Burns Cox and James Hoffman Interviews

Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library
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GEORGE STONEY: (inaudible)

(break in audio)



GEORGE STONEY: (inaudible) OK, now Im going to have her just come out through that (inaudible).

JAMIE STONEY: How much do you need, we need 30 seconds?

GEORGE STONEY: (inaudible Now, (inaudible) come out (inaudible).

JAMIE STONEY: Sure. You want me --

GEORGE STONEY: (inaudible) past the house.

JAMIE STONEY: (inaudible)


JAMIE STONEY: Lozem geyn.

HELFAND: Let them go?

JAMIE STONEY: Yes. Have you ever seen Blazing Saddles? Wave them off, wave them off.




JANET IRONS: We look like we walk pretty well. Door doesnt open.


(break in video)

HELFAND: Well, I think we can (inaudible).

M1: (inaudible) Would you be too big to talk to me?


(overlapping dialogue; inaudible)

BURNS COX: The Dixie Federation Labor (inaudible).

F1: Corporation? (inaudible) Hi, were together.

F2: Oh, are you together?


COX: Yes. The Dixie Federation (inaudible) 1933, I believe it was. (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) one time before.

F2: I was looking to see what sec-- section to look in. OK, Federation of Labor?

COX: Dixie Federation of Labor. Dixie.


F2: OK. [Booking?], 415. OK sir, you want to look right here. Is that it?

COX: (inaudible)

IRONS: Do you want to read it out loud?

COX: No, I just -- no, I (inaudible) name.

IRONS: Have you seen it?

COX: Oh yeah, Ive seen it before.

IRONS: There, theres the names.

COX: The names (inaudible) I told you their names, (inaudible) incorporated (inaudible).


COX: And what I try and tell them.

IRONS: Do you want to read them out loud?

COX: (inaudible)

IRONS: No, I dont know these people.

COX: Just read them like that. (inaudible)

(overlapping dialogue; inaudible)

IRONS: How about I read them out, and you tell me who they are, or something 00:04:00about them? Here, it starts here. Theres the date.

COX: July 27th, 1933, (inaudible).

IRONS: Nineteen thirty...

COX: Thirty-three. July the 27th, 1933. (inaudible)

IRONS: Right. Application for charter by the Dixie Federation of Labor.

COX: Yeah.

IRONS: And then it has we the undersigned, of the purpose of forming a corporation, pursuant to the provisions of the current civil code of the state of Alabama --

COX: Yeah.


IRONS: -- do hereby associate ourselves as a body corporate, and do hereby adopt the following certificate of a corporate entity. And then back here --

COX: These are the ones, (inaudible).

IRONS: Right.

COX: It was in the old Dixie now, this is the old Dixie here.

IRONS: Right. The one that was formed even before --

COX: Before before the AF of L come in. This is -- this is the Dixie Federation of Labor, all these names.

IRONS: CW Posey?

COX: Yeah, I remember him.

IRONS: Yeah?

COX: Hes dead.

IRONS: JW Higgenbottom?

COX: Hes dead.

IRONS: Marvin State?

COX: Hes dead.

IRONS: Ollie Hamilton?

COX: Hes dead.

IRONS: Paul Moon?

COX: Hes dead.

IRONS: JC Turner?

COX: Well, hes dead.

IRONS: George Green?

COX: Hes dead.

IRONS: WA Howell?

COX: Hes dead.

IRONS: WO Howell?

COX: Hes dead.

IRONS: They related?

COX: (inaudible)

(break in video)


IRONS: You want to open -- put your fingers there. (inaudible)


COX: Now this charter (inaudible) roll out, incorporated under the law of the land, what we wanted.

IRONS: Whats it say?

COX: Application for the charter by the Dixie Federation of Labor?

IRONS: And whats the date?

COX: July 27th, 1933.

(overlapping dialogue; inaudible)

IRONS: So this is it.

COX: Thats it. Nothing about it.

IRONS: We the undersigned, for the purpose of forming a corporation under -- pursuant to the provisions of the current civil code of the state of Alabama.

