Myrtle Jones, Larry Blatney and Dee Neely Interviews

Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library
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 LARRY BLATNEY: Now when they had the strike, I guess one of the reasons that I probably never heard of the strike --

HELFAND: Larry, before you were just saying in a very, sort of excited way, I never heard about the strike.

BLATNEY: I know. Well, no, I -- I was explaining why I hadn’t heard about it.

HELFAND: Yeah, but you tell me first why you didn’t -- that you didn’t hear about it, you think they kept it secret and then explain. Like --

BLATNEY: They didn’t keep it a secret. They didn’t keep it a secret. When we were children we weren’t allowed to hear adults talk. When adults talked, children always had to leave the room, leave the building or something. Adult talk we didn’t hear. And I’m sure they talked about it. But as a child, I never heard it. And that was the way we were raised, that when adults talked children didn’t listen. (laughs) And children were seen and not heard. That 1:00may be the reason I never heard about the strike, but I didn’t hear anything about the strike, like I say, until my mother told me just recently, and she had it in her mind all these years, she just never mentioned it. And I don’t know, I don’t know what it was about the strike. I don’t know whether it was kept secret or what. I wouldn’t say it was kept secret, it just is something we didn’t talk about. And it might have been because the blacks really were not a part of the strike. The strike was done by the whites and the blacks had to suffer in the process because without the whites working, there was no place for the blacks to work because the blacks did the work to supply the whites and by the whites being on strike that shut the blacks out automatically. Whether they were on strike or not, they were shut out anyway.

2:00

HELFAND: They were shut out of working in their homes?

BLATNEY: In the mills. Now, my mother was one of those who never worked. My mother was always at home. My mother was always at home, but my father was the one who was the breadwinner of our family. And my father only worked one job where in our neighborhood most everybody in our neighborhood had at least two jobs.

MYRTLE JONES: But my mother worked but she did housework up until later years and she went to the chicken [poultry?] and from there she went to Dr. Baker.

HELFAND: Who’d your mama do the housework for?

JONES: Uh --

HELFAND: Mill people?

JONES: Yeah.

HELFAND: Could you say that?

JONES: Uh, my mother did housework for mill people. Mildred Smith by name, and, uh, later years after her children grew up she, um, went to work for, 3:00(inaudible) and Son chicken place. And then later years she, after, she got out of that. She went to work for Dr. Baker, the pediatrician, and she stayed there until retirement.

HELFAND: So you never heard about the strike either?

JONES: No, I never heard about a strike before. Uh, this is my first knowledge of a strike, you know. Back then I never heard tell of it, but that was a little before my time. This is my first hearing.

HELFAND: Well, it all happened around the same time -- it all happened around the same time that they wrote this letter.

BLATNEY: It was in the same -- same year, or the year following, somewhere along there. But like I say, my mother, she -- and I don’t know why she happened to tell me that. Maybe she just wanted me to know, but that was the first I ever heard of it. I don’t know why it was never mentioned. It was just -- it was 4:00not something that was talked about, to my knowledge. Of course I was away for 30 years. Maybe that’s the reason I didn’t hear about it, but even, it looks like to me, growing up in Kannapolis I should have heard about it before 1994. Unless there was some reason that it wasn’t talked about. Now I know several years -- well, maybe 12, 15 years ago, they come around and paid most of the early long-time employees of Cannon Mill a lump sum settlement and in giving them that settlement they signed a statement not to talk about the Cannon Mills. Now, that may be part of why we don’t know anymore about this letter or the strike or whatever, I don’t know. But I know my mother said she had to sign because my father had died and she did sign such a document and I suppose a lot 5:00of other people had to sign that document in order to receive that money. So it’s a hush thing. It’s a keep quiet thing. Let’s don’t pull out all our skeletons out of the closet. Let sleeping dogs lie. And I don’t know what that settlement was about. I don’t know what that settlement was for. That settlement might have been for some of those wages that they should have received back in the 1930s. It could have been, but at the time -- at the time I was living in Maryland and I was not here, so I don’t know what that settlement was about. My mother didn’t know what it was about. The only thing she knew was she got a letter that she was going to get money because she was my father’s direct descendant.

