Leonard and Mattie Knight Interview 1

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

 GEORGE STONEY: (inaudible) We’ve got a little --

LEONARD KNIGHT: Good.

STONEY: -- business to do here first. (pause)

MATTIE KNIGHT: (inaudible) a lot of the [seeds falling off?] (inaudible). There’ll be more when...

LEONARD KNIGHT: (inaudible).

MATTIE KNIGHT: Be more next year than we’ll need. But I told Grace I’d save her some seeds, and Ruby wanted me to save her some.

LEONARD KNIGHT: Ruby wants seeds off of this?

MATTIE KNIGHT: Yeah. That’s what I was saving so many for.

LEONARD KNIGHT: [Got your roses bloomed?].

MATTIE KNIGHT: I know it. (inaudible) Can’t follow you all over everywhere, though, Leonard.

1:00

LEONARD KNIGHT: Well, see about this tree. This tree I got down at --

MATTIE KNIGHT: Idaho.

LEONARD KNIGHT: Out in Idaho at my sister’s. She give it to me. It’s the first year it looks like it might be aiming to bud. This is a hydrangea. Snowballs, they call them. The weather ain’t been good for it.

MATTIE KNIGHT: No, it’s getting ready to go Idaho again the first of the month.

LEONARD KNIGHT: Got a lot of them dogwood berries.

2:00

MATTIE KNIGHT: Dogwood berries.

LEONARD KNIGHT: Yeah, (inaudible).

MATTIE KNIGHT: (inaudible)

LEONARD KNIGHT: There’s a bumble bee right there at you, Honey.

MATTIE KNIGHT: They won’t bother me. I get out here and pick these off all the time. They just fly away from me. As long as they don’t get me. My marigolds down in there.

3:00

LEONARD KNIGHT: Now she’s saving them seeds there to plant; them marigolds.

GEORGE STONEY: OK, I think I’m done. Jamie?

JUDITH HELFAND: Yeah.

LEONARD KNIGHT: I want a tape of us.

HELFAND: In the garden.

LEONARD KNIGHT: No, what have -- what have you taped of us.

HELFAND: OK.

LEONARD KNIGHT: You have it made.

HELFAND: Yeah.

LEONARD KNIGHT: And send it to me COD, and I’ll --

(break in video)

GEORGE STONEY: You can go on inside, because I want to get a picture of you which I can send it to you, you know.

LEONARD KNIGHT: (inaudible) come yesterday, when I was [peeling peaches?].

(break in video)

MATTIE KNIGHT: I don’t see anymore.

LEONARD KNIGHT: She can’t find no more seeds on that.

GEORGE STONEY: OK. (laughter)

LEONARD KNIGHT: Look right at him a minute, Honey.

GEORGE STONEY: No, that’s all right. Good.

MATTIE KNIGHT: I pick them off every day, because it makes –

(break in video)

4:00

LEONARD KNIGHT: My favorite place (inaudible). [Momma?]. Momma, I’ll open (inaudible).

MATTIE KNIGHT: (inaudible).

LEONARD KNIGHT: Yeah. Momma, I’ll open some peaches. (break in video)

LEONARD KNIGHT: (inaudible)

JAMIE STONEY: OK.

LEONARD KNIGHT: (inaudible) coffee maker. (overlapping dialogue; inaudible)

GEORGE STONEY: You’re rolling (inaudible)?

JAMIE STONEY: Yes, Sir, I’m ready.

GEORGE STONEY: All right, Sir. Could you tell me when you first started working in the [hot?] cotton mill, when you were born, and how old you were when you first started working, and tell us about it? OK?

LEONARD KNIGHT: Well, let’s start when I was born. I was born in 1907, at Powell, Tennessee. That’s out at the edge of town. And I went to work in the 5:00cotton mill when I was 14 years old. I worked at Knoxville Cotton Mill. And at that time we worked ten and a half hours a day, 55 hours a week, and I made $4.20 a week. Now that’s -- we started in the mill. When you first get a job, you’d start as a sweeper, or a janitor, cleanup. And then if somebody quit ahead of you, you’d learn on the spinning frames; doff on the spinning frames, and run the spinning frames. You just moved up as people moved out.

