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Every Tongue Got to Confess - Negro Folk-Tales from the Gulf States.

Foreword by


Edited and with an Introduction by


Reprinted from Every Tongue Got to Confess, Negro Folk-Tales from the Gulf States. Reprinted by permission.

De preacher was up preaching and he said: "Every tongue got to confess; everybody got to stand in judgment for theyself; every tub got to stand on its own bottom."

One little tee-ninchy [tiny] woman in de amen corner said: "Lordy, make my bottom wider."


Man loved preachers an' uster always have uh heap uh stump knockers [preachers] round all de time. He had uh boy dat wuz kinda mischeevous an' one time he made de ole man so mad he tole 'im to git out an' go where he couldn't never see 'im no more. De boy jus' wanted tuh be aggravatin', so he ast 'im where he must go. De ole man wuz so mad he tole him tuh go tuh hell, cause he didn't keer whut become of 'im.

De boy went on off an' thought he would jus' travel roun' an' see de world while he wuz on his way tuh hell. He traveled on till he come tuh de land uh de molly-moes (mile-or-mores). They is great big birds dat sticks they heads down in de ground when they see somebody comin' an' shake they feathers, an' you kin hear de wind whistlin' thew 'em fur uh mile or mo'.

He got by dem all right an' traveled on till he got tuh Head-and-Belly land. Dere all you had tuh do wuz tuh set down on de side uh de road an' wait, an' anything you want tuh eat would come by yuh. Uh baked hog wid uh knife an' fork in his side would come trottin' long an' all you had tuh do wuz tuh stop 'im an' eat all you want--then tell 'im tuh go on tuh de nex' one dat wanted some meat. Fried chickens an' everything come long, an' tater pies an' he et all he wanted; den he went on where he wuz gwine.

Way after while he got tuh hell, but everybody wuz back in de kitchen, an' so when he hailed he didn't git no answer. He didn't see no dogs, so he went on round tuh de back an' heered somebody talkin' in de kitchen an' he got skeered. He thought whut uh bad boy he uster be an' he wuz skeered de devil wuz gointer ketch 'im an' chunk 'im in de fire, but he didn't see de fire. Way after while he got up nerve tuh peep thew un crack an' he seen de devil settin' tuh de table playin' skin wid two or three preachers. One of 'em said: "Seem lak Ah hear somebody outside. Better go look."

De devil played on. De preacher tole 'im agin he thought he heered somebody outside, but de devil got mad an' tole 'im: "Say! you tryin' tuh git me tuh go outside so you kin shuffle dese cards tuh suit yo'self. But Ah ain't goin' no damn where till you fall."

De devil had uh big open fireplace wid taters roastin' in de ashes an' slices uh country cured ham broilin' on sticks an' uh big jug uh likker settin' on de table. Bad Boy wanted tuh git in dere so bad! He wanted de devil tuh ketch 'im after he seen all dat, so he made some noise wid his feet. Afterwhile de devil says: "B'lieve I do hear somebody out dere, but it ain't nobody but uh preacher an' I got too many uh dem here now tuh eat up my rations an' drink up mah likker. He sho ain't gointuh git in. B'lieve I'll go sick de dogs on 'im."

De boy went on way from hell an' kept on travelin' fuh uh year uh two, den he come tuh uh place an' some crackers got 'im. They had uh way uh ketchin' niggers an' keerin' 'em cross on uh island an' makin' 'em work two or three years, an' den if youse uh good nigger, they'd give yuh uh pass an' let yuh go. They paid yuh all right, but you couldn't leave.

Well, de boy staid over dere three years an' saved all his money. Den he got intuh uh crap game an' won uh whole heap uh money, so he made up in his mind he wanted out. So he went on down tuh de boat an' de white man dat run de boat wuz settin' dere readin' uh paper wid his gun layin' on de groun' beside 'im. He had jus' cleaned it. He wouldn't eben look up at de nigger.

He say tuh de man: "Cap'n, Ah'd lak tuh go cross here tuhday."

