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.
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.
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.
ask me the questions,” she said, and I’ll answer them as
best I can.
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.’
had no schooling, but she did learn to sign her name after
she grew up.
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
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.”
used to tell me, too, how they fed the slaves -- put milk
and bread in a trough just like they would feed the hogs”.
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.’
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.