Henry Goody Johns was the eldest son of a beautiful young slave girl from East Central Africa and her Louisiana Master. Given the choice by his father to pass for white or to remain a slave, Johns chose to forever identify with his black mother and siblings, later becoming a pastor to his community after the Emancipation Proclamation.
This volume of stories about Henry Goody Johns, who taught his people "What Love Can Do" is oral history at its best. It has been passed down from a generation of an enslaved people who came to learn that prejudice and hatred is a greater form of slavery than bondage itself.
This memoir as written by Arthur Mitchell, a descendent of slaves on the Jons Plantation, has been preserved as closely as possible to its original form.
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About the Author
Arthur Mitchell was born in Irontown, Louisiana, on August 24, 1915. During his early childhood, he moved with his family to the French Quarter of New Orleans. There, he and his siblings sat around a coal or wood stove at night, listening to family stories about the descendents of a beautiful young slave girl from East Central Africa sold in 1810 to a French farmer in the New Orleans area.
Later, Mitchell realized that the stories so precious to him needed to be preserved after his death, and he began writing them down in fifteen-minute segments during his work breaks at the Cabildo in New Orleans. His original 150-page, hand-written memoir was lost in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina, when the levee broke just two miles from his house in the lower ninth ward of New Orleans. Fortunately, one copy was preserved by Gayle Nolan, who has edited and prepared the manuscript for publication.
Read an Excerpt
What Love Can DoRecollected Stories of Slavery and Freedom in New Orleans and the Surrounding Area
By Arthur Mitchell
BALBOA PRESSCopyright © 2012 Gayle Nolan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe man whose name this story bears was named at birth Henry Goody Jons after his slave owner's father, the grandson of a French immigrant whose name was Artee Jons, who was known as Master Jons. Whose mother was a captive African girl whose native name was Ablibo-bee, bought off of the slave block at the Cabildo in New Orleans in the eighteen-twenties by Mister Artee Jons of whom she beared three children for.
The first-born was named Henry Goody Jons, but after the Civil War, his father gave the whole place or slave camp to his former slaves, which had temporarily been a plantation where those people were given the house [and] land wherein they dwelled - that became Jons Town (Village) and the church was also named the Jons Town Baptist Church. All were carrying the name "Jon" in appreciation for the kindness shown them then and long before his French wife died by falling off a horse and before he bought that beautiful little African girl and before the Civil War. So when he became the pastor of the Jons Town Baptist church, he didn't want his name "Jons" to come in conflict with the name of the church and town. Consequently, he changed the spelling of his name from Jon to Johns. The whole thing was named after the former master's grandfather's last name (family name), who came to this country on an immigrant ship along with many poor farmers from throughout Europe, but on that particular ship were three brothers with their three families who were Jon brothers. The younger brother Artee Jon, was a lawyer, but was also on the farm for lack of work in the law practice in his country. And the Jon brothers were given three hundred acres of land each, which gave them a nine-hundred-acreage of land - well more than enough for a small town or village. It became Jons Town, which was previously a plantation converted from slavery after the Civil War, then into Jons Town. There were two other plantations, one on either side, about two hundred acre farms, combined with the Jons Town Village, which gave the town an acreage of some fourteen hundred acres.
The slaves living on the Jons Place were so free or rather almost free, so much so that slaves ran away from other places to get there; they lived in two-and three-room dwellings, with rough wood floors and a small porch in the front, whereas most other places had two rooms, no porches and dirt floors. However for some unknown reason - for the better, or worse?- it was said that the African girls were pretty and so nicely-built that they were almost unresistable, which may not have been the best thing for them, because of the lust mixed with the sexual greed and power, and the world-wide aspect of that day of slave owner-ship of people as a piece of property like a house, a tree, an animal or people (slaves). You may do as you please with your property when they are slaves; otherwise, they are just subjects if under a king, dictator, chief, or system.
The question is whose fault would you say slavery was in this country? There is nobody really to blame, because ever since men began to lust after what [their] neighbor has and [they get] it by warring, they found out that it was more profitable to enslave their captives rather then kill them. Now there was another form of slavery, called "servants bondage;" people were either bought or were born in bondage - which was called servant-borns – men, born-maid, or handmaid before the New Testament of the Bible. Even Abraham was allowed by God to buy servants (slaves); slavery, bondage, servants being bought, sold, or born in, has been going on all over the world for thousands of years. There were some white slaves, but hardly captives - mostly those poor whites who couldn't make it would sell themselves into slavery, because the owners were afraid to buy light-skinned captive as slaves.
