The harsh brutality of race relations in the late nineteenth-century South was sometimes best expressed through small incidents. For William Robinson, the story that best encapsulated his own experience growing up African-American in rural Georgia in the 1880s involved three peaches. He was interviewed by oral historian Charles Hardy in 1983 when Robinson was 103 years old. Apparently, some ninety-five years earlier when he was eight years old, three black boys sneaked into a peach orchard on the way home from church and stole some peaches, three of which they gave to young Robinson. The white orchard owner caught Robinson and threatened him with the chain gang. He forced Robinson’s father to pay $21 for the three peaches—a sum that could well have been a year’s cash income for a sharecropping family in this period.Listen to Audio:
William Robinson: I was born December the 11th, 1880 and therefore the Lord has brought me safe this far, no marks against me, nothin‘ like that. Everything I did, I tried doin’ it by so. You done somethin', and I know it was wrong, I’d run and get away from you because white folks was strict.
I’d done somethin' one time, and that was this: I didn’t go in the orchard but I received three peaches. But the man said the receiver was just as bad as the rogue.
See therefore, so I didn’t go in the orchard and I’m looking right in the man’s face, and he says, 3If he’s this old,“ —I wasn’t but eight years old—he says, ”if he was any, just a little bigger, I’d put him in jail. Put ‘em on chain gang," he said. And I was scared of it, ’cause I heard them workin‘ on it. I never was on it but I heard them workin’, heard them singin‘ on there and workin’ the roads.
My father had to pay $21 for three peaches. He had to pay it ‘cause I received the peaches. And the white fellow was [inaudible] . . . the white man is lookin’ right at him, just like I’m lookin' at you, and he heard him say, “If he was just a little bigger, I’d put him on a chain gang.” And I was scared of that. I tell ya them three peaches learnt me a lesson. They learned me a lesson: don’t take that ain’t yours.
Source: Charles Hardy III (Philadelphia, Penn.: Atwater Kent Museum, 1984), West Chester University.