COX: Right, we filed under the law. (inaudible) lawyer, (inaudible). And he knew the law.

IRONS: And then uh, are these the undersigned here on the next page?

COX: These undersigned people was willing to sign their name, to where we could make the accord stand up and (inaudible).

IRONS: So those are -- are a bunch of brave people there.


COX: Im trying to find mine, I know its in here somewhere. Burns Cox, there I am, right there.

IRONS: Where do you -- where did you live back then?

COX: I lived at uh (overlapping dialogue; inaudible).

IRONS: Yeah.

COX: (inaudible)

IRONS: Yeah. Are there any names there, you want to tell me about some of these others folks?

COX: Well as I said, most of them are all dead now. But as we set up this organization, we wanted to be known as the Dixie Federation of Labor. And we formed it. We took our money and we paid for the charter, and that was that. And all the detail work.

IRONS: Whered you get the money for the charter?

COX: We begged, borrowed, even, I hate to say it, one of our members sold his wifes wash pot to help 00:08:00get money to incorporate this union. Thats how bad off we was at that time.

IRONS: Thats a great story.

COX: AC Bean, [Thadden?], Allen Bean, Burns, Clemens, (inaudible), JD Lewis, (inaudible) BA Senders, [Marcine?] McClendon. Roy Lewis. Dean Jones, Hopper. Orton, Orton, and Rufus Freeland, Joe Miller, and the -- Duke, George Hickenbottom, VD (inaudible). Orton Phillips, Orton Phillips, hes dead. Harvey Bush, hes dead. George Nelson, I remember all of them. I remember all these names, they come back to me since Ive seen the -- seen the book. But this is what the original Dixie Federation of Labor that we incorporated on 00:09:00the state law of Alabama in 1933.

GEORGE STONEY:I think that about does it.

(break in video)

IRONS: Do you want to read some more names?

JAMIE STONEY: As youre going down, say whos dead and whos alive.

COX: (inaudible) CW Cole is dead, JB Hickenbottoms dead, Marvin (inaudible) dead, Oliver Hamiltons dead, Paul Moons dead. JC Turner, George Green, AW Howell, WO Howell, TW Jones, Dale Connor, Herbert Garret, Hugh Garret, you talked to him, Hugh Garret?

HELFAND: Hes alive.

COX: Yeah. (inaudible) is dead. Rod Sauls dead, Homer Sauls dead. John Roberts, (inaudible) Willy Cooper. CD (inaudible) Willy. Henry Lockinger. JM Murray. (break in video)(inaudible).

IRONS: Tell me that story again? What happened, WA Lawson?


COX: WA Lawson was a man (inaudible).

IRONS: Thats an incredible of the story.

COX: (inaudible) nothing we can do about it (inaudible)

IRONS: How much did it cost to -- to incorporate it?

COX: I dont remember (inaudible) it wasnt much.

IRONS: But even then it was uh, hard to get all the money together?

COX: Oh yeah, yeah. (inaudible)

(break in video)

(overlapping dialogue; inaudible)

COX: Thank you very much.

IRONS: Thank you very much.

COX: (inaudible) old history.

F2: OK.

IRONS: Kind of --


COX: My name happens to be on that thing, they wanted to be sure (inaudible).

F2: OK.

COX: (laughter) Thank you.

IRONS: Thank you.

COX: (inaudible) tell him his daddys been over here.

F2: All right. Yeah, (inaudible).

IRONS: So uh, what do you think, uh, the people in todays -- the children in school today should know about the uh, the Dixie Federation of Labor? If you were going to go tell them about their own history?

COX: (overlapping dialogue; inaudible)

IRONS: Do you think the kids should know about this stuff?

COX: Well, theres been so much union dealings, (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) one time. Best town organizer in the whole world, here in Gadsden.

IRONS: Yeah?

COX: Everything was organized.

IRONS: Yeah.


COX: Rubber, steel, automobile workers, (inaudible) [crane?], everything was organized.

IRONS: Yeah.

COX: Stores, clerks, everything.