GEORGE STONEY: All right, ma’am, could you tell us about when you started working in the cotton mills. How old you were, when you were born, and so forth?

6:00

MATTIE KNIGHT: I was born 1914, and I went to work in textile when I was 13 year old. I made $5 a week, 55 hours.

GEORGE STONEY: What did you do?

MATTIE KNIGHT: I run the winders, comb winders when I first started.

GEORGE STONEY: Did you have any people who were in textiles?

MATTIE KNIGHT: Well, I had two sisters was working in textile then. But I’d never heard tell of textile when we moved to Knoxville.

GEORGE STONEY: How did you like it?

MATTIE KNIGHT: I loved it.

GEORGE STONEY: Tell us why you loved it.

MATTIE KNIGHT: Well, after I learned to weave now I enjoyed it because it -- I enjoyed making pretty material. And every time a warp would run out you got a different type of material. And I was just interested in it.

7:00

LEONARD KNIGHT: Well, I’ll tell him why you was interested. I’ll tell you why she was interested. She loves to sew, she loves to make dresses. And when you get a -- when they put a warp in with a new pattern, you know, nice, she’d manage somewhere or another --

MATTIE KNIGHT: The boss would give me a dress pattern off of each one that -- new one that I’d put run.

LEONARD KNIGHT: Get about four yards of it, take it home, make her a new dress. Now that -- now that’s why she loved that.

MATTIE KNIGHT: Well, I enjoyed textile anyway.

LEONARD KNIGHT: Yeah. Oh, yeah, we always had -- all of our life, as many places as we worked, we always had a good time in the mills. That -- that wasn’t a slave thing, like people say. It wasn’t a downgraded job either. A lot of people used to talk about lint heads, cotton balls, and all that. That 8:00wasn’t a downgraded job. It was a good job for poor folks.

MATTIE KNIGHT: Well, in New Orleans, if you worked in Lane Cotton Mill, you could get anything you wanted, because they paid more [ahead?] than any other job you could get down there.

GEORGE STONEY: Why did you move around so much?

LEONARD KNIGHT: Because we liked to see different things.

GEORGE STONEY: Just say, “We moved around so much because,” OK?

LEONARD KNIGHT: Yeah. Well, we just moved around because we’d work here, and -- we’d work one place, and we’d learn, and see, and find out about all we wanted to know about that. And we’d just pick up, and go to another state, and try something else. Was always curious about what was over yonder. Just, uh...

MATTIE KNIGHT: We had a job, though, in another state usually before we got there. We always called in ahead.

LEONARD KNIGHT: We’d hear of a good mill that was making different material, 9:00and we were generally right there. And we’d tell them where we was working, and, you know, send them -- I guess a resume is what you call it. But back then, well, you’d ask the man to give you a recommendation. And so we’d just write and tell them where we worked, and what we’d done, and generally we’d get a job that way.

GOERGE STONEY: Could you tell us about the [Beedo?] system?

LEONARD KNIGHT: Oh, that Beedo system. You don’t want to hear about that. That was a pain in the backside. Well, no, now when they owned a Beedo system -- now when that first [come in?], I worked at the Appalachian Cotton Mill, in the spinning room as a doffer. Now before it come in, you just run your frames, and they’d get full, and you’d doff it off, and take it to the winding room. Well, after the Beedo system come in, they called it a quality control thing, 10:00but the way this man worked behind me with a stopwatch, he would -- he would time everything I done. He would time, from the time I started on one end of the frame, doffing down one side. He would see how long it would take me to take that many quills off, and put new ones on, and then he’d stop it. And I’d -- he’d time it what time I moved around to start down the other side. And any lost motion, anything that you done that he could figure out that was unnecessary, he figured to cut that out. And you -- every minute of your time was spent in producing that much more yarn. And [I’ll tell you?], before -- 11:00before you get used to it, it was -- it was really something to aggravate you. It was -- it was rough. Real bad. I didn’t like it much, and I didn’t fail to tell him that. (laughter)

GEORGE STONEY: What did you tell him?

