AJ Whittenberg, James Allen and Nealy Family Interview

Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library
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0:00

F1: -- I didn’t know about this letter, I didn’t see it.

F2: Well, it’s true. Yep, it’s true.

F1: That’s his signature too, remember that’s his signature.

F2: Yeah, that’s -- that’s his signature.

F1: He wrote pretty good, (inaudible), write better than I do -- wrote better than I do. (laughter)

F2: He prob-- maybe he had someone write this, I don’t -- I -- well, I know he had someone to type it, or --

F1: Well I kinda know his signature, his signature wasn’t bad, I’ve seen his signature, that’s probably his. Mm-hmm.

F2: I can add a lot more to this.

JUDITH HELFAND: What’d you say?

F2: I could add a lot more to it. (laughter)

HELFAND: Like, what do you mean?

F2: Well, I don’t -- you don’t want that anyway.

HELFAND: Well, could you tell me -- some about your uncle and why he might’ve -- why your Uncle might have written a letter like this?

1:00

F1: Oh yes, things were bad, they were bad for us, we had -- we had to -- if you were walking along the street, and white people came along, you got off the sidewalks and into the street and let them have the sidewalks.

HELFAND: At the time that this -- did you ever hear that the time that this letter was written, the cotton mill workers were having a very rough time.

F2: Yes, right.

HELFAND: And they were trying -- could you describe to me -- if you could read just a little bit of that letter and comment on it, that would be great.

F2: Well, I should -- should have my glasses, but, uh, the colored people -- “some of them are trying to buy homes, and the wages (pause) and their homes are being taken away from them, the payments cannot be made” -- and I remember 2:00all of this, but...

HELFAND: Now, back in 1933, could you tell me how old you both were back in 19-- could you tell me that?

F1: I was about 17, 18. I’m 79 years old.

F2: I was 17, she was 18, I think, because that’s when my younger sister was born.

F1: Yeah, we were around that age. Yeah. Now. (laughter)

HELFAND: Could you just -- could you just -- could you say, you know, my uncle Elro-- Elrod, “yeah, my uncle Elrod wrote this letter but I never knew anything about it,” or, just, you know, go with that a little bit, could you say that?

F1: Yes, my uncle Elrod did write this letter, this is the first time I have 3:00seen it or heard about it, but --

F2: It’s all true.

F1: -- it’s true, everything he says is true and worse. Um, well I’ve just said how people are trying to buy homes and losing their homes, colored people. And, um --

HELFAND: How come you think you never knew about this?

F1: This letter?

HELFAND: Sure.

F1: No, I knew about the letter, I knew about the times.

F2: Well, he would talk about things back then, but I didn’t know he’d written a letter about it, (inaudible) a letter to him by (inaudible).

F1: We lived through it, but we didn’t know a letter was being written. We didn’t know that. This is the first I had heard about it. But it -- it is true, as I said, and worse.

AJ WHITTENBERG: Yeah.

F1: The times that I lived down here, until I was about -- I finished -- (inaudible) went up to New York and were --

4:00

HELFAND: Now, did your uncle Elrod, did he work in the cotton mill? Could you tell me some about that?

F1: At some time, I think he did work --

F2: He may have worked in the cotton mill --

F1: I know my father --

F2: When he were smaller he could have worked in the mill when we were smaller, you know, where he was working --

F1: But the jobs were cleaning, and -- oh, what else they do, cleaning and what not.

F2: They were scrubbing the floors.

F1: Maintenance work, like that, that’s what they did. They did not work in the mill on the looms making the materials, the fabrics and what not, until maybe years later, I think they started, that’s when they began -- that was -- I wasn’t here then, but, um, I heard that they were paying in the mills, at that time, $12 a week. I don’t know just what year it was.

HELFAND: That must have been after this period --

F1: It was after this.

HELFAND: Could you both hold on to that letter for me, at the same time?

5:00

F1: I should put my glasses on, cause I can't see what (inaubible)

M1: Are your glasses near by?

F1: Right in my pocketbook.

HELFAND: Oh okay.

(break in audio)

F2: Yeah, I remember, what is it, the doll-- (inaudible) I know the women were makin’ $3 a week -- cookin’ --

F1: Later.

F2: -- cooking and working (inaudible).

HELFAND: Who’s this?

F2: That’s my brother coming there, you better come and see what was going on.

F1: That was much later. The $12 a week was much later. I remember the $3 a week wages. Two dollars a week.

F2: Yeah, I made $2 a week, I worked five days and I only made $2 a week.

HELFAND: I’ll tell ya, the thing that -- well, this would be real interesting, we’ll just let your brother, uh, come up. You stay -- stay down, stay down, you tell him to come --

(break in audio)

6:00

AJ WHITTENBERG: People in the South, you know, they control publishing, so therefore -- (multiple conversations; inaudible)

F1: These are the people that are writing --

JAMES ALLEN: Somebody called me last night, I believe it was last night, was it you?

HELFAND: It was me.

JAMES ALLEN: (laughter) I was on the bed when you called me.

F1: This is James Allen, we call him [Allen?], old brother, and this is -- (multiple conversations; inaudible).

F2: It’s a letter that Uncle Elrod had written.

