Claude Hundley Jr Interview 3

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JUDITH HELFAND: You can read when you’re ready.

CLAUDE HUNDLEY JR: Tenth, 22nd, ’33. “Mr. Hugh S. Johnson. Dear Sir, I’m writing you a few lines for instruction. I am a colored employee of Saratoga Victory mill number two, Guntersville, Alabama, and have been working there 28 months as a all-around worker. Working for $5.75 per week, got a little raise to $6 per week, and when NRA took effect, I got a raise to $9 per week, and I have been getting $9 per week for 60 and 67 hours per week ever since June the 1:0017th of ’33. And the way I understand the code, everyman, regardless of color, was authorized to get a eight hour per day, minimum wage $12 per week. So, if eight hours [boy?] colored workers long hours for $9 per week and some white workers per $7.60 per week for eight hours a day. Sincerely yours, Claude E. Hundley, Guntersville, Alabama.” He’s my father. I think it’s nice. What I was -- like I say, I was real small at the time, you know. And I remember him when he left, he worked at that mill a long time. Dallas [Moore?] 2:00and the rest of the people. Never know they have a strike though until you got ahold of us through the, uh, that -- the library. Got ahold of the people that worked -- I can see my uncle, [Joel Hurst?] he worked there. They was part-time working there, I believe. I didn’t know that at the time.

HELFAND: What do you think of your daddy writing this letter?

HUNDLEY: I think it’s great. Back in the ’30s, that’d be wonderful.

HELFAND: You know, when I ask you a question, you should take my question and sort of put it in your answer.

HUNDLEY: Oh.

HELFAND: When we were sitting upstairs, and you looked at ’em...

(break in audio)

HELFAND: Why don’t we read the last part of it again? OK? And really think about what your daddy wrote.

HUNDLEY: The last part.

3:00

HELFAND: Yeah, why don’t you understand with, “The way I understood the code. Every man, regardless of color, was supposed...”

HUNDLEY: “The way I understood the code, everyman...”

HELFAND: OK. I’ll tell you when.

HUNDLEY: OK.

HELFAND: Read it slow. You don’t have to rush. OK.

HUNDLEY: “The way I understand the code, everyman, regardless of color, was supposed to get eight hours per day, minimum wage $12 per week. So, if eight of us boys colored working long hours for $9 per week, and some white working for $7.60 per week, working 8 hours per day. Sincerely yours, Claude E. Hundley, Guntersville, Alabama.”

HELFAND: So who was your daddy looking out for?

4:00

HUNDLEY: I guess he seemed to be looking out for -- for all the workers, not only colored, the way I read it right here. He looked -- he seemed to be more thinking about every working man that was out there on the job at the time, let’s put it that way.

HELFAND: I -- that’s really, you know -- now, who -- now your daddy wasn’t the only -- he said that there were six black men who were working there. Could you talk a little bit about, you know, what your daddy did there, and who -- who -- what the other men did?

HUNDLEY: Far as I know, they -- you know, that old mill, they brought cotton in on cars and trucks, and they unloaded cotton back there in the [wire house?] port. So, I guess when they had the extra help they unloaded the cotton (inaudible).

HELFAND: So, what was daddy’s job there?

HUNDLEY: He was the truck...

5:00

HELFAND: Because then you say, “My daddy, Claude Hundley...”

HUNDLEY: Oh, OK. My daddy Claude Hundley was a truck cotton lifter, you know, in the mill there at the time. They unloaded it and take it up to the people in the needle bobbin room.

HELFAND: And so he...

JAMIE STONEY: If he could not play with the paper.

HELFAND: Yeah.

STONEY: It makes noise.

HELFAND: In fact, you could even -- you could put the letter down, we’ll pick it up again. While we’re talking, you can put it down. So, your father was full time, and Dallas Moore was full time. But, he was to -- he was writing about six -- six workers. So, you could even tell me in a general way, you know, what your father did. You know, that your father and Dallas Moore were full time -- maybe what they did, and then something about when -- when they were bringing those other men.

