with many members. Once, Cookie told me John was my brother, and little Doris my sister. When I asked who then were our father and mother, she looked away and said, "Never you mind, child. All these children are your brothers and sisters." But Dorrie and John do look most like me, our noses long and eyes light.

I don't care much for picking cotton, bent over the whole day long, sun beating down on me, peeing where I can with everyone knowing and overseers watching that I don't take too long. Picking worms and jagged little sticks from the cotton bolls, and feeling the sack get heavier, and the sun get hotter as each long day passes. I'd sooner be a house slave, but I have no say in that.

Once, when I was still too small for picking, Pate the mule driver took me into the town, to "keep me out of people's way," he said. Only thing I remember is, I saw my mama. She was sold after I was born, they say. Another wagon passed our way, with slaves in back, on way to the cotton fields. Pate pointed to a woman and said, "See, child, there is your mother!"

He held me up, and her eyes got large. She cried out and stood, but her driver hit her with his whip and pushed her down. Long as we could, we looked at one another. I never went to town again, and never saw her more, but I remember.

The house slaves tell us all they overhear in the big house. They say the master talks of battles to the north. He says we are "The South", and the South will soon be free.
But I don't think he means for me.

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