LEONARD KNIGHT: Well, do you want me to tell him what I told you, Honey? Well, now this was my answer to the man on that Beedo system. See, from the spinning room to the [right?] winding room was approximately, oh, 70 yards. Now when you -- the empty quills, you would get them in the wind room, you know, where the girls are winding yarn [all?], and box the empties up. Now when we filled -- when we doffed the frame with the full bobbins of yarn, we had to take that to the spinning room --

12:00

MATTIE KNIGHT: The winding room, you mean.

LEONARD KNIGHT: To the winding room, and then, you know, weigh it up, and see how much poundage. How many spools, and how much poundage. And then we’d empty that out, then we’d fill up with empties, and go back to get another one. Well, one morning I wasn’t particularly feeling good, and I was a little bit aggravated. And so we had two frames that were stopped. In other words, the frames filled up at different times. When you have different sizes of yarns, one yarn will fill up quicker than the other.

MATTIE KNIGHT: That’s coarse.

LEONARD KNIGHT: And the first thing you know one will catch up with the other, and then you’ve got two frames full. And they was hollering about having a frame [stopped off?]. Well, I got the -- and I was really running with that box. I go over, and when I come back, he was standing out in the aisle between 13:00the two frames. I just [whistled?]. I didn’t holler. He went by, but I didn’t miss him two inches. And he hollered at me, and I told him, I said, “You got these damn Beedos in. You’re going to get out of my way so I can get them out.” Now that’s exactly what I told him. “You just get out of my way so I can get them out.” (laughter)

MATTIE KNIGHT: They didn’t get mad about it.

LEONARD KNIGHT: Mr. [Edmundson?], Ed Edmundson was the boss then. He complained to the boss that -- Mr. Edmundson told him, said, “Well,” said, “now he’s right.” He said, “You’re timing him,” he said, “get out of his way.” (laughter) I liked Mr. Edmundson about that. He -- he didn’t complain about what I done. He just told that Beedo man that I was right. Just get out of the way. (laughter)

GEORGE STONEY: How did you feel with somebody standing over you with a stopwatch? Just say that --

14:00

LEONARD KNIGHT: Well, I’ll tell you exactly how I felt. I felt like sticking that stopwatch down his back -- down his throat. I did. I -- I’d try. I’d honestly try to hit him with that box. I didn’t like that at all.

MATTIE KNIGHT: That’s the only place we ever worked, though, in -- under those conditions.

LEONARD KNIGHT: That was the only time that I ever worked at it. Only mill I ever worked at under that condition. But they -- they -- they would even time that machine to its full capacity. [Another?] that was belt-driven. They had a man right there coat them belts, and tied them up until that machine wouldn’t slip, ‘til it run. And then it made them bobbins just as big as they would go. And sometimes, in trying to crowd more on it, they would get too much on it, and the whole blame machine would break down, you know, all the (inaudible). You’d lose three hours easy; just lose a whole day getting it straightened 15:00back out.

GEORGE STONEY: Now who were those fellows who were doing all that?

LEONARD KNIGHT: That was the Beedo system. In other words, they was trying to get more out of the machinery per hour. They wanted to build the machinery up to get full capacity, and they wanted a man to be sure that machine didn’t stop no longer. They wanted that machine to run, and as soon as it was full, get it started up again, just as quick as possible.

GEORGE STONEY: Now who were those Beedo men?

LEONARD KNIGHT: Who were they? Well, their names I couldn’t tell you.

GEORGE STONEY: But were they -- were they fellows who used to be workers in the mill?

LEONARD KNIGHT: I doubt it.

GEORGE STONEY: Just (inaudible)?

LEONARD KNIGHT: I doubt it very much, because he -- he couldn’t do nothing but punch that stopwatch.

GEORGE STONEY: Just one [style?] (inaudible).

LEONARD KNIGHT: That’s right. He -- actually, he couldn’t tell you what is wrong with a frame. He couldn’t tell you nothing about a cotton mill.

GEORGE STONEY: OK. Cut. (pause)

(break in video)

16:00

( a lot of cross talk)

MATTIE KNIGHT: He would not work his workers like that.

LEONARD KNIGHT: And it’s [guaranteed for a year?].

JAMIE STONEY: We’re getting more (inaudible).

LEONARD KNIGHT: (inaudible) you said, you want to take out insurance on it.

HELFAND: That was -- that’s what Leonard was (inaudible) the same kind of job that Luther was, right?

