James Hoffman Interview 2

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 F1: (inaudible) but I’ll do it too, but I -- should we --

(break in audio)

JAMES HOFFMAN: -- I’ll continue?


HOFFMAN: OK. So, uh, related to a lot of this, related to a lot of this, is, uh, that I found that the situation that we had here locally in Gadsden, uh, was interesting, uh, and uh, important, um, to a social history of Gadsden, and, uh, Alabama, but also, also, Gadsden seemingly triggered, uh, the larger state-wide strike. Now, the strikes in north Alabama, during the summer of ’34, in July and August of ’34, proved to be the test tube of the national cotton textile strike. The national cotton te-- textile strike that spread nationwide, uh, from Alabama to New England, originated in Ala-- uh, originated in Alabama. So 1:00what you had was rural cotton mills in rural areas, uh, like Gadsden. Uh, Boaz, Alabama. Guntersville, Alabama. Scottsboro, Alabama. Rural, remote, isolated places that were supposed to be very conservative on the union issue. These rural, cotton mill workers walked out and went on strike, uh, and l-- ultimately led the national cotton textile strike that, again, went from Alabama to, uh, New England. But, it was interesting to me, about how cotton mill workers in Gadsden, or at that time, Alabama City, could go on strike in a town that supposedly was strongly anti-labor at that time. In 1934, local residents, uh, were opposed to organizing efforts. Uh, they were opposed to unions. They certainly didn’t get any help from the local community. So I was interested 2:00in the concept of how, in Alabama City, uh, local employees at Dwight Mill could walk out, seemingly on their own, and do what they did.

GEORGE STONEY: Did you find any answers for that?

HOFFMAN: The answers I found, or the conclusions I, um, uh, arrived at, as a result of my study, uh, were that local employees at Dwight Mill went on strike, uh, for better working conditions. They, uh, wanted to eliminate the stretch out. The stretch out was a method of working employees at long hours at one machine without a break. This kind of thing. They were striking for improved working conditions. They, uh, went on strike for, uh, a pay raise. Uh, the weekly pay raise, if I remember correctly, may have been about 7.50 or something a week, and they went on strike for higher wages. Uh, and also, um, uh, local 3:00employees had complaints with management supervisors, uh, harassing them on the job. Uh --

GEORGE STONEY: But this -- but those complaints were ones that we found all over the South. Why, and how, did those people, here, uh, mostly with people with rural backgrounds, almost no connection with unions before, where did they get the guts and the ideas to do what they did?

HOFFMAN: My only, uh, conclusion to that, or response to that, would have to be that local conditions at Dwight Mill in, in Alabama City were so bad, they were so horrendous, they were so terrible, that the severe nature of working conditions caused the employees to go on strike like they did. Working conditions were not good. There was a lot of harassment, uh, by, uh, company, uh, supervisors of employees. There was a good bit of sexual harassment. So, I 4:00was told that supervisors tried to make time with the female employees. So you had this situation. Uh, so a lot of things cumulated to such an ex-- severe degree that they went on strike.

JUDITH HELFAND: (inaudible)

GEORGE STONEY: But, one other thing. These, these were local leaders. You had, uh, the union started here by local people, even before the national came in.


GEORGE STONEY: Have you been able to find out where those seeds came from?

HOFFMAN: Not really. Not really. I don’t know where those seeds came from, unless they came from and originated with severe working conditions, uh, at, at Dwight Mill. Uh, in other words, the working conditions just been so bad -- low wages -- that the severity of that caused a work out -- uh, walk out. Other than that, I don’t know.

GEORGE STONEY: Because when we’ve looked into this, we’ve seen no kind of basic political philosophy. Was it populism? Was it John -- Tom Watsonism? Was it...


HOFFMAN: That is a good question. Uh, that is a good question.

GEORGE STONEY: Uh, just explaining what that was.

