Etta Mae Zimmerman Interview 1

Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library
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0:00

 JUDITH HELFLAND: To (inaudible) with those girls, having the guards watch you walking around with them. Joking. Yeah. (break in video) What -- what, what did you say? I guess --

GEORGE STONEY: You were saying, half-way, uh, uh, half-way to Atlanta.

ETTA MAE ZIMMERMAN: Well, half way to Atlanta oh, they stopped to get -- stopped at a restaurant. We thought we was going to get something to eat. They come out with a tray -- you seen them. Red, big old round tray full of hamburgers. They give every one of them troops a burger. (laughs) But we didn’t get nothing. My little [boss?] said, standing next to me, he said, “Well, I’ll give you half of mine.” I stand, “Uh-uh. I don’t want it.” Because he hadn’t eaten any breakfast. They got them up at two o’clock in the morning.

1:00

HELFLAND: Could you talk about the reporters? I know you mentioned there was a reporter there and you didn’t want to talk to him because of the way he --

ZIMMERMAN: There wasn’t but one reporter.

HELFLAND: OK. So --

ZIMMERMAN: He came out there and wanted to know all about it. And not just me, but two or three of us told him we weren’t going to tell him nothing. Probably, we didn’t know why we were there, except we were in Newnan, Georgia, at the mill. Trying to get the ones that was working to come out. And, instead of printing the whole truth, they added -- the paper was in favor of, of the people going back to work. And he didn’t get any use from us, much. Or, we didn’t tell him nothing. But I know, (laughs) somebody told me, when I got -- 2:00“Well, I read in the paper what you had to say.” I told him, he just -- he didn’t tell it -- they told lies. When we told them one thing, they turned it round and put it another way.

HELFLAND: You know, what they said about you? I remember, they said that you said, “I’d rather date one of these national guards than date a scab.”

ZIMMERMAN: (laughs) I wasn’t dating nobody at that time.

STONEY: Would you say -- ask her to repeat that bit. “I understand they said that --”

HELFLAND: Yeah. Can you repeat what I just said? I know you know it, because I’ve read it to you a number of times. But that quote.

ZIMMERMAN: What you just have said?

HELFLAND: Yeah, that quote about you wanting -- one --

ZIMMERMAN: I’d rather -- I’d rather --

STONEY: Just say, I understand they said -- they quoted me in the papers.

ZIMMERMAN: I understand they quoted me in the paper as saying I’d rather date 3:00one of these soldiers? Than one of the scabs. But I didn’t say that. I said, they’d turn it around and tell it the other way. They did. Because they followed us to Sargent before we went to Newnan.

STONEY: Could you say that again? Just tell Judy this.

HELFLAND: Yeah, OK. You know what I need you to do? I need you to take your feet --

(break in video)

STONEY: I understand the newspapers quoted me as saying that.

ZIMMERMAN: Judy, you said --

HELFLAND: I didn’t say. The newspapers said. So, why don’t you say --

ZIMMERMAN: Quoted me as saying I had rather --

HELFLAND: OK. Can you start again? “The Atlanta Journal quoted me as saying.” Start with that.

ZIMMERMAN: Atlanta Journal quoted me as saying I’d rather date one of these soldiers than a scab. But I did not say that. I don’t know why they had it 4:00like that. I told them they -- I wasn’t going to tell them nothing because they just turned it around to something else. And they did. When we was Sargent, Georgia.

HELFLAND: If they could’ve reported it the way you wanted your message to be stated, what would you have said?

ZIMMERMAN: Well, I just don’t know. Except I didn’t know what we was up there for. Or how long we was going to stay. But now, it didn’t scare me. No, (inaudible). I didn’t feel like we was going to be mistreated.

HELFLAND: Now, what about these newsreel photographers, and the people that were taking all those pictures of you? I’ve seen an awful lot of pictures of you and the other girls at Fort McPherson.

