Rosa Mae King Murphy and Daniel Stewart Interviews

Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library
Transcript
Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Index
Search This Transcript
X
0:00

JUDITH HELFAND: ...excited and said, “I want to meet you. I want to go to Concord.” Don’t take it off yet, George.

GEORGE STONEY: Mm-hm.

HELFAND: “I want to meet the people that knew my dad and worked with him.”

ROSA MAE KING MURPHY: Mm-hm.

HELFAND: So, he’s coming on Tuesday morning. Do you think we might be able to bring him over and introduce him to you?

MURPHY: Oh, sure. Sure.

GEORGE STONEY: Maybe that’s the thing coming from the airport. Say, it’ll be Tuesday --

HELFAND: Yeah.

GEORGE STONEY: -- afternoon.

HELFAND: It’ll be Tuesday afternoon. We’re picking him up --

MURPHY: Mm-hm.

HELFAND: -- at 12:00.

GEORGE STONEY: At twelve --

HELFAND: And he’s --

GEORGE STONEY: -- fifty.

HELFAND: -- he’s heard stories about his dad, but he doesn’t really know the people that his father worked with.

MURPHY: Mm-hm, mm-hm.

HELFAND: So, I think it would be a real honor for him to meet you.

MURPHY: Well, I’d love to see him.

GEORGE STONEY: OK. Thank you.

MURPHY: ’Cause I was very fond of his --

GEORGE STONEY: Uh-huh.

MURPHY: -- his daddy.

HELFAND: You know, Rosa Mae, you might say that you don’t think that there were women leaders, but it seems to me that you took a role of real leadership 1:00during that period of time.

MURPHY: I might have just taken a chance. I didn’t, uh -- I really didn’t do anything exciting. I was just there; do what they tell me to do, and that’s it.

GEORGE STONEY: And write a few letters.

MURPHY: And write a few letters.

GEORGE STONEY: And collect a few [dues?].

HELFAND: I have -- I have one more question. Did you -- I just want to imagine it. Do -- you didn’t have an office where you kept -- well, you had a union hall.

MURPHY: Yeah, but you didn’t keep anything in there.

GEORGE STONEY: Why not?

MURPHY: Hm? Well, we wouldn’t have trusted it. We, we would’ve felt maybe somebody would come in and burn the place up. No, I took the books home with me and Mr. Chapman took the money home with him. He told me how much we got, and, 2:00and he would, uh, make up a receipt and take it to the bank. We kept it in the bank. We didn’t...

HELFAND: Where did -- where did you keep your books?

MURPHY: At my house. And that -- that’s a piece of furniture from my mother’s house. And, uh, I kept my books in that, uh -- in that dining room. It wasn’t many of them anyway.

HELFAND: You know, you got all your mail in a P.O. Box, which so many secretaries of the locals did, as I’m seeing from going through these files. Could you -- could you tell me where -- how you received your mail from -- for the union?

MURPHY: You know, I really don’t remember. I don’t remember where -- I don’t know how we got our mail at the house. I guess we had a mailbox. Uh, 3:00Mr. Chapman, the man I’m, I’m talking about; he might -- we might have had a post office box at the -- at the, uh, post office in Belmont, and he would pick up the mail, I guess ’cause I really don’t remember too much about any of it coming to my house.

HELFAND: Would you get -- would you trust to have union material come to your house?

MURPHY: I would have. Mm-hm. It wouldn’t have mattered to me. I was not hiding anything.

GEORGE STONEY: They -- one of the -- I think the thing that we’re suggesting there is that so many of the thousands of these letters that were written to Roosevelt and the secretary of labor, uh, Perkins, and so forth - heartrending letters about these conditions - you read them, a lot of them in Like a Family 4:00they have a lot of them.

MURPHY: Uh-huh.

GEORGE STONEY: And most of them end with, “I’m afraid to sign my name,” “I don’t give my name,” and that kind of thing.

MURPHY: Mm-hm, mm-hm.

GEORGE STONEY: And here, you were open.

MURPHY: You think -- you think I was sort of crazy, don’t you? It never dawned on me to be afraid or to be [phone rings] ashamed. You could answer that and tell ’em that we’re not here.

GEORGE STONEY: OK, because I wanna get that statement again. I don’t want it to ruined by the phone.

HELFAND: OK.

JAMIE STONEY: Hello? Um, sorry, he’s not in at the moment. Can I take a message and have him call you back?

MURPHY: People, uh, um, always calling wanting to know, “Uh, we got something real good, real hot” --

GEORGE STONEY: Oh, yes.

MURPHY: -- then, gonna pay a lot of divends.

5:00

GEORGE STONEY: You’re on the list.

MURPHY: Buy a little stock.

GEORGE STONEY: Well, you know what type -- I keep on getting calls and some emails about funeral arrangements -- mortuaries. I mean, somehow, I got on that list.

MURPHY: I’m a tell you a story. We had a, a young boy in our church whose mother took him down to Birmingham to, uh, enter him in, uh, school the day before yesterday. He plays, uh, a drum. He plays several instruments... [break in video] ...and go put that back in the car.

HELFAND: This is another story.

GEORGE STONEY: No, this is not for us.

MURPHY: And she said, uh, um... [break in video]

GEORGE STONEY: ...telling me how she -- how, how proud she feels. See if you could do it again.

MURPHY: What was that?

HELFAND: You said it never dawned on you to be ashamed.

GEORGE STONEY: OK.

6:00

MURPHY: It never dawned on me to be ashamed or afraid. I just, uh, thought that whatever my daddy said was right, and, uh, the best of people were in the group. And what did I have afraid of? I was standing with some thing that represented people who needed help.

GEORGE STONEY: And looking back on it, would you have changed what you did?

MURPHY: No. I made a lot of friends that had been, uh, with me over the years from a way of that I would’ve never had. Um, I didn’t lose any friends by belonging to this. I think I gained maybe some respect, maybe some hate, but I never saw it. Yeah, I’d do it again. If the need was the same as it was then, I would.

7:00

GEORGE STONEY: OK.

HELFAND: OK.

GEORGE STONEY: Great.

JAMIE STONEY: Do we need the tone?

HELFAND: Sure.

GEORGE STONEY: OK. Just...

JAMIE STONEY: OK. We just need 30 seconds of the --

GEORGE STONEY: OK.

JAMIE STONEY: -- the sound of the room for editing. It sounds weird, but, you know, we’re still rolling. This is room tone.

MURPHY: It’s playing.

[break in video]

8:00

[Silence]

9:00

[Silence]

10:00

GEORGE STONEY: All right, sir. Could you tell me when you first started working in the cotton mill and what you did?

DANIEL STEWART: I first started working in the cotton mill when I was 13 years old. I started running machines is when I first started in there.

GEORGE STONEY: You were running machines.

STEWART: Yeah, I was running pickers.

GEORGE STONEY: What does that mean?

STEWART: Well, at that time, they had what they called a “breaker," and then they had to take the laps on all the breakers and put them on the finishers. And then it’s finished -- when you finish that u- lap, then they put it on the cards and card it.

GEORGE STONEY: What mill was that?

STEWART: That was the Phoenix Mill at Kings Mountain.

11:00

GEORGE STONEY: And how old were you? Uh, when were you born?

STEWART: Nineteen two.

GEORGE STONEY: So, this was about 1915.

STEWART: That’s right.

GEORGE STONEY: Could you tell us about what it was like to work in the mills then?

STEWART: Well, it was -- I thought it was nice, but because I just had come off the farm working for 25 cents a day from sun up to sun down. And so, I thought that was good, you know, working 12 hour -- 11, 12 hours at 10 cents a hour. Out on the farm, I was making, uh, 25 cent working from sun to sun.

GEORGE STONEY: And how long did you work there?

STEWART: At the Phoenix? Well, I don’t know. It must have been something like about six or seven years; something like that.

GEORGE STONEY: And did, uh -- what kind of work did the, the black people get in the mills?

12:00

STEWART: They didn’t get any. They, uh, got to [open?] cotton and scrub (inaudible) [toilets?], you know, [fire boilers?], bale [waste?] and stuff like that. They didn’t get to run no machine.

GEORGE STONEY: Why not?

STEWART: I don’t know. That was just -- they hadn’t never put them to work in a... But, see, the supervisor, he knew me, and that’s why he, he got me right on in there. See, he was my supervisor, and he’d, he’d been knowing me a long time.

GEORGE STONEY: How, how did he know you?

STEWART: Well, you see, he, he visit my mo- grandmother and grandfather; them all the time. See, he knew all them old people, and he was a [very nice?] fellow. You know, he -- he’d go around from house to house on weekends, 13:00talking to ’em, you know. And he liked to play with children. You know, he would play with me, pick up and (inaudible). Then when I wanted a job, he just put me to work. And when I started there, “(inaudible) only 16?” And he told them, he said, “Yeah, that boy is 16.” He says, “I know.” He -- he’d say it to them. He said, “Mr. (inaudible) says that boy don’t look like he’s no 16 years old to me.” He said, “Well, he’s just little, that’s all, but that’s how old he is.” And so, they let me stay. So, I, I was working there when I was 13.

