Saturday, February 20, 2010
I was born on a Monday. I died on a Monday. As I lay on my dying bed, I saw the Lord coming for me. My family was there. They cried. Mrs. Edith Louder, my faithful nurse, was there too. She was always there for me when I got sick after my darling Vinie died.
When I look back on my one hundred and six years on this wonderful earth that my God has made, I had a good life. Yes, it was a good life. The Lord has blessed me with a wonderful wife, lots of fine children, and good crops to feed me and my family. I've been powerful lucky.
My name is Daniel Cummings. I was born a slave. My momma and daddy were slaves, too. After I got my freedom, I took the last name of my master, Marse Robert Cummings. Marse Robert was good to me. He was a doctor. He helped a lot of folks to get well.
I was near about thirteen years old when Marse Robert told us he was going off to fight the Yankees. I was there that day when he rode off on his fine bay. I fetched his sword from his office and handed it to him. He told me to take care of his missus. "Yas, sir," I said!
It was the last time I saw him. Somewhere up around Richmond, Virginia, near where my momma was born, he got the cholera and died. We got the bad news in a letter from Captain Carswell, who lost his own brother up there in a big fight. I helped bury Marse Robert in the Stanley Cemetery up near the Big Ditch. Just four months later, we had to bury Marse Robert's baby son. He was only eight months old. Miss Leah cried for months after that. She had just lost both of her parents right before the war. Her brother, Mr. James Stanley, was killed in the war too. All she had left was her baby girl, Miss Margaret. It was so, so sad.
The Yankees came riding down the road one day. They were headed east toward the river. I never took sides in that war. It was so terrible. Mrs. Cummings came to me screaming that the Yankees were coming. I always liked Miss Leah. She asked me to help her take the gold and silver down to the swamp on Big Sandy. I wrapped it up in a blanket and put it up in a big hooty owl hole in the top of an oak tree. I grabbed some moss and covered it up real good.
When the Yankees were here, I toted water and buttermilk to them for their supper. I did the same thing for General Wheeler's rebs when they were riding through these parts trying to catch up with the blue soldiers. Nobody ever knew I was toting water and milk to both of them.
It was soon after the war that I met my wonderful wife. Her name was Miss Elizabeth Vinie Jones. She was nineteen and the prettiest thing I ever saw. We were married for seventy years before she went to Heaven. We never had a fight. Well, there was this one time when a school teacher lived with us. I got to noticing that he got to noticing her too much, so I asked him to leave. We never had no trouble after that.
Vinie and I had a lot of fine children. I always promised my kids that they could go to college and make something out of themselves. Most of them did. I was real proud of them, especially my girls. My daughter Elizabeth was a dentist. She was one of the first colored women in the South to be a dentist. She married Dr. H.G. Harrington and they lived over in Birmingham, Alabama. Anne teaches school up in Augusta. Mary married a Smith and teaches the Bible in Detroit. My daughter Laura works for the government in the big capital in Washington. As for me, I went to school for two months. I learned what I know on my own.
Despite all the bad times I had, I still had some good ones. I was lucky. I started out renting a small place to help feed my family. I made $200.00 the first year, then I did the same thing for three more years. That gave me enough money to buy my own place. So, Monroe Rozar and I bought on halves a piece of land on the Old Macon Road from Mr. John Weaver.
Three years later, I bought out Monroe's half. From the front door of the house I built, I could almost see Wilkinson County. Although we lived far out in the country, there were plenty of folks passing by at the crossroads of the Old Macon Road and the road which ran up to Chappel's Mill. I lived there for the rest of my life. Just after 1900, I was able to buy the Steely Place. It was about 405 acres. Before I knew it, I owned almost 700 acres. Life was good.
Vinie made all of our clothes with an old spinnin' wheel. When the crops were good, I bought her and my children some clothes from the store. We used to walk every wherever we went, but when I was making good money, I bought a buggy. I was an old man when I got my first automobile.
My friends thought I was rich. I guess I was. One day I took my wife to the hospital in Dublin. The doctor said she had to have an operation. I asked him to give me the price. Then, I reached in my back pocket and pulled a big fat roll of bills. That kind doctor said, "Dan, had I known you had all that money, I'd been harder on you." From then on, I was careful about showing my money before the job was done.
Money was never important to me. But, like most folks, I needed it. I was visiting my boy in Philadelphia when I heard that a bunch of banks back home went bust. I was lucky - lost only ninety cents. My rainy day money went into a postal savings account.
When I was about fifty-six, I got together with my friends, C.D. Dudley, D.W. Wiliams, J.J. Jenkins and Thomas Kinchen. We went to a lawyer. He set up a corporation. I called it the Georgia Investment Company. We built a building at the corner of South Lawrence Street and West Madison Street. My friends insisted that I call it the "Cummings Building," which I finally did.
I turned one hundred years old on September 25, 1948. Most of my family was there. I wish my granddaughter, Mrs. Pearl Davis, had been there. She was one of the first colored ladies to be a pharmacist. I knew she was going to be successful, but she died while birthing a baby back during the first World War. My grandson, Herndon Cummings, flew airplanes in the next big war. He went to Tuskegee and learned how to fly. They locked him and his friends up one night when they tried to take a drink in the white man's officer's club. I took a drink one time. I got drunk. Then I swore I'd never drink again. And, I haven't.
They had a big funeral for me. My good friend, the Rev. D.D. Edmond, preached my eulogy. Everyone above me was crying. Then I saw my Vinie coming toward me. I took her hand and we walked through the pearly gates. Yes, God is good to me!
The preceding story was based on a 1953 interview of Daniel D. Cummings by Dublin historian, Sarah Orr Williams. I wrote it in first person to give you a different look at a wealthy man, not in cash and land, but one who accumulated his fortune in the love he shared with his family and his community and in the accomplishments of his children and grandchildren.