6:00

HUNDLEY: Well, they was, from what I gather, was full time employees. And when they needed extra help, they brought in those other employees, I’m guessing to, like I said, to -- I know they brought cotton in on the train, on the boxcars, and when they had a heavy shipment they probably had to help ’em unload and work around in the plant, there.

HELFAND: Now, had you ever heard about a letter like this? I mean...

HUNDLEY: No, I hadn’t.

HELFAND: So, the first time I brought. So, could you tell me about the -- is it the first time that I brought this letter, you started to know about what your father did? Could you tell me that?

HUNDLEY: The first time I know about it was you brought it to my attention, you know, when you -- well, I think the first time you telephoned. Well, you called to -- I say we talked two or three times over the phone. And then you came, and we went around and met people that at the old mill village that knew something about him, and... (laughs)

7:00

HELFAND: So, until -- so, you never knew about this letter?

HUNDLEY: I never knew -- I never even knew it wrote a letter like that until, like I said, until you brought it to our attention.

HELFAND: Did you -- how did -- how did a black man, at the time your father was working, register a protest like that?

HUNDLEY: Back in the ’30s? I’d be scared to even think.

HELFAND: Scared to think about what?

HUNDLEY: Writing a protest, you know, letter like that. I guess, something like Saratoga Mills in the South. (laughs) I don’t -- I guess he just -- just thought about other people, not about himself, and wrote the letter when the knew 8:00-- that act went into effect. I guess he just wrote the letter, after he seen what -- I bet that was the year after President Roosevelt took office, was when that act (inaudible). So, I figured he did it then and just wanted to get a little more information on it, is all I can gather. He figured they was doing ’em wrong, and he wrote a letter to protest.

HELFAND: I guess he felt like he’d get some protection, maybe...

HUNDLEY: Protection from, uh, federal -- I guess that was comin’ through the federal courts, wasn’t it?

HELFAND: Well, yeah.

HUNDLEY: Like in them times? Yeah.

HELFAND: So, you’re -- that’s -- so, what -- what is striking to you about this letter? I mean pick -- pick the letter up, you can read it to yourself, you can read out loud, but pick -- pick the letter up, and maybe read out the part of it that is so striking to you.

HUNDLEY: Well, really, he was talking about the -- the -- what I am lookin’ at right down here on this paragraph, this 60 and 67 hours per week. And then the 9:00-- the Act was saying they supposed to go on eight hours per day for certain (inaudible), so it looked like to me that the company was -- was using their employees for -- for (inaudible) and helping them and, you know, working that many long hours and paying -- they wasn’t making that much, you know, the salary they was making. So, when he wrote the letter, he didn’t only write it for the colored employees, from what I can gather from this writing down here, he was thinking about some of the white employees, too. I’m talkin’ about the people that worked in the office, in the back back there -- the shipping dock with ’em. So, I wouldn’t have even thought he’d of wrote a letter like this. But, I guess he did. That makes you think, it’s somebody thinking about somebody other than themselves. That’s what I’m thinking right there.

HELFAND: That’s something, back then.

HUNDLEY: Yeah, back in the ’30s it was something to write a letter like that.

10:00

HELFAND: And what does it mean to be a black man and to write a letter like this? Include my question. What does it mean to be a black cotton mill worker and write a letter like this?

HUNDLEY: I don’t know, that’s pretty hard to answer. I just -- I would just most have to say, to write a letter like that and be a cotton mill worker, you’d have to have some nerve, first thing. And you’d have to have some thought for your fellow man, second, to put yourself out -- the colored man to put himself out on the line like that. And I would have to say that he’d have to make a little bit better (inaudible) ’cause everybody I don’t think, would have wrote a letter like that. I really don’t. I don’t know what his 11:00thoughts was, anything like that, but I -- since you brought it to my attention, I respect him a lot for it. I really do.

HELFAND: Why don’t you read it one more time? With all that respect for your father, OK?

HUNDLEY: The whole letter?

HELFAND: Yeah.

HUNDLEY: (sighs)

HELFAND: Is that OK?

HUNDLEY: Yeah, it’s OK. I’m gonna be sweating in a minute, though. (laughs)

HELFAND: We’re fine. Read it slow.