GEORGE STONEY: Who else -- uh, what other black men were working in the mill?

14:00

STEWART: Oh, there wasn’t any working in there but me. There was some opening cotton and stuff like that, and then, you know, unloading coal and stuff like bale waste and stuff like that, but then they didn’t get you on no machine.

GEORGE STONEY: Well, when you -- when Roosevelt came in... You remember when Roosevelt came in?

STEWART: Yeah.

GEORGE STONEY: Tell us about that.

STEWART: When he came in, then I was making 10 cents a hour, and by law, they said we had to have -- make 30 cent and go on 8-hour shifts. And I just thought I’d be a millionaire in a little bit making 30 cents a hour. I had been working, working for 25 cents a day -- 10 cents a hour.

GEORGE STONEY: Did it feel like being a millionaire?

STEWART: Huh?

15:00

GEORGE STONEY: Did it feel like being a millionaire?

STEWART: Well, I don’t know how a millionaire feel. (inaudible) people call millionaires, you know. I thought I was gonna have a whole lots of money making 30 cents a hour. Then when I was -- when I got 15, I was -- I was -- some weeks there, I’d make $100 in one week at the age of 15.

GEORGE STONEY: How much schooling did you get?

STEWART: None.

GEORGE STONEY: You, you never went to school?

STEWART: Well, I got to go the first day, and then, uh, (inaudible), he said that the only -- “That boy ain’t gonna to learn nothing in school and he can’t make no money in school. Kee- keep him -- put him to work.” And so that’s what they did; kept me working.

16:00

GEORGE STONEY: What did your folks say about that?

STEWART: What did they say about it? They thought it was right. See, they didn’t have no education either.

HELFAND: You know, I -- maybe you can explain on tape what we’ve been doing --

GEORGE STONEY: OK.

HELFAND: -- and where we’ve been going and...

GEORGE STONEY: OK. Well, one of the reasons I’m asking you these questions...

STEWART: What was that?

GEORGE STONEY: One of the reasons I’m asking you these questions is that we’re making a movie about textiles in the early ’30s and how people tried to stand up for their rights --

STEWART: Oh, yeah.

GEORGE STONEY: -- uh, and form unions.

STEWART: Mm-hm.

GEORGE STONEY: Do you remember anything about unions in your factory?

STEWART: Oh, oh, I reckon so. Uh, but I never did join it. And, uh, you took the mill that I was working at that time; they didn’t nobo- Well, there was a 17:00few there, you know, voted for it, but, uh, most of the people voted against it. And so, they didn’t get in.

GEORGE STONEY: Do you know why they voted against it?

STEWART: Well, they didn’t know -- in the first place, they didn’t know nothing about it no how. And, uh, then the supervisor and the superintendent would tell ’em, you know, that it wasn’t no good and all like that. So, they just wouldn’t join. So, from my part, I was happy with what I was doing and what I was getting paid to do.

GEORGE STONEY: Did they ever ask you to join?

STEWART: Oh, yeah, yeah. And I’d tell them if they wasn’t satisfied, go somewhere else.

GEORGE STONEY: Were there any black members of the union?

18:00

STEWART: No. Didn’t none of them join.

GEORGE STONEY: What happened during this -- in 1934, there was this great, big strike that all the mills closed down, including yours.

STEWART: Oh, yeah.

GEORGE STONEY: Do you remember that?

STEWART: Oh, yeah. (inaudible) got mills shut down for 13 weeks. Thirteen weeks it didn’t turn a wheel, but you take, I’d get a few days alone, you know, cleaning motors, and hauling [hangers?]; just stuff like that. They’d always find a little something for me to do, you know, a day or two through the week. The rest of ’em wasn’t getting nothing, that is if he’s black. It was rough back then. That’s a fact. But I just happen to be the -- one of 19:00the lucky ones. And you’d take a -- they had a place for the black to drink, and water, and all that stuff, but I didn’t, see, but because I was in the card room, and I was running cards, and, and (inaudible), and, you know, stuff like that. I could run anything in there. It didn’t take me long to learn to run nothing. And so, by me doing that, I got to drink where the white people drank.

GEORGE STONEY: Did you get paid like the white people?

STEWART: Oh, yeah, yeah, because whatever that job was paying, if a white man was running it on one shift, and I’d be running it on the next, I’d get the same thing he did. But there were so many of them colored people that didn’t get the same thing, you know, but because they wasn’t doing the kind of work 20:00that I was doing.

GEORGE STONEY: Well, now, you are one of the very few people, black people, we’ve talked with who was -- got a chance to run a machine.

STEWART: Yeah.

GEORGE STONEY: How did other people -- what did other people do about that?

STEWART: Well, sometimes some of ’em would walk out, quit ’cause they’d give me jobs, you know, that they was running, and they’d walk out, quit, go somewhere else. They...

GEORGE STONEY: Do you reme- could you tell us about one time when that happened; how it started and all of that?

STEWART: Well, I don’t know if it’s this -- the la- the lap machines or something. That’s probably what happened to lay out where they would put me on that job, see, and, uh -- then maybe the next night (inaudible) would be out. 21:00They’d put me on that job, and so -- but for them, they would -- com- coming back, well, they would be out of a job, but because I’d be on that job. I broke the color line every where I worked. Down at (inaudible), I broke the color line there. Never had been a colored man in a setup machine -- a setup man there. Never, never did get the opportunity, but, see, the, the man who was owning that, uh, machine shop at the time; he was raised on one side of the creek, and I was raised on the other side of the creek. And, see, he -- and he just took me on, and then, see, by me being easy to learn to do different 22:00things. See, like when I was in the card room, they would [close?] the card or something like that. They’d put me with the man to help him, you know. Well, then if he go to changing the speed, they’d get me to arrange it, you know, and I’d help the other fellow. All, all my life, I had been lucky about -- on jobs, working on jobs that, uh, other black people never did get a chance to run. But (inaudible), uh, they told (inaudible) they wasn’t gonna send but one man down there, and they, they did. They sent one man, and that one man, he took and called the superintendent in there and told them they was underpaying 23:00me. They had to raise my wages 25 cents on the hour. So, they had to do it, you know. And then a lot of ’em, then they -- about me setting up these machines and things, well, a lot of them didn’t like it, you see, because there never had been a black man doing that.

GEORGE STONEY: What happened then?

STEWART: They’d walk out, a lot of them. And so, I, I met the superintendent down there in the -- in the floor, and I told him I didn’t come down there to run his help off. “I could get a job anywhere,” and he said -- he told me to go on back to my job, for his daddy been wanting me down there for 10 years to work for him. He said he could go up the towns, see, trains were stopping in Bessemer at that time. He told me he could take his truck up there and get a 24:00truckload better them that walked out. And then he told me, he said, if he could find 40 blacks like me, he would hire ’em that day.

GEORGE STONEY: Suppose he had done that. What do you think the white people would’ve done?

STEWART: Well, at that time, I don’t know. It’s been kind of rough. I thought the roof was gonna blow off when I -- when them -- they -- I -- when (inaudible) one with a, a, a wrench box, you know, a [tool?] box thing. I thought the roof was gonna to blow off, but it didn’t.

GEORGE STONEY: What happened to you outside the mill? Did they...?

STEWART: Huh?

GEORGE STONEY: After you got that job that was usually for a white man, what happened to you outside the mill?

STEWART: No, this was in the machine shop.

GEORGE STONEY: Yeah.

STEWART: Didn’t --

GEORGE STONEY: What?

25:00

STEWART: -- didn’t nothing happen. Just five quit though.

GEORGE STONEY: Where were you living all this time?

STEWART: Here.

GEORGE STONEY: And this is a long way from where you were working.

STEWART: No, it’s close. It’s didn’t take but just a little bit to go down there.

GEORGE STONEY: Well, now, it must have taken a lot of nerve for you to do that, and walk out of that mill, and knowing that you were surrounded with all those white people.

STEWART: It didn’t bother me. See, I had been used to that when I was working in the cotton mill. I did -- like when you get used to something, you know, it don’t go -- it don’t bother you. It didn’t bother me a bit. And a lot of them wouldn’t, wouldn’t speak to me for months. It wasn’t long till they was as good a friends I had there after they found out who I was and all. And 26:00see, and I would live in [here?] when I went to work at -- and whenever them few wasn’t knew me, you see, would tell them, you know, about what I was doing. Well, I was running the [mill?] then, all that stuff, raising cotton, and I was working. See, after they found out that, that I was all right then. So, they didn’t had nothing to say. They was good to me then. And, uh, you take my supervisor, what was done (inaudible) at that time. That’s been 10 years ago. He come here today to see me. That’s right. And, uh, you take, uh -- he said -- he said -- now, he says, “As soon as you get well enough,” he said, 27:00“you come on. I might give you something to do.” I told him, I said, “Man, I’d be 90 years old my first day.” He just laughed, you know. Yeah, he was a good supervisor. Yeah.