IRONS: Yeah.

COX: We had -- we had this town solid union.

IRONS: Yeah, yeah.

COX: At one time.

IRONS: Yeah. Do you think the -- that todays children really know that story?

COX: No, they dont know it. (inaudible) You go out in the life today, lots of people never even know.


(break in video)



COX: What this fellow said, youve got to tape some history in there didnt you?

GEORGE STONEY: (inaudible)

(break in video)

JAMIE SONEY: (inaudible) Judy goes in the elevator to find a ghost.

(break in video)

JAMES HOFFMAN: Hows the door?



HOFFMAN: OK, I think theyre right down here. Lets see, The Gadsden Times, September and October.

IRONS: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

HOFFMAN: Take these.

IRONS: Can you carry them?

HOFFMAN: Ive got them.

IRONS: All right. Great. Take them down. Use them --

(break in video)



IRONS: Yeah, were going to go down there.

(break in video)

IRONS: Were going here.

HOFMAN: (inaudible)


IRONS: James, or I should call you Jim?


IRONS: You and I have been --

GEORGE STONEY: Start again, just Jim.



M1: Just a sec.

IRONS: (inaudible) Jim.


IRONS: Jim, you and I have both been doing some research on uh, the strike. Ive been looking at the entire South, uh, youve been going into depth into one specific community. Um, weve both used a lot of different sources, um, maybe we could compare notes about the kinds of sources we used.



IRONS: Um, I know weve got these newspapers out here, um, want to tell me about them?

HOFFMAN: Well, these are the uh, 1934, uh, Gadsden, uh, newspapers that provide, uh, a wealth of information on the strike, they provide a good, uh, primary source for the strike itself, and for uh, social history of Gadsden in 1934. Uh, have you found any additional sources that were of benefit to you in your -- your research?

IRONS: Well I never got to look at -- at these newspapers, in fact, I didnt do the kind of in-depth research on Gadsden and the Dwight Mills, um, at all that you managed to -- to do in -- in your work. Uh, but newspapers exist for, of course, all communities, and I completely agree with you about their value. Uh, they -- they give you a real local picture of whats going on, and make you realize that things are different in different areas.

HOFFMAN: Oh yeah, oh yeah.

IRONS: Just one of the things that -- you agree with that?

HOFFMAN: Oh yeah.


IRONS: And um, the other thing, of course, was using uh, interviews with people who might remember the 34 strike.


IRONS: Of course, its been over 50 years.

HOFFMAN: Yes, yeah.

IRONS: Whats --

HOFFMAN: Well, I was able to interview, um, uh, several different people, uh, for the local strike in Gadsden. Uh, one difficulty I encountered was the strike being more than 50 years old, a lot of people have uh, are deceased, and a lot of people are no longer available, uh, to share their knowledge of the strike. Uh, and its getting more and more difficult to -- to try to contact people, just because so many of them are deceased. Uh, I found that uh, several people I contacted and tried to interview, uh, uh, for their -- their role in the strike did not want to talk about it. Uh, several people I uh, called or contacted, uh, still have hard feelings or strong feelings about the 1934 cotton 00:17:00mill strike here in Gadsden, and did not want to discuss the strike when I tried to arrange an interview with them to talk to them about the strike. Uh, they basically hung up the telephone and just refused to uh, talk to me about it, or discuss it, they did not want to um, say anything about their involvement in the strike, or their role in the strike, what they did in the strike. So, this was a problem too. Um --

GEORGE STONEY: Lets start again. Jim, you had a lot more --

(break in video)

IRONS: Ignore that camera.

GEORGE STONEY: Yes, please.


IRONS: Um, but I think that getting testimony from witnesses, people who were there, can be such a valuable source of information, especially when you dont have anything written down, and when its a strike that has been uh, not very well researched, not very well remembered, uh, to find people who were alive and can tell you about it. And then, to discover that they wont talk to you once 00:18:00youve discovered this person who might be a valuable resource, it must have been an enormous source of frustration to you.