De white man didn't look up, still he jus' retched out his hand fuh de pass an' de boy says: "Ah ain't got no pass, cap'n, but Ah'm liable tuh give yuh uh couple hunded dollahs fur keerin' me cross."

De white man put down his paper an' looked at 'im an' said: "Oh, you got to, got to lick Venus, got to lick Venus an' her puppies (pistol and six bullets) or you can't cross here." (Sung to the tune of "You must have dat true religion.")

De boy reached in his shirt an' tole 'im, "Ah got uh thirty-two-twenty; b'lieve tuh mah soul it's uh doggone plenty. If dat ain't enough Ah got uh forty-four-forty an' uh pocket full uh cartidges an' Ah'm goin' cross here." (Sung to same air.)

Dat white man looked at dat pistol, begin tuh clap his hands an' says: "Oh, git on board, lil childen, git on board lil childen, git on board lil childen, dere's room for many uh mo'." (Chorus of "Git on board.")

De boy come on cross an' kep' on travelin'. Way afterwhile he come home. He had done been off seben years when he got back. It wuz uh cold night when he come tuh de door an' knocked an' de ole man said: "Who is dat?"

An' de boy said: "It's me, John." De ole man let 'im in an' he looked so well de ole man wuz glad tuh see 'im, so he ast 'im where he been all dis time, an' he says: "You tole me to go tuh hell, didn't yuh? Well, Ah went." He looked round an' seen six preachers settin' tuh de fire.

"Naw! Whut wuz hell lak?"

"Jus' lak here. Ah couldn't git tuh de fire fuh de preachers."

In slavery time Ole Massa had uh nigger an' his name wuz John. He uster go stan' in de chimbley (chimney) corner of nights an' listen tuh whut Ole Massa say, den he'd go nex' day an' tell de other niggers whut tuh do. Ole Massa had done made 'im his foreman anyhow.

One night he heered 'im say, "I'm gointuh have dem niggers plow dat bottom tuhmorrow." Soon ez John got out nex' mawnin' he tole de colored folks, "Well, Ole Massa wants y'all tuh plow dat bottom land dis mawnin'. Hit de grit."

In uh few minutes Ole Massa come out tuh give de orders fuh de day an' he said: "Well, John I wants you tuh have 'em plow dat bottom land tuhday." He says, "Dat's jus' whut I done tole 'em."

They all looked at one 'nother cause they couldn't understan' how John knowed whut Massa wuz gointer say. Massa didn't know hisself, an' John kept on doing dat till finally Massa ast John how he done it. John made b'lieve he could tell fortunes an' read de mind, an' Ole Massa b'lieved 'im.

One day he says tuh John, "John, looka here. I done bet mah whole plantation on you. Me an' one uh mah frien's got tuh arguin' 'bout you cause I tole 'im you could tell anything. He said he bet he could fix somethin' you couldn't tell thout seein' an' so we got it fixed. He's gointuh be here in uh few minutes, an' if you make me lose mah plantation, Ah'll kill yuh."

Well, after while they called Ole John an' they had somethin' under uh turnt-down wash-pot, an' Ole Massa says tuh John, "Now, John, you tell us whut's under dat wash-pot."

John didn't have de least idee whut wuz under dat pot. He walked round an' round dat pot an' scratched his head an' tried tuh see if he could hear anything tuh give 'im uh lead; but he couldn't git de slightes' thing. So finally he give up an' said, "Well, you got de ole coon dis time."

He thought sho he wuz gointer git killed, but Ole Massa give uh whoop an' kicked over de pot and hollered: "I wins, I knowed he could tell. John you gointuh git yo' freedom. Now I got two plantations 'stead uh one."

It wuz uh coon under de pot--but John didn't know it.


(In 1935, on a folklore expedition with Alan Lomax and Mary Barnicle, Hurston recorded John Davis's rendition of this tale.)

