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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with John W. Snipes, September 20, 1976. Interview H-0098-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

A prayerful rural home

Snipes never failed to say a blessing before eating meals that often included snap beans, corn bread, potatoes, and cabbage. He learned religion as a boy, praying every night before bed and attending a Methodist church with his grandparents. He describes an intense worship experience, an "old time religion" that is dying out. As he reflects on his Christian values, he describes the arrival of a car in his isolated farm community.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with John W. Snipes, September 20, 1976. Interview H-0098-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

BRENT GLASS:
What might be a typical dinner or supper for you?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Oh, it'd take a peck of snap beans and two pones of corn bread. It'd take a gallon of ice potatoes, and maybe a pot of cabbage or turnips or turnip greens.
BRENT GLASS:
How many times a week would you have meat?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
We didn't have much. We didn't have none except what we raised. Now sometimes we'd have ham for breakfast, as long as there was ham. We'd kill about four hogs or three hogs, and maybe we'd have five or six hams. But we didn't start cutting those hams 'til long up in the spring when they took the meat up, which started long about Easter or something like that. We'd eat on the shoulders first and let the hams season a little more. Shoulder meat weren't too bad fresh, I mean before it got too rank and old. But we'd keep them hams. We'd put molasses and black pepper on them hams as flavor to them, and we'd keep them on up until the summer and fall when we didn't have no vegetables maybe, until hog killing time.
BRENT GLASS:
Would there be a prayer at dinner time?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
We'd never eat a meal without my father saying a blessing. I believe if you'll always say a blessing and ask a blessing from God you'll always have something on the table. And we don't miss a meal; I've never missed a meal without giving thanks to God.
BRENT GLASS:
Now that sort of reminds me that I didn't really ask you about going to church when you were a small boy. Who would you go to church with? Or would you go to church?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
We was raised to go to church from the time we was eighteen months old. Momma carried us in her arms 'til we got on up like little stair steps. Manns Chapel was right there in sight of where we was raised, just six-seven hundred yards. [interruption]
BRENT GLASS:
We're going to talk for another fifteen minutes or so, and then we'll call it for today. So your parents took you up to Manns Chapel?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Yes sir. My father a lot of the time was superintendent of the Sunday school. And I was raised in the old-timey Methodist shouting method.
BRENT GLASS:
What do you mean by that?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Well, they had these old revivals or what we used to call protracted meetings. And I was raised in a Christian home, of which I'm mighty proud. We'd hitch a two-horse wagon. My father and mother would sit on a spring seat (it was a little better seat than just a plank acros there), and they put wheat straw in the wagon bed. And they'd stack us young'uns in that wagon bed, and then maybe about a crackerbox full of three or four chickens and cakes and pies. And we'd go to those. When they started on Sunday they lasted through the week, maybe 'til the next Sunday. We was raised in an old-fashioned shouting Methodist. And as the revival got on over into the middle of the week, when the preacher got to sort of stepping on their toes everybody in there, almost, started shouting. I was talking about it last night. They've got away from that.
BRENT GLASS:
Now what do you mean by that? I mean, stepping on people's toes?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Well, telling them about their sins, just laying it on the line. Maybe the preacher'd get right smart hot and lay it on the line to them. And they'd get up and get to shouting when they give the invitation at the altar call and all such as that. Well, they didn't think, I reckon, little bitty old barefoot boys…. My Daddy put me on the front seat with him, and I'd wear little old knee pants and I was barefooted, barelegged and barefooted. I went barefoot; didn't have no shoes in the summer. I'd stub my toe and there'd be sore toes. Well, the preacher might have though I was sitting there on the front seat scaring the gnats off of my sores on my toes. I was shooing the gnats off of them and the flies, but I was listening to everything he said. I was taking it all in, but he might not have thought so. I knew what he was talking about. We had as good a Christian people in Manns Chapel old church as… well, I just think that they were tops, just out of this world. We run about eighty or ninety to a hundred average attendance. And I didn't think that church would ever fall down and go down low. Recently it's got down to four members—four attendance, not members. I think the superintendent told me they have four one Sunday or two, and maybe then seven. Maybe one's parents would come with them or something, but running from four to seven.
BRENT GLASS:
Was this a Baptist church or Methodist?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Methodist church.
BRENT GLASS:
Oh that's right, shouting Methodist.
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Manns Chapel.
BRENT GLASS:
Well, did you ever get swept up in the revivals and start shouting?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
I never shouted, but I felt like it many a time, when I was little even. I'd sit mighty still. I'd be sitting there maybe shooing the gnats off of my sore toe, but I knowed everything that was going on. I might not seem to have been attentive, but I knowed what he was saying and knowed what it meant. But them were great days back then. I think the country has got away from the old-time religion. That's what they lived on then, was the old-time religion. Now I was listening to a program last night with Pat Boone and Billy Graham and them. It come on last night. I come in from church and just turned it on and got the end of it; didn't get all of the program. But I think that there's a turning back. We've had about four or five years of the biggest increase in crime rate that the world has ever known. But I think the trend will switch back; I think the pendulum will switch back, because I think people are going back to the church and going back to God. They swung away from that. Human life now, the way most of the criminals feel about it, is no more than an animal or a rabbit or something. But crime has got too high in the United States. I think that the trend is going to turn back to God; I hope they do.
BRENT GLASS:
Well, now who would you give credit to for teaching you right from wrong?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
I think it was a principle that my mother and father…. I loved my grandmother better than anything on earth. She'd make me squat down every night; I never did go to bed without saying my little bednight prayer. "Now I lay me down to sleep; I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen." And I'd scoot into bed, jump into bed just as far in the bed as I could get. [Laughter] I think that it was the life that they led. They were Christian people. My grandmother, my father and mother, I'm proud to say, awful proud to say that they were Christian people.
BRENT GLASS:
And they taught you?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
The principle, the philosophy of life was to love everybody, to be kind to everybody and treat everybody right. Of course there were mean people back then—not too much, weren't too much. They didn't have the communication then, the way of traveling and going about from place to place. See, I was born before the automobile was, and I was born before the airplane was. The airplane down at Kitty Hawk weren't 'til 1903. I remember the first automobile. Mr. Bruce Strowd's father, who used to live just above us, adjoining plantation, and then his father moved to Chapel Hill (well, his grandfather lived there too)…. Bruce Strowd at Chapel Hill Strowd Motor Company, Bruce was just a young boy, and they took an old gasoline engine and took some old wheels. We lived right on the side of a little sandy dirt road, public road. Bruce took this gasoline engine, and it was an old type of engine with alternate stroke. It would hit "pow, pow, pow, choo, choo, choo; pow, pow, pow, choo, choo, choo." It'd skip; you've heard them, and you know what I'm trying to say. Well, we was plowing out there a little, (I just could reach the plow handle; I believe it was in 1907 or '08) and we heard this fuss coming down the road. It just scared the mule to death. And I run around there and got him by the bridle, trying to hold to him 'til that thing passed. And Bruce Strowd come in sitting on a goods box, come right by the house in a little four wheel contraption, him and Mr. Seaton Smith of Chapel Hill (that's my wife Lessie's uncle.) [Laughter] That's the first automobile that was ever in Chatham County. It had a gasoline motor, but it was a woodsaw motor. And he had it geared so it would propel, you know, and it would go along about five miles an hour. And it went "chooka, chooka, chooka, pow, pow, pow, pow." And then there was a streak of smoke; he had a smokestack, and it'd fly in there. And that just scared the old mule to death. [Laughter] The greatest thing we'd ever seen in all our lives. I believe it was about 1908; I was about six or seven or eight years old.