HOFFMAN: Yeah, yeah it was. Of course, obtaining peoples, uh, oral testimony, oral history, or relating, uh, what they experienced, during the uh, 1934 strike, is really the best source of information, its certainly one of the best sources of information, uh, you can get. I did contact several people who uh, did not want to discuss the strike, they did not want to talk about their involvement in the strike. Uh, when I called and asked to try to arrange an interview to talk to them about it, uh, they seemed shocked that uh, I had their name and number, they wanted to know how I knew uh, where they were, how to call them. And when I told them I wanted to try to discuss the strike with them, theyd (knocks) -- the phone would go down on the hook, and they absolutely refused to talk to me about it. So, a lot of these people I found 00:19:00still have strong feelings about the strike, uh, they uh, uh, dont want to discuss their role in the strike, and uh, apparently, uh, just still have a hangover of 1934 that they dont want to talk about.

IRONS: I dont understand what they dont want to talk about. You know what Im saying?

HOFFMAN: Well, uh, its a difficult -- its a difficult thing for me to try to uh, evaluate or uh, determine a reason for. Uh, what I think one -- one factor is that regardless of what side they were on, if they were management or union, uh, they just basically have strong feelings about the strike from their perspective, they -- if union people, or people -- employees of the mill thought that the company was not fair with them, they still have strong feelings about that, they think the company cheated them, they have strong feelings about that, 00:20:00management people were opposed to union on principle, they objected to their local workforce, uh, trying to organize a union as a matter of principle. They have strong feelings on that, and I think what you -- what you have is people with um, strong points of view, that have not subsided, uh, that remain apparently as, uh, I guess strong today as they were -- as they were in 34. So, um --

GEORGE STONEY: Janet, cut right in and say well, I had the same experience.

IRONS: OK. I had the same experience. I had uh, somebody who simply wouldnt tell me why, but he just didnt want to talk, someone who asked me, uh, when I told him I was from Duke University, he asked me if I was a communist, said he didnt want to talk to me.

M1: Im sorry, were going to have to stop a minute.

(break in video)

IRONS: How did you find the names of the people --


GEORGE STONEY: Now wait a minute, we cant start yet. OK, go ahead.

IRONS: How did you find the names of the people that you tried to -- to look up, who might have remembered or witnessed the strike?

HOFFMAN: Well, I started, uh, by getting names, uh, from the newspaper, and uh, names that I saw in any -- any reference source, uh, um, the newspaper, um, the library here has several local history books, or texts that has names of people who were affiliated with the strike in 34. Uh, names that, uh, I obtained from reference sources, I contacted those people first. And uh, tried to get additional uh, names from them, asked them, uh, who they worked with, uh, who else was in the, uh, union, in 1934, and tried to expand my base from there. But get a list of names and contact those people. If they talked to me, I 00:22:00always asked them if they knew anybody else, their friends who may have worked at the mill.

IRONS: Sure.

HOFFMAN: Who else they knew.

IRONS: Right.

HOFFMAn: Who was in the union in 1934. These kinds of things, but uh, some people were -- were very helpful and cooperative, but it was difficult to try to -- try to talk with people.

IRONS: Now I had some bad experiences. I mean, I had people who simply refused to talk to me, and thats a shock. Uh --

HOFFMAN: Yeah, yeah.

IRONS: Especially when youre so excited about finding somebody who might be able to give you an eye witness account of what was happening.

HOFFMAN: Yeah, yeah.

IRONS: And uh, you ad some of those experiences too?

HOFFMAN: Um, yes. Uh, the two problems I had, uh, were uh, being referred to names of people, um, who were deceased, people uh, who have died since 1934, the strike was more than 50 years, uh, 50 years, uh, old. Um, and so many people 00:23:00are now deceased, uh, theyre not available to uh, talk to about the strike. And several people that I did try to contact about the strike, and line up an interview refused to talk to me, they uh, did not want to discuss their role in the strike, they did not want to uh, talk about the strike, and when I asked them to uh, if they would uh, talk to me about it, to try to line up an interview to discuss -- discuss a strike, um, to them, they just hung up the telephone and refused to talk to me about it, refused to discuss it. Um, and they uh, seemingly still have strong feelings, uh, on the strike, and do not want to discuss their role in the strike, their involvement in the strike. And uh, wouldnt talk -- wouldnt talk to me about it. So I guess the main problems I -- difficulties I encountered trying to talk to people were just that so many people are now deceased, theyre no longer here.