HOFFMAN: A very -- a very good point. Uh. My research indicated that politics were not a factor with, um, the local labor force at Dwight Mill. Uh, however, uh, I think that politics and political ideology were a factor with the community at large. I think that many people in Gadsden, locally, uh, certainly mill management, opposed unions on principle. They opposed unions because unions were affiliated with communism. They opposed unions because unions were considered to have been run by, uh, big city labor bosses in the North, that, uh, rule crime empires of vice, racketeers, protection organizations. So 6:00basically, I think that there was a feeling at that time that unions were affiliated with organized crime. Uh, unions also, during the early 1930s, championed or supported the cause of negro civil rights, which was not popular with a lot of people in the deep South. Uh, also, uh, a lot -- a lot of local people did not like the idea of outside union organizers coming into their town to organize their local workforce for a union. So, for these reasons, uh, a large portion of the, uh, uh, local population or community, uh, on political grounds, basically, opposed unions. And again, certainly, mill management opposed unions. So, on principle, politics, in my opinion, was a factor there. However, as I see it, evidence does not indicate that politics were a factor with the workforce at Dwight Mill. Uh, the local workforce at Dwight Mill, uh, 7:00does, uh, or did not seem to be, concerned with political issues. They were not, uh, going on strike to support socialist, political, uh, objectives or anything like this. Or try to achieve a workers’ solidarity or any of these supposedly liberal, leftwing, political objectives. In my opinion, evidence suggest that the local workforce at Dwight Mill wan-- went on strike because of the severity of the, uh, bad working conditions that existed at the time. Long hours, uh, low wages, uh, company harassment of, uh, employees. These kinds of things that did not involve politics. So.


GEORGE STONEY: That’s very good, useful, stuff for us. All of that is very good stuff. Yeah.

HELFAND: (inaudible)

GEORGE STONEY: Yeah. (inaudible) Remember, you look at her. Uh, at, uh, t--

HELFAND: Yeah, and --

GEORGE STONEY: -- so Judy’s asking this question.

HELFAND: -- please, don’t look d-- I know it’s hard. Don’t --


HELFAND: -- look don’t down at your newspaper.


GEORGE STONEY: Yeah, yeah.

HELFAND: We want you to look at me.

GEORGE STONEY: Go ahead, Janet.

HELFAND: My question, I mean, one --

GEORGE STONEY: Uh, look at Judy when -- she’s asking the question.

HELFAND: Come sit. Why don’t you -- want to sit -- yeah.

GEORGE STONEY: You see, we, we want you to get eyes.

JANET IRONS: Question I have -- that -- well, the question you’ve already answered, is, uh, what prompted them to go out? My question is, how did they stay out for so long?

HOFFMAN: That is another good question. OK. When the strike began, luckily --

GEORGE STONEY: OK. J-- just repeat that --

HOFFMAN: -- in --

GEORGE STONEY: How did they stay out for so long?

HOFFMAN: OK. Locally, in G--


HELFAND: You have to include --


IRONS: -- the question in your answer.

GEORGE STONEY: -- how (inaudible) did they stay out for so long?

HOFFMAN: I hope this isn’t on tape.

GEORGE STONEY: No, go ahead.

IRONS: Don’t matter.



IRONS: Question is --


HELFAND: Don’t say -- don’t say that.

HOFFMAN: Do I repeat the question?


HELFAND: “How did they stay out so long? I’ll tell you.”


HELFAND: Like that.


HOFFMAN: OK. Uh, how did the local, um, workforce stay out, uh, so long.

GEORGE STONEY: No, say it again, with a, “How did they stay out so long?” Then go.

HELFAND: Or reword it, if it --

GEORGE STONEY: Yeah, yeah.

HELFAND: -- makes you feel more comfortable.

GEORGE STONEY: Yeah, yeah.