GEORGE STONEY: Is he retired now?

STEWART: Who?

GEORGE STONEY: The supervisor.

STEWART: Oh, no, he’s not retired. He’s still working for (inaudible), but he’s just, just in on a visit; on his vacation or something.

GEORGE STONEY: Do you have any children who worked in the mills?

STEWART: Yeah. Why, you take a -- when, when the depression was on, I had a wife and ten children. And this fellow that I was renting land from, you know, 28:00sharecropping he told me, he says, uh, eee, the mill wasn’t running do no good. And, uh, he says, “Why don’t you go down to Gastonia, and, uh, put in food and stuff that they was giving away?” So, he kept on asking me to go, so I went, and they said, well, they’d let me know in a week or two. And about 10 days, they sent for me to come down there. They said I was making more money than they were. They said I didn’t need no food. See, I was raising my peanuts, popcorn, sweet potatoes, turnips, and molasses or wheat, and cornbread, and, uh, see, I’d take my wheat to the mill and swap it for flour. And so, I was -- you know, I was going good. And I’d go around and buy trees on a 29:00stump, put something else in there, you know, and I’d make pretty good off of it. See, I’d give a man so much for it. And then for a long time, I’d go around through the country in the winter time, and it’d be cold. People wasn’t getting no work to do, and the cows would get pulled. Not everybody owned a cow at that time. And I’d the old team out and ride around and see an old cow standing and shivering. I’d go ask a man or the woman, whoever the cow belonged to, “Do you want to sell it?” They’d say, “Lord, yes, because I can’t afford to feed that cow,” they’d say. I’d, I’d come on back home, and so the next morning, I’d get up about 3:00, 3:00 o’clock. Sometimes it’d take a long time to walk there, but I could walk at that time. I’d buy that cow, maybe give $15, $20 for it, and bring it on home, then put 30:00it in the barn, and she didn’t even get a foot on the ground outside no more until till (inaudible) fattened up, and I’d sell it to the store. Didn’t have no inspect- meat inspectors at that time. See, I’d go in and gauge a quarter at this store and a quarter at that one. And that woman right there would fatten that cow in a month and a half so that I could sell her. And I’d get anywhere from $70 -- $70, $75, and $80, $90 out of the cow. And I give $20 for it.

GEORGE STONEY: Did you show -- did you sell produce around the mill?

STEWART: No, no. I’d sell it to the stores because people at the mill, they couldn’t -- they couldn’t buy it. And you take a store wouldn’t buy but a quarter; just one quarter, but because, you know, people didn’t have enough 31:00money to buy the meat. They’d want it, but they couldn’t buy it because they didn’t have the money enough to buy it.

GEORGE STONEY: Do you feel you were lucky that you did not live in a mill village?

STEWART: Oh, Lord, yes. I sure do. Yeah, but I, I was lucky though. I never was fired off a job. I never was laid off, nothing. I never did -- I never did lose a job.

HELFAND: Could you ask him to say, “Yeah, I was lucky not to live in a mill village,” and explain why?

GEORGE STONEY: Mm-hm. Well, we were asking about being lucky not to live in a mill village because we understand that if you lived in a mill village, if you got in any trouble, you’d have to -- you’d get evicted. You’d have to leave.

32:00

STEWART: Yeah, well, they wouldn’t let you live there in the village no how. And, uh, if they would, yeah, I could hear tell of places where they lived there. And, uh, but they, they had trouble staying there, you know. And you take at Kings Mountain, they had two houses there for -- one was for the farming and one was for the (inaudible). And they’d have trouble with them small...

HELFAND: Excuse me. You know what? I’m going to -- when you touch your, your shirt, you touch your microphone, and then it makes it hard for me --

STEWART: Oh.

HELFAND: -- to hear you talk.

STEWART: Oh.

HELFAND: So, I’m gonna ask you, uh, you can touch anywhere you want, just not right where your microphone is. OK?

STEWART: OK.

HELFAND: I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable. You just find another place to touch.

STEWART: Oh.

GEORGE STONEY: OK. Could you start that again; telling us about the, uh --

HELFAND: Mill village.

GEORGE STONEY: -- about the mill village?

33:00

STEWART: Well, they, they had two houses, you know, because back at that ti- days, they were huge mules and wagons, and there was these black people hauling mules and wagon, and (inaudible). It, it was pretty rough. Some of them little boys would throw rocks at them, you know, and all, but there wasn’t nothing they could do about it. And then they had the outhouse built way off. You’d go in there, and them little boys would get down and throw rocks against it; wouldn’t let you out. Supervisors would have to come down there and run ’em off so you could get out and come on back to your work. It was rough with most of them. But you know I was -- everywhere I went, I’d be one of the lucky 34:00ones. I’d get good jobs, and I’d get top pay.

GEORGE STONEY: Did you ever figure out why you were lucky?

STEWART: No. I didn’t -- I didn’t think about it.

GEORGE STONEY: What happened to your children?

STEWART: They all married off. And (inaudible) staying here for the year all the time. You take, after I got out of the hospital, it seemed like I couldn’t -- didn’t have no good appetite, and they’d buy all kinds of stuff to try to get my appetite back. Them grown. Their husband never did tell ’em no, they couldn’t do it, you know, spending money on me.

35:00

GEORGE STONEY: Now, your fa- what did your father do?

STEWART: He was a -- back at that time, they called it the jackleg cottoner. They called them jackleg cottoners at that time.

GEORGE STONEY: What did that mean?

STEWART: You know, when you could -- you could do good work, but it’d have to be kind of rough work like barns and, you know, fixing doors in the houses and porches, and such things like that.

GEORGE STONEY: Did he ever work in the mill?

STEWART: No.

GEORGE STONEY: Now, you left the mill about what year?

36:00

STEWART: Uh, let’s see, it’d be ten years -- I didn’t leave the mill. Oh, the cotton mill? Oh, I was -- I was 62 years old when I left the cotton mill, and that was -- well, I was 62, and then I worked at the machine shop until I was 80, and, uh, you could tell how many years that was.

GEORGE STONEY: Well, if you left at 62, that means that you left about 1964 because you were born in 1902, didn’t you?

STEWART: Yeah, yeah.

GEORGE STONEY: OK. That was about the time when the federal government saying that blacks had a right to have any job in the mill they were able to...

STEWART: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

GEORGE STONEY: Did you see that happen?

STEWART: Oh, yeah. And I saw them tighten down too.

GEORGE STONEY: What do you mean by that?

STEWART: They wouldn’t let ’em -- wouldn’t let ’em get the job, wouldn’t give ’em the job. You know, like some wanted to work in the weave 37:00shop, different parts in the mill where they were paying more money. They wouldn’t give it to ’em. It was rough for ’em back then.

GEORGE STONEY: Well, now, we’ve talked with a number of black people who were the first to be in the mills, and the first at the Loray, uh, the first in Eagle, and so forth. It was rough for a while, but now, many of them have very good jobs in the mill.

STEWART: Oh, yeah, yeah. Some of them got good jobs, but back then, they didn’t.

GEORGE STONEY: How do you feel about that change?

STEWART: About the change? Well, I’ll tell you what, I saw so many changes. I, I saw a many change now -- a many one. And I thinks about ’em sometime. 38:00And I know when I was working on the farm, uh, they’d -- all the white go in and eat. They’d call the dog and feed him on the porch; bring me mine and a plate down at the [spring?]. If I had enough on there, I had enough. If I didn’t, I didn’t. There was an old rusty tin there for me to get my water with. That was when I was working on the farm.

GEORGE STONEY: How did that change when you worked at -- when you moved to the mill?

STEWART: Well, it was a whole lots of difference, see. See, you, you -- they 39:00didn’t brought you a meal like they did on, on -- give you nothing to eat like they did on the farm, but when I went to work in the mill, making that 10 cents a hour, I thought I was making money $6 a week for 60 hours.

GEORGE STONEY: What did you do with that money?

STEWART: Well, I tried to save a little bit of it. Then I started buying a little land. I bought a acre land when I was 15 years old -- one acre. And see, and then you take after and married. It was three years that I didn’t even wear a work shirt. They had -- back then, they was making a, a jacket that you slip over your head, and I wore that for three years. See, they was cheap. 40:00I didn’t have no work shirt. I didn’t buy no work shirt because I was wanting land. I only had two, two Sunday shirts. I’d wear them on Sunday when I went to church. Whatever I wore this Sunday, next Sunday I’d go with my other one. I didn’t even have a work shirt for, for three solid years.

GEORGE STONEY: The, the way you broke up the cotton; it was awfully dusty, wasn’t it?

STEWART: No, I didn’t open it. No.

GEORGE STONEY: That’s right. You were working -- sorry, you were working inside.

STEWART: I was on the machines. Yeah, there was dust. You take -- you could 41:00have everything this clean, then you could go in one hour and write your name down anywhere. Some dust would settle. Oh, it was something’, but they finally got that cut down a whole lot, you know. Ain’t as much dust in there, they tell me, know as there was like when I was working in there.