7:00

ALLEN: (inaudible) I couldn’t imagine what this is all about, I don’t hear well over the phone anyway, I --

F1: You looking for your glasses?

ALLEN: I have ’em here.

F1: Bill, you could sit here. Now who you said sent you that letter, where did you get the letter from?

CREW: From the archives in Washington.

HELFAND: Yeah, we found the letter in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

ALLEN: I believe I talked to somebody some time ago.

HELFAND: It was me.

ALLEN: Prior to last night.

HELFAND: Yes.

ALLEN: Some time ago.

F1: Yeah, she said that she -- (multiple conversations; inaudible)

HELFAND: Couple of weeks ago.

ALLEN: Yeah, mm-hmm. Now as I told, my uncle wasn’t a college man or anything like that, but you can see by this that -- that he did have good -- a lot of 8:00(inaudible), he had more sense than a lot of college, you know, people, he was very smart [in writing?], you know, he just didn’t get to go to school too much, he really had ambition, he had (inaudible). He did a lot more than what he had (inaudible) educated, people did with what they had. You know, he -- I think he was instrumental in getting the lights out here in this neighborhood, started, got that started, the mayor -- he made him expedite the mayor -- the speed that it, you know, (inaudible) and all that. And I could tell you some things about it maybe, I don’t know.

CREW: Cotton mills is what she’s interested in. The cotton mills.

ALLEN: The cotton mills, hmm.

F2: You don’t know he worked in the cotton mill (multiple conversations; inaudible) --

ALLEN: Yeah, I guess he did, now that, uh -- now I don’t know what he did, here, see, I don’t know, I don’t know back --

9:00

F1: But you don’t -- you don’t know when Poppa worked either, (inaudible).

ALLEN: Poppy worked in the mill, yeah I remember (inaudible) -- I remember Poppy’d be out here on the porch watching this, and the (inaudible) before daylight in the morning, we had a ledge on the porches, we had well water, we didn’t have city water. We’d bring a wash pan out there and wash your face out here on the porch in the dark. Getting ready to go to work, yeah.

HELFAND: Could you read -- uh, you know, take a look at what your uncle wrote -- those two paragraphs.

ALLEN: I read most of it. Because people -- some of them is trying -- see what I’m saying, to buy homes and that, that’s he all right, that’s Marcus.

HELFAND: Here, why don’t you, um (multiple conversations; inaudible) -- I -- I typed it out so you could really see what he was trying to say.

ALLEN: Hmm.

HELFAND: Could you read the first part out loud?

ALLEN: This here?

HELFAND: Yeah.

10:00

ALLEN: “A voice from the colored people in South Carolina, please see their son and go down to help him.” My wife said, “him,” my dad said General Johnson. Will, I don’t know(inaudible) Will they be -- that’s the way -- (inaudible) that’s gone on for -- very ambition, we didn’t have most schooling. “For colored people in the South on the [new red scare?]” and (inaudible) that’s another sentence, “in the South I notice -- in the South I noticed in the newspapers are cleaner (inaudible) not considered in the coal or the mills. General Johnson, you know in the South, especially in South Carolina, 95% of the cotton mill’s labor is white, and you see why they put in the coal cleaners, and our side helped. That was prior to colored labor, so I 11:00hope that you were not” -- that’s it, um, the coal [tell some provisions?] (inaudible) here -- “to raise colored people’s wages in the South which it will never be unless you take it in hand, you know in South Carolina, a colored man may have got no job if a white man wants it. General Johnson in Greenville, South Carolina (inaudible) a wage that is paid to colored people, or REFC, (inaudible) laborer 50 or 75 cents a day, domestic help. Porters and janitors 5 and $6 a week. Cooks and chauffeurs made -- women, $1.50 to $2 for a week. Hotel, some of the bellmen working for what they [hustles?] for. Talking about bell hops in the hotel. Farm help, 40 and 50 cents per day. [Wholesale?] house 12:00and truck drivers, $6 or $7 a week, common labor, 10 cents per hour.” (laughter) Well, that’s true.

F1: They didn’t tell, um, they didn’t say (inaudible). He was -- that’s why they -- the Ku Klux Klan took ’em.

ALLEN: Colored men have to pay the same for [living?] product as the mill employee and every other man, it cost -- let’s see, it costs here, it cost him as much to live as anybody else in the mill, but the negro cannot work in the mills -- well, he couldn’t. Except as a janitor or something like that, back then the man couldn’t work on the looms and things, all the colored man could do is clean up the johnnie, cut the grass, or something like that outside, couldn’t work on any machinery back then. That just came about after the integration, didn’t it, Mr. WHITTENBERG?

WHITTENBERG: Yes, sir.

ALLEN: The colored could work on the looms and things.

13:00

WHITTENBERG: Can I add to that -- that, um, at that time, the (inaudible), the negro couldn’t look out the same window as a white, that’s why he couldn’t work in the mill. They couldn’t enter the mill the same door. You remember that, don’t ya? (laughter)

F1: You the back door.

ALLEN: I know I (inaudible).

HELFAND: Now, Miss, could you -- could you comment on what gave your uncle the courage to write a letter like this?

ALLEN: I -- he just had -- he just had that in him.