HOFFMAN: OK. All right. OK. How did the local workforce stay out so long? OK. There’s several responses to that. Uh, one is that, uh, the strike was very short. Uh, it only lasted, uh, a few months. Uh, locally, in Gadsden, uh, the duration of the strike was only, uh, two months, or something like two months. So it was not a long strike. Um, the workers were not able to sustain a long strike because when, uh, the strike began in July of 1934, there was no strike fund. Uh, a union did exist at the mill, uh, at the time of the strike, but the union cannot be considered, uh, to have been a strong union. Uh, the 10:00union itself was weak. There was no strike fund. There was no war chest to support a strike. Uh, and an additional factor was that employees who went on strike knew that they would lose their jobs after the strike. Uh, management had still -- even though the employees were on strike -- management had a lot of control, a lot of power over their employees, because a -- most of their employees lived in the mill village owned by the company. Uh, the company, here in Gadsden locally, did evict striking workers from their homes during the strike, OK? So during the strike, i-- it-- it-- itself, what you had was the company identifying individual members of strikes and evicting them -- them from their homes, kicking them out of their houses. So this was one thing that, uh, weapon, that the company had. Added to this, uh, you did not have a strong local union here. Uh, the union didn’t have a -- a war chest. And basically, 11:00the bottom line was that workers pretty much had to, uh, support themselves, OK? Workers had to support themselves. Uh, all of this, which is to say that the local union really could not support a long strike. Um, and, I think that nationally -- the national UTWA -- United Textile Workers of America union -- knew that it could not support a long strike against management, and that management pretty much, nationally as well as in Alabama and in Gadsden, had the upper hand. And the union was just very weak and couldn’t stand up to management. And so therefore, it’s a relatively short [re--?] strike.

HELFAND: (inaudible)


HELFAND: Um. Want to turn the camera off f—

(break in video)

HOFFMAN: Oh, you don’t want to hear what I’m going to say. Uh --

HELFAND: (inaudible)

HOFFMAN: -- I really prefer to -- to dodge that question and hedge on that, and not respond to that kind of thing, because, what I’m thinking is if, if this does go on television, if it goes on PBS, and local people here in Gadsden see 12:00what I say, I would not want them to think or convey the idea that I might think I’m better than, uh, cotton mill workers, or that I might think I’m better than Goodyear workers, or something like this. In other words, people here know me, and I am afraid to be honest with you, of that kind of question, because if -- if the contingency underlined, uh, this may go on television or PBS. As you indicated, you may try to sell it to PBS, and again, if this was seen by local people, then I would not want to put any negative, adverse.

HELFAND: OK. Did those -- OK. Take yourself out of the situation. You grew up here. You saw attitudes, right? Can you d-- can you talk about the attitudes in the town and why that might have led you to choose to --

HOFFMAN: No. OK. Now, that relates to local -- local feelings, and local lat-- attitudes, I think, on unions. I think that relates to --

HELFAND: What relates to?

HOFFMAN: -- local -- well, what you -- what you’re asking about --

HELFAND: Repeat.

HOFFMAN: -- in other words --


HELFAND: What am I asking?

HOFFMAN: Well, attitudes and feelings of, of, of people here in Gadsden. Uh, and I’m not a good person to talk to about that because I’m not old enough to really -- really, I don’t know about that. In other words, that’s something I don’t know about. In other words, OK. During the ’50s, ’40s, and ’30s, when unions were in the process of being accepted in Gadsden, basically that’s before my time, and I can’t tell you what -- what people thought about.

HELFAND: What about when you were growing up?

HOFFMAN: Well, I would -- I would be reluctant to --

GEORGE STONEY: I think he’s made it clear.


GEORGE STONEY: He doesn’t want to say that.


GEORGE STONEY: And, and he’s explained why. No, I think --

HELFAND: But, you know what’s interesting, is that might be one reason why people -- when you were trying to get them to talk with you, w-- probably had some of the same feelings that you’re having.

HOFFMAN: Now, if the camera’s not going --

GEORGE STONEY: (inaudible)

HOFFMAN: -- I’ll try to address that.

(break in video)


HELFAND: How about this. We talk about why your thesis isn’t in this room. How’s that? We won’t talk about that either. OK.

HOFFMAN: No, well, OK. I -- I --

IRONS: There’s something sensitive here, and describe what it is --


IRONS: -- that’s sensitive.


HELFAND: And it’s exciting the hell out of us.

IRONS: And you don’t have to say --

GEORGE STONEY: I mean, this -- this --

IRONS: -- you don’t have to say how you feel.