GEORGE STONEY: Did you think that affected your health?

STEWART: Well, I don’t know. There ain’t too many people get past 90 years old, and so, I, I couldn’t say that that dust had done anything to me. Of course, see, you take back in October the 13th, I’d be 90 years old, and there ain’t too many people live past 90. And so, I couldn’t say there’s nothing I’ve done right.

GEORGE STONEY: Have you had much illness?

42:00

STEWART: No. I’ve had more in the last couple of years than I’ve had all my life put together.

HELFAND: Can you close up? Can you have him, uh, tell us how old he was when he started again, and talk about his jobs a little bit?

GEORGE STONEY: Mm-hm. OK. Once again, could you tell us about how old you are, and tell us about your first jobs? We just want to repeat that.

HELFAND: In the cotton mill.

GEORGE STONEY: In the cotton mill.

STEWART: Well, I was at the Phoenix Mill when I was 13 years old. That’s on my first job, and it was just because the supervisor knew me from a little tot, you know. And there was other black men wanting to quit, and, uh, they said 43:00that I wasn’t nothing but a chap making more money than they was. And there was some -- could they do what I was doing? They said, “No.” Well, they said, “That’s the reason why.”

GEORGE STONEY: And how much did you make?

STEWART: Ten cents a hour. I worked 60 hours for $6.

HELFAND: OK. Could you describe for us, you know, how the mill looked, you know, the approa- when you walked up to the mill, what the mill looked like, and what the room looked like where you worked?

STEWART: When I first went there?

HELFAND: Yeah.

44:00

STEWART: Well, it was just something for me to look at, you know. I couldn’t imagine, you know. I had a thing going, but, you know, after I was in there a few days, why it was just a common thing to me. Oh, I was glad to work and get to work, and, you know, been out there, plow the mule sun up to sun down, 25 cents a day, then go to work there making 10 cents a hour. Man, $6 for a week working out there on the farm. If you didn’t work Saturday evening till 6:00 o’clock, you didn’t get but $2.75.

HELFAND: Could you tell us how the inside of a mill worked, you know, how the people were treated -- all people?

45:00

STEWART: Well, uh, what you mean? How to -- what people acted towards me?

HELFAND: Not towards you. I mean, maybe how the supervisors or the boss men treated all the people that worked there. Could you describe what they, you know -- what it was like to be working on those machines, and then moving so fast, and...?

STEWART: Well, well, they treated them all, all right, you know, in the department which I’d be in, you know. I’d be in the card room. The supervisor; he would treat them all just alike. He didn’t make no difference. There was very good supervisors. Everywhere I worked, there was good supervisors, except one. And, uh, he was from Georgia, and I reckon there did no blacks working in the cotton mill down there. And I had, uh, sprained my 46:00back. The doctors told me to, you know, not to work for two weeks, and so my supervisor, he just gave me a seat and said that, you know, if anything was to happen to the machines, I could show the man, you know, how to fix it and all that. And so, this man from Georgia; he didn’t like to see me sitting up there drawing my full pay, you know, and not doing nothing. And, uh, he asked me to come home and stay till I got so I could run the job myself. And, uh, so I told him I wasn’t on no welfare, and I wasn’t paying no house rent. He could take -- he could take the job and go with it. And so, I went on down 47:00there to -- the fellow who used to be the supervisor up there at the cotton mill asked me to go, go down there to the machine shop. So, that Monday, I went on down there, and I told the man that I wasn’t, uh, able, you know, to work. And he said, “Well, you can just pick up paper and Coca-Cola bottles and stuff till you get started.” He said, “My daddy been wanting you for ten years.” He said, “You just pick up bottles, paper, stuff like that. If you want to go sit down, go ahead. And then when the doctor say you can go back to work,” he said, “we’re going to give you a machine.” So, that’s what they did.

GEORGE STONEY: Well, there must been -- there must have been something very special about you that caused you to have all this difference from other black people.

48:00

STEWART: I don’t know. I can’t tell you that. All, all I know; I was treated nice all the way. That’s right. I never was fired off a job. I never was laid off. They could be laying off help, but they never would lay me off. They’d be laying off white help, but they never did lay me off. They’d always find something for me to do, but because, see, I could do almost anything. And, see, when I was down there in the shop, see, I was a gear cutter, and in that department, there was 14 of us, and I was the highest paid one, one that was in there.

HELFAND: You might want to talk about the NRA.

GEORGE STONEY: Mm-hm. OK.

HELFAND: You know, you can talk about how they hemmed and hawed.

GEORGE STONEY: OK. Now, when you first went in the mills, you were making 10 cents an hour.

STEWART: Yeah, that’s right.

49:00

GEORGE STONEY: And then you said when, uh, Roosevelt got in, you got more pay.

STEWART: Thirty cent. Yeah.

GEORGE STONEY: How did that come about?

STEWART: Huh?

GEORGE STONEY: How did that come about? What made that happen?

STEWART: Well, uh, I don’t know. I couldn’t tell you myself, but there were other people saying and be in the papers that the big man was holding his money back to still make people work for nothing, you know, and they was getting more the produce, but they were still trying to, you know, keep people on low wages. And Roosevelt told them that he’d put them running, uh, he’d counterfeit the money, and they couldn’t stand to hear tell them that. More banks went busted.

50:00

GEORGE STONEY: Were you voting back then?

STEWART: I never got to vote till I was 21. And I got to be -- come 21, I went to vote.

GEORGE STONEY: That was unusual for a black man to vote at that time, wasn’t it?

STEWART: You can say that again. I was living over there on Chestnut Ridge at that time. And a man over there loading up his wagon, haul us all over here to register, and out of all them people, I was the only one got to register. And boy, did they fuss on the way going back home.

GEORGE STONEY: Why did the others not get a chance to register?

STEWART: I don’t -- I couldn’t tell you that. See, it’s because a man would be -- the examiner would be in one room, and you’d be sitting over here 51:00waiting your time to come.

GEORGE STONEY: Now, what did they ask you?

STEWART: Huh?

GEORGE STONEY: What did they ask you --

STEWART: They asked me...

GEORGE STONEY: -- to register?

STEWART: I just answered what they’d ask. And I didn’t try to tell them nothing. And, uh, there was one fellow; he was running a five-horse farm at that time, and they turned him down and his wife too. Now, why, I don’t know.

GEORGE STONEY: Now, was this before the Second World War?

STEWART: Yeah.

GEORGE STONEY: This was way back beyond that.

STEWART: Mm-hm.

GEORGE STONEY: Were you voting in the primary or the general election?

STEWART: I was voting in the general election.

GEORGE STONEY: Did you ever vote in the primary?

STEWART: Yeah. Oh, yeah. And, you see, a lot of them didn’t like it ’cause 52:00-- I mean, a lot of the blacks didn’t like it because I wasn’t voting their way.

GEORGE STONEY: How were you supposed to vote?

STEWART: Hm?

GEORGE STONEY: How were you supposed to vote?

STEWART: I wasn’t supposed to vote like ever.

GEORGE STONEY: I see. Was the boss telling you how to vote?

STEWART: No. No, he didn’t tell me nothing about how to vote. And, uh, well, in fact, he wouldn’t say to nobody I know, you know, about how to vote. I just had my own mind made up, and, uh, I found out how we got over here. Seeing as I was an African, how we were caught and brought over here, and at that time, it was a Republican president. And so, they would catch us like catch mule and 53:00stuff like that; brought them over here and put them up and sell ’em. So, I just didn’t feel like voting for that kind of a man. See, there were Republicans was in when they were... Then when they brought the last load in New York -- I found this out. The last load they brought to New York, they couldn’t sell ’em because the South had done got all they could handle. And then they had to turn them loose in New York. That’s the reason all the blacks in New York City was -- got ahead of people in the South and other states, you know; because when they got that load in up there in New York, they couldn’t sell ’em. Didn’t nobody want them. Everybody had plenty, and so they just turned them loose and then give them jobs and went to paying ’em.

54:00

GEORGE STONEY: Did you ever know any people who had been in slavery?

STEWART: No. I, I never did know no one that was, was slaves, but I heard ’em talk about -- I heard her mother talk about how they, they had heard when, when them Yankees come through making them turn ’em loose by putting her down flour bale, keeping them from seeing her. I heard that tale then. I’ve heard different ones, you know, way back about different things, you know, about how they would hide them, you know, so when the Yankees come through, they couldn’t -- wouldn’t find them and get to keep them. They wouldn’t turn them loose. I saw where they -- where her mother was, was raised at. I saw 55:00that place. Man, well, that place at that time was holding men in there, and now and days, it wouldn’t hold a nine-year-old boy, but you could come out of there. But back then, you was afraid to come out. They could’ve got out of there if they wanted to or knew how.

GEORGE STONEY: When did you learn to read?