GEORGE STONEY: OK, we are repeating ourselves --


GEORGE STONEY: -- over and over and over again.

IRONS: Because Im not cutting in, partly.

GEORGE STONEY: No, youre not cutting in, no.

IRONS: Its not --

(break in video)

GEORGE STONEY: Rolling. Uh, (inaudible).

JAMIE STONEY: (inaudible)

GEORGE STONEY: OK Jim, Ive read your thesis about the Gadsden strike here in 34. Uh, and I notice there were only about four or five people who were veterans of the strike listed in your sources. Why?

HOFFMAN: Yeah. My experience in researching the paper was that, uh, very many of the people that I wanted to talk to and tried to contact for the strike are now deceased, they have died since the strike. Another factor is that very many people that I did uh, contact about the strike, uh, did not want to discuss it, uh, when I contacted several, uh, to try to arrange an interview, uh, for the strike, they just uh, let me know that they did not want to discuss their 00:25:00affiliation with the strike, or talk about their role in the strike.

GEORGE STONEY: Did they explain why?

HOFFMAN: And -- uh, no, I got very few ex-- explanations on -- several people I called seemed surprised or shocked that I had their name, uh, and telephone number, and they did -- did ask how I got their name. And then, when I tried to answer that question, and arrange an interview, um, they just let me know, in no uncertain terms, that they would not discuss it with me, and they hung up the telephone in my ear, and I didnt get any further with them. So, um, several people that I did make contact with, uh, just refused to talk about the strike.

GEORGE STONEY: Do you have any idea why?

HOFFMAN: My opinion of that is probably that they still have strong feelings about what happened in 1934, uh, regardless of what side they were on, if they were management or union. Uh, they still have strong feelings about what management did, or about what the union did. Uh, and uh, basically those issues 00:26:00of 1934 are still real to these people, and they didnt want to discuss it.

GEORGE STONEY: Still real in Gadsden of the 1990s?

HOFFMAN: Well real to these people, to the people I contacted and tried to interview, who did not want to talk about uh, uh, who did not want to talk about the 34 strike, but today unions are not an issue in Gadsden. Uh, Gadsden is today a union town, so were talking about 1934, almost 60 years ago. Uh, conditions of 1934 do not apply to today.


IRONS: Why did you do this topic?

HOFFMAN: Well, I felt like -- I felt like, uh, the cotton mill industry, um, is a facet of Southern history, and American history, that is no longer here, and 00:27:00its fast fading from the scene. Uh, in a few more years, the people who are surviving now will not be available to talk to, or discuss the strike with. So um, so many areas of research are now denied to us, and will be even more difficult in the future. So, um --

IRONS: But a strike? I mean, you could have done the lives of the cotton mill villagers, you could have done their social life, you could have done -- but a strike?

HOFFMAN: Well this strike was interesting, the 1934 cotton textile strike was interesting, both in Alabama and nationally, because it came at a time of transition between the AFL and the CIO. Now the CIO was not organized until 1935 or 1936, I forget the exact year, but it came after the 34 cotton textile strike. So basically, what you had was the AFL, the trades union, skilled crafts union, uh, trying to represent industrial workers. Uh, and 00:28:00basically, the AFL effort failed in 34, one factor is that from the unions per-- perspective, the AFL just was not qualified to try to lead that kind of strike. Um, the CIO is the Congress of Industrial Organizations, for industrial workers. Factory, plant members. Uh, this ties in together, this ties in together, because at least in Alabama, before 1934, there was not a major uh, effort to organize Southern cotton mills, Alabama cotton mills, cotton textile mills. Um, but conditions that existed in the early uh, 1930s--