HUNDLEY: OK. “Tenth, 22nd, ’33. Mr. Hugh S. Johnson. Dear Sir, I am 12:00writing you a few lines for instruction. I am a colored employee of Saratoga Victory Mill Number Two, Guntersville, Alabama, and have been workin’ there 28 months as a all-around worker. Was making $5.75 per week, got a little raise to $6 per week, and when NRA took effect, I got a raise to $9 per week, and have been getting $9 per week for 60 and 67 hours per week ever since June the 17th of ’33. And the way I understand the code, every man, regardless of color, was supposed to get eight hours per day, minimum wage $12 per week. So, eight of us colored boys, working long hours for $9 per week, and some white workers 13:00for $7.60 per week, eight hours per day. Sincerely yours, Claude E. Hundley, Gunter, Alabama.” And I -- I respect him for writing that letter, I really do. After reading it, I didn’t know he did it. But I respect him for it. ’Cause I -- he made me think he’s thinking about somebody else.

HELFAND: And standing up for his right.

HUNDLEY: Yeah, that’s the number one thing, rights. I hadn’t thought about that, but you’re right -- standing up for his rights, that’s -- in this country, that’s something to think about. Back in the ’30s and in the South, to stand up for your rights like that. I think about him. I respect him 14:00more now, since I got that letter from you and read that.

HELFAND: Now, does it -- he -- I’m really moved by what you said. I might not have anything else to say. You know, you’re -- he -- do you know what his work was like? Did you ever see him do his work at the cotton mill?

HUNDLEY: Back in the early stages, before the strike. But, you know, after the strike, when I read that, uh, well I guess that follow-up letter he wrote about going back to get the jobs back, and they had the machine guns. Well, after that he got -- he went back to work at the mill, and I remember then -- ’cause we used to go over there quite a bit, you know, down in the village. And then worked -- they trucked cotton what we call it, you know, in and out of the mill. 15:00But they -- on the lower part back there, we’d see ’em on the docks out there, but you know we never did go in that when they were working there. My mother, she washed with a bunch of the people there, and we’d go down there.

HELFAND : I’m thinking

HUNDLEY: (inaudible) bush, we used to watch from there. But, uh, then he, I don’t know -- later years, he left, I don’t know why he quit, maybe he went and got a job someplace else before he left.

HELFAND: Now, you know, at the same time that your dad was writing this letter, they organized a union -- a local union, over in Guntersville, at the -- at the Saratoga Victory...

16:00

HUNDLEY: At the Saratoga Mill again? I didn’t know that. Well, then did they -- they didn’t hire many of those employees that was on their strike back that time though, did they? I’m askin’ a question now.

HELFAND: Um, well, seems like some they hired back --

HUNDLEY: (laughs) they did.

HELFAND: Some they hired back, and some maybe they didn’t. But, so, at the same time that your father wrote this letter, there was this union being organized over there at the mill. So, you know what? Could you put my -- take my question and turn it into a question from me, or a statement? Just -- so you could say, “So, what you’re telling me Judy, is -- so what you’re telling me is that at the same time my father wrote this letter, they had a union over there.”

HUNDLEY: So, what you’re telling me Judy, is the same time my father wrote that letter, they was having a union over there, at the old mill in 17:00Guntersville. Is that right? (sighs)

HELFAND: I don’t know if there’s a connection.

HUNDLEY: I wouldn’t...

HELFAND: The connection -- actually, the connection is that they organized a union because the NRA gave them that right.

HUNDLEY: The right to organize? So, that’s why they -- they was -- I guess they was really basing their rights on what the NRA had put out in the year of ’33, that’s what I’m looking at right there.

HELFAND: So, they organized a union, and your father wrote a letter.

HUNDLEY: Wrote a letter. And...

HELFAND: So, can you say that?

HUNDLEY: They organized a union, and my father wrote a letter. (laughs)

HELFAND: All right, I feel like I’m putting words in your mouth.

HUNDLEY: Yeah. (laughs)

HELFAND: All right. Well, I’m just tell -- anyway, that was what was going on.