In slavery time Ole Massa wuzn't very good tuh John, so John got tired. So one day he made up a plot wid his buddy to fool Ole Massa. So dey put a whole heap uh groceries up a sycamore tree, so when Ole Massa come out tuh de field and started fussin' at John, John said:

"Ole Massa, I am tired de way you treats me. You works me befo' day an' after dark. I specks you gwinter be workin' me by de light uh de moon nex' thing. You don't half feed me. I'm gwine tuh God fur whut I want after dis."

"Well," said Ole Massa, "I feed you, don't I? God don't feed you, do He? So ef you don't do lak I say, you gwinter git plenty on yo' back an' starve, too."

John tole him, "No, I won't neither. I'm gwinter quit work right now an' go ask God for some rations."

So John went on over under de sycamore tree and fell down on his knees. His buddy wuz already up de tree. John begun tuh pray. He hollered, "O Lord, if I be your servant, send me down a sack uh flour." Down come de sack uh flour. "Now, Lord, please send your humble servant a side uh meat and a bag uh rice." Down come de rice and bacon. "Now, Lord, if I ask you tuh throw me down a sack uh meal and a sack uh sugar and a can uh lard and uh ham, if it be Thy holy and righteous will." Down come everything he ast fur.

Ole Massa's eyes wuz poppin'. He didn't know whut tuh do. John got up off his knees and tole Ole Massa, he said: "I'm gwinter git back down on my knees and ast 'im tuh lam dis place wid uh bolt uh lightnin' and kill all dese weeked white folks. B'lieve I'l ast 'im to 'stroy de world."

Ole Massa got skeered and tole John, "Now, don't do dat, John. Ef you don't ast 'im dat, I'll give you your freedom and forty acres an' uh thousand dollars." So he give it tuh 'im and that's how niggers got they freedom.



Two mens dat didn't know how tuh count good had been haulin' up cawn an' they stopped at de cemetery wid de las' load cause it wuz gittin' kinda dark. They thought they'd git through instead uh goin' way tuh one of 'ems barn. When they wuz goin' in de gate, two ears uh cawn dropped off de waggin, but they didn't stop tuh bother wid 'em jus' then. They wuz in uh big hurry tuh git home. They wuz justa 'vidin' it up, "You take dis'n, an' I'll take dat'un; you take dat'un an' I'll take dis'n."

An ole nigger heard 'em while he wuz passin' de cemetery an' run home tuh tell ole massa 'bout it.

"Massa, de Lawd an' de devil is down in de cemetery 'vidin' up souls. Ah heard 'em. One say, 'You take that'un an' I'll take this'un.' "

Ole Massa wuz sick in de easy cheer, he couldn't git about by hisself, but he said: "Jack, Ah don't know whut dis folishness is, but Ah know you lyin'."

"Naw, Ah ain't neither. Ah swear it's so."

"Can't be, Jack, youse crazy."

"Naw, Ah ain't neither. If you don't b'lieve me, come see for yo'self."

"Guess Ah better go see whut you talkin' 'bout; but if you fool me Ah'm gointer have a hunded lashes put on yo' back in de mawnin', suh."

They went on down tuh de cemetery an' it wuz sho dark down dere, too. They stole up in de gate an' heard 'em jus' lak Jack said, but they couldn't see de two ears uh cawn layin' in de gate.

Sho nuff Ole Massa heard 'em sayin', "Ah'll take dis'n" an' de other one say, "An' Ah'll take dis'n." Ole Massa got skeered hisself, but he wuzn't lettin on, an' Jack whispered tuh 'im, "Unh hunh, didn't Ah tell you de Lawd an' de devil wuz down here 'vidin' up souls?"

They waited awhile there in de gate listenin' den they heard 'em say, "Now, we'll go git dem two at de gate."

Jack says, "Ah knows de Lawd goin' take you, an' Ah ain't gwine let de devil git me--Ah'm gwine home." An' he did, an' lef' Ole Massa settin' dere at de cemetery gate in his rollin' cheer; but when he got home, Ole Massa had done beat 'im home an' wuz settin' by de fire smokin' uh seegar.

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Author:Hurston, Zora Neale
Publication:World and I
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2002
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