JONES: Oh, my daddy received his own. I can remember when he went and got his -- might have when they distributed that money out and he received his. But the 6:00amount, I really don’t know because he didn’t tell us the exact amount that he received, but I do know he received a check.

BLATNEY: Did he say what it was for?

JONES: No, he just said some back wages, said it. I mean, that’s the way they gave it to them. It was some back wages.

HELFAND: I don’t know. I can’t imagine it was from ’33.

BLATNEY: It might have been because it was only the long-time employees. It was not none of the new employees who receive it. These were men who mostly had already retired that received this money.

HELFAND: We gotta stop (inaudible)

BLATNEY: Yeah, knowing my dad, I’m almost sure that my dad would sign this letter because my dad complained about the conditions, he complained and the one thing he complained about more than anything else was he had to train all of his bosses. Now he really complained about that. And had he been working at plant 7:00six -- he worked at plant one, of course, in Kannapolis, but had he been working at plant six, I think that his name would have been the first one at the top of this letter because he was that kind of man that he believed what he believed and he’d tell you what he believed even if you were ready to knock him down. He let you know how he felt about things. And I think that he would have been one of those who signed this letter had he been at plant number six. He might even been the one that mentioned -- that would have mentioned writing the letter.

JONES: And my dad wrote this letter? Concord, North Carolina, January 13, 1933 at Cannon Mill.

HELFAND: Yeah, we’re just going to start that --

BLATNEY: Start over again.

M1: Did you get a mic in?

M2: Yeah, just as we were shifting over.

JONES: OK, you ready?

HELFAND: Um, you know what? Take the letter from his hand. Is that OK?

JONES: And my daddy wrote this letter? Concord, North Carolina, January 13, 8:001933. Cannon Mill, plant number six. Dear Mr. President. We’re writing you in regards to our wages. The company is paying all the other people more money but us. We are only getting 22 cent an hour now and we cannot make -- we cannot make it at this and you can -- and can you please help us some? For we have asked for a raise but didn’t get it. They will not pay us any more and we have families, too. Thank you very much. And here’s the names: Louis Davis, James [Drys?], Sam Witherspoon, Doc Jackson, Tom Stroud, Paul Means. Our job is running machine cotton.

9:00

HELFAND: Myrtle, can you -- can you say, and these are the names and read them a little slower? And if you know those men say, I knew him or he lived next door or my daddy or he went to our church. I mean, try to help me understand how they’re like a community. But put that other piece of paper underneath it.

JONES: What?

BLATNEY: Read them a little slower, she said.

JONES: These are the men that signed the paper -- the letter. Louis Davis, James Dry, Sam Witherspoon -- that’s my father, Doc Jackson -- I remember him. He used to live in the besides Tom Avery. Mr. Tom Stroud used to live in the (inaudible). Mr. Paul Means I heard talk of him but I don’t know very much about him. But all these men were the men that signed this letter. And they 10:00said their job was running machine cotton presses. But this is Dad’s writing.

HELFAND: That’s great.

(break in video)

JONES: My -- my mother’s mother, my daddy’s -- I know my grandparents.

BLATNEY: Well, a lot of kids don’t. It’s a shame. A lot of kids don’t know their grandparents. They were born too late in life. The grandparents died before they were born. In my family right now, we have five living generations.

HELFAND: Did you, um -- before you said you wanted to frame this.

JONES: Yes.

HELFAND: Could you hold that letter and tell me that again? Just tell me what it --

BLATNEY: Read like (inaudible) you know how to say it.