The traders of slaves had to take their light-skinned slaves to another country to sell because the owners said they could trust or turn their backs, or go to sleep, trust babies with [the darker-skinned slaves] and eat their cooking, and because they [the darker-skinned slaves] are physically stronger [from] their excessive exercise and their outdoor jungle-type living, hard work, hunting without guns, training for tribal warfare and animal attacks on them. It is commonly said that as a rule, men grow larger and stronger in the outdoor rugged life, and where there is a continual dangerous situation which makes them keep in mind they may have to fight off some self - made greedy renegade tribal people or wild hateful beast, snake, or hateful bird. There are a number of long large snakes all around and through the land; that's why they must keep their eyes open and their senses keen. They were taught to fight all creatures with the idea of either kill or be killed, even if it is a spider or some kind of bug. They knew from small boys that they were going to have to be men among men, and they grew up into full manhood. It was imperative that all of the young men keep buried in their minds that they must be ready at all times to protect your women, children, and old folks at the risk of your own life.
So here we have it, in of all places primitive Africa, they knew way back there [about] exercise and mind training by force of survival, for they knew [about] the working of the mind toward being man enough and tough enough to take on anything from an ant to an elephant. In their minds they believed so strongly that they actually had mind-eyes in back of them. They said many times they would turn in a split second before being hit, or attacked by animals or snakes that may fall out of a tree on someone. And now in these late times, we are bragging about mind power, and mind control, which we believe never fails, wherein way back there in so called "uncivilized" all- black people continent - I can readily accept the fact that they were primitive, but not uncivilized nor a barbarous people, then or now - in that they were able to unconsciously use mind power and mind-control to the greatest extent even as hypnosis, magic, witchcraft, and voo-doo, which is still common in the United States today. We brag a lot about positive thinking just as they did back there.
In Africa, they said they had a few magicians, and herb doctors, and a host of different kinds of herb medicines. They kept themselves clean out of necessity because they lived so close to the ground. The female had to be especially clean and careful because she had the whole family's health in her hands. And young girls watched their mothers to learn about life because they gloried in coming into ladyhood so as to become wives and mothers, even as most of the young girls around the world during their youth from time to time think about motherhood.
Now this beautiful young girl, along with a number of other African people, was kidnapped from her native land, but this girl in particular after being bought as a slave, was actually a wife and mother of her so-called slave master, a French man named Artee Jons, the son of a French immigrant who bought an African captive girl off a slave auction block in New Orleans, whose native name was Ablibobee. She gave birth to three children for him. The first-born was a boy, who was named Henry Goody Jons. Jons was the French name of his biological father. He - Henry Goody Jons - asked his paw to let him change the spelling of his last name because he did not want his name to be the same as the town and Church of our thankful dwelling place: "I am not now nor will I ever be good enough for the name of this town and Church. Let me change it from Jons to Johns." He said, reluctantly, "alright." Of course, this did not occur until such time as he became the pastor of the Jons Town Baptist Church. And from that day, until the day he died, he was known as Pastor Johns to the colored, white, and non-white, about all of whom he has said or had been heard saying, "I love you as if you were me, and that is whether you love me or not. You see I love you because you are people and I love people: all people. These are the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, who says, 'Love one another as I loved you, or as yourself.' You are supposed to love everybody: rich people, the poor, the sick, the well, the white people, colored people, red people, tan people, yellow people, and if there be any other color of people, you supposed to love them too as you love yourself."
Pastor John's mother changed her name from her native African name Ablibobee to an American name Clamentine Jons; her native name Ablibobee was some what difficult for Americans to pronounce. These were the names of the three children she had for her slave master Artee Jons; the first born was Henry Goody Jons; the second child was a girl who they named Johnnean. The third was a boy they named Hardy Jons. It was said that their mother was a very beautiful, graceful, and kind person. She was one of the sixty people brought to New Orleans to be sold into slavery. Slavery? Yes it was a very common phenomenon all over the world in those days.
Those people were captured from somewhere in east central Africa along the Tanganyika Lake, where there was a lot of fresh water which was about the largest fresh water supply in all of Africa. There are a few rivers not too far away; they ever so often dried up during very hot months, but the lake is so long and very deep that it never goes dry, as far as we know, which gave them a large fresh water supply for drinking and fishing. Many eastern African tribes had situated themselves along the Lake because of the host of small and rather large fish, where men and boys did a whole lot of fishing, mostly at night, in their own built dug-out boats by cutting down very big -around trees, and somehow they found a way to split those trees in two, then did whatever it took to dig out and shape that half-log into a boat. Each boat was shaped and styled by their individual liking; every man styled his different from all of the other boats among them, however long it took. They built those boats anywhere from ten-to-twenty feet long, and about ten feet wide. They would cut, shape, and style with all their hearts insomuch that each person of the family, young and old, recognized their boat on sight because of the style wherein they were built. And these boats were passed down from father to son. However, they had to be very careful not to dig too deep, or too wide, into the sides of it. They said building a boat was like bringing up a child: once it gets started, you can't stop until it is grown.
