A boy’s story is the best that is ever told. – Charles Dickens (1812 –1870)
Three boys watched their parents become of monetary value no more than a cell phone by today’s standard.
They were treated no less than a day old newspaper and no better than a dog.
The sounds of chains rattling and the boisterous calls of men filled the thick woodlands air.
They were the sounds of a customary East Texas slave trade.
According to an article in The Slatonite in 1970, A.D. Ridley remembered hiding in old, “cat chimney’s,” when buffaloes came around. He often had to stay there for hours before the buffaloes went away so he could go home.
He lived in a log cabin with windows boarded up because the Indians would shoot arrows through open windows.
Most of Ridley’s stories, however, were locked away and heard only by a select few. Louise Johnson, his granddaughter, was one of those few.
“We’d just sit around, you know, and just talk,” Johnson said from her home filled with the typical 21st century fair; Sponge Bob Square Pants plate settings for her grandchildren, a crystal globe plant self watering device placed in a fern, and a cell phone next to her arm. A floral fragrant candle was lit and sat at the center of the table. “We’d climb up in the bed with him and he’d tell us his stories.”
Johnson spoke of being a young girl and going to her grandparents’ humble two-room home. There she and A.D.’s other granddaughters’, Edith Stone and Pearlie Hill, listened to the stories of their grandfather, escaped slave A.D. Ridley.
Although an article from The Slatonite claimed Ridley was 100-years-old in 1970, marking his birth at January 6, 1870, many of his relatives believed he was much older. There are no known birth certificates for him and his parents; such documentation was often lost in the slave trade.
In the late 1800’s, sometime before 1865, it is believed a nine-month-old A.D. Ridley with his two older brothers, Louis and Arthur, watched as their parents were sold away to a Texas plantation. One night, Ridley’s brothers decided to take a risk and ran away from the slave owner and their very own parents with the young A.D. in arms. They never turned back.
“Uncle Louis was the oldest,” Johnson said. “The three stuck together.”
It is believed the boys were living in Indian Territory in the 1870’s. In 1874, the Red River War was launched by the US Army, ending the Texas-Indian Wars. The Ridley boys found themselves dodging arrows.
In 1891, A.D. met a young Native American woman by the name of Lula Lee Terry. The two married in Red River County where they lived on a plantation.
“They were servants in a big house,” Pearlie Hill, another one of Ridley’s granddaughter’s said. “The master fed them like animals. They would throw corn bread in the trough and pour buttermilk over it,” she said.
Many years after the Emancipation Proclamation and Texas was already readmitted into the union, black servitude continued being a common practice on Texas plantations and farms.
“I remember my grandmother,” Johnson said. “I was really young when she died, but I remember her long black hair.”
Johnson said that her grandfather was a gentle soul who never raised his voice. She remembered going to help him pick cotton once and the children found a tree filled with ripe peaches to snack on. “Now children,” he told them gently. “Now those aren’t your peaches to be picking.”
“He never said a harsh word,” Johnson said.
Although Ridley and his family lived in a segregated Slaton at the time, Johnson said, “He would go uptown and trade at a few stores.”
In the 1950’s, even after escaping slavery, Indian Warfare, and the separation of his family; A.D. was only allowed to enter a few select places in Slaton.
“But he was never a complainer,” Johnson said.
Johnson remembered some of the life lessons Ridley passed down to her. She remembered his gentle voice sometimes telling her. “Now you cherish the bridge you cross because you may just have to cross back over it.”
“God has been so good to the black race,” Johnson said and, with the same insight of her grandfather. “We can make it off of a little bit of everything,” she said.