JONES: Um, since my dad wrote this letter, and he wrote it to the President, I would love to have a copy of this letter just to frame it. Just to have it in 11:00my [prayers?] and my father’s handwriting and to know how strong a man that he was. It give me strength just to know how strong he was and I would love to have a copy of this just for my own personal reasons.

HELFAND: And one other question, is that train real bad? Come on train! (break in video) Okay, cicadas…

JONES: If I would get this letter today and show a copy of it in the mill today, I -- I don’t know what would be done about it. I mean, I guess people would think my daddy was crazy, uh, because now, I mean, my supervisor tells me now 12:00when he says anything to me that I don’t like, anything -- he says, “Why not curse me rather than look at me with your eyes?” He said, “Because you curse me with your eyes.” That’s what I think he’s say about my father, you know. This man was crazy, you know? And I just don’t think they would believe that he had this much guts. I really don’t. And nowadays where they might came before the board, but it wouldn’t be too much they could do about it because you got freedom of speech now, freedom -- you know, so many different freedoms now. I don’t think nothing could be done really about it other than just saying that he was crazy, you know?

13:00

HELFAND: Well, I’ll tell you -- it has just been -- it’s an amazing thing for me to go from being in the archives and searching through all these papers to be with the daughter of one of these men.

JONES: It’s my pleasure. It’s really a thrill to sit in on something like this and to know that my father was a part of something like this. Well, I would say the head of something like this because he the one that wrote the letter and I -- it’s just a joy, just a pleasure for me to be one that sit in and witness this.

HELFAND: Well, we’ll give you a copy.

JONES: Being that his eldest daughter -- everybody said I look just like him. 14:00It made me feel wonderful. It really does.

HELFAND: OK, we’re going to end.

BLATNEY: Concord, North Carolina, January 13, 1933. Cannon Mill, plant number six. Dear Mr. Roosevelt. We are writing you in regards to our wages. The company is paying all the other people more money but us. We are only getting 22 cents an hour now and we cannot live at that and can you please help us some for we have asked for a raise but did not get it. They will not pay the colored people any more and we have a family to keep up. Thank you very much. And the six signatures are Louis Davis, James Dry, Sam Witherspoon, Tom Stroud, Paul 15:00Means, and Doc Davis. Our job is running machine cotton presses.

JONES: In regards to our wages. The company is paying all of the other people more money but us. We are only getting 22 cent an hour now and we cannot live on that and can you please help us some for we have asked for a raise, but didn’t get it. They will not pay the colored people any more and we have a family to keep up. Thank you very much. The six signatures are Louis Davis, James Dry, Sam Witherspoon, Tom Stroud, and Paul Means. And it say our job is 16:00running machine cotton presses. And my dad wrote this letter. And my dad wrote this letter.

BLATNEY: Well, I believe he did knowing him the way I know him. I would say he did. We, uh, we had a lot of talks your dad and me, you know, and Bobby. We’d sit around and he’d tell us things, but he never said nothing about the letter, but he told us a lot of things that helped us. At that time, you know, Bobby and me were out there ripping and running. We were doing everything that you could do then. (laughs)

JONES: (inaudible) print it now.

HELFAND: What?

BLATNEY: She says she needs that print.

JONES: My eyes are going cross.

HELFAND: Well, we just basically need -- read it as best you can, OK? Do you want me to put the print on top of it? Here, just -- let’s rip off the --

17:00

JONES: Concord, North Carolina, January 13, 1933, Cannon Mill, plant number six. Dear Mr. Presid-- Mr. Roosevelt. We are writing you in regard to our wages. The company is paying all of the other people more money but us. We are only getting 22 cent an hour now and we cannot, um, what? And we cannot live on that and you can please -- can you please help us some for we have asked for a raise but didn’t get it. They will not pay the colored people any more but we have families to keep up. Thank you very much. And then they have the six signatures which is Mr. Louis Davis, James Dry, Sam Witherspoon, Doc Jackson, 18:00Tom Stroud, and Paul Means. And their job was running machine cotton presses. So this was the letter that my dad wrote. That’s his signature.