STEWART: To read? While I was in the cotton mills, fellows, you know that -- I ran across some good fellows, you know. They would, you know, read things to me. And then when I went to work in the machine shop, this fine fellow in there; he learned me how to read blueprints and how to set machines on minutes and degrees. See, but he didn’t have to -- he didn’t have to do that every day. All he had to do was to go over it with me, and then I could go ahead and 56:00do it myself. There were cotton cutters (inaudible) left hand, right hand, spiral, helicus.

GEORGE STONEY: So, you learned to read after you had grown up.

STEWART: Oh, yeah, yeah. No, I wasn’t full grown. I must have been about, say, 18 or 19, along there. You know, when I was in the cotton mill, all these fellows, you know, would read, you know, and sometime they’d bring paper, saying I was (inaudible). The old club was in Washington. They called it the Washington Senators, and I pulled for them ’cause the catcher for that club lived in Gastonia. And, uh, they’d see them different ones; would bring the newspapers in there, and they’d be reading to me to show me. That’s the way 57:00I caught on.

GEORGE STONEY: What about writing?

STEWART: Well, I can’t write to do no good. I never could write to do no good. Uh, I -- it had been about three years; might not three years, I had been in and out the hospital. I didn’t get to write nothing, uh, figure nothing, and, uh, after I got out this time, I said, “You know, what, they’re trying to figure out something.” And I tried to make a eight, and I couldn’t make a eight to save my... I hadn’t had a pencil in my hand though in almost three years. And the eight looked like a “G”.

HELFAND: Let’s go back --

GEORGE STONEY: OK.

58:00

HELFAND: -- to 7A.

GEORGE STONEY: OK.

HELFAND: And explain --

GEORGE STONEY: OK.

HELFAND: -- why we’re doing it and get his point of view.

GEORGE STONEY: OK. Well, now, one of the things we’re doing is we’re making a film about what happened in the early 30’s when Roosevelt first got in.

STEWART: What happened?

GEORGE STONEY: Yeah, Roosevelt. What’d you think about Roosevelt?

STEWART: I think he was a good president. If it had been up to me, he’d stay until he died.

GEORGE STONEY: Well, he did.

STEWART: Huh?

GEORGE STONEY: He stayed there until he died.

STEWART: Yeah.

GEORGE STONEY: Did you ever hear him on a radio?

STEWART: Oh, yeah, yeah. We had a radio. We got radios early, but didn’t get TVs until very late.

GEORGE STONEY: Tell us about listening to the radio.

STEWART: Well, I thought it was one of the greatest thing ever were. When the 59:00first man got a radio, he lived down the road about two or three miles, and we heard about it, and we’d come over there, walked from Chestnut Ridge over at night to hear it, you know. Yeah, I thought that was a [terrific?] thing.

GEORGE STONEY: Did you listen to the ball games on radio?

STEWART: Oh, yeah, yeah. Yeah. But I didn’t have much time to look at -- listen at ’em. I’d only listen would be at night when I -- when I wasn’t working or something, or maybe on Sunday I’d get a chance because I worked all the time.

GEORGE STONEY: Well, now, one of the things we’re doing is making a film about what happened when Roosevelt got it. There’s a code that’s set up for the cotton industry. It says that instead of working 11 hours a day, you’re gonna 60:00work 8 hours. You could make a minimum of $11 a week.

STEWART: Twelve. Twelve dollars a week.

GEORGE STONEY: Twelve dollars a week.

STEWART: Yeah.

GEORGE STONEY: Uh-huh.

STEWART: And boy, I was the happiest soul there was. You take off from $6 to $12, boy that’s something.

GEORGE STONEY: Yeah.

STEWART: I mean, it wasn’t $12. It was, uh, what, $18. Anyway, it was 30 cents an hour, and, uh, so boy, I just thought that was something. Yeah.

GEORGE STONEY: Yeah. You are one of the few black men we found who actually got that money.

61:00

STEWART: Yeah, I got it. And then you take -- everywhere I worked, if they got a raise, I got a raise.

GEORGE STONEY: Did you have to fight for that?

STEWART: No. I didn’t. And you take when (inaudible) bought out [Kostner’s?], uh, that man, what they said down there from old Cleveland, uh, he was supposed to be the only man to come, but, uh, he wasn’t there but about two weeks. He called a superintendent in there and told him, he says, “I’ve been watching this fellow ever since I been here.” He says, “He’s the best hand you got, so you’re gonna raise him 25 cents on the hour now, this week. Not next week,” he said, “this week.” Yeah, I got -- and that was the biggest raise I got, you know, at one time back then, but you take after 62:00then, by me making more money, and when they go to giving raises, man, I’d get good money there.

HELFAND: The other day -- you, you might want to ask him this.

GEORGE STONEY: Yeah.

HELFAND: The other day, he, he said, uh, when they passed the Blue Eagle, he said that the mill kind of hemmed and hawed about having to pay everybody. So...

GEORGE STONEY: OK.

HELFAND: And we have his letters on the table.

GEORGE STONEY: OK. Uh, when the Blue Eagle -- you remember the NRA, the Blue Eagle came in? Do you recal- recall something called the Blue Eagle?

STEWART: Something called a Blue Eagle?

GEORGE STONEY: Yeah.

STEWART: No.

GEORGE STONEY: It was a -- shortly after Roosevelt got in, all the industries had codes of fair competition, and they set wages and hours, and this was called the NRA or the Blue Eagle. And if they didn’t live up to it, then they lost 63:00the Blue Eagle.

STEWART: No, I never heard nothing about that.

GEORGE STONEY: OK. Yeah.

STEWART: I must have been in some other part.

GEORGE STONEY: Yeah.

HELFAND: Well, what you said the other day was -- that was in 1933. That’s, you know, at the same time that Roosevelt brought in the, the 30 cent -- the 30 cent hour --

STEWART: Yeah.

HELFAND: -- and the eight hour -- the 40-hour week.

STEWART: Mm-hm.

HELFAND: And you said the mills didn’t like being told -- you said that they hemmed and hawed about it. They didn’t really want to do it.

STEWART: Uh-uh.

HELFAND: Is that what you said?

STEWART: Yeah.

HELFAND: Could you describe that to us about the mills hemming and hawing?

STEWART: How many...?

HELFAND: No, no, no. You said -- I’m quoting you.

STEWART: Mm-hm.

HELFAND: When I -- when I asked you about the 8-hour day the other day and how Washington told the mills, “You’re gonna have to be straight, and you’re gonna have to only work 40 hours a week, and you’re gonna have to only, you know, pay people 30 cents an hour, and people have the right to join a union.”

64:00

STEWART: If they didn’t, they going to get -- counterfeit the money.

HELFAND: Oh, OK.

STEWART: Yeah, he threatened to counterfeit it.

HELFAND: All right. Well, you had said that the mills kind of didn’t want to do it.

STEWART: Oh, no. A lot of them...

HELFAND: That they hemmed and hawed about it.

STEWART: Oh, yeah.

HELFAND: So, I wanted to know what you meant by that, if you could talk about that.

STEWART: But then they didn’t -- they went ahead and give me mine, and they had no [harm?], but others did, you know. And, uh, there for a good while, let people working on the outside like, you know, trucking cotton, unloading coal, and stuff like that. They didn’t give ’em 30 cent. But it wasn’t long that it was given them 30 cent.

GEORGE STONEY: Could you -- could you remember when there was this big strike in ’34?

STEWART: Down at the Loray? Yeah.

GEORGE STONEY: No, this -- well, it was all over. Not only at the Loray, but all over the -- at all the cotton mills.

65:00

STEWART: I don’t know nothing about all the cotton mills was on strike, but the Loray was the first mill that had been on a strike. They wanted a union in, uh, Loray. And then down at, uh -- they had a overhead bridge at that time down here over the railroad, and this woman got killed. Somebody shot her, you know. She was on a truck, and she’d been up at the mill where I was working.

HELFAND: You knew her.

STEWART: I didn’t know her, but, I mean, she was on a truck going up there that day, you know, and, you know, trying to get people to join that union, and somebody -- someone shot them, and they got back down after the bridge. I don’t know if they ever found out who shot her or not.

66:00

GEORGE STONEY: Well, now, five years after that -- four years after that, there was another big strike in ’34, and all the mills, including yours shut down for three weeks.

STEWART: Yeah, well, uh, the mill where I was working, they claimed they didn’t have no orders is the reason they shut down. They shut down for 13 straight weeks, and they told us that the reason they shut down they didn’t have no orders. That’s what they told us.

GEORGE STONEY: And what did you do?

STEWART: See, I was farming. I just come on home and went to work all day. See, I never did lose no time. If the mill didn’t run, I’d come on back down and go to work.

67:00

HELFAND: You -- it seems like you were much better off than most of the cotton mill workers that only worked in the mill.

STEWART: Well, I don’t know how the other person was, but I think I done pretty well for myself not to have no education.

HELFAND: Well, it seems like the other mill workers -- a lot of the mill workers who lived on the village; they didn’t have the kind of security that you did because they didn’t have a farm, and they didn’t own their own house.

STEWART: No, they didn’t own nothing.

HELFAND: Can you talk about that a little bit; about those mill workers?