MATTIE KNIGHT: Yeah, (inaudible).

HELFAND: And he got a lot more money (inaudible).

LEONARD KNIGHT: It just -- it just cost you $16.

M: (inaudible).

MATTIE KNIGHT: Yeah. Yeah, we made more up there than you do here.

(overlapping dialogue; inaudible)

MATTIE KNIGHT: Of course, Cherokee now they make -- at least they start you out -- well, three years ago they were starting them out $5.35 at Cherokee.

M: As long as you’re here -- well, you can stick all that (inaudible).

MATTIE KNIGHT: Really we made good.

M: Stuck it in there. As long as you’re here, I want you to hear something.

JAMIE STONEY: (inaudible).

MATTIE KNIGHT: I really...

HELFAND: (inaudible) sit? (pause)

(break in video)

LEONARD KNIGHT: (laughter) What if I was to [land?] over there (inaudible). (pause)

(break in video)

MATTIE KNIGHT: Yeah, I emptied ‘em up in --

17:00

GEORGE STONEY: All right, Sir.

MATTIE KNIGHT: -- with that other jar.

GEORGE STONEY: Tell us about how you felt about the Beedo man.

LEONARD KNIGHT: About the [view?]?

GEORGE STONEY: No, the --

MATTIE KNIGHT: Viewed the Beedo.

LEONARD KNIGHT: Well, now the way that the Beedo man would make you feel -- being a little old boy raised up on the farm, now the way it made me feel, it was just like if I was plowing corn, was on an old [Bulldon?] plow, and we hit a stump. And it made me feel like that old mule would feel if I would try to whip him, and make him pull that stump up, instead of backing up, and pulling out, and going around it. Now that’s just the way you feel. You just feel like you’ve got somebody behind you pushing, pushing, pushing, wanting more, more, and more, to give you less, and less. And just -- it’s just a downright bad 18:00feeling. Makes you -- it just makes you don’t want to do nothing. Either you do nothing at all, or strike out against him. I don’t know. It would be kind of hard to explain to -- to, you know, to express your feelings. You get so mad sometimes you -- if you say anything, you’re going to say something wrong. And if you don’t say what you feel, why then you’re -- you can’t express what you feel.

GEORGE STONEY: I like it when you lean up forwards that --

LEONARD KNIGHT: Oh, you get it better here?

GEORGE STONEY: Yeah, that’s right.

LEONARD KNIGHT: Right.

GEORGE STONEY: Now tell us about those Beedo men. You said it felt like somebody was behind you with a whip. Could you tell about that?

LEONARD KNIGHT: Well, uh --

GEORGE STONEY: With the Beedo men.

LEONARD KNIGHT: Yeah. Well, I don’t know. I never did have nobody to drive me much, and I wasn’t raised that way. And then here this Beedo man comes in, 19:00right out of the blue, and he starts telling you, “Do this, do that.” And he starts telling you that you’re losing time doing certain things. And it just -- it just makes you feel like he’s standing there with a whip in his hand trying to get more out of you. And just pushing you to your limit. And it just -- it’s just not a good feeling at all. It just makes you want to rebel.

GEORGE STONEY: Now when did the Beedo man -- when did that Beedo system come in?

MATTIE KNIGHT: It’s in the Thirties.

LEONARD KNIGHT: Well, uh, now the first I knew of the Beedo system, well, the only time I knew of it is when I worked at the Appalachian mill. Now that was before me and Momma was married.

20:00

MATTIE KNIGHT: No, it was after we got married.

LEONARD KNIGHT: Was it?

MATTIE KNIGHT: After we got married.

LEONARD KNIGHT: Well, yeah, it might have been.

MATTIE KNIGHT: I know it was.

LEONARD KNIGHT: And, well, anyway, back about the time we was married. And we’ve been married 60 years now. So you figure 60 from now, it would be about ’32. Somewheres around 1932. In the early Thirties we’ll be sure of it.

MATTIE KNIGHT: Well, it was about ’32, because we got married in ’31.

LEONARD KNIGHT: So, uh, yeah.

GEORGE STONEY: Can you tell us about what happened when Roosevelt came in?

LEONARD KNIGHT: Oh, when Roosevelt come in, he just changed the whole world for us, for people working in textiles.