HELFAND: They got a reply and --

BLATNEY: This is the reply to the letter that your dad wrote. It’s dated February 8, 1934. Mr. Louis Davis, Concord, North Carolina. “Dear Mr. Davis, we acknowledge receipt of your letter of January 13. Attached here, too, are the mimeographed sheets which we ask you to read carefully.” HELFAND: OK, stop. You know what? You’re reading beautifully.

BLATNEY: This is the reply to the letter that your dad wrote. It’s dated February 8, 1934. Mr. Louis Davis, Concord, North Carolina. “Dear Mr. Davis, 19:00we acknowledge receipt of your letter --”

M1: OK.

BLATNEY: This is the reply to the letter your dad wrote. It’s dated February 8, 1934. Mr. Louis Davis, Concord, North Carolina. “Dear Mr. Davis, we acknowledge receipt of your letter of January 13. Attached here, too, are the 20:00mimeographed sheets which we ask you to read carefully. Section 14 -- section 12 of the textile code. This article clearly states -- sets forth procedure for dealing with all complaints arising from the stretch-out or specialization or any other working conditions. Sections two and three of the code with definition of exemptions from the code, agreed upon and published by Cotton Textile Advisory Committee. If after reading the enclosed extract from the code you’re in doubt as to procedure, the board will be glad to have you write again. Yours very truly, the Cotton Textile National Industrial Relations Board, Robert F. (inaudible) Chairman, George L. Barry, and B.S. (inaudible).”

JONES: Well, they got something. They got an answer anyway. That’s something 21:00to be thankful for. They -- at least they knew that somebody read the letter and [for?] they got any results from it or not any.

BLATNEY: As bureaucracy put it, they sent it by a different route which probably they did not follow, and thereby they never probably gotten anything out of this, uh, because he told them to read these rules and regulations for writing about things which is what they didn’t do in the beginning. They wrote direct. And now they want them to come through somebody else and they probably didn’t follow through with that and probably didn’t hear anymore about it.

HELFAND: That’s the truth.

M1: Whenever you’re ready.

BLATNEY: Uh, this is the reply to the letter that your daddy wrote.

M1: Could you start that again? Could you look at me?

22:00

BLATNEY: This is the reply to the letter that your daddy wrote. It’s dated February 8, 1934 or a year later. And it’s addressed to Mr. Louis Davis, Concord, North Carolina. It reads “Dear Mr. Davis. We acknowledge receipt of your letter of January 13. Attached here, too, are the mimeographed sheets which we ask you to read carefully. Section 12 of the textile code, this article clearly states forth procedure for dealing with complaints arising from the stretch-out or specialization system, or any other working conditions. Section two and three of the code with definitions of exemptions from the code, agreed upon and published by Cotton Textile Advisory Committee. If after reading the enclosed extracts from the code you’re in doubt as to procedure, the board will be glad to have you write again. Yours very truly, the Cotton 23:00Textile National Industrial Relations Board, Robert F. (inaudible), Chairman, George L. Barry, and B. E. (inaudible).”

HELFAND: What -- say Robert F. [Brewer].

BLATNEY: Brewer?

HELFAND: Yeah, just start with --

BLATNEY: “If after reading the enclosed extracts from the code you’re in doubt as to procedure, the board will be glad to have you write again. Yours very truly, the Cotton Textile National Industrial Relations Board, Robert F. Brewer, Chairman, George L. Barry, and B. E. (inaudible).”

M1: OK.

HELFAND: We need to let the train go by.

BLATNEY: “If after reading the enclosed extracts from the code you’re in doubt as to procedure, the board will be glad to have you write again. Yours 24:00very truly, the Cotton Textile National Industrial Relations Board, Robert F. Brewer, Chairman, George L. Barry, and B. E. (inaudible).” And in all possibility they did not follow through on these procedures, so nothing was ever gained from it.

