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Sykes, Sam {recalls underground railroad}


Posted By: Deborah Brownfield - Stanley (email)
Date: 1/25/2005 at 09:19:28

Fairfield Ledger
May 13, 1931
Page 4



"I'll tell you, I used to know an "underground railroad man" when I saw him" says 84 year old Sam SYKES, as he recalls the days when he himself, was a slave down in Mississippi on a big cotton plantation there.

An "underground railroad man" as Sam says, was the name for a slave who by the help of sympathetic white people would escape from bondage by being transported during the night from one station to another in a covered wagon, to go up north where he could be free. "This was before the Civil war, "Sam says," and I was such a man."

Sam SYKES was born down in Monroe County, Mississippi, and born a slave; his ancestors being slaves for generations back. When the war broke out, Sam came with the northern troops to Memphis, Tennessee, and from there to Arkansas, by the help of two men, white who were in sympathy with the black people. Sam says those two men took him across the Grand Praire Lake in Arkansas to help him to escape. Here he secured a temporary job in a cotton-gin. The St. Lois, after a short time, by joining the troops, he got safely to and from there to Jacksonville, Illinois, where he worked on a farm sawing wood from morning to night. "It seemed awful cold up there," Sam says," being used to the warm sun down south, but I earned my fifty cents a day. This, was a thousand times better than being a slave."

The Sam SYKES went to Keokuk where he learned the barber trade which he has kept at for many good years. He opened a shop in Keokuk, but after a rather short period of time, he went to Eddyville to begin business there. As his trade picked up, he started a shop in Oskaloosa and later in Ottumwa, where he ran the barbershop at the Ballingal Hotel there.

Mr. SYKES says he likes the wide open spaces and loves to roam about the woods hunting. While in Oskaloosa, he was, during certain periods of the year appointed by a company in St. Louis to hunt prairie chickens up in North Dakota. He says that he shot as many as seventy-five chickens a day. For this, he earned more money than anything he has ever done, the wages being four dollars and fifty cents a day.

Mr. SYKES was born in 1848. His father was a blacksmith by trade, but a slave. Sam has four sisters and four brothers. They are all gone, "says Sam," and I am the only one left." He is now 84 years old, and lives a rather satisfied life on east Washington street. He spends much of his time selling popcorn balls and doing odd jobs about town. "I never want to go down south to live again," he says. "Things are so diffeernt (sic) down there, and people are about 150 years behind the northern civilization. But I still call it the old country. Perhaps some day when people come to a better understanding, black people's feelings may be looked upon differently than they are now, but I believe it will take a long time."

As Sam sits by the stove in his home, he thinks and recalls happenings of the past, memories that are both dear and in many ways gruesome to him; and he is philosophizing about life wondering why it is that color should make such a great difference among the races. He believes that all were created with same equal rights and by the one creator and that a black soul is just as valueable to the Almighty as a white one." Perhaps the time will come when all races will love each other, but this, "he says," I will never live to see."


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