STEWART: I, I don’t know nothing about what they was doing at their home, you know. All I know is they was living in them houses, and they was paying a lower rent. That’s all I can tell you about that because they was down there, I was here.

68:00

GEORGE STONEY: Now, those -- when I grew up in Winston-Salem, we always thought that the people that worked in the cotton mill were pretty kind of trashy people.

STEWART: Well, (laughter) you can call us that. Some of ’em was, and then some of ’em wasn’t. Right. Yes, uh, some of ’em back along then was pretty trashy.

GEORGE STONEY: Were there any clansman, Klu Klux’s in your mill?

STEWART: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

GEORGE STONEY: Tell us about it.

STEWART: Well, none of them bother me is all I can tell you, but they bothered people who was close to me. But as far as my part concerned, they never did 69:00bother me. I never had no trouble with ’em. But, uh, my neighbors, when I was living on Chestnut Ridge, boy, they’d have (inaudible) sometimes. Yeah.

GEORGE STONEY: What would they do?

STEWART: Huh?

GEORGE STONEY: What would they do?

STEWART: I don’t know what they’d do. All I know is that, that they’d be telling the next day about ’em taking them out and making them jump up and down, and all kinds of stuff. And then one fellow said he gave up his place. He had a little place over there he had and had to give it up and move, move it away. But, see, they never did bother me. I, I could tell all I know just what 70:00I hear them say about it, you know. And then some of the people claimed that caught some of their voices; knew their voices, knew who they were. That’s what some of the people would say, you know, what they would be having out.

GEORGE STONEY: We were talking with E.O. Friday. Do you know him?

STEWART: Who?

GEORGE STONEY: E.O. Friday. He’s a black fellow who started in the mills and when he was just a boy, and he ended up as a pretty well-off contractor --

STEWART: Yeah.

GEORGE STONEY: -- in, uh -- in Gastonia.

STEWART: Mm-hm.

GEORGE STONEY: And he was talking about the Klu Klux’s, and he said there was some around. And that’s why I asked.

STEWART: Yeah. Well, they claimed there was some around, yeah, but you don’t know ’em.

GEORGE STONEY: Yeah.

71:00

STEWART: But, uh, I hear different ones say.

HELFAND: Let’s show him those letters.

GEORGE STONEY: Mm-hm.

HELFAND: And, um, give him that list of unions (inaudible).

B-roll [01:11:13 - 01:13:47]

GEORGE STONEY: Let’s see where is my bag?

HELFAND: No your bag is not here.

GEORGE STONEY: Ok. Let me get that.

JAMIE STONEY: Its probably in the kitchen.

GEORGE STONEY: Yeah (inauble)

HELFAND: How are you doing?

F1: You getting tired sitting, honey?

HELFAND: Oh, I’m okay. How are you doing?

STEWART: Alright.

HELFAND: Are we taxing you too much?

GEORGE STONEY: I don’t think I brought it in. Did I? (inaubible)

HELFAND: Why has it been so tough for people to get a union in this part of the country, and particularly in the cotton mills.

F1: (inaubible)

72:00

HELFAND: Did you try along with [her?]

F1: (inabuble)

HELFAND: How come?

F1: (inaublie)

HELFAND: SO you always had manager, clerical…

73:00

JAMIE STONEY: Somebody’s got a birthday card from the president. See that Judy?

HELFAND: Yeah. That’s a beautiful clock.

JAMIE STONEY: (inaublie)

HELFAND: Did you find it?

GEORGE STONEY: I don’t have them in here.

HELFAND: Which one, the letters? I put them on that table.

GEOREGE STONEY: Where?

HELFAND: Over there.

GEORGE STONEY: Oh here.

HELFAND: Uh-huh.

GEORGE STONEY: Did you know, uh, Bruce Graham? He’s a black man who worked at the Eagle --

STEWART: No.

GEORGE STONEY: -- a long, long, long, long time.

STEWART: No, I didn’t know him.

74:00

GEORGE STONEY: Well...

STEWART: Well, well, what town was that he was in?

GEORGE STONEY: He lives out on, uh, Route 3 Gastonia.

STEWART: I didn’t know him.

GEORGE STONEY: Uh...

STEWART: I didn’t know many people in Gastonia.

GEORGE STONEY: I see. Well, he, he wrote this letter to Washington in nineteen -- in January 5, 1934. And he’s protesting the fact that he wasn’t getting the pay he ought to. He wa- he said, uh, “I’m an inside employee. I’m required to work more than 40 hours a week. I operate three machines; a waste feeder, a waste beater, and an opener. And I’m paid less than 30 cents per 75:00hour, so my employers due me extra compensation from July 17, 1933 up to the present day, which is January 4, 1934.” And he signed his name here, and he said -- and they said, “May we use your name?” And he says, “Yes.” Now, that took a lot of courage.

76:00

STEWART: Yeah. Oh you were handing me just to look at it. Well, I know about all these machines.

GEORGE STONEY: Here’s another letter we have, uh, from Greensborough, Georgia. It says, “Dear Sir...” It’s written to the Wash- to Washington. “On January the second, seven men were fired from the Mary Louis cotton mill of this city. These men have been working at the factory from 2 to 14 years, and were fired without any reason. The factory recently put in new machinery, which, of course, reduced the number of men.” And then he says that colored were working inside, and 12 operated machines and 2 cleaned, but they were replaced with white men. And they again signed saying, “14 colored men.”

HELFAND: (inaudible).

77:00

STEWART: Yeah. Well, I never was replaced by no white, but I have got a lot of white men’s jobs.

GEORGE STONEY: That’s exactly what we wanted to get because it didn’t always work this way.

STEWART: No.

GEORGE STONEY: No.

HELFAND: Do you understand why they wrote those letters? That was -- in that period, 1933, 1934 when it was supposed to -- everyone was supposed to be treated equally --

STEWART: Yeah, yeah.

HELFAND: -- at the 30-cent hour rate. And, uh, but what do you think about the fact that they wrote these letters in defense of the fact that they weren’t being treated that way?

STEWART: Yeah. Well, I can’t say nothing about what I -- how I -- about them, you know, but whenever they went 30 cents, I got the 30 cent.

GEORGE STONEY: Mm-hm.

STEWART: And then as everybody got raises, I’d get ’em. I’d get just as 78:00much as the other fellow. Ain’t no difference. He could be -- he could be white or black. I got the same thing, but I do know there’s a lot of blacks that didn’t get he raises every time.

HELFAND: Did you know any blacks -- no, you could ask him if he knew any, but...

GEORGE STONEY: No. Go ahead. Go ahead. Go ahead.

HELFAND: Did, did you know any black workers who didn’t get those raises that would’ve written letters like this or brought up their grievances to the boss men or to Washington?

STEWART: I don’t know why these others didn’t get the raises. They just didn’t give ’em a raise, but, you know, some time maybe I’d get to talk to the supervisor, and they said, “Well, the fellow wasn’t, wasn’t no [count?]. He wasn’t turning all of the work.”

HELFAND: One of the things that we’re trying -- that we’re looking at, and the reason why we’ve been going around and talking to people is because a lot 79:00of people don’t know that workers like yourself or workers like these men, um, ever, ever had enough courage. They thought they were too frightened to write letters like this.

STEWART: Yeah.

HELFAND: Or to make a demand when something -- when the boss wasn’t doing right by them. So, that’s, that’s why I’m asking you your opinion and your thought about why they -- you know, what you think about -- was it -- what you think -- how much courage you think it took for people to write letters like this; if it was dangerous or not.

STEWART: Well, whether it was dangerous or not, it would depend what city it would be in, or what state it would be in, you know, because all I can do is just like (inaudible) reading that. I could hear other people talking, you 80:00know, that didn’t live around here that lived in other places, especially in South Carolina about how they was treated. I got to hear them say about it, see, for black men, but for me, knowing that, I wouldn’t know. I didn’t know for myself was said, but all I could do is just take his work for it, you know.

GEORGE STONEY: How much travelling did you do back then?

STEWART: I didn’t do no travelling because I worked all the time.

HELFAND: You don’t want to touch your shirt over there.

STEWART: Oh, sorry.

HELFAND: That’s OK.

STEWART: Sorry.

GEORGE STONEY: Did you think you got the same pay because you were as good a worker or a better worker?

STEWART: Well, I couldn’t say I was a better worker, uh, but I’d run my job, and I’d get production. And, uh, I -- I’d have them to come out of the 81:00office and come down when I was working in the machine shop. They’d tell me -- they’d say -- asked me -- one asked me, he said, “Do you know how many parts you killed last month?” I said, “No.” He said, “Only four.” And then they would tell me about other people who would have orders for just maybe 13 or 14 pieces in it and would kill all 13, 14 of ’em in one day, but see, I -- if I could work a whole month, they’d only lose four pieces. That was as good as you can get. You just can’t get no better than that. That’s right.

GEORGE STONEY: One thing we haven’t asked you about is your church.