GEORGE STONEY: -- you say, this is explaining a lot of th-- a, a, a --

IRONS: You don’t have to say how you feel.

GEORGE STONEY: -- lot of the trouble that we were having, as well.

IRONS: You just have to explain why this is a sensitive issue.


HOFFMAN: Well, OK. I wouldn’t say that it’s a sensitive issue as such, but I would not want people here locally to hear me, or see me, if this goes on television, say anything that they might not... like.

GEORGE STONEY: Fifty-eight years later, these things are still that strong.

HOFFMAN: Uh. Well, OK, we’ll try to discuss it. OK. Hit me. Hit me with what you got.



HOFFMAN: Let’s go. Let’s --


HOFFMAN: Go for it.

HELFAND: Go for it.


HOFFMAN: Go for it.

IRONS: I still have a question.


IRONS: I’m going to insist upon asking.



IRONS: I thought it was very interesting that Judy said, “Why did the strike last so long in Gadsden?” And you were really uncomfortable with that. And you said, “Well in fact, the strike didn’t last long.” OK? So I’m going to try to ask this question another time --


IRONS: -- and, another way.


HOFFMAN: (inaudible)

IRONS: And I’m going to -- yes. But my leg is going to hurt you, because it’s --

HOFFMAN: It’s all right. It’s all right.

IRONS: -- a hard leg. OK. Opelika, Alabama. We’re going to compare it to Gadsden, OK? Gadsden, Alabama, Dwight Mills, goes out on strike. Nobody tells them to. They do it on their own. They take the initiative. So that says to me, “Wow. OK. Why did they take the initiative?” They -- the strike lasts a lot longer than it lasts in the rest of the country. The rest of the country, it’s only three weeks. In Ala-- and, and in Gadsden, it lasts for o-- over two months, OK? Just an hour or two away by car, down in Opelika, they not only 16:00do not go on strike, they have a “yes, we have no union” parade, OK? And the place is 100% closed down. Not a single person leaves their jobs.


IRONS: Why is it different --


JAMIE STONEY: -- in Gadsden?

IRONS: OK. OK. That’s a good question. All right. One reason why I think that it was different in Gadsden and a lot of other mills that, uh, walked out on strike in July of 1934 was because, uh, local workers were not -- were not threatened at the beginning of the strike, uh, in the sense that what you had develop during the course of the strike was anti-union gangs -- if you want to say that -- who formed flying squadrons, is what they were called. Which were 17:00convoys of cars that rode from one town to the next, and they traveled all over Alabama. You had flying squadrons going from one town to the next in Alabama, threatening local mills. Threatening workers at local mills, saying, “You go out on strike, and, uh, we’ll retaliate.” Threatened the plant, basically saying that if this mill walks out, we’ll, you know, w-- meet us. So, the flying squadron seemingly -- seemingly -- in a lot -- well, I say a lot of cases -- in several incidents -- instances -- at local mills in Alabama, the flying squadrons were effective in that regard. Wait a minute, wait a minute.

GEORGE STONEY: Wait a minute.

HOFFMAN: C-- c--

IRONS: C-- c--

HOFFMAN: -- can we kill that?

IRONS: You know --

GEORGE STONEY: Yeah, yeah.

IRONS: -- flying squadrons has another meaning.

GEORGE STONEY: Yeah we want --

(break in video)

HOFFMAN: -- all right, again, everything I said on the --


HOFFMAN: -- squadrons is blanked out.

GEORGE STONEY: Yeah, yeah.


