Friday, February 8, 2008

Sarah Gudger - The Rest of the Story

You might recall Sarah Gudger, who made an appearance on this site back in September:

Sarah Gudger was born into slavery on September 15, 1816. One hundred twenty-one years later, from her home in Asheville, she shared memories of life before and after the Civil War. The interview was conducted for the Works Project Administration Federal Writers Project. In addition to preparing state guidebooks and historical pamphlets, FWP authors gathered more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 photos of former slaves.

Sarah Gudger was 121 years old when interviewed in 1937 about her time as a slave in McDowell and Buncombe Counties. She spoke of slaves being torn away from their families by speculators. She described [presumably] the Leonid Meteor Showers of November 12-13, 1833. And she told of soldiers marching past her home during the Civil War.

We've always heard the saying, "it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop." But Aunt Sarah has a saying I've never heard before. Describing the night sky illuminated by the Leonids, she said it was so bright, "you could pick a pin up." Thank goodness someone had the vision to create the WPA Writers Project.

Last September, I wasn’t able to find information on Sarah Gudger’s death. At last, I’ve come across a couple of more stories that fill in the gaps, and discovered one more remarkable twist in a remarkable life story.

It turns out that Sarah Gudger survived for 40 years after suffering severe burns in an 1898 mishap. From the June 28, 1898 Landmark (Statesville, NC):

Mrs. Sarah Gudger, aged 70, widow of the late Mack Gudger, who lived with her son-in-law, Mr. Geo. Lytle, 11 miles east of Asheville on the Swannanoa, was left alone for a short time Friday afternoon and when the family returned she was found lying in the fire place, horribly burned. It is supposed that she suffered an attack of vertigo and fell in the fire. At last accounts she was alive but she cannot recover.


(Equally amazing is the fact that she was 70 years old in 1898 and 122 years old in 1938, but we all know the years fly by faster the longer you live…so that makes perfectly good sense.)

United Press reported that Sarah Gudger died October 19, 1938. From the Amarillo Globe, October 20, 1938:

Friends of Aunt Sarah Gudger, 122-year-old slave who gained freedom at the age of 49, mourned her death today but promised a funeral she would have been proud of, at the little Baptist Church of St. John. Aunt Sarah, who celebrated her 122nd birthday September 15, died yesterday as she has said she would – “propped up in bed takin’ things fair and easy ‘til the ole marser calls me away.” She was believed to be one of the oldest persons in the world. Until slightly more than a month ago when she became too feeble to “git aroun’ much,” she was very active. She learned to write her name under tutorship of WPA instructors of the adult education program.

In April 1936, the Associated Press had a very brief report on Sarah Gudger that appeared in many newspapers around the country:

ASHEVILLE, NC – Sarah Gudger, who believes she is nearing 120, says she harbors one ambition: “To join my mother in death…in the near future.”

On July 17, 1937, The Robesonian (Lumberton, NC) made mention of Sarah Gudger in an article titled “Death Ends Aid Grants to 4692 Aged Carolinians”:

Oldest of the 19 Tar Heel centenarians to die [during the fiscal year ending June 1939] was Sarah Gudger, negro woman of Asheville, who received a government grant for the last 16 months of 122 years of life.

Earlier posts on Sarah Gudger:

“I Took a Thousand Lashings in My Day”

“Helpless Critters Going Away to Get Killed”

1 comment:

Donnell said...

It is amazing...the endurance and stamina of the human spirit!

Donnell Gudger
Washington, DC