Knoxville, Tenn. Journal
March 15, 1942
Head of Negro School Spins Old Time Tales
Stories of nineteenth century Knoxville and the days of slavery can be spun by W.D.S. Bradley, principal of Heiskell Negro School. The stories are those he heard from his father, who died here in 1910, at the age of 90.
The senior Bradley was born a slave near Lynchburg, VA., in 1820, and later was sold, with his father, mother, brothers and sisters to Fr. Harve Baker, who lived on a plantation near the Ten Mile Creek in Knox County on the present-day Kingston Pike.
William, then a young boy, was apprenticed to a blacksmith, whose shop occupied the present site of the courthouse. Later he operated a blacksmith shop off the site of the Railway YMCA at the corner of Broadway and Depot street. As old age approached, Bradley moved his shop to Asylum Avenue, now Western Avenue.
In 1881 Bradley's first wife died, but he remarried three years later when he met Mrs. Gabrielle Hallack, while on a trip to Louisville, KY. A rival of Mrs. Hallack's journeyed to Louisville to prevent the marriage, but Bradley's friends sidetracked her, and she left in disgust.
To this second marriage was born the younger Bradley in 1884.
In 1893 the blacksmith visited the Chicago World's Fair- the Columbia exposition. For many years, the elder Bradley served as a trustee of the Logan Avenue M.E.Zion church. He served on the reception committee which entertained Frederick Douglass, Prof. Thomas Prece and Dr. William J. Simmons all of famous memory of the Reconstruction period.
But the stories the elder Bradley used to tell around his blacksmith shop were rich in the folklore of the days of slavery.
There was one about old Uncle Peter Russell, who said he always sowed 30 bushels of wheat to the acre and could count each grain and report the total to his master at night.
Another story of Uncle Ned, who was on a hunting trip with his dogs. He sat down on a stump to wait the result of a chase. The dogs had caught the scent of the fox and were in hot pursuit. Suddenly, a fox appeared, and was running so hard, it split lengthwise while running. With great presence of mind, Uncle Ned quickly put the two parts of the fox together, and the fox continued his flight ahead of the hounds.
One time a carpetbagger came to the plantation, selling Goldenseal, for three dollars the box. He claimed that if the slaves sprinkled the contents under the door, they would be emancipated in two weeks. William Bradley told the carpetbagger, "After the rest of the slaves are freed, you may see me for a box of Goldenseal."
Old William Bradley died at the home at 1317 Clinton Street after a lingering illness. The home is now owned by Dr. S. M. Clark.
But the memories of those slave days still live in the stories that Principal Bradley can tell out at Heiskell School.