F1: He was always fighting, (inaudible) made him angry.

ALLEN: He believed in --

F2: A cause -- it’s a good cause.

ALLEN: -- trying to get rights for the black man, and for himself as well, you know, he, uh, he even got carried out by the Ku Klux Klan one night, and one (inaudible) kill him. Came around there and got (inaudible) right around the corner there.

F1: He also -- did you say he was instrumental in getting lights out here?

14:00

ALLEN: Yeah, yeah, what I’m saying now. Right behind (inaudible) see about the lights (inaudible), got help getting the lights out here.

F2: I don’t know too much about (inaudible), ’cause as I said, I wasn’t here, but.

F1: He was always fighting for one thing or another, he wasn’t afraid.

F2: That’s why I thought he wrote that letter.

ALLEN: You had a picture of him, didn’t he? You should show it to her.

F2: He wrote that letter because it made him angry to see negros, how they were treated that’s why he wrote that letter, I know that’s why he wrote it --

F1: We were just downtrodden, and he --

F2: -- and was trying to see if he get something done about it, that’s why he wrote the letter.

ALLEN: Yeah, he’s tough now, he went up to the gasoline engineering firm here, and my nephew -- well, he’s not in the blood kin, he’s Elrod uncle -- Elrod’s his uncle, but not blood -- blood uncle, you know, [Isaac?].

(break in audio)

HELFAND: (inaudible) do you know what your --

ALLEN: That’s when he wrote this letter?

HELFAND: -- yeah, that’s the date, if you look at the -- up at the top, it’s, uh, January 12th -- July 12th, 1933.

15:00

ALLEN: Yeah, yeah. July the 13th here, 1933.

F2: Uh, you want to know what else, what did he -- what else did he do, or?

HELFAND: Well, I’ll tell you, the -- the specific period of time that I’m looking at is exactly when Uncle Elrod wrote that letter --

F2: Yeah.

HELFAND: -- so my -- my study is very focused, and though I know Uncle Elrod did a lot of things later on, the reason I came here to Greenville was specifically to understand this period of time, and to celebrate the fact that Uncle Elrod was speaking up for the black cotton mill workers.

ALLEN: Yeah, yeah, he -- he’s telling the truth here.

F2: Well as I said, we didn’t know about the letter, but after knowing about it, you can say it was all true, that’s all I can say about it, we knew it was all true after reading the letter, we didn’t know about it, but that (inaudible).

F1: You see, the black people were afraid, they were downtrodden, you just -- and the white people, as I told you before, in those days if you were walking 16:00along the street, uh, the white people came along, you had to get off the street and -- and, um, let them walk on the sidewalks. That happened in those days. A lot -- a lot of things happened in those days that, uh, you -- you just -- I -- in fact, I can’t -- I can’t really, some of the fact I can’t even think of ’em, the things that they -- terrible things they did.

ALLEN: You know, the reason they got him -- the Ku Klux that came out that night was, you know they had a club, some kind of club -- Professor Brier, you remember Professor Brier?

WHITTENBERG: (inaudible).

(break in audio)

HELFAND: -- Elrod was doing that.

ALLEN: He’s the only one that would sign it.

F1: She said “what year was that”? You know what year it was?

ALLEN: No, I wouldn’t re-- no, I wouldn’t have the least idea.

HELFAND: Do you think that was in the ’40s?

ALLEN: Oh, that was before the ’40s...

F1: He says before the ’40s.

HELFAND: Before the ’40s. (multiple conversations; inaudible) So did Elrod belong to an organization of people who were always fighting for black 17:00people’s rights, in one form or another, was it --

ALLEN: Well, I don’t know if he was going in the (inaudible) of an organization.

F1: It wasn’t in -- what do you know -- here?

HELFAND: Yeah, I mean, when he wrote this letter, was he --

F1: Oh, he was here in Greenville, South Carolina, Greenville, South Carolina is -- is, uh, one of the worst states in the union, in fact, the worst. It was the first state to secede from the union. So --

HELFAND: What I’m -- what I’m suggesting is when he wrote this letter, was he --

WHITTENBERG: No.

HELFAND: -- I’m wondering if --

(break in audio)

ALLEN: -- segregation, that’s like it was all over the -- all of the South, anyway, you couldn’t drink, uh, you had the same tasting drink water, downtown you hardly had no where to go to a restroom other than some colored place, they didn’t have too many -- coloreds didn’t have too many business places downtown back then.

F2: The buses.

(break in audio)

WHITTENBERG: Uh, (inaudible), was another time down there. Never open no more. After that strike, closed the mill.

18:00

F1: I don’t connect Uncle Elrod with any --

WHITTENBERG: No, he wasn’t.

F1: -- any activities (laughter) at that particular time, I don’t --

ALLEN: You talking bout working in the mill?

F1: Yeah.

ALLEN: Elrod may have worked in the mill, uh, before our time. See, down in Pel-- there’s a mill down in (inaudible), I think that’s where he went, don’t you know it Poppa told us that he couldn’t, back then, you know, he -- they had to draw his wa-- he couldn’t draw his own [wages?], the young person in there, you know, the towns had to go dro-- go pick up his money, paycheck every week. Didn’t allow him to do it.