HUNDLEY: OK.

HELFAND: So, and that’s why your father’s letter has always been so 18:00intriguing to me, ’cause it was happening sort of concurrently.

HUNDLEY: Well, back -- like I said, back then, when they -- when they was organizing that, and, uh, he wrote that letter, I -- I would say that he wrote it after that Act passed, and he was writing that letter, I guess like you said for his rights -- his right to write the letter. He thought somebody was doing him wrong, he had the right to write the thing. And so he wrote it, to see was he right? They was working ’em in the mill, like I said, 67 -- 60, 67 hours a week for the same salary -- he wasn’t making anything. So, he wrote the letter, to see if he could get any protection for him and his people, I guess, that was working there. Now, what I can gather, him and Dallas Moore were the only two colored employees full time, and they was taking those other people just as part time, and paying ’em whatever they wanted to, you know, working ’em long hours for nothing.

19:00

HELFAND: Now, I found this other document that your father wrote. In fact, Dallas Moore wrote one too. So, there was this strike...

STONEY: Judy, wait.

HELFAND: Yeah.

STONEY: (inaudible)

(break in video)

HELFAND: OK. You know what, it’s an affidavit.

HUNDLEY: Mm-hmm.

HELFAND: It’s something that he wrote -- like all the white -- all the union people also wrote that when they couldn’t get their jobs back, they filed these affidavits. So, your father filed one, too.

HUNDLEY: Mm-hmm. Here it is. (inaudible) “We went -- We went back to our job, but they wouldn’t let us near the mill, held us off with machine guns, 20:00colored men. Claude Hundley, [Dunn Prickett?].” I think I know that fella. “(inaudible) Violation of code or for our competition for the cotton textile trade industry.” So, he filed this after -- after he got that -- after the strike was over. Hmmm. Right here, it says his principal [position?] was a yard hand. That’s what I thought he did, you know just general working mill. And this is one here from Dallas Moore, they was good friends.

HELFAND: So, it seems like they were part of the union.

21:00

HUNDLEY: From -- from this letter it sure do seem like part of -- I wish I could say. (laughs) I don’t know. It’s right to -- I’m saying they was-- I’m saying they was part that was trying to organize the union, that’s what we’re saying right now. But, uh, reading this there, they wouldn’t let ’em get their jobs back, if they -- if they got the union in -- they didn’t get their jobs back, they held ’em off with machine guns back in -- what they say -- what they say in here, they held off the colored workers with machine guns.

HELFAND: Well, basically, what happened was -- I -- look, I have a stack of these affidavits, they’re all from the white --

HUNDLEY: Yeah.

22:00

HELFAND: -- textile workers who joined the local union. And out of over 100 of these affidavits, I’ve found two -- one from Claude and one from Dallas Moore -- so, we’re thinking, maybe they were -- I don’t know, maybe they were -- they tried to go back to work after the strike was over, and they didn’t get -- they couldn’t get back in, they were held off with machine guns, so they filed this affidavit. So, I don’t know if they’re part of the union or not.

HUNDLEY: That’s what -- what I was looking at right here too, is after you get that -- after my father did and Dallas both made one little paragraph down here, “a colored man.” And so it seems to me that they might have held ’em all off, but particularly the colored man -- the colored worker. But, I’m pretty -- I know he went back to work at the mill later. He -- he worked ’bout a 23:00year before he left here, and he worked a year at the ice house, packing the house. And I was -- I was 12 years old when he left - when he left, so he worked -- fact, I was 10 years old. But during this strike in ’33, I was about two or three years old.

HELFAND: So, the strike was in ’34.

HUNDLEY: Thirty-four.

HELFAND: And what I’ve been trying to understand, is did the black workers participate --

HUNDLEY: In the strike?

HELFAND: In the strike, in the union, were they part of the local, were they included, or were they not included? It seems like your daddy and Dallas, maybe were included.