M1: I don’t know if it’s right. Whose got a watch?

BLANTEY: Its 7 minutes to 2.

M1: 7 minutes to 2.

JONES: “Dear Mr. Roosevelt. We are writing you in regards to our wages. The company is paying all of the other people more money but us. We are only getting 22 cent an hour now and we cannot live at that and you can please help 25:00us some for we have asked for a raise but did not get it. They will not pay the colored people any more and we have families to keep up. Thank you very much.” And then they have six people that signed, signatures and they are Louis Davis, James Dry, Sam Witherspoon, Doc Jackson, Tom Stroud, and Paul Means. And their job was running machine cotton presses. And this is a letter that my dad wrote to the President.

(break in video)

JONES: “They will not pay the colored people any more and we have families to 26:00keep up. Thank you very much.” And they have six that has signed signatures, um, Louis Dry, James Dry, Sam Witherspoon -- that’s my dad, Doc Jackson, Tom Stroud, and Paul Means. And their job was running machine cotton presses. My dad wrote this letter.

M1: OK, you want to start with the date?

BLATNEY: “Concord, North Carolina, January 13, 1933. Cannon Mill, plant number six. Dear Mr. Roosevelt. We are writing you in regards to our wages. The company is paying all of the other people more money but us. We are only getting 22 cents an hour now and we cannot live at that and can you please help 27:00us some for we have asked for a raise but did not get it. They will not pay the colored people any more and we have a family to keep up. Thank you very much.” And it’s signed by Louis Davis, James Dry, Sam Witherspoon -- is a man I knew, Doc Jackson, Tom Stroud -- I knew him also -- and Paul Means. Our job is running machine cotton presses.

M1: [Can we get wild sound?].

GEORGE STONEY: Yeah, let’s do that.

M1: So we’re going to be quiet just for a couple -- 30 seconds, a minute -- to get the birds and stuff.

M2: Nobody’s going to talk and we’re just going to roll tape.

M1: Wild sound.

28:00

(silence)

M1: End wild sound.

29:00

BLATNEY: In looking at this reply to the letter, it’s almost a year to the day. It’s dated February 8, 1934 and the letter was dated January 13, 1933 and it reads back to Mr. Louis Davis in Concord North Carolina.

HELFAND: You don’t have to read it again. Just -- I just want you -- and you know, this letter -- this reply -- you said it with energy. You said, “And this reply was dated a year” -- you don’t even need all the -- just say, “And this reply”.

BLATNEY: OK. And this reply was dated almost a year to the day from the day the letter was written. The letter was written January 13, 1933. The date of the reply was February 8, 1934. More --

(break in audio)

JONES: Come here a minute, please. Both of ya. They’re coming. I want to 30:00tell y’all something my daddy wrote to the President. Tell [Mary Lou?] to come, too. Come on down here on the porch. Come here, Mary, come on. Look what my daddy wrote to the President -- a letter to the President.

M: Yeah. I can’ read it no-how. (inaudible) I can’t read it no-how. I couldn’t read it no-how.

(break in audio 00:30:43 - 00:34:57)

31:00

[Silence]

32:00

[Silence]

33:00

[Silence]

34:00

[Silence]

35:00

HELFAND: Wait a second. Are you going to go out or are you going to stay in? OK.

DEE NEELY: “[Cooleemee?] North Carolina, March 9, 1934. [Arbor Hills?] Johnson. Dear Sir, As an employee of the Irving Cotton Mill Company, Cooleemee, North Carolina, I feel disposed to inform you of the following. Around 50 colored people work for the above mentioned company, some in outside work and some in the cloth room department, and some in the cotton house, and draw from that labor $9 per week for 40 hours. We are under the impression that we should 36:00draw $12 per week under the code as practically all of these men have been working for this company for a long time. It is not our desire to cause any trouble in this matter. But if we are entitled to more wages under the code, then we desire you to have your representative to check up on the above company and see that we get our rights.” Signed, Employees of the Irving Cotton Mills Company, Cooleemee, North Carolina.