F2: That must be when they were a good dollar-and-a-half a week. I guess that’s when they were paying him a dollar-and-a-half a week.

ALLEN: I don’t know, revenue was in (inaudible) I think, he hadn’t come to Greenville then --

F2: I don’t know, I’m talking about the letter.

ALLEN: -- that’s when he came to Greenville. We wasn’t born, you know, we wasn’t born...

(break in audio)

HELFAND: -- over the South.

F1: He wasn’t just talking about the -- the way things were here, but, um, as 19:00far as his doing anything and trying to organize, that letter was about, I guess, the biggest thing he ever did, as far as El could do, as far as that matters.

ALLEN: No, he did have, uh, that organization, some, uh, a kin to the Masons, you know, he formed that thing, you know.

WHITTENBERG: Yeah, yes, I know.

ALLEN: He made him the grand master of that.

F2: But as far as anything else, I don’t --

WHITTENBERG: Well, what really happened -- what really happened back then was when El and the people did things, they wouldn’t let the younger people know about it. They kept it to themselves, that’s why we don’t know more ’bout this letter than we do. See, they ain’t go out and tell the children. And they was talking about --

F1: Well, I can see why -- how he wrote the letter --

WHITTENBERG: Yeah.

F1: -- but -- ’cause it’s all true, but maybe it just wasn’t, um --

20:00

WHITTENBERG: That’s why we don’t know --

F1: -- it’s something they didn’t show it or anything.

WHITTENBERG: -- we don’t know anything about it. But he was -- they was grown, and grown people didn’t -- wouldn’t let the children know if they were -- this kind of project was going on.

HELFAND: Why not?

WHITTENBERG: Well, even in the -- when the NAACP was organized, you know, I tried to -- (inaudible) tried to get in it, you know what they told her? “You’re too young.” Mr. Jim Brier, Mr. Elrod Nealey, Mr., uh, the man out in West Greenville, what was his name? Ran the store down there.

ALLEN: That’s Walker.

WHITTENBERG: Mr. Walker, and Mr., the man that lived on Alice Avenue in West 21:00Greenville. They were one, and they kept a secret about the meeting, and the organization, that was in 1938, too. And so, therefore, why we don’t know no more about the correspondence there, is because they didn’t let us young people -- we was young people (inaudible), and they wouldn’t let us know anything.

F1: Now, why do you think they didn’t --

WHITTENBERG: Because --

F1: -- let us -- let (multiple conversations; inaudible).

WHITTENBERG: -- well, what they said --

F1: Were they afraid, or what?

WHITTENBERG: Well, see, children will get out and say things, you know.

F2: Yeah, we were afraid, that’s wh-- (multiple conversations; inaudible).

WHITTENBERG: They afraid too there’s a very few of them, they had the backbone.

F1: And that’s why he wrote the letter.

WHITTENBERG: Yeah, that’s right.

F1: That’s why he wrote the letter, because things were bad, and he -- he would speak up, no one else would speak up, many nobody else in Greenville at that time would have even had the nerve to write to write this letter, but he 22:00-- he -- he did it, that’s the way he was.

WHITTENBERG: That’s why I said, that’s the way he was about the --

ALLEN: He also got a letter in the paper, contradicting what those white folks had written about the people blocking the street, well, now, he’s only one that signed his name to the thing.

F1: This was in -- what year was this? Huh, ’38? July 13th -- I don’t -- (multiple conversations; inaudible).

F2: Right there, 12.

F1: Oh yeah, I was looking up here.

F2: Thirty-three.

F1: 1993. Oh, and this is 1993.

F2: (inaudible). Twelve 19 --

F1: Twelve, 1933.

WHITTENBERG: [Sixty?] years ago.

F1: Yeah. Well that’s -- things were bad, and he -- he just took it upon himself to -- to write a letter about things. He was always -- he was the type that was always arguing about something about what the -- how we were being 23:00treated, there’s nothing much he could do ’cause when he did -- I wonder if this was the letter -- maybe this is the letter he wrote and signed his name to, maybe that’s why they took him out.

ALLEN: No, that’s not the letter.

F1: It isn’t?

F2: No, that’s not --

M1: (inaudible) a bunch of people blocking the street on Green Avenue, that’s what they took him out about. Blocking the street on Green Avenue back then, blocking the street.

F1: He wrote another letter?

ALLEN: No, that was in the paper.

F1: No, he wrote a letter -- he wrote a letter and it was --

WHITTENBERG: Letter to the editor.

ALLEN: This was in the paper. The Greenville Newspaper, and he signed his name to it.

F2: Yeah.

HELFAND: Well this letter he sent to Washington, D.C., straight out of Greenville.

F2: I’m wondering if this is the same letter, though.

WHITTENBERG: It isn’t the same letter.

F2: I know it’s not -- I know it’s not written, but I’m wondering if it’s about the same thing.

F1: About the same thing.

F2: If it’s about the same thing, this is not about the same thing.

HELFAND: No, this is explained why he’s writing this letter.

24:00

ALLEN: Now, how did you happen to get a hold, you did tell me once, I believe, you did say once how you -- how you got hold of this.

