This chapter begins where it should begin - at the beginning! Or least at the beginning as Booker knew it. He tells us he was born in Franklin County Virginia, but he is not sure of the year - it’s either 1858 or 1859 - and he doesn’t know what month or what day. He does know that his birth took place near a crossroads post-office called Hale’s Ford. Otherwise, his earliest impressions are of the plantation and the slave quarters, the most miserable, desolate, and discouraging of surroundings. His owners were not especially cruel, at least not as compared to other owners, but still he was forced to live in a 14 x 16 foot cabin with his mother, his brother, and his sister.
He knew almost nothing of his ancestry other than the whispers in
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Like most slaves, they ate with their hands, and since food was scarce, they ate quickly to satisfy their hunger. As a result, when he was sent to the big house at mealtimes to fan flies from the food by means of a large set of paper fans operated by a pulley, he saw for the first time how a meal could be shared in a genteel way. He also was able to listen in to their conversations on the subjects of freedom and war and absorb the news that he could tell his fellow slaves. Furthermore, he saw his masters eating ginger cakes, and the height of his ambition became to reach a point where he could eat ginger cakes in just the same manner as his owners.
Surprisingly, as the war progressed, the slaves felt it easier to accept deprivation than their white owners did. They had spent their lives deprived while white people were often in great straits when it came to those things they took for granted - coffee, tea, sugar, and other articles they were accustomed to.
Booker’s first pair of shoes were wooden - leather on top, but wooden bottoms that made a fearful noise and made him walk awkwardly. He also had to wear flax shirts, an ordeal that was one of the most trying he ever faced. It was made from the refuse of the flax, the