MATTIE KNIGHT: Everybody got -- shouted.

LEONARD KNIGHT: Yeah. It’s really true they did. The people just -- everybody come in the mill hollering, “Good morning! Hello!” And it -- it was -- it was just like a vacation. It was really good.

GEORGE STONEY: Why?

21:00

LEONARD KNIGHT: Well, the reason of that, all of a sudden our wages went from $5 and $6 a week -- well, actually, I was making -- before he come in, I was making $6.20 for 55 hours. When he come in, I worked 40 hours, and I made --

MATTIE KNIGHT: We made $12. You made $12.

LEONARD KNIGHT: I made $11. $11.60.

MATTIE KNIGHT: You made $12, and I made $11.

LEONARD KNIGHT: Yeah.

MATTIE KNIGHT: When it first come in, when we first got the raise, and that was a pretty big raise.

LEONARD KNIGHT: Well, yeah. Now you -- well, you can, you know, as comparing it today, I’d say we was making -- I was making $6.20, and Momma was making $5. Between us we was getting about $12. All of a sudden I’m getting $12, what 22:00was we’re both making. And she’s making -- what were you making?

MATTIE KNIGHT: I was making $11. --

LEONARD KNIGHT: Eleven eighty?

MATTIE KNIGHT: -- sixty, or something. Almost $12.

GEORGE STONEY: Almost $12. In other words, our wages almost doubled.

GEORGE STONEY: What about the hours? What did it feel like?

LEONARD KNIGHT: Oh, my, when you can go home and sleep an hour later, or take time out to go, you know, do housework, and get -- just get that ten or 12 -- it’s like giving you a day’s vacation every week; just exactly. You’re figuring it in chunks and bits. It’s just like getting a whole day.

GEORGE STONEY: Do you remember listening to Roosevelt on the radio?

LEONARD KNIGHT: Golly, yeah! Shoot! Man.

MATTIE KNIGHT: My brother went to his inauguration, and when he dedicated the 23:00Smoky Mountain Park my brother went up there, (inaudible).

GEORGE STONEY: Tell us about listening to the radio, to Roosevelt on the radio.

LEONARD KNIGHT: Oh, I don’t -- I don’t really remember too much about what he said, but I do know that -- well, to be honest, we didn’t have no damn radio. We didn’t have no radio then, did we?

MATTIE KNIGHT: We didn’t get a radio. We’d been married about four or five years before we got the first one.

LEONARD KNIGHT: (inaudible) When he was first come in, we didn’t have no radio. We just -- sometimes we’d walk up the street, and somebody else would have one in the store. And we’d stop, and -- you know, I’ve got pictures made me and Momma walking up Gay Street, and we’d stop up at [Fallard?] -- in front of [Fallards Ruthers?], just to listen to the radio. They had big radios 24:00out. And a lot of times you’d hear Roosevelt then. We’d -- go ahead.

GEORGE STONEY: Tell us about that big strike that came about in ’34.

MATTIE KNIGHT: Cherokee.

LEONARD KNIGHT: Well, now that -- that big strike, that was no -- there was actually no strike to amount to anything. The union was trying to organize Cherokee. They had the union at Brookside. Now there were some organizers there at Cherokee.

MATTIE KNIGHT: They never did get it organized.

LEONARD KNIGHT: (inaudible) working. And -- but now even all the time they was there, they never did get a high percentage of the workers. There wasn’t enough to even form a union. But those few people that were in the union, they did, oh, talk amongst their self. And some of the men, well, me included -- you know, I can’t honestly remember if they was talking about getting higher 25:00wages. I don’t remember exactly why they walked out. But I do know that they -- some of them walked out. There wasn’t a woman walked out. All the women stayed on their job. The winding [room?], spinner. The spinners are all women; the winders are women.

MATTIE KNIGHT: Well, there was one woman that come over there organizing it.

LEONARD KNIGHT: Yeah.

MATTIE KNIGHT: And she had worked over there before in -- she used to work at Brookside, and come back over to organize it. But she was kicked out of Tennessee. She left Tennessee.

LEONARD KNIGHT: She worked in the union, and worked as an organizer.

MATTIE KNIGHT: And then Fred and -- Fred Turner, and [Hob?], they left here. They was blackballed at [Cherokee Hill Creek?].