HELFAND: Um, the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

F1: Well he was writing -- he was writing this letter to --

ALLEN: Archives, what street is that on (inaudible) --

F1: -- to General Johnson anyway.

M1: -- I’ve been in that building, I was in Washington about a year or so during the war. I used to work at Archives building.

HELFAND: Um.

ALLEN: What street is it on now, (inaudible).

HELFAND: I think, um, the cotton mill workers, but would be covered under the new laws that were going in under the National Recovery Act.

F1: Yes, as I said, he was -- he was into everything, anything that happened, you know, because he knew a lot of wrong things were being done, so he just took it upon himself to write a letter, I guess, as he wrote he thought up other 25:00things that were happening to us, and he wrote about it, and he wrote to this -- whatever -- I wonder if the man ever -- well, I guess he -- I wonder if he ever answered it. (laughter)

HELFAND: OK, we’re gonna stop for a second.

(break in audio)

HELFAND: OK, you know what, I’m gonna ask you to say that one more time. Could you say that one more time?

F1: No, I just said, this is a letter that I don’t know if it -- if the man ever person-- ever received it to whom he wrote it, if they ever received it, or if this is something he wrote and just was fed up and talking about the hard times that he was -- we were enduring here, I think that’s -- that’s what this is about. He was just talking about the mills and everything.

HELFAND: You were just saying that this is a letter that you didn’t know anything about.

26:00

F1: We knew nothing about this letter, no, we didn’t know anything about this letter.

ALLEN: I never heard of it.

WHITTENBERG: See, they (inaudible) letters be written that, uh, that, uh, not the public don’t know about.

F1: It was probably received, and nothing was done about it, that’s -- that’s probably what happened.

F2: Well, they had to receive it, they had it there, they had to receive it.

WHITTENBERG: They had to receive it, and I know in the integration, that there’s some correspondence and sent. But never got a res-- reply from it. It got to the party because it was registered mail, we know it got to the party. But it was never -- see, keep it -- they kept it secret. Because I know at one time that he written the letter for equal pay, for teachers. And those --

F1: And that was later.

27:00

WHITTENBERG: -- yeah, I say, but the seal is -- wasn’t published.

F1: This was (inaudible) --

HELFAND: Well, it was published in that Mr. Hugh Johnson received it.

WHITTENBERG: He received it.

HELFAND: Yeah, I think, you know -- Elrod wrote this at a very critical time, he wrote it when there was sti--

F1: And this man, Jo-- this General Johnson received it.

HELFAND: He definitely received it because I found it in the National Archives.

F1: Yes. And that is something that nothing was ever -- would be done about it at that time, nothing was gonna be done, it’s almost a wonder reason -- they didn’t tear it up and throw it out.

HELFAND: What’d you say?

F1: It’s a wonder they didn’t tear it up and throw it out. That’s the way things were, and my uncle was just the type to sit down, he’d think about things and how bad things were, he’d write about it, but, uh, nothing -- nothing was done. He’s about -- I guess about the only man here in Greenville 28:00in that time would have done it.

HELFAND: Now, he wasn’t working in the mill, he was a carpenter, right?

F1: Yes.

HELFAND: Could you tell me -- could you make a connection --

M1: Nah, he wasn’t working in the mill when this was done --

F2: No, he wasn’t working --

ALLEN: -- now, he may have worked in the mill when he was a younger man, he did work in the mill when he was young, when he was, I don’t know, he could have been a teenager, I don’t know. Just like I said, he couldn’t draw his own wages back then.

F2: But in, uh --

HELFAND: The connection I’m trying to understand is did he write this as an in-- if he wrote this as an individual, then he wasn’t under the same pressure of someone who was a mill worker, for instance, right, could you --

ALLEN: I -- I (inaudible) never written as an individual, I imagine.

F1: He just saw how things were.

F2: He knew how things were, he knew people that worked in the mills and knew -- at that time, I don’t, uh, well, as I said, the people were -- the black 29:00people were working in the -- as, uh, scrubbing floors and things like that.

ALLEN: Well, that’s all they could do back then is scrub floors and things like that. Janitorial work such as that.

F2: Which he said but --

M1: You couldn’t in the looms and things.

F2: -- and years later, they did, uh --

M1: They couldn’t drink out the same -- they had separate drinking (inaudible). Separate restrooms and everything.

WHITTENBERG: (inaudible).

M1: That’s right, everything.

F1: That’s the -- that’s (inaudible) the whole story, not a bit surprised, this is true, as we said before, it’s all true. But we just didn’t know about it, this is when we didn’t know about it, he was always, um, fighting for one thing or another, and this mill situation is just one of ’em that he, you know, he brought out here in this letter. But (laughter) it’s his working in the mill, and I think he was a young boy, young, when that -- I don’t know, 30:00when he worked in the mill. And probably not even in this -- not in Greenville.

HELFAND: I want to take one more picture, and I -- you know, you really -- you helped me very mu--

(break in audio)

HELFAND: -- how do you feel when you look at that?

M1: Say something.

F2: Oh, that’s terrible.

F1: It’s bad. It just brings back so many memories.

ALLEN: Mm-hmm.