82:00

STEWART: Well, I worked at my church every Sunday until I got sick, and I’m a church worker. And I’m a Baptist. And I raised my children to go to church. Put the Lord in front, and you follow. Don’t you get in front of him. You let him get in front you, and he’ll lead you, and he’ll guide you. And if you serve him, you won’t even suffer. He said he would open the windows and doors of heaven and brought the many blessings upon you. And, uh, I feel like 83:00I’m one of them. That’s right.

GEORGE STONEY: You’ve lived a blessed life.

STEWART: I’ve been blessed all my life, and I went to church all the time. One time there, uh, well, one of the members got kind of -- didn’t disagr- didn’t, didn’t agree with one another. I caught myself quick, and, uh, I’d go to town, I’d come back, and I’d count my little money. I think I’d lost some of it. I had quick (inaudible). Yeah, I think I lost some of it, you know. And, uh, I put a little in the back, and then I’d, you know, had so much I was gonna spend, and (inaudible) when I come home, I wasn’t 84:00having it. Do you know what happened? I must have lost it. But when I go to figure out where I spent it, uh, I hadn’t lost it, but I wasn’t doing no good because I put it -- and I went to go back to the church and doing the thing that was right, then I went to (inaudible). And you’d take there was a lot of things I’ve done that they didn’t know colored people do. Uh, I sold milk till, uh, sunrise in Gastonia when they was operating. There was no other blacks selling them. They didn’t -- they didn’t buy black -- milk from, uh, any other black person, but that shows you the Lord must have been on my side. Out of all these black -- I sold milk with him for years. I never did see another black man coming down to load milk. I never hear tell of one. And I 85:00sold milk for 41 years.

GEORGE STONEY: Well, now, you’re seeing your children go lots and lots of places that you never had a chance to go.

STEWART: Yeah. Well, I could’ve went. They wanted me to go and pay, pay my way, and I wouldn’t go. And, uh, of course, they ain’t doing no good now, the Dodgers. I was a Dodger fan. My brothers told me to leave my (inaudible) at home. They’d send me the ticket. I told them, “No,” I said, “You’d have to send me a roundtrip ticket.” They said, “We’ll send you a roundtrip ticket.” I still wouldn’t go to New York. Now, you take that woman over there, the one I brought; she’d ride in planes. Yeah, she’d 86:00go everywhere. Everywhere she got a chance to go, she’d go, but I wouldn’t. And you take the children, they’d beg me about going different places. Uh-uh, I wouldn’t go.

JAMIE STONEY: Did you ever follow any of the, uh -- what the called the “Negro Baseball League”?

STEWART: Huh?

JAMIE STONEY: The Homestead Grays or the Georgia Crackers?

STEWART: Huh?

JAMIE STONEY: Did you ever follow any of the, uh, Negro Baseball teams?

STEWART: Oh, yeah, I’d go -- you mean go to ’em?

HELFAND: Or root for them?

STEWART: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, yeah. Man, I was a Dodger team for years. If they sank or swim, I’d vote for -- you know, I’d be pulling for them. Well, then when, uh, uh, Milwaukee moved from Milwaukee down here to Atlanta, I went to pulling for Atlanta because that was close at home, and I’d go down there on weekends to see ’em play. I was down there once from, and they Hank Aaron 87:00playing, and they played in the last end I the last half of the [ninth], and Hank Aaron come up to the bat and hit a home run. I, I tell you, I felt like I was on top of the world. See, because I was pulling for Atlanta to win. See, that’s close to home.

JAMIE STONEY: Mm-hm. I, I remember I saw him in one of his last league games before he went up to play for Milwaukee.

STEWART: Uh-huh.

JAMIE STONEY: I watched him play the last minor league game before he went up to Milwaukee.

STEWART: I don’t know.

JAMIE STONEY: Yeah, I used to watch him down in Jacksonville for the old Jacksonville Braves before you took him up to Milwaukee, he used to punch them out 350, 400 feet right over, bounce off the sewer covers in the middle of Myrtle Avenue.

STEWART: Yeah. Well, I didn’t know nothing about him until he went to, you know, playing with -- at Milwaukee. I didn’t hear nothing about him before that.

JAMIE STONEY: He had strong arms.

STEWART: Oh, yeah.

88:00

JAMIE STONEY: You know what they...? They used to tell him that he was batting and wrong. He has wrists wrong.

STEWART: Yeah.

JAMIE STONEY: Now, if he’s 755 home runs, and he’s doing it wrong, I want to see what happens when he does it right.

STEWART: Yeah, of course, the Dodgers ain’t doing no good this year. They’re at the bottom, but I’m still a Dodger fan now.

JAMIE STONEY: I want them, I want them back in Brooklyn.

STEWART: Huh?

JAMIE STONEY: Take the Dodgers back to Brooklyn.

STEWART: Well, I’m Atlanta and the Dodgers; both of ’em.

HELFAND: Well, ask him about stretch out and the [bee-do?] men.

GEORGE STONEY: You want to wait for the train?

HELFAND: Yeah. Is the train gone?

GEORGE STONEY: It’s still there.

F1: It goes to the liquor plant.

STEWART: (inaudible) on the porch.

F1: We’re talking about the train.

STEWART: Hm?

F1: We’re talking about the train. It goes up.

89:00

GEORGE STONEY: Uh, tell us about how they speeded it up and who did that.

STEWART: Well, they put different gears on, and then, uh, you take like -- at this part, they would be what they call the second hand, whatever always gonna be with him to help to speed ’em up. You know, you’d have to change gears on, you know, to speed them up, and then sometime they’d want to cut them down, and when jobs like that come about -- come open, you know, they’d send me to help ’em. That’s where I, I got, you know -- whether I could do machine work.

GEORGE STONEY: Did they have special engineers, or [bee-do men?], or experts to do that kind of work?

STEWART: Yeah, he’d have to know what he was doing.

HELFAND: Clock man, you called them.

STEWART: Yeah.

90:00

GEORGE STONEY: Could you tell us about the clock man?

STEWART: Clock? He’d be hiding somewhere. And like a few...

GEORGE STONEY: Who’d, who’d be hiding?

STEWART: This, this clock man. He’d be working for the company. He’d hide and watch ya. And like if you catch up say, five minutes out of a hour, they’d figure some way to get you working that five minutes that you had there working at the cotton mill for a long time there. Yes, Sir, they had clock men. They’d clock you, and, uh, then like you would be running to a certain job, and this other man would come on the next shift and would out -- make more 91:00production than you. They’d get -- he’d get on you ’cause you wasn’t getting the production. And a lot of people lost their job. A lot of people just can’t do the same -- he can do the same kind of work, but he can’t do it as fast, you know. They can’t work their hands as fast.

GEORGE STONEY: Was that used as a way of -- to get rid of older workers, do you think?

STEWART: Older workers. No, it didn’t -- the thing wasn’t about the age, if you could do the work. You take there was plenty young people couldn’t, couldn’t even do the work. They’d up let ’em go. Well, that person or was slow or didn’t have no fingers. See, your fingers got to work for you in the cotton mill. Well, if you couldn’t work, you’ve got to get your job somewhere else where you haven’t got to be working your fingers so fast.

92:00

GEORGE STONEY: Now, a lot of that work was done by women, wasn’t it?

STEWART: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah.

GEORGE STONEY: Were there -- were there black women in the...?

STEWART: No. Not very back then there wasn’t. Thirty-three and thirty-four, there wasn’t none, but now you take now and days, works most anywhere they tell me. But see, I stayed in the machine shop till I was 80, and so I do- I done lost sight of the cotton mills.

GEORGE STONEY: Do you wanna try for the pictures?

HELFAND: Uh, sure. Actually, ask him how people react, if you could talk about the stretch out at his own shop at that period of time.

GEORGE STONEY: Well, when they -- when that second man -- the clock man moved around, what did people, uh, think? What did they say?

STEWART: Well, they didn’t think nothing because he’d just be walking 93:00around, you know, just unconcerned like he was looking for something, but yet, and still, he was watching you all the time and clocking ya, see. You wouldn’t know it. He, he might be talking to you, and you wouldn’t know he was a clock man. See, that was a man that’d sit around that you wouldn’t know, know who he was. And it always would be somebody that didn’t work there no how, see. It’d just be somebody running around. You just thought maybe he was looking at shops and things over or probably hun- hunting for a job. Oh, he’d be nice, talking to you. Nice talker, but he’d be clocking you all the 94:00time. And if you managed some rest on your job, they’d go putting more on you. And then if you couldn’t do it, they’d let you go. They’ll refuse to do it, you know. I refused to do a job once, but they didn’t fire me for it. Uh, me and a white fellow was stripping cards, and, uh, this white fellow has been carrying the toppings out, and they wanted me to carry the toppings out, and I wouldn’t do it. They didn’t fire me neither. They put it back on him. They told him he had to do it because I wouldn’t do it, and that was his job, see, but they’ve been trying to put his job on me, you see. That was the only time that it happened. And he -- way afterwards, you know, he got to 95:00laughing about it. Way after he got to laughing about it. He said, “I’m trying to get that off; off on you.” He said, “It didn’t work.” Yeah, he’d la- he laughed about it.