ZIMMERMAN: I guess (inaudible) we was going out for our own lunch. We had to go 5:00out under the trees for our breakfast, dinner, and supper. We used little soldier tin pans, like the soldiers had.

HELFLAND: But do you remember how -- (inaudible) (break in video) -- do you remember them, in the newspaper, afterwards?

ZIMMERMAN: Mm-mm. I saw one. I saw, I saw two. I saw where we got on the bus, you know. I mean, truck.

HELFLAND: Could you start that again? “I saw two pictures.” And then --

ZIMMERMAN: I saw two pictures. I saw one where we was getting on the truck, in Newnan. And one as we left Atlanta. We was all waving, going home.

STONEY: Do you remember any of the newsreel that people with the cameras -- 6:00newsreel camera, now. Tell Judy about that.

ZIMMERMAN: I never did see one of the men making pictures.

HELFLAND: Tell me about it.

ZIMMERMAN: At no time. That’s when we first got there.

HELFLAND: Did he talk to you?

ZIMMERMAN: Not at the time. He was that newspaper man. He came, he came out. Captain Bill come first. And I don’t know whether he had even left or not, when a man from (inaudible). And as far as I know, it, it just seemed like it might have been Captain Bill, that made the pictures. But he told us he didn’t -- I mean, he said he didn’t have no idea how long we’d be there, but if we’d behave ourselves, we wouldn’t be mistreated. And they’d send a woman out tomorrow to be with us. And Ms. Howell was a, the [lease?] woman. 7:00She stayed with us the whole week. (break in video) But Bill Horton -- [Paul?] Horton -- and [Minnie Carol?]. What was that all... And Minnie Carol. Bill, and Paul Horton. Was the ones that always talking to the guards, and have it be -- be as how I have to get on to talking to the guards.

STONEY: Now, when you went up there, you didn’t have any clothes with you, except just what you were wearing.

ZIMMERMAN: That’s right.

STONEY: And yet, in the newsreel photographs, several of the women are wearing army, army pants and so forth. Could you explain all of that to Judy?

8:00

ZIMMERMAN: Well, I don’t remember that. I know -- well, and [Lee-Ellen?] sent me clothes. But I didn’t know they was wearing army pants. I guess I knew it at the time, but if I did I forgot it. But I come home wearing a black and white gingham dress. Checkered.

STONEY: Tell us about your -- tell Judy about your father being up there. What he did, what he said when he got back. And you mentioned that he got ill up there. Tell Judy about that.

HELFLAND: And, and tell me about --

ZIMMERMAN: That’s when he took bronchitis.

HELFLAND: Start with, “My father was also on that truck, and went to Fort McPherson.”

ZIMMERMAN: Well, I -- I was already on the truck, but Papa did not have to get on that truck. But he did. And I didn’t see him until the next morning. But 9:00I went up to the bench the next morning and talked to him, and he said he was all right, and he had a cot to sleep on. But some of those men slept on the ground. With an army blanket. But Papa did contract a bad cold and from that, he had bronchitis, and he had it the rest of his life. Had it for several years.

HELFLAND: Now, your father wasn’t working in the mill at the time, was he?

ZIMMERMAN: Mm-mm.

HELFLAND: So he was just there on his convictions? Is that right? On his --

ZIMMERMAN: He joined the union!

HELFLAND: Well, tell us about that.

ZIMMERMAN: He joined the union when we did.

HELFLAND: Start with, “My father wasn’t working in the mill, but,” OK?

ZIMMERMAN: My father was never a mill worker. I mean, he didn’t work in the 10:00mill. But he joined the union. And he went to the picket lines just like we did, but now he did not have to get on that truck. That boy that was standing there, helping him on the truck, told him. He said, “Grandpa, you don’t have to get on there.” But he did.

STONEY: Why?

ZIMMERMAN: Because I was on there. (laughs) I know that’s the reason Papa went. Because I’d already got on the truck.