HOFFMAN: OK. You asked a very good question about why, uh, the mills in north Alabama -- specifically Dwight Mill in Alabama City -- went on strike, and mills in Opelika, Alabama did not go on strike. OK. What you had -- what you had in Alabama, uh, during, uh, July of 1934, was that, uh, mills -- cotton mills -- in north Alabama, uh, basically from, uh, Montgomery north -- the northern half of the state -- went on strike. OK. Basically, the cotton mills in south Alabama, fundamentally from Montgomery south, did not go on strike. Very few mills in south Alabama went on strike, OK? So you had a lot of mills, not just Opelika, but the Opelika mill, as well as a lot of other mills in south Alabama, did not 19:00-- did not go on strike. Uh, I don’t know the reason for that, except that seemingly, seemingly, the movement for, uh, unionizing, uh, the mills in north Alabama was stronger than it was in south Alabama. So if you say, “Alabama went on strike in 1934,” it did, but more specifically, only northern Alabama went on strike. The mills in south Alabama did not go on strike. A lot of mills south of Montgomery remained open or did not join the strike. Uh --

IRONS: That’s the question that we have. Why was -- now, the union movement encountered a lot of opposition in northern Alabama and in Gadsden. No question about that. We’ll both agree on that and swear on a Bible. There was a lot of opposition to unions. But the movement -- the push for unions in northern Alabama --


IRONS: -- seemed to be stronger.

HOFFMAN: Yup. Ye-- yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.



HOFFMAN: Yeah. Um. I don’t know. I do not have an answer for that question. Um, I do know that, um, at the state, uh, uh, conference or meeting that was held, um, yeah, I believe in August of ’34, to try to get additional mills on strike. Uh, uh, John Dean, at that time, headed the -- the statewide effort, or the -- led the mills that had walked out. And they were trying to get additional mills in south Alabama to join the strike. And there was just very little support, uh, from south Alabama on that. Why? I don’t know. I would think that, uh, working conditions would be at -- as bad in south Alabama mills as in the north. I would think the wages would be as low in south Alabama as in north Alabama. So I don’t know. I can’t answer that question.




HELFAND: OK. You -- do you want to try again? You just said we could hit you with anything we want. So. I want to kn-- I want you to say, “My name is James Hoffman. I’m a historian. I grew up here in Gadsden. I was born here in Gadsden.”

HOFFMAN: I’m not going to say that.

HELFAND: You’re not going to say that? OK. Why?

GEORGE STONEY: You weren’t born in Gadsden?



HELFAND: But you won't say that?

HOFFMAN: But -- uh, well, go ahead. Go ahead.

HELFAND: OK. Well, I want to know who you are, James, and I want to know -- and I want to know a little bit about the community that you grew up in, and what made you decide to -- and if there were -- I know there were textile workers here. It’s a mill town. And then you decided to write about mill people, and that’s fascinating to me.

HOFFMAN: Well, my opinions --

HELFAND: (inaudible)

HOFFMAN: -- or attitudes of Gadsden are probably different than a lot of other people’s because, again, Taft Hartley -- and the 1950s is fairly recently -- Taft Hartley, the right to work bill and open shop issues, continued to be 22:00highly controversial here during the ’50s, uh, and early ’60s. And in that context, unions continued to be an issue, even though all three major plants -- Republic Steel, Goodyear, and Dwight -- were organized. Uh, but I would be reluctant to state my opinions on a lot of this because it would be at variance with what other people may think, and I’m kind of sensitive on this.

JAMIE STONEY: And you have to live here.

HOFFMAN: And I have to live here.


HOFFMAN: Yo-- hey, I got to live here. You got it.


HELFAND: OK. Uh, could you do this for me? Could you simply say, could you intr-- can you say, “I was born here, and I was raised here in a textile town, and I decided to write about textile workers and the strike”? Is that controversial?

HOFFMAN: No, no. OK. Yeah, I’ll do that. OK.

JAMIE STONEY: That’s simple, isn’t it?


HOFFMAN: OK. Uh, my name is Jim Hoffman. I was born in Gadsden. I’ve lived in Gadsden all my life. Uh, I decided to, uh, conduct a research study of Dwight Mill because, uh, the textile in-- industry was interesting to me. It’s a facet of southern history -- Alabama history, and local history -- that, uh, we no longer have. Uh, the pa-- local plant was closed in 1959, and the more time that evolves from the time the local plant closed, uh, to, uh, whatever point in time in the future, the harder it’s going to be to get information on this segment of the local workforce that at one time was very important to the local economy. So, uh, I thought it was interesting to try to, uh, uh, capture this segment of local history and the local workforce while many, uh, references or resources on the strike are available, that in the future will not be as available.