HELFAND: Who wrote this letter?

NEELY: And this is a letter that was composed which included learned peoples and (inaudible) and all those who were organizers.

HELFAND: I’m going to ask you again who wrote that letter. I want you to -- we don’t know the names of these folks.

37:00

NEELY: You want the names that I -- “We do not wish to cause to cause any trouble in this matter. If we are entitled to any compensation” --

HELFAND: No, no, I want you to read it from the paper.

NEELY: Oh.

M1: And when you’re finished, before you -- as you’re looking up, take off your glasses to talk to Judy.

NEELY: “It is not our desire to cause any trouble in this matter. But if we are entitled to more wages under the code, then we desire you to have your representative to check up on the above company and see that we get our rights.” I was approximately nine years old at this time and I can remember my father and some other people in the community who worked at this plant talking about what was going on and how they had to work and receive less wages than they thought they were entitled to. At this point, there were a group of 38:00people, there was no organized union at that time, but there was a group of people in the colored forces -- at that time we were called colored -- they believed that they had the right to ask for improvement when it came to being compensated for their labors. My daddy and several other people in the community, and surrounding areas who worked there, felt like this was the proper thing to do. Some way or another they were able to get the information that this was going on without them being included. How they got this information -- we believe with their wives and mothers working in kitchens, other people, this is where the information leaked out. So, we are sure that some way or another 39:00that these people had enough initiative to want to do something about this and found out who to write it to.

HELFAND: Now, why didn’t they sign -- now --

M1: Could you try and always look at her and not look at the camera?

NEELY: You’re asking me why they wouldn’t sign their name? At that time people were afraid because this was a movement at this time being young and nine or ten years old, we could understand the news being filtered down about people who were trying to organize people in the South for petitioning against the labor at the plants and these colored people were afraid to even venture out and so therefore they did not want to put any name on anything for fear of their 40:00reprisal against them job-wise and even their families. So naturally they left their names off, but this was to me a collaborate thing. I heard people talking. My daddy at that time was a barber and another fellow was the other colored barber in the town, and there was always somebody talking about what we ought to do. And naturally young people in and out, I was one of them, we could hear them talking about how they felt like that they were not going to get their dues as other people if they didn’t do something about it. So I’m sure that this letter is a result of them putting their heads together and becoming a part of it and sending it off with no signature.

HELFAND: Now, 50 people -- it says anonymous. You know, it says anonymous on the top of this letter.

NEELY: And you’re wondering how many people were actually involved --

41:00

HELFAND: Yeah, I mean, it says that there were 50 people involved. So it seems to me that that many people, even if they didn’t sign their name, the mill would have known who they were.

NEELY: You always -- you’re not recording this right now, are you? People never get 100 percent, Judy, in anything you start you never get 100 percent. So even if you had 50 workers, you would not get all 50 to even help draft this letter. That’s a known fact. So the people who wanted to -- even now you have people who --

HELFAND: Let’s talk about then.

NEELY: Then? Even at this time in life, the 1930s, you would not get all the people -- especially all the colored people -- to actually agree to this letter. So, actually, you had people who felt strongly about this doing what they felt like, and the other people would benefit if it went through. So the people who 42:00were willing to do action called themselves being active and taking an active part in trying to something about the conditions that they lived in. And that is what I can remember at this stage of the game in 1934. Being about nine or ten years old you could hear all of this going on. You could see people coming in and out. You could see people who were not native because we knew everybody that was native of Cooleemee. You could see people who were trying to organize even at that date.

HELFAND: Trying to organize --

NEELY: Trying to organize all workers -- the workers in the textile industry and the black people were being -- the colored people as they called at that time -- were being talked to on the side, yes. They talked to them on the side. And you had outside people coming in to towns like Cooleemee and where you just left (inaudible), [Landers?] and all those places, you had outsiders trying to get 43:00into the stronghold. You had people who were trying to organize even in the ’30s.