F1: Just brings back so many memories. I remember how I was sitting on the train going up to New York, and at that time, you know, they bring the coal, and they, uh, put -- I was sitting, I had ordered my ticket over the phone, so they didn’t know whether black or white or what not, they just saw me, they gave me the reservations.

(break in audio)

31:00

F1: He thought that maybe someday, (inaudible), maybe (inaudible).

HELFAND: No, I thought -- I really do, I really think that, um, Uncle Elrod thought that he was gonna be listened to this time. You know why?

ALLEN: What year did he die, he died in 60...that’s the same year Momma died, right, ’65.

HELFAND: I’ll tell you why. He wrote this letter right before the code went into effect, and there was still a moment of opportunity for him to say “You have to honor the black workers and serve them too,” I mean, read the last -- if you read the last -- the last phrase, the last line of the letter, what does he say? He’s -- he’s really saying something.

F2: “I hope you will draw up a (inaudible),” you see --

ALLEN: “I hope you will draw up a code for the” --

F1: “For domestic help.”

ALLEN: -- “For domestic help” (inaudible).

32:00

F1: Should we read it just as it is?

ALLEN: “What is going to be done about colored labor? Hope you give this letter consideration, and I would be glad to give you more data on conditions if you would like to have it. Our president says he was going to do something for the forgotten man, and that is the negro in the South. Very truly yours.” He did mean it.

F2: I was trying to think, who was the president at that time?

ALL: Roosevelt.

F2: Roosevelt, yeah, why -- why did I think he was in there for four seasons, why should I have to think about that? Old age. (laughter)

WHITTENBERG: Maybe the outcome of this letter --

F2: He was in there for four terms, I mean.

WHITTENBERG: -- maybe the president knew of this letter, because when he made a speech in Greenville, it came through Greenville from Warm Springs farther. Georgia --

HELFAND: But you were just saying --

WHITTENBERG: -- I was at the --

33:00

HELFAND: -- but before you get to that, you were just saying you think maybe the president heard it?

WHITTENBERG: Yeah, I think he heard this, these were --

HELFAND: Could you say, “I think the president heard this letter”?

WHITTENBERG: Because he’s --

HELFAND: No, could you an-- could you repeat what I said, ’cause we don’t know what you’re talking about.

WHITTENBERG: I think the president knew about this. Why I say that is because when he came through Greenville on excursion, when Warm Spring, Georgia, wasn’t it? That’s where -- Warm Spring, Georgia. I was standing at the road track up in Washington -- or from Washington Street, he made this statement, he said, “Any man that’s worth more 50 cents a day.”

F1: Well, he didn’t have to know about the letter to say that, that’s the way it was, that’s what they were paying them.

WHITTENBERG: I said, I think he knew about these things, he knew about them.

34:00

F1: He knew about it, sure, but he didn’t do anything about it. That’s for sure, I mean, he was in there 12 years.

F2: I think he did do something. (multiple conversations; inaudible)

F1: You know how he helped us? By helping the poor white.

F2: Well, that’s (inaudible).

F1: He didn’t have us in mind at all. (inaudible) Roosevelt was a more liberal person because he was [only?] his wife, but he wasn’t -- he wasn’t -- if he -- anytime he was in there 12 years and didn’t do any more for us -- for us than he did, no, he wasn’t my favorite president.

F2: I said he did do something.

HELFAND: What were you saying?

F2: He did do something to help. He did things to help, and he got up this WPA.

HELFAND: Could you start that again? We cut you off, I’m sorry.

F2: I said he did help, he -- when they were working in the mills, making -- (inaudible) were working two shifts, he had ’em (inaudible) three shifts, more people could work. Made it so more people could work, that’s one thing he did that helped more colored people get work, they were getting work too, but they 35:00wasn’t getting no high class work, they were getting more -- more working.

HELFAND: That’s exactly why Mr. Nealey wrote this letter, because there were these codes that went into effect, and he wanted the new codes that went into effect to also affect the black worker, not just the white worker.

F2: Well, he hit the black and the white, the poor and the negros.

F1: I said he helped.

F2: Well remember I said -- you said he didn’t do anything, but he did help some.

F1: I said he helped by helping the poor white people, you didn’t --

F2: Well, that’s already help.

F1: -- he did not have us in mind.

F2: Yes, he did.

F1: No, ’cause we wouldn’t have been oppressed all those years -- another president would have done something. Twelve years?

F2: Well, we not talking about the president now.

F1: Huh? I’m talking about him. (laughter) I’m talking about him because I -- I lived through it.

36:00

F2: I know I saw a better time after Roosevelt came in, things were better for me, I’ve said (inaudible).

ALLEN: This is some (inaudible), some kind of organization called the National Council of World War Veterans, that’s why he wrote this one.

F1: Well, yeah.

M1: They got him his major.

F1: Well, we seem to be going ‘round in a circle.

HELFAND: (laughter) That was really -- this was very, very, very, very wonderful and interesting.

ALLEN: Yeah, you know, you called, I said (inaudible) first, you know, there’s so much going on that I -- I said somebody got some kind of scheme, I don’t know, they’re trying to work some kind of scheme. I got mad on the way, you know, if there’s some (laughter) -- some lady’s been calling me before you called about somethin’, and she wait till -- right about supper time to call, every afternoon. I got tired of (inaudible).

