African Americans in Monroe County  


Pearl Hesta

Mrs. Pearl Hesta

She was a Christmas baby. Born in Mississippi, the 26th child of a woman only a short time out of slavery, Pearl Hesta will celebrate her 100th birthday this Christmas Day, 1975.

Mrs. Hesta has lived with her daughter, Linnie Mae Barnes, in Monroe City for the past three years. She admits to some of the infirmities of a century of living much of it not easy, but her spirit shines through a gentle smile.

Mrs. Hesta grew up in Granada, Mississippi, helping in the cotton fields belonging to the plantation owner, usually serving as water girl for the field hands. Later when she had a family of her own, she moved to Arkansas and lived there until she came to Monroe City. She has seven children, but survived all but two, Linnie Mae and another daughter.

‘Just ask me the questions,” she said, and I’ll answer them as best I can.

What was it like to be a black child at Christmas time some 90 years ago? We only got a tiny, tiny doll, with straw legs and a china head, nothing else ever.’

She had no schooling, but she did learn to sign her name after she grew up.

But education or not she was free. Years of stories told by her mother about her days as a slave made a deep impression on Mrs. Hesta, and she tells them as if they happened only yester­day.

Mother and her aunt were both put on the block and sold at the same time, but they neither one knew until they were freed that they were re­lated. The white owners didn’t want slaves to know who they were kin to.”

“She used to tell me, too, how they fed the slaves -- put milk and bread in a trough just like they would feed the hogs”.

My mother lived to be 106 years old and had 27 children,” Mrs. Hesta continued. “When the black people were still slaves, the women were bred just like animals.’

Mrs. Hesta speaks softly and without bitterness, in spite of bitter mem­ories. She is very nonchalant about being a century old. With her back­ground of longevity with the stamina and courage that kept her mother long-lived in spite of the hardship and cruelty of slavery, Mrs. Hesta, does not seem to consider herself unique. She has lived through so much of history that becoming 100 years old this Christmas Day is nothing to get excited about.