HELFAND: Well, I know that. That’s why we’re making this movie. (laughs)

NEELY: So, I’m saying this is what I know and can remember. At this point people were afraid even though they wanted to do something about it. A lot of people would not even do this, but this to me, along with my father and some of my uncles and some people who were not even relatives of mine, had a hand in doing something like this, and they were what I would call people who are afraid for their family, but were not afraid of their convictions. They had strong convictions about this is what needs to be done. And so somewhere along the line, regards to if it was just a handful of them, they decided to do something about it and as a result this letter was done.

44:00

HELFAND: Great.

NEELY: At this stage, I can recall --

HELFAND: No, I want you to say, they might have written -- the people who got this letter might have written anonymous on the top of it, but I know who must have written this letter. Just -- I need that work anonymous and contrast it with the fact that you know these names. OK?

NEELY: Even though it’s recorded as anonymous, I know that the people who were involved with this would have included Lonnie [Peoples?], James Clemens, William Clemens, [Obe?] Kessler, Brad Kessler, Paul Kessler, the [Payne?] brothers, the 45:00(inaudible), Kelly Payne and my father was a Neely, Frank Neely, and one of his brothers James [Babe?] Neely. Uh, you would have had also Wilson. You would have had [Lynne Flemins?], Hodge [Pfeifer?], Flora Johnson. You would also have had the Clemens from [Knoxville?]. You would haave had the [Flints?]. You would have had the Simmons and these are some of the people I know would have been involved with this because they were doers. They believed in trying to get action and see something was done for them.

HELFAND: And later on?

NEELY: Later on they were forerunners for getting a union started at the company 46:00as stated. And at that time --

HELFAND: Could you start that again? I need you to say which company. Don’t say, which stated, say and later on the same men who wrote that letter were the same people who organized a union and organized a black local in 1939. I just need you to -- Irving Cotton Mill and Cooleemee. And later on.

NEELY: OK. And later on, these people helped form a union to be the representative at the Irving Cotton Mill and it had to be a separate union although it was titled under the same union as the whites, but they had a union representative to organize the colored workers for Irving Mills. And these people became the forerunners of the union as we know it for the colored workers 47:00at Irving Mill. This was formed approximately in 1939 when the union came into existence.

HELFAND: Now, what do you feel when you -- what do you think about this letter.

NEELY: Am I going to tell what my uncle said? About what the man said --

HELFAND: Well, yeah, why don’t you say, you know, I have a -- yeah, tell me about that memory. You can even put that letter down, OK?

NEELY: Um, I can remember one of my uncles, his name was James Maxwell, and we all called him affectionately Uncle Pap Maxwell. And at that time JW Zachary was the general manager for Irving Cotton Mills and he made a speech -- open speech -- that before he saw the white people and the darkies making $12 a week, 48:00he would die and go to hell. I can remember at this time being nine years old, my Uncle Pap said, “Well, we’ve got $12,” and he died. I don’t know where he went, but we got $12 a week as a result. So, I can remember all of this because my daddy being a barber, these people were in and out all the time and I could hear the conversations about what was going on and how they were being affected and how they were having to have even secret meetings to keep from being perhaps threatened if not attacked. This was a hot object at this time. It was very heated.

HELFAND: What was a hot object?

M1: (inaudible). Okay. Whenever you’re ready.