GEORGE STONEY: Well, now, you were in there almost alone, almost the only black man in that whole --

STEWART: Oh, yeah.

GEORGE STONEY: -- mill.

STEWART: Yeah.

GEORGE STONEY: That must have been a pretty lonely business.

STEWART: No. It was all right. There’d be other blacks working outside and around, you know, rough work, you called it. No, it didn’t bother me a bit because it’s like I tell you. I just happen to be one of them lucky ones to 96:00get all the good jobs all the time, and I’d get promoted to higher jobs.

GEORGE STONEY: You wanna show him the pictures?

HELFAND: You know, a lot of people were upset about that stretch out. Around that time, that was in the 30’s, right?

STEWART: Yeah.

HELFAND: When they were speeding up like that?

STEWART: Yeah.

HELFAND: So, because of that, and also because President Roosevelt said that people were allowed to organize into unions, all over North Carolina, people were organizing into local unions in 1933 and 1934. And we have a list, and it even says Bessemer City on there. These are all the local unions that were organized, and part of what we’re doing is trying to figure out how they did that.

STEWART: Mm-hm.

HELFAND: Take a look at that.

97:00

STEWART: Well, uh... I don’t know. I can’t tell you about, about that because, see, I never did have no trouble with ’em, you know. It seemed like I’d, I’d always get the things that waken my way, and that would be what would be, uh, you know, dissatisfied. They would be the ones that’d be -- always getting in trouble, but I never did get in no trouble with none of them.

HELFAND: Around the same period of time, that’s when they -- I’m just trying to -- I’m just trying to pick at your memory a little bit to see if you remember when they were -- when they was trying to organize unions, and pass out leaflets in the mail, and you might have -- because you were inside, you might have heard more about it than a worker that was outside.

STEWART: No. They wouldn’t say that much to me, me, just asking me about 98:00joining, you know, and I’d tell ’em, I said, “Well, is you not satisfied?” “No.” I said, “Well, go someplace else now.” I said, “I’m satisfied with my -- satisfied with my pay.” And see, that’d be the end of it. And I wasn’t bothered much anyhow because they knew that if anybody got a raise, I’d get one. They knew that.

HELFAND: I’m just going to show you a couple of pictures. This is during a -- this is a, a Labor Day parade in Gastonia in 1934.

STEWART: Yeah. Well, Sir. Oh.

99:00

HELFAND: What do you think about that?

STEWART: That’s something.

HELFAND: Here’s another picture. All those workers had organized themselves into local unions, and they were marching on Labor Day.

STEWART: That was at Ranlo. Well, I never was in none of them things.

HELFAND: So, we’ve been going around town talking to people that were involved in that, getting their memories.

STEWART: Well, did you -- have you saw anybody that was in this march?

HELFAND: We have.

STEWART: Oh. Well sir…

100:00

GEORGE STONEY: But we haven’t found any blacks who were in the -- in the union. They were all whites.

STEWART: Yeah. Well.

HELFAND: And this also -- this all happened right before a big -- it was about two years after you got your 30-cent raise, and they were all trying to organize into unions because they were angry about that stretch out and because Roosevelt said they had the right to organize into unions. And a lot of the mills were laying them off because they were joining unions, and so because of that and the big stretch out to speed up, they had a big strike.

STEWART: Yeah, they had a stretch out, but they never did stretch out no jobs on me, see. I was -- I couldn’t say nothing, see, because they wouldn’t speed mine up or nothing. They wasn’t putting more on me. And you take there was a 101:00man the other day that I used to work for (inaudible), well, he come by there to see me. He heard about me being sick, and he come by to see me. He’s from Cleveland, Ohio. He was in visiting. He was asking about me. He wouldn’t stop until he come and find me.

GEORGE STONEY: Well, you’ve certainly lived a blessed life.

STEWART: Huh?

GEORGE STONEY: It’s a joy to talk with somebody who’s lived such a blessed life.

STEWART: Yeah. Well, I can’t -- I ain’t got no, no (inaudible), but because I’ve had as good as job as any blacks had in the cotton mill. I had as good a 102:00job as anybody had in the machine shop. That’s right.

GEORGE STONEY: Well, we certainly appreciate you talking to us.

STEWART: Yeah.

GEORGE STONEY: And Jamie, I would -- if we could boost the light in here a little bit, both Judy and I wanna get some stills.

JAMIE STONEY: OK. I just wanna...

HELFAND: Do you have any questions for your dad? I know that this is a good opportunity if you -- if you wanted to record anything special?

F1: No, not at this time.

HELFAND: OK.

F1: We gonna get -- we gonna get him to talk about, um, things, you know, about...

STEWART: Once I’d tell you about how hard the men worked.

HELFAND: About how hard you worked them?

STEWART: Yeah.

HELFAND: But you know what would be pretty interesting?

GEORGE STONEY: Yeah.

HELFAND: Would be to get his schedule because your dad worked a long day, didn’t he?

F1: Mm-hm.

103:00

HELFAND: Tell us about a typical day for you when you did the cotton mill and the fields.

GEORGE STONEY: When you’d -- when you’d get up, when you’d go to the mill, all of that?

STEWART: Oh, well, you see, I’d work different shifts, and, uh, when I wouldn’t be, uh -- like, say, I’d be working at -- on the third shift, well, I’d come home and sleep then till about 12:00, then get up and work, time for me to go back to the mill. I did all the things like that. And there had been on many a week that I put in 100 hours -- a many a week. And one time there, I worked so long, until I couldn’t sleep. And my boy was plowing up in the field. I sent my, my wife up there to get my son to come to drive me to the 104:00doctor because I couldn’t go to sleep. You know, I done lost so much sleep. That doctor wanted to know if I was driving. I told him, “No.” And he’d give me a shot, and I would sleep for about two blocks after -- you know, I had to stay there about ten minutes or something there to see how I was gonna act. And I bet you we didn’t go two blocks I was asleep, and I can remember, just kind of remember when they was coming up the steps up there with me. And I didn’t know when they would put me in the bed. And I didn’t know it was about 10:00 o’clock on Saturday. I didn’t wake up till 12:00 o’clock that Sunday.

HELFAND: Can you tell us a little bit about working on Sundays when no one else was in the mill, and you’d go in and...?

105:00

STEWART: Yeah, I’d go in and work, but they soon cut that out. They cut that out, you know, about this one man working in there by himself. Like, if something was to happen, uh, something was to fall on him or something, there wouldn’t be nobody there to help him, you know. They cut -- soon cut that out, but I have worked in there when nobody was in there but just me. Be all in (inaudible), you know, be doing jobs like that, cleaned out motors, but they soon put a stop to that. They said it was too dangerous for one man to be working at a place like that by himself. It always had to be two, or three, or four men.

106:00

HELFAND: Where’d your family come from, and how’d they get to this area?

STEWART: Hm?

HELFAND: How long has your family been living in this area of Gaston County?

STEWART: My family? All their life pretty much. Yeah. (inaudible) ’cause we got ’em scattered all over the country.

JAMIE STONEY: I think I got low battery.

GEORGE STONEY: Yeah.

HELFAND: OK.

107:00

GEORGE STONEY: OK. When you’re ready, Jamie.

HELFAND: OK.

GEORGE STONEY: Could you tell us how that picture got made?

STEWART: Well, I went to Gastonia and had it made. Well, I got the train up here, and it cost a dime to go to Gastonia. I haven’t forgot what it cost me. Well, there was a whole lots at that time, but it wasn’t much money, but it was a lots at that time.

108:00

GEORGE STONEY: How old were you?

STEWART: Sixteen and a half years old.

GEORGE STONEY: Do you know why you had it made?

STEWART: No, I just wanted to have it made. I didn’t have no reason.

HELFAND: And what were you doing at the time? You were wearing a suit here. You got a haircut.

STEWART: Huh?

HELFAND: You were all dressed up here. What were you doing at the time for a job?

STEWART: I was working in the mill.

GEORGE STONEY: OK, Jamie, I -- let me twist it and so he could -- he could see it.

JAMIE STONEY: You want me to just stop and play it back?

GEORGE STONEY: No, no.

JAMIE STONEY: He can look at the monitor and turn.

GEORGE STONEY: Oh, that’s what I mean.

STEWART: Well, I look good.

JAMIE STONEY: Ain’t that a handsome fellow?

GEORGE STONEY: Go on -- go on into it, Jamie. Just, uh...

STEWART: Well, I’ll be darned.

JAMIE STONEY: Yeah, my dad’s been asking me to fill him in on all the haircuts he’s been seeing.

109:00

STEWART: Boy, I was a go-getter back in them day.

JAMIE STONEY: You could get in the job -- take over Donnie Simpson’s job.

HELFAND: Did you go by yourself to take this picture?

STEWART: Mm-hm. Yeah.

GEORGE STONEY: OK. We better go.

HELFAND: OK.

STEWART: Well...