They didn't think that Lake was navigable for any larger boats or ships until such time as they were being invaded. Seeing one morning a large white boat almost as big as a ship, pulling up or drifting toward their banks, they were rather glad to see the boat. They thought it to be the returning British Christian missionaries coming back to teach them more about that Great Messiah, the Lord Jesu Christ, which has already come. Of whom the Jews had been there previously teaching them that the Messiah was coming soon; they were going everywhere they could teaching Judaism. They had been half-way around the world trying to make Jewish Proselytes; which means people converted to Judaism or becoming Jews. However, by then the Christian missionaries were turning the world upside down for Jesus Christ. This was one of the larger tribes living along the Lake here which had been converted to Christ already for a number of years, and most of them had learned to read and write and some mathematics, and how to speak good English - all of this the British missionaries taught them. Howbeit they by necessity would go home during the winter raining season during which time there was an almost everyday rain. And they would surely return after two or three months. And when they came back, they would bring all kinds of goodies, toys, sweets, books, writing paper, and a lot of used clothes and shoes, and of course some medicine for their brothers and sisters in Christ. When they did come back, they came in much smaller boats, going up and down the Lake area trying to covert as many tribes, whole tribes as possible, but they could only go to the people who were not hostile toward Christians and Jews, such as the Islamic, M[uslim], and a few others, all of which are religious beliefs. Most of them had their own belief about religion, God, heaven, and hell. The Christians are said to be the only religious belief who does not dislike people of other beliefs; even the roman church does not believe in, nor perform, nor teach the aspects of their Bible: and they are world wide, so what?
They were one of the Christian tribes having learned how to love one another by the teaching of the Bible, mostly the Gospel of Christ, which made them so much more humane toward each other owing to their newfound knowledge of the almighty God - as you will hear later on in this story, Pastor Johns saying such things as this. Whether you believe it or not, there is something you must admit - that there is some adhesive power in Christianity, in that, if you take hold of it, it will _____ to you, not turn loose until you die, because Christianity is just running over with that Great Giant and uncontrollable monstrous beast, the untamable killer serpent; yet it's sweeter [than] honey - that great wonderful thing we call love! It has more power than all the armies on earth put together into one, with all of their modern weapons, yet love is still the greatest real true power ever since day one. It is the only thing that has the power to make people free even though still in bondage, because it is impossible to enslave the mind.
Although some people had to die in that Tanganyika area invasion-type kidnapping, it had been said by some of the captives that leaving [their] native land was like getting out of prison. And some of the freed slaves after the Civil War had been heard saying that this whole aspect of being brought to this country has been proven to have been a blessing in disguise. Sometimes they laugh about how this thing actually happened. It was really a great surprise to all of us: it was about time for the missionaries to return and we were looking for them any day but those men got off the boat with guns rather than hymn books and Bibles. We knew about guns because a few of the tribes had them. Now the invasion was done [in this way]. When those men put their foot on the ground, they started shooting, rounding up in a huddle. They shot a couple of old men, but when the young people saw what was going on, not knowing the danger of guns yet, they took to the woods, and once they were in the woods, that was the end of it. It was no use going after them, because they had been taught how to keep trees between themselves and their pursuer. The only children who didn't get away were the ones who wanted to stay with their parents. The boat's men did not shoot at the children and young people who ran into the wood also. But they were still able to gather twenty children, and twenty-two young girls, and about eighteen young men, and two whole families, to be sold to some rich old folks who just needed to have other people in the house with them and maybe a few young people around, sometimes as house keepers, and other times just [for] companionship.
In this invasion, there was a girl so very beautiful being kidnapped. She was so pretty and well-built that the boat captain asked her name; she said my name is Ablibobee. She looked so good that she was sold for a very handsome price [and] later became the mother of Henry Goody Jons, who was later known as Pastor Johns.
The boat came back to New Orleans in the Mississippi River and Bienville Street Ramp in the New Orleans French Quarters - the camp at Bienville and the river, where the superdome was [later] built. The ramp was where the slaves debarked, which was the most convenient because the boat would come in [when] the tide was high, and drift out when the tide was low. They would unload and wait for the Tide to ______and would just drift out. It was a good place to load or unload because of the great downward ramp where all of those who survived the trip would debark and walk to the New Orleans Cabildo.
Excerpted from What Love Can Do by Arthur Mitchell Copyright © 2012 by Gayle Nolan. Excerpted by permission of BALBOA PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Arthur Mitchell (Biography)....................101