Roy Braswell is a centenarian and, in many respects, an orator. Born in 1909, Braswell is the grandson of a slave and the eighth child of 11. Braswell has spent the majority of his adult life in Vinings, where he lives with his wife of 41 years — whom he married at age 59. Braswell has worked on a farm, for the railroad, and as a grave-digger. He carries on the last name Braswell from his grandfather, who received the name from one of his owners.
Six of my brothers and sisters lived over 90 years. One of us made it over 103 years. I’m next to her; I made 100. It’s a good feeling, in a way, to be 100. Many people ain’t going to make it to see 100. I’m proud, because I’ve lived 100 years and I never been in jail or arrested in no kind of way. Many people can’t say that. It’s a good thing to live 100 years, but you will see a lot of things.
I ain’t going to tell you everything. I saw men hanging by their necks. We have to forget about that. They all gone, but I know men who were hung by their necks. I knew five of them. I don’t like for people to know. I don’t tell people. I don’t want them to know how this country was 70, 80 years ago. This country made a great change. I knew them men that hung. I knew boys that went missing, and we never heard from them again. I want this country to stay clean. That’s how I like to see it. I’ve told my wife some stories, but I don’t like for her to know all that I know in this world. It’s enough to know that you’re living in a good country now. Eighty years ago, I didn’t get a chance to go to school. I worked three years and didn’t earn a penny. The poor colored folk came from slaves.
My grandfather told me these words, he said: “You will live to see a better day than I ever lived to see.” He was a slave, and that’s what he told me. I think about the old man every day, and those words he told me will keep me to my grave. Those prayers he prayed are still working. That boy that’s in [the Oval Office] now, that’s why he’s president. God called that boy to be a president, he heard somebody’s prayers and he answered them. This country has turned around from 90 years ago, and you sure better be glad you’re living in these days — because what I saw in those days is aplenty.
People ought to think about how good it is for us. My grandfather, his mother left him when he was 7 years old and he never seen her no more. He never seen his mother and he didn’t even know his age. Before he got with the Braswells, he was sold three times in slavery. The first time he was sold for $700, the second time $1,000, the third time $1,300. That’s when the Braswells bought him. He told me that when I was coming up. He showed me the place where he lived with the Braswells in Loganville, Ga.
My mother, she was the greatest woman in the world to me. When I lost her, I lost my best friend. On March 27, my daddy will have left me 85 years ago. My mother will have left me 49 years ago. Even though they’re gone, I still have my wife and my children.
I have five children, four daughters and one son. My wife and I have been married for 41 years. If I told you how I met my wife, I don’t reckon you’d believe what I’d say. When me and my wife met, I was driving a truck up to Smyrna, and I was stopped at a red light. My wife was coming down the street to catch a bus. My first wife, we was separated. When she got onto the bus, the good Lord spoke to me and said, “There’s your wife there.” I said, “Lord, have mercy, the woman don’t know me!” I dated her for 14 years before I married her. I didn’t want to marry her, but I did because God told me to and God don’t make mistakes. He would not have given her to me if she wasn’t a good woman, I know that. We have seen a lot in our lives, but it feels good to have been living this long.
In March, I had a birthday party, the best one I’ve ever had in my life. I couldn’t have had a better birthday. Everybody was nice to me, old Roy Braswell! You figure when you get old, something is going to happen to you. The doctors told me I was going to die, that I had lead poisoning and I wasn’t going to live. That was over 60 years ago. I suspect that doctor is dead now, and I’m still living. With all that I’ve seen in this world, I have something to talk to Jesus about — and I know that if I don’t live not another year, I’m going in Jesus’ name. Lord have mercy, what I’ve seen in this world.
— As told to Candace Wheeler
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