GEORGE STONEY: Good. Now. You -- we have met a -- not a lot of local people 24:00who are interested in this. We were just in the drug store this morning and the fellow has all these photographs. We’ve talked to somebody else the other day who has a brick that he’s very proud of that came out of the mills. So, th-- what you’ve written about is these people’s family history, in effect. And you’ve got your thesis here. Why is this thesis, in effect, in a restricted room, rather than out for everybody to read?

HOFFMAN: You’re putting me on the spot.

HELFAND: Show us your thesis. Can you show us your thesis? Come on.


HOFFMAN: Can I take the fifth?


HOFFMAN: I -- I plead the fifth on the grounds it may incriminate me.

GEORGE STONEY: OK. That’s enough. I think that shows that --

HOFFMAN: No. I -- OK. I’ve avoided your question. Am I off camera?



HOFFMAN: Kill the camera.

(break in video)

HOFFMAN: -- in here. I pretty well said in here what I told you all. About supervisors, uh, hitting on female girls.


HOFFMAN: Young girls. Ten year old girls, trying to make time with them. I said it in here. These were the -- I, I didn’t hold anything back here, but at the same time, I don’t want to literally go on the air -- on tape -- and say a lot of this.

GEORGE STONEY: It’s interesting. What you’ve done is to make it perfectly clear how difficult it is to write local history.

HOFFMAN: Oh, you got it.


JAMIE STONEY: (inaudible)

HOFFMAN: Like he said, I got to live here.

JAMIE STONEY: -- small town.

HELFAND: Can you talk about how difficult it is -- in an abstract way talk about how difficult it is to do local history? Help us, James. We’re trying to make history, too, man.

IRONS: Here -- here’s the context. The context is that this film is the story of not only a national strike, but a strike as it existed in every local community. And the idea is to give back to local communities the history that has been lost to them because people wouldn’t talk about it and nobody wrote 26:00it down. So the reason for the film is to return their his-- people’s history to them. Now what you’re telling us is that there’s a problem with returning people’s history --


IRONS: -- to them. Now, and that’s not just true in Gadsden. That’s true in every local community we’re going to. That’s why if you can describe the problem, you would be a great help.

HOFFMAN: Well, the problem, I think, is defined pretty much --

GEORGE STONEY: May we – may we record this.

HOFFMAN: Yeah, I guess so.


M2: (inaudible)

M1: Yup.

HELFAND: You’re being very helpful.

IRONS: What’s -- what’s -- what’s the problem?

M1: (inaudible)

HOFFMAN: OK. I think -- I think a lot of problems researching local history are related to -- are related to the fact that a lot of people, uh, do have strong feelings about what happened in the past. They do have strong feelings about the ’34 cotton textile strike. Uh, which is to say that, in a lot of ways, union non-union issues still prevail with a lot of people. OK? A lot of people 27:00still have strong feelings on the union issue. Uh, and a lot of people still have strong feelings on what was done in 1934. A lot of, uh, union people are still mad at the company. A lot of management people are still mad with the union, and have strong feelings with the union for going on strike against their mill. See? Their employees walked out of their mill and went on strike against their mill. Uh, there was a kind of, uh, paternalism that is a factor. Uh, commonly lot of people would call it Mill, uh, Village, uh, paternalism. Or welfare capitalism, where management saw itself as helping their employees, OK? When their employees walked out, and force their plant to close down, it invoked a lot of resentment. And a lot of people still have these strong feelings for 28:00that reason. Um, so, a lot of difficulties emerge from attitudes of things, um, that, um, I guess simply can be stated in terms of, uh, uh, what happened at the time of the strike, the people hadn’t forgotten about, and is still a major -- major things with them.

IRONS: Would you say it polarizes the community?

HOFFMAN: Perhaps. Perhaps in 1934. Uh, possibly in 1934, not today. Not, not today. It would not polarize, uh, the community today. But guys, uh, unionism is not the issue today that it was in 19--