LEONARD KNIGHT: Well, I don’t know them.

MATTIE KNIGHT: Of course, I knew them. I went to school with them.

LEONARD KNIGHT: So. But the strike, as far as Cherokee was concerned --

26:00

MATTIE KNIGHT: It didn’t bother us --

LEONARD KNIGHT: It didn’t bother us --

MATTIE KNIGHT: -- because we worked right on.

LEONARD KNIGHT: -- over there. It didn’t -- it didn’t interfere with our work. In fact, most of us didn’t pay no attention to it. We’d come out, and stayed out a couple of days, went back to work. There’s -- there was never -- there was never nothing said to them that come out. You know, the boss never did say, “Well, we’re going to do this, or do that.” There never was a word said. They all just went back just the same as if you hadn’t went out.

GEORGE STONEY: Do you think the strike was necessary?

LEONARD KNIGHT: No. Lord, no.

MATTIE KNIGHT: Cherokee paid better -- more than union wages.

LEONARD KNIGHT: I think it was the most stupid thing that people could be doing.

GEORGE STONEY: Sorry, could you start off again, “I think the strike was the most stupid” -- all right?

LEONARD KNIGHT: Yeah.

MATTIE KNIGHT: I say they paid more than Brookside did, and them union.

LEONARD KNIGHT: That’s the reason I think it was just stupid. Just about as 27:00stupid as you could be to have come out on a strike when you was making as much as union was in the first place. You was getting a whole lot better working conditions, a cleaner mill, a friendlier boss, paying you as much money. Why in the name of heaven would you want to come out on a strike? Don’t make sense to me.

GEORGE STONEY: Talk about your relationship with the bosses.

LEONARD KNIGHT: It couldn’t be -- our relationship with the bosses, all the way down from [Charlie Bell?]. He was a man that (inaudible) hire you. There wasn’t a -- there wasn’t a man there that wasn’t friendly. They treated -- it was more like that. Oh...

MATTIE KNIGHT: Well, Cherokee was always more like a family mill.

LEONARD KNIGHT: Well, in fact, it was kind of a family mill. Several members of each family worked there, you know. One -- one man would get a job there. Then 28:00if he could, he’d get -- any member of his family, he’d get them a job there. Because in my honest opinion, at that time, Cherokee was the best working place in the textile trade. You couldn’t beat it. The bosses was nice and friendly. They showed you what to do. They told you what they wanted. They told you what they expected. And if you done that, if anything they’d come along and pat you on the back, and give you a compliment. There was never no complaining. Of course, now if you made a lot of seconds, why they showed them to you, and told you plainly, “Now we can’t have this. We can’t sell it. If you’re going to make it, we don’t need you.”

GEORGE STONEY: Now where did those bosses come from?

MATTIE KNIGHT: Well, all those bosses was hometown people at Cherokee.

LEONARD KNIGHT: As far as I know.

29:00

MATTIE KNIGHT: Only two, the [Kehoes?], come in here from North Carolina. No, they was from Massachusetts.

LEONARD KNIGHT: Yeah.

MATTIE KNIGHT: Boston, Massachusetts. And they was the only ones that I knew of, and they were in the weave shop. And all the rest was home town.

LEONARD KNIGHT: Yeah.

GEORGE STONEY: And where would the Beedo man come from?

MATTIE KNIGHT: He was from New York.

LEONARD KNIGHT: Yeah. Oh, yeah, that’s what -- that’s what he said.

GEORGE STONEY: Just explain that the Beedo man was from New York.

LEONARD KNIGHT: Yeah, well, the Beedo man was talking with our -- one -- one time there, about the only time that I ever talked sense with a Beedo man is one time there there was a mishap on the spinning frames. The motor on the -- that pulled the pulleys that run the spinner, the motor burned out, and it was down for about two hours. And that’s when we -- we understood that this Beedo man, he was working with quality control, just like as if he was hired by a company 30:00by that name, quality (inaudible). And he was to teach us how to not waste no time. He was teaching us, the (inaudible) on the spinning frames, how to get all they could, make the bobbins as big as they could, and run them as full as they could. And doff them the least -- in other words, not doff them until it was everything you could get [on it?].