STONEY: That’s a sweet story. So maybe you could tell it again, because I think the fact that your father didn’t have to get on the truck, the young man said, “Papa, you don’t have to get on that truck. Grandpa.” And then, tell us why he got on any-- because he wanted to look after you. OK, tell it to Judy.

HELFLAND: And at one point, your dad did work in a mill. And at the time, he didn’t, right? A long time ago, he worked around the dope wagon? Is that right?

11:00

ZIMMERMAN: He run the dope wagon after the union.

HELFLAND: OK, all right.

ZIMMERMAN: Not before.

HELFLAND: Start with, “My father wasn’t working in the mill, but he joined the union --”

ZIMMERMAN: Papa did not work in the mill.

HELFLAND: One more time.

ZIMMERMAN: But he joined the union when we did.

HELFLAND: Can you start one more time? I cut you off.

ZIMMERMAN: OK. Papa did not work in the mill, but he joined the union when we did. And he didn’t have to -- when we were in Newnan, and they was putting us on that truck, he did not have to get on that truck. Because the guard that was helping him on said, “Now, Grandpa, you don’t have to get on there.” But I was already on the truck. And he went because I was there. I was on the truck. But he [done a little?]. (laughs) Preaching. To some of them guards, 12:00about Eugene Talmadge, too.

HELFLAND: What do you think he said?

ZIMMERMAN: (laughs) I just don’t know what all he said. But he wanted Eugene Talmadge to get a message from him, and he went to hear him the night before. He went to Newnan the night before to hear him speak, and he was elected somewhere around midnight and he called up the guards before two o’clock in the morning. So, to be sure that he didn’t -- that, he was afraid he didn’t get the message. When he got home, he wrote him a letter to tell him what he thought of him.

STONEY: Now --

HELFLAND: Great. Could you un-- could you -- now, the last time you -- tell us about what you did about -- you told us that the girls sang and they prayed a little bit. Can you talk about that?

13:00

ZIMMERMAN: While we were in the -- I guess you’d call it the (inaudible) bar. Fort McPherson. Some of them fussed, some of them talked. Some of them prayed, some of them sang.

HELFLAND: What did you do?

ZIMMERMAN: I tried to take care of that little Galloway girl, because she wasn’t about 13 or 14 years old. I had her sleep next to me, and when those other girls got out there talking to the guards, I’d tell her not to talk to them. They didn’t want us talking to them, no way. Those guards wasn’t supposed to talk back to us, either.

HELFLAND: Now, Etta Mae, I’ve had a question for a long time. Did you do anything --

(break in video)

14:00

HELFLAND: So, tell me. “No, I wasn’t doing anything wrong.” And if you know what the charge was for the arrest, tell me about it, because --

ZIMMERMAN: I don’t know. I hadn’t done anything except go to Newnan with the, with the crowd. Trying to get them to come out of the mill and organize. But now Eugene Talmadge knew we were there, or he wouldn’t have sent the troops. He must have sat up late, heard the late news, I guess.

HELFLAND: What did you think about being arrested for organizing? Can you comment on that?

ZIMMERMAN: I just knowed they didn’t want me to. But if I hadn’t wanted to join, I wouldn’t have joined in the first place. It was to better textile 15:00wages and working conditions. Was what the union was for.

STONEY: Let’s go right back, then, to the usual questions about when she started working in the mills and how --

(break in video)

HELFLAND: First day in work was like, what you did.

ZIMMERMAN: I started going to the mill --

HELFLAND: Um, OK. Start now.