49:00

NEELY: I can remember it being a heat -- a hot thing around in the neighborhood, especially among the black -- colored -- workers at that time. And they were saying we are going to do what we have to do and try to keep our families together. So this is, to me, was what I’m hearing when the people would come in Dad’s barbershop talking about we’re still going to see that we get what we deserve. And I couldn’t help but understand that they wanted to be paid for their work and they wanted to feel like they were going to get the same kind of payment that other workers were getting. And they felt like they had been short changed and that’s the reason it was a real heated thing in the community. You go to the stores and people look at you funny. In those days we 50:00had to go to the stores to get oil for our lamps because some of us didn’t have electricity in the house and you’d see the clerks at the store look at you in a strange way from what they used to be. Although, Cooleemee kept it’s -- Cooleemee kept it’s community relationship pretty well, but there was still a little hostility building up because this was the forerunner of a union and the people were coming in and out and strangers coming in and they were afraid that a union was going to be formed at this time even.

HELFAND: OK. Now what kind of -- what kind of power did the black workers have here? I mean, when we spoke last time, you were talking about protests and you said the only way you could try and do it was in subtle way without putting anybody on the spot and that’s what you thought about this letter. Could you say that again and talk about that?

51:00

NEELY: I think, from what I can understand is the people that I was close to, like my father and my mother, they always had their contact with the people in the key positions at the plant as well as in the community. My daddy was one of those people who cleaned the bank, the post office, and naturally he had contact with the bankers. My mother worked for one of the bankers and one of the doctors. She did the clothes work for two other fellas who were executives at the company, so in part as they would hear these things they would be able to talk. In fact, I can remember Dad and Uncle Dee Payne talking about how they talked to some of the people who were key persons -- at the company. They talked to them about what they were concerned about. So I’m sure that some 52:00the things that they said perhaps had an impact on some of the people who were in key positions. The form of protests they did at that time was not to come out in the open. They didn’t march and things of that nature. But any time there was discussion that they could inject a statement in, they would inject and say we are entitled to the same treatment that other people are entitled to. These are the kind of statements that were going on behind the scenes, even not at the plant where work was being done. They talked about what they felt. They talked about how they felt like they had been cheated. They felt like it was time for something to be done for the colored workers, and they -- the ones who 53:00were outspoken were not afraid to at least say that to people who would dare say to them that you should be paid less. They didn’t back off when somebody made that kind of statement to them. That was a form of protests that they were in.

HELFAND: But they didn’t talk to management. They wrote to Washington, DC. They didn’t talk to management, did they?

NEELY: The only time what I said was how they did behind the scenes with people that they thought might listen. That was their form of protest. The other protest was, to make it clear -- even I -- I think when I made that statement, I tried to make it clear that you always had -- they referred to the mill as mill hands, especially colored workers. And you always had a person of the other ethnic group who might be making five or ten cent more than you, but he was supposed to be your lead foreman or whatever you want to call them. And then 54:00that’s when they would say, “Look, I’m doing your work and you’re getting paid for it.” These are the kind of things I know went on because I’ve heard my daddy say that had he been of another ethnic group, he would have had the job the other man had. And this was a forerunner of all these activities. That was their way of protest.

HELFAND: What would have happened if they signed their names and include my question in your answer.

NEELY: Uh, what would have happened? To answer that it would be purely a conjecture, which would be a calculated guess. In all actuality --

HELFAND: Let’s just start again, start again.

M1: Now, if you say, “If they sign their names --”

M2: Had they signed their names.

55:00

HELFAND: Yeah, it’s what would have happened if they signed their names? I’ll tell you. Just go right for it. You can describe the conjecture, but don’t use the word conjecture.

NEELY: OK. (inaudible).

HELFAND: Just straight. What would have happened if they would have signed their names?

NEELY: If they had -- had they signed their name to anything or petition like this, they would have been dismissed on the spot. They know that or they knew that. So, naturally, the way they handled that was not to identify any of the 50 workers by putting a name on it. And they felt like you can’t fire all 50 of us because some of the work that they were doing -- nobody else wanted to do it. The cotton house, the dust house -- nobody else wanted to work there. And, 56:00so, they took it the way they thought would be effective. They did it behind the scenes and how can you put the finger on any one of us because it is a larger number than just one or two.