James Edmund Robinson and John Phelps are the only two surviving Negroes in Hopkins County, Kentucky who once were slaves. Both are in their nineties, and like many of the thousands of slaves, they took their last names from the owners of the plantations on which their parents worked.
The men are not at all alike. Robinson is tall and has a stately bearing. His hair and impressive beard are white and he's inclined to moralize a bit on whatever he says. Phelps is wizened, toothless and bent. He walks haltingly with a cane.
"I belonged to the Ward brothers, Wallace and Henderson," Phelps recalled.
"My father worked on the Robinson farm and my mother on the Ward place down near Russellville, Ky.
"They were never permitted to marry until after they were freed. But the Wards were good to their slaves. We always had plenty to eat and plenty to wear, more than we have now. All the yarn for my clothes were woven up at the big house."
Robinson remember seeing many a slave sold "down at the market house."
"Some of them brought as high as $2000," he said, "while mules and horses brought only about $150."
"I remember the day they sold Uncle George down to the cotton country. I can speak of a heap of things that other people just don't know about," he said as he peered over the top of his glasses.
"I can remember hauling many a barrel of whiskey in the old spring wagon - I can remember tapping many a barrel, too," he chuckled.
"Whipped? Sure I got whipped with a little lash four or five feet long with a cracker on the end. My mother whipped me many a time so the folks at the big house wouldn't have to. But I deserved it most of the time."
Both Phelps and Robinson are familiar figures around the Madisonville Courthouse Square. They don't like it a bit that old Courthouse has been torn down - it has ruined their afternoon sitting place.
The above article appeared in the Evansville, Indiana Press on Sunday, 31 May 1936.