ZIMMERMAN: I started going to the mill when I was nine years old. Mom would tell me, “Get out of your school dress and go help the girls.” I had two sisters working in the mill. And I, the whole school term, vacation term, too, I’d go -- I’d go to the mill around, well, we didn’t get out of school until three o’clock. I’d go about 3:30 or 4:00. Stay until 6:00. So, when 16:00I was... I had two sisters working in the mill and the man that was their overseer asked me when I, when would I be 14. I told him, 26th day of September. And he said, well, he took out a calendar and looked at it and said, “That’s on a Sunday. Well, if you’ll come up here on Monday, I’ll put you to work.” But I couldn’t -- I couldn’t just go Monday and go to work. I had to go to Newnan and sign up, too. Mr. Taylor Smith and Papa went with me. A lot of people don’t think about that there’s child labor law in ’20, in the ’20s. But I have a card in there, now, to show it. They, they 17:00let me go to work when I was 14. And they put me on a half a job to what, (inaudible) -- what we call sides. You either said four frames or eight sides. And they put me on a job, the day I went to work. But when I left the house to go to work, Mama said, “Now, Etta Mae, if you go down there and pull of your shoes, go barefoot, you’re going... Your Papa’s going to whip you when you get home.” Because she knows I was going down there and pulling off my shoes. And when I went home at three o’clock, I throwed my shoes up on the porch and went to the field. We farmed that year. I worked in the mill eight hours, and 18:00then I’d go work until dark in the field. That was the first time Papa had farmed, since 1915. But the whole place was growed up so bad, couldn’t nobody live up there. And [Leandra?], me, Leona, and [Velma?] would go up there and work every day. You couldn’t even get to the front porch, because ain’t nobody lived in the house in about two year. We cleaned off the ditch banks. Made [terses?] all over the fields. And we was supposed to make one bale of cotton, and I picked boll weevils. But we made a half a bale. Mr. Jackson, 19:00living on everything we had. Even took the cow and the hog that we had when we went there. Papa had gone over to Ms. Arnold’s to pay her rent for the barber shop. I had a brother, Leon, that barbered. And Papa rented the shop with Ms.... Can’t think of her name, right now. And he’d gone over to pay Ms. Arnold rent, and Mr. Jackson was in a buggy. He met up with him and took Papa by surprise and knocked him down, broke his glasses all over his face. Papa went to Anniston. He went to (inaudible) and homestead. I don’t know what 20:00homesteading is, (inaudible). But anyway, he -- Mr. Jackson would’ve had to come and -- I mean, he had had the hog stuff -- Papa had us together and he gave him half of what we made on the farm. But when I’d been working about a month, maybe six weeks, they had to lay off somebody. Well, they laid all the eight hour help off. And I went back to school for six -- for three weeks. I could have finished the sixth grade. Mama didn’t want me to go back to work, but Papa wanted me to go back to work so I went back to work. And I went... 21:00Well, I went the first of September until the 26th. Then I worked -- I was out of work three weeks, and I went to school three weeks in the sixth grade. But I done better than some of the rest of them. The older ones didn’t get to go to school, but very little. Because there’s so many in the family, we had to work. To have enough. But we did have enough to eat. Papa always had a hog or a, hogs, or cows, or yearlings. And a garden. But I did tell Mr. Stoney, one time, that I never did go without a meal. But I was mistaken. I’d forgot 22:00that I did, during the Depression. We lived, (laughs) during the Depression, we had a can of beans and some mashed potatoes for dinner. But I wasn’t working, but two days a week, and I had a living room suit I had to pay on or lose it. And I’d already paid over half of it, so we just got out (inaudible) during the Depression. Leon don’t like farming until that. Mr. Hay, and Mr. Frederick Boss sent out free groceries. Velma kept telling me, “Etta Mae, if you don’t -- if we don’t buy some groceries this week, I’m going to tell 23:00Wilbur Hay to send us some.” I said, “Well, you better not.” But now, Papa was here and he was settling papers and Papa had some money. But he didn’t know that (laughs) we was getting out of anything to eat. Leona wrote Velma a letter that they were coming home, Saturday. And that’s one reason, I could’ve -- I would’ve got something to eat. But Velma come in. Velma and Florence Hay, stayed together all the time. They come in about 12:00 or one o’clock, and Velma said, “Etta Mae, what are we having for dinner?” I said, “We had a -- we have one Irish potato about that big. You can cook it, 24:00if you want to.” She said, “Well, what did you do for dinner?” And I said, “[Mia Cransman?] brought my dinner. She brought me some good tomato soup.” (laughs) And she brought Velma some tomato soup, too, but Leona had come home twelve o’clock. Leona and (inaudible) got here about twelve o’clock. Leona had come in the door saying, “I’m starved to death.” I said, “Well, you sure won’t find nothing in this house.” She said, “I bet you I do.” I said, “OK.” She found one Irish potato, about that big. But I owed $4, and my mother always told me... To pay my debts. And I didn’t have $4 to pay that debt, and I didn’t buy no groceries. Do you blame me?