HUNDLEY: I’m -- I’m saying that they was part of it. Trying to form the union, from what I can gather out of that letter, there. I’m -- I’m pretty sure of that. I know Dallas Moore, he was just that type of fella, too. But, 24:00uh, you know, back then, you talking men in the ’30s in the South -- it wasn’t no easy time for no colored people back in them times. (laughs) I can remember some of ’em, but I was ’bout 10 or 11 years old, see. So...

HELFAND: So...

HUNDLEY: Really we didn’t have any -- you didn’t have any -- any rights very much back then. Not in the South.

HELFAND: Could you put the paper down for a sec? Yeah. What -- what are you saying? Say that again?

HUNDLEY: Colored people back in the ’30s didn’t have much rights. They had ’em, but they didn’t exercise ’em, you couldn’t. You find -- you find 25:00you in a tree. That’s the reason I -- that’s the reason I respect him so much for writing that letter after you, uh -- after you got in touch with us about it. A lot of people in the South wouldn’t have wrote a letter like that.

HELFAND: And sign their name.

HUNDLEY: Claude Hundley.

HELFAND: He signed his name to the paper, too.

HUNDLEY: That’s something, too. You know, some people when they wrote it, wouldn’t have even signed their name, they would just had an anony -- anonymous on their. But he wrote his name, and he -- he was -- him signed his name to something great, too, I just put it that way. Well, I’m proud he did it, really.

HELFAND: What it?

26:00

HUNDLEY: No, I was just thinking. He’s not here now, but I would like to shake his hand after reading that letter. I really would. Tell -- tell him how proud I was.

HELFAND: What are you thinking about?

HUNDLEY: I’m thinking about all the people back there -- back in the ’30s when they was working at those mills, probably did have the same (inaudible), I guess a lot of people did that too, over the South. ’Cause I’m pretty sure, well all those big cotton textile mills doing everybody ’bout the same way. 27:00And you take that mill out there, like you said, many employee that they had, and just two black workers out there at that time, Dallas Moore and Claude Hundley, my father, and one of them -- both of them stood up, and one of them write a letter like that, it’s something to really think about. ’Cause I doubt I’d have the nerve to write a letter, I know I wouldn’t.

HELFAND: Knowing that your daddy did, you think maybe it would make you think about yourself differently?

HUNDLEY: Now, I do. I probably would. Like I said, I know my father -- I know he was the kind of man who’d do a lot of things, but I -- I never would have thought he’d have wrote a letter and signed his name to it back in the ’30s. Not for no union out there at that mill. But reading it and lookin’ 28:00at it I -- i just respect him, let’s put it that way, I respect him for it.

HELFAND: You know, we weren’t sure. Can you tell me about that Bible?

HUNDLEY: This is the old family Bible. And I think this will -- gonna get this out -- it’s an old family Bible here with each -- he documented everything in this Bible, everything. Got my mother’s name, got all the children’s date and birth, and everything.

HELFAND: And could you talk about why we found it?

HUNDLEY: Well, we was trying to -- to what you call it -- authenticate this signature on this letter, here with his handwriting. And after we found this old family Bible and went through it, that’s it. My auntie had this, I 29:00didn’t even know she had a Bible like this. And she let us borrow it -- it’s Claude Hundley -- (inaudible) [Lily Bell?] Harris. He got my sisters and brothers, everything named back in here.

HELFAND: So -- so, could you hold the letter in one hand, and the Bible in the other, and tell me. (laughs)..

HUNDLEY: Can I lay this back? You got me going. The letter in one hand?

HELFAND: Yeah, just so you could tell me, you know, that, uh, I know this is real ’cause of this. You could even...

HUNDLEY: I’m just looking at the two signatures, so that you can tell this is real, this is his handwriting. Claude Hundley, Guntersville Alabama, and the same thing’s in the certify that says it’s Claude Hundley, Lily Bell Harris. 30:00The handwriting and the -- of course you can’t see it, but I -- I’d like to read a -- I want to get it around -- let -- let’s just see it. The Bible -- can I turn it this way, too? This is the handwriting on the letter, and this is the signature in the Bible. Well...

HELFAND: So, you know your daddy did it?

HUNDLEY: I know he did it, that’s his handwriting. Sure is, you can just look at it. That’s... (sighs)