F2: Well, they do that for (inaudible). (laughter)

37:00

ALLEN: She was after money, I (multiple conversations; inaudible) didn’t have any money, and I didn’t care to talk with them.

HELFAND: Now, I just wanted to show you this letter, that’s all.

F2: Well we’re -- we’re -- I’m glad to see it, ’cause it’s --

ALLEN: Yeah, I’m glad to see this too, uh.

HELFAND: Oh, could you --

F1: As I said, I knew he was a fighter about things, so I’m not surprised.

ALLEN: I didn’t know he’d gone this far.

F1: But I’m just -- you know, we never knew about it.

ALLEN: I never heard of this before, never heard anything about it. He did form some kind of lodge here, you know, they called -- what’d they call this lodge? Some akin to the Masons, and he was the grand master here.

HELFAND: I just want you all to exactly understand – you can cut me out -- I want you to exactly understand why he wrote this letter, ’cause he wrote this at a very critical time. You could explain it.

WHITTENBERG: Why me?

HELFAND: I know you can explain it, but he wrote this, you know, during the -- 38:00at the point when the NRA – Am I on tape?

(break in audio)

F2: -- person, and he would -- would do it because he was always saying what we should do and what not.

HELFAND: When you fi-- when you all see a letter like this, um, and it’s your uncle of course, and you get this history back, what is it -- what do you -- what does it make you think about?

F1: It makes me think of the kind of person he was, that that just explains the kind of person he was when I read something like that.

F2: You mean, when we think about him?

HELFAND: Well, what do you think about -- how come -- the fact that you didn’t know, maybe, for all these years that even back at that time that he was fighting, and then you didn’t know that, what does that --

F1: Yeah, see, I’m not surprised, as I said, I’m not surprised, I just didn’t know about it, but I’m not -- that’s the kind of thing he would do, because that’s the person he would fight about things that were wrong, he was always up ready to fight about things. “(inaudible) is gonna do this, blah 39:00blah,” I won't say the word that he used all the time. But, what he called the people down here. He always would use that word -- that’s where he didn’t use it there, but he was always fighting about something, and the -- and the white people were always doing something. They w-- we were downtrodden, it was terrible. So that’s what he was writing about, one of the things he was writing about, and he figured that they should get more money, that’s -- that’s Uncle Elrod all right, all over again, (laughter) that’s -- that’s what he would do.

HELFAND: OK, we’re just gonna take a picture of, um, from the back, all you looking at this.

(break in audio)

40:00

HELFAND: If -- if you could, um, read that last line again like you did before. Where you wrote up “hope you give this letter consideration,” if you could read that and maybe even use your finger as you go across it.

F2: Yeah, the last paragraph.

ALLEN: Right here?

F2: Yeah.

ALLEN: “Hope you’ll draw up a code for domestic help, (inaudible)” drawing up the code. I’ll just read it like (inaudible).

HELFAND: Start from here, you could --

F1: Maybe --

HELFAND: -- you know what, why don’t you start with “Hope you give this letter consideration,” and just write it --

F1: And just read it as it is Allen, just -- just -- yeah.

ALLEN: I don’t have that part.

F1: No, start -- she means start over and read this -- read it again. Just as it is.

41:00

ALLEN: “Hope you would draw up your code for domestic help.” Now he’s asking this --

F2: No talking, just read it.

F1: Just read it, she just wants you to read it, just wants you to read it.

ALLEN: Or ask the ones that is drawing up the code, what is (inaudible) going about colored labor, hope you give this letter consideration, and I would be glad to give you more data on content” --

F2: “On conditions.”

ALLEN: -- “on conditions. If you would like to [have it?], our president says he was going to do something for these forgotten man, and that is the negro in the South. Do something for the forgotten man and that is the negro in the South. Very truly yours.” (multiple conversations; inaudible)

HELFAND: Could you, um, could you just look a little bit this way, and if you 42:00could just do that line one more time, um, “our president said he was gonna do something for the forgotten man,” and then read your uncle’s name out loud, if you don’t mind.

F2: Start right there. “Our president said.”

ALLEN: “Our president said he was going to do something for the forgotten man, and that is the negro in the South. Very truly yours, Elrod D. Nealey.”

F2: Mm-hmm, that’s (inaudible).

F1: He always used that Elrod D. [Dewitt?], wasn’t it, Dewitt. (multiple conversations; inaudible)

WHITTENBERG: The President must have known somethin’ about it.

ALLEN: See the Ku Klux --

F1: Well he did a lot, he was talking about the (multiple conversations; inaudible).

ALLEN: -- did, they did (inaudible).

WHITTENBERG: He said he would do something.

F1: You know, people were all excited about his having been elected, and he was saying what he was going to do, and he did -- as my sister was saying, he helped, I know he helped, I know he did help, things were bad. But I was speaking about something else when I said not helping us, you know, but I -- he 43:00did help, I’m not disagreeing with that.

WHITTENBERG: Roosevelt was help.

F1: No.

HELFAND: You’re allowed to disagree a little bit. (laughter) That’s the one thing we have, right? We have democracy, we’re allowed to disagree.

F1: Yes, yes, right, that is right.

HELFAND: All right, thank you so much.