HELFLAND: Not at all. OK.

(break in video)

25:00

ZIMMERMAN: Papa’d eat up, at Mr. (inaudible). He has a restaurant. He didn’t know I didn’t have nothing to eat here.

HELFLAND: Oh, oh, oh, oh. OK. Let’s stop.

STONEY: Stop.

(break in audio)

HELFLAND: Is the mill vill-- what the mill village was like. So, I’d like to hear from you, your description of the East Newnan mill village, and what it was like to live there. Particularly because later on, your bond with that community was so --

ZIMMERMAN: Well, to me, it was so --

HELFLAND: Start, start, start -- “To me, East Newnan.” OK?

ZIMMERMAN: Is (inaudible) --

HELFLAND: No, you’ve got the start the sentence from the top. Start from the very top.

ZIMMERMAN: We lived at East Newnan nine years. And to me, it was wonderful. I had a lot of friends at school, and when I got grown, I had a lot of, a lot of friends. And if we couldn’t get a party of some kind for Saturday night, me 26:00and Natalie Kate [Housman?] just give out one at the electric light pole. See, that village had lights where a lot of villages didn’t have lights. They had an electric light on a pole on every corner, and if we couldn’t get a party, we’d give it out at the electric light pole. But of course, we had to meet at one house or the other. So I told her, meet at [Idra Stich’s?]. (laughs) That was across the street from me. But Natalie Kate said, well, they could meet with her, but Mr. Hausman didn’t -- he didn’t want them. He didn’t want her giving parties. I don’t remember but twice that we had to have a party at the electric light pole. But we give it, we tried to get a Halloween 27:00party one time. We couldn’t get nobody to give us one. There’s two families of [Richies?] and both of them was good for part-- giving parties. But they wouldn’t, they wouldn’t talk about giving a Halloween party. So, we just go and have a surprise for Ms. Richie. I told everybody that I talked to that this was going to be a surprise for Ms. Richie. But for some reason, Natalie Kate didn’t tell everybody it was a surprise party. So, [May Ada?] Rainwater goes home and tells. We’re going to have a par-- uh, Halloween party at Ms. Richie’s. And the little girl goes to school and tells the 28:00little Richie. [Laura Deen?] goes to school and tells the little Richie girl, and her mama, she went home -- she went back home, she’d been home for dinner, but she went back home to tell her mama. She knowed that if they would have going to have a party, they didn’t -- her mama would have said something about it. Well, Ms. Richie got two men and three women come down there and help her fix up for a party. We got in there for a party. Mr. Richie’s sitting there in his sock feet. Mara-Lee is laying on the floor and getting her school lessons. And I forget what Ms. Richie -- oh, she come to the door and open the door, and she said, “Well. Come right in. I’m glad you come to see me.” 29:00And she just reached and opened another door and pushed me in it. (laughs) I was going to be a fortune teller. And I -- when all of the spinning room got up all these rings, and beads, because they were going to hang all the beads and hang it all around my neck, put all the rings on my finger, and she just reached and opened the door and pushed me in it. And there’s a big old, (laughs) big old man dressed in a black suit, all over grabbed me. And I throwed them rings all over the floor. So, they had a fortune teller over in the corner. And well, I knowed who the boy was at this party, but he told me, he said, 30:00“You’re going to have to have your fortune told.” So, (laughs). A lot of the time, we give pound suppers, and everybody had to take a pound of something. But she had the table fixed.