One day, in the middle of the Great Depression, an interviewer from the Federal Writers' Project knocked on the door at 1915 Nance Street in Houston.
He was there to see 'Aunt Laura' Cornish, a former slave.
The FWP interviewers would eventually collect stories from over 3200 former slaves. These narratives depict the treatment of slaves by slave owners as mostly falling into two categories: depraved sadism and bizarrely dysfunctional family (which was often the genetic case.)
But Aunt Laura had a unique story to tell. She was born on the Isaiah Cates Day plantation near Dayton in Liberty County (the town was named for him.) I. C. Day was a different breed of cat.
Here's Aunt Laura's story in her own words:
"We 'longs to Papa Day, his name Isaiah, but us all call him Papa Day, 'cause he won't 'low none he cullud folks to call him master.
He say us is born free as he is, only de other white folks won't tell us so, and our souls is jes' as white, and de reason us am darker on de outside is 'cause us is sunburnt. I don't reckon dere am anybody as good to dere cullud folks as he was.
De only work Papa Day 'lows us chillen do am pick de boles close to de ground, and dat mostly fun, and us ride to de house on de wagon what takes de pickin' at night.
Papa Day don't make he cullud folks work Saturdays and Sundays and dey can visit round on other plantations, and he say nobody better bother us none, either.
One time us chillen playin' out in de woods and seed two old men what look like wild men, sho' 'nough. Dey has long hair all over de face and dere shirts all bloody.
Us run and tell Papa Day and he makes us take him dere and he goes in de briar patch where dem men hidin'. Dey takes him round de knees and begs him not tell dere massa where dey at, 'cause dey maybe git kilt.
Dey say dey am old Lodge and Baldo and dey run 'way 'cause dere massa whips dem, 'cause dey so old dey can't work good no more.
Papa Day has tears comin' in he eyes. Dey can't hardly walk, so he sends dem to de house and has Aunt Mandy, de cook, fix up somethin' to eat quick. I never seed sech eatin', dey so hongry.
He puts dem in a house and tells us not to say nothin'. Den he rides off on he hoss and goes to dere massa and tells him 'bout it, and jes' dares him to come git dem. He pays de man some money and Lodge and Baldo stays with Papa Day and I guess day thunk dey in Heaven.
One mornin' Papa Day calls all us to de house and reads de freedom papers and say, 'De gov'ment don't need to tell you you is free, 'cause you been free all your days. If you wants to stay you can and if you wants to go, you can. But if you go, lots of white folks ain't gwine treat you like I does.'
For de longest time, maybe two years, dey wasn't none of Papa Day's cullud folks what left, but den first one fam'ly den 'nother gits some land to make a crop on, and den daddy gits some land and us leaves, too."
I haven't been able to find much on Isaiah Cates Day, other than one genealogical reference that claims he was three-quarters Choctaw (his mother full-blooded and his daddy half) and that he came to Texas from from Shelby County, Tennessee.
If you know anything, please pass it on. I'd be grateful for any information.