(break in audio) [00:43:25]-[00:46:06]

44:00

[Silence]

45:00

[Silence]

46:00

[Silence]

M1: Do you want to turn the monitor off to hear it better?

HELFAND: OK.

WHITTENBERG: OK.

HELFAND: Um, you told me about the, um, could you tell me about the NRA -- the NIRA, and how the black community felt about it?

WHITTENBERG: Well, in general, the people didn’t think it -- they were doing the thing fair in this area. They want everybody involved, wanted the negro as well as the white to be involved, but in this case, the Southerners in Greenville were trying to keep the negroes out of it, so what happened, that’s the -- some of the reason Mr. Nealey written the letter, ’cause he was concerned about these things, he may not been a employee of the, uh, textile, 47:00but he was interested and he was -- he was, in fact, had a feeling for those that were working in the textile. Two things he wanted, more negroes to be employee by the textile, then also he wanted them to be upgraded, because the negroes at that time were only street sweeper-- I mean, uh, floor sweepers and moppers, and worked in the yard. But they did not work on the machines, in any case whatsoever.

HELFAND: Now, you told me last time that the textile industry was that Greenville was considered textile --

WHITTENBERG: Of the world, yeah.

48:00

HELFAND: -- of the world, and you had described that when you came through the town, you just saw one mill after another, could you do that?

WHITTENBERG: There was one way in town in Greenville that you could come without coming by a mill. And it was surrounded by mills. The complete town. And the [conflair?] they had back some years ago was trying to incorporate the mills within city limit. But the mills wouldn’t -- the people that owned the mills would not accept. At this time, Greenville had the largest cotton mill in the world under one roof, Woodside. And they was but a very few negroes employed. 49:00They had a law at that time, it was kind of an undercover law, that negro and white could not look out the same window, and they also had it where’s that negroes could not enter the mill the same way as white. And so they -- and, um, at that time, in the mills, they were not in a two water fountains, or two toilets, because why? It was because there was no negro employed there. But on the ground, they had a toilet, and facilities, drinking fountain for the negroes. They could use.

50:00

HELFAND: Now, could you tell me --

(break in audio)

HELFAND: -- Greenville but one way without entering a mill village.

WHITTENBERG: Oh, yes.

HELFAND: Could you explain to me how big this textile industry was, and could y-- could you use that line?

WHITTENBERG: Yes, well, um, the textile industry at that time, we tried to name a number of the mills surrounding Greenville. We start with Sans Souci, Woodside, Monaghan, Jetson, Dunean, Camperdown, Mill’s Mill, and -- maybe I can’t name ’em all, but that’s a part of ’em, and mills -- and the Woodside mill was 51:00the largest mill in the world. And, uh, and so on our side, if you go to the county of Greenville, at Fountain Inn, they had three. At Susanville, they had two. At Piedmont, they had two. That was in Greenville county. But Travelers Rest didn’t have a cotton mill.

HELFAND: Now, you would -- you were alm-- you were describing to me how you could drive through and you could -- you could enter Greenville, you didn’t name the mills, you just described how many mills there were and that textiles was what they did here.

WHITTENBERG: Yes, it was the center of attraction for Greenville. Mills. Textile mills, textile mill was the importers of Greenville, they felt as if if textile mill would close, Greenville would close. And as far as this -- you 52:00could not enter Greenville but on one highway without coming by a mill. So it was very important at that time, and I think that’s the reason some of these letters were read-- that letter was written, because if this thing would have gone, that was it, as far as majority was concerned. If this -- if, uh, the negro was not considered in the mill factory, in the NRA, they wouldn’t be 53:00considered at all. Because more than, I said, 98%, at least 85% of the people that was in Greenville at that time, and surrounding Greenville, was employees of textile mills.

HELFAND: And how many of those folks were black, who worked in the mill?

WHITTENBERG: Very few, I could name at some mill, I think one mill that’s (inaudible) has employees of over 500. I think there were three negroes worked in that mill, I was a [customer?] there, they worked on the ground. And, uh, the number of mills in Greenville, they were -- went a little bit farther. They 54:00hired negroes to scrub and sweep the floors, went that far. But some of the mills in the county, only employees were negro were on outside in the yard.

HELFAND: But -- so -- going back to that -- to that -- the NRA, um, it doesn’t seem -- you know, Mr. -- in fact -- I’ll -- I’ll ask you this, I’ll -- maybe you could tell me in your own words a little bit about who Mr. Nealey was, you know, as what he did for his own job and why he took an interest in a black -- the black workers once that code came about.

55:00

WHITTENBERG: Well, they were (inaudible) there. There were other people that was involved in this letter, but they wouldn’t come out to the front. He was the only one had the nerve enough to stand up and tell the truth, and what really happens is that, uh, I predict -- this a prediction. There were a number of other people contented -- on the -- were contacted, and they were in a group at that time, but Mr. Nealey, at that time, was the only one to stand out. Why? We could say, ’cause none of ’em were involved in working for the white. 56:00They figured they’d be fired if they learned that they were involved in getting rights. But Mr. Nealey was -- I think he was self-employed, and his -- at that time, his employment kind of failed, because it’s the environment with this letter.

HELFAND: You -- you called, um.