Irene Brooks Interview 1

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

JUDITH HELFAND: OK. All right. Irene, could you tell me when you first came to -- well, tell me about your life in the country with your family before you came to the mills.

IRENE BROOKS: We lived in Alabama, in Chambers County, Alabama, and we moved to Georgia when I was 12 years old. And, uh, we lived in the country and worked in the field, but we enjoyed it. We had a good time. And then, once the many of us got just about grown, my brother went to Newnan and went to work in a mill down at East Newnan. And the, uh, overseer, he told them about how many sisters he 1:00had and his dad, and he wanted to put us to work there because it was good for the company to have a big family. So we moved there, and we went to work in the mill. And oh, we just thought we were rich then, because we had a little money every week. And, uh, then, uh, we stayed on there a long time till they had to strike, and we were in that union mess, and they wouldn’t work anybody that was with it. So we moved off the village, they called it, and Papa come down here and got us a job in Grantville, which was a help to the company because there was a lot of us in the family. And, uh, I’ve been here since 19 and 38, w orked as long as the mill was in running condition, and, uh, then, I got 2:00disabled to work, and I had to retire. Got a crippled leg and a crippled back, and, uh, I’m just by myself.

HELFAND: How many people -- I know you had a big family, and I’m wondering if you could tell us how many people were in your family and why such a big family would be so useful to the mill.

BROOKS: My mother and daddy had 11 children. They had a boy first, that was my only brother, and then had 10 girls, and there’s six of us still living. And, uh, we -- we all love one another, and we get together when we can.

3:00

HELFAND: Now, I’m just wondering why such a big family would have been so useful to the mill. If you could talk about how y-- you know, how you all came to work in the mill and what your first job was and first experiences were in the mill.

BROOKS: Oh, I was working the spinning room, the hardest part in the mill, but I -- I could still do it if I had to. And, uh, my sister, older sister, worked in the spool room, they called it. And my brother worked in the twister room. And, uh, my daddy swept the floors, had two brooms. He would push ’em in front of ’em -- swept the floors. And well, we stayed -- we stayed with the cotton mill ever since this one sold out down here. So I hadn’t worked anywhere since then publically.

4:00

GEORGE STONEY: Judy, ask her about how much she got paid.

HELFAND: All right. Could you talk about, when you first came into the mill, how much you got paid?

BROOKS: We got --

HELFAND: And what your hours were.

BROOKS: -- paid seven dollars and a half an hour when we first came to the mill.

HELFAND: I’m sorry. I interrupted you. Could w-- could we start -- could you tell me that again?

GEORGE STONEY: Uh, hours (inaudible).

HELFAND: How -- how much you got paid when you first came to work in the mill.

BROOKS: We got paid seven dollars and a half -- 40 hours. We had to work five hours on Saturday morning to get that.

GEORGE STONEY: Now, Judy.

HELFAND: Mm-hmm.

GEORGE STONEY: It was actually 60 hours, I think.

HELFAND: Right, right. I’m going to go back to that. When y-- can you talk about when you first started to work in the mill, how much you got paid when you first started to work before the eight hours?

5:00

BROOKS: That was when we was -- got paid seven dollars and a half for a week. They didn’t pay by the hour.

HELFAND: W-- when you first started to work in the mill, can you tell me how many hours a day you worked, how much you got paid?

BROOKS: Twelve hours a day. We worked 12 hours a day.

HELFAND: OK.

BROOKS: From six in the morning till six at night, and, uh, that’s all we made for that length of time, making, uh, five hours on Saturday morning.

HELFAND: Could you tell me what the work was like, how hard it was when you first started working?

BROOKS: Oh, it was hard. I’d blister my hands and burn my hands. And the bobbin is going so fast it burned, and, uh, kept a sore hand all the time, but we -- we managed to stay with it because they didn’t like for anybody to be 6:00out. So we worked as regular was could -- all of us.

HELFAND: OK. Um, tell me about when the -- the -- the -- the work and working under the supervisors and the bosses when you first started.

BROOKS: Well, uh, Mr. Boggs was our supervisor up at East Newnan. Mr. Wood was, uh -- was there, though, and I always got along well with them myself. I’m an easy person to get along with anyway, and, uh, I don’t think any of my family ever had any trouble with them.

HELFAND: C-- could you talk about when Roosevelt came in and the NRA?

7:00

BROOKS: Uh, yeah. As I said, we was living on this side of the overhead bridge coming out of Newnan when Roosevelt come down in his car. We stood to the side of the road and waved at him, and, uh, we was even here when the, uh, Social Security stuff went through. That was in 1934, I believe.

HELFAND: Now, you -- you r-- working in -- in East Newnan when you went on eight hours, right?

BROOKS: No. I was working here.

HELFAND: Really?

BROOKS: Mm-hmm.

HELFAND: Actually, I -- I think that the eight hours started around 1932.

GEORGE STONEY: Thirty-three.

HELFAND: Thirty-three.

JAMIE STONEY: I’m sorry we need to get to --

BROOKS: Well, if he --

GEORGE STONEY: -- get to ’33 and -- and --

HELFAND: OK.

GEORGE STONEY: -- what happened in the mills and so forth.

HELFAND: OK.

8:00

JAMIE STONEY: Anytime.

HELFAND: OK. Irene.

BROOKS: Mm-hmm.

HELFAND: In 1933, the eight-hour day replaced the 12-hour day.

BROOKS: Yes.

HELFAND: Could you tell me about that and your experience with it?

BROOKS: Well, we went to work at 7:00 -- yeah, we went to work at 7:00 and work until, uh, ele-- 11:00. And, uh, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. We got out before night you see, and we would gather at, uh, our neighbor’s house and sing -- gospel singing -- but we enjoyed it, but people don’t do that no more. I don’t know why. Everything got moving too fast, too fast.

9:00

HELFAND: Now, when you went on eight hours, they also brought in the minimum wage.

BROOKS: Uh huh.

HELFAND: So could you talk about what it was like working in the mill when you had less hours and a higher wage?

BROOKS: Well, I don’t remember how much we made an hour. It seemed like it was -- $3.40 or something like th-- I don’t know. Now, it wasn’t that much -- about $2.40 -- but we made a living off of it.

HELFAND: Before, you mentioned that strike in 1934.

BROOKS: Yeah.

HELFAND: Could you tell me about that?

BROOKS: Well --

HELFAND: D--

10:00

BROOKS: -- we were talked into joining the union. They made it sound real good and everything, but we found out it wasn’t what they thought it was because they didn’t have the right leaders. It might have worked out if they had the right leaders, but, uh, they didn’t. There was a man and a woman, and we would meet at like a school building or something like that -- you know, a tent or anything -- to have the meetings. Oh, they made it sound real flowery, but in the long run, we found out it wasn’t what they said it was. So they fired us at the mill and wouldn't let us in the mill no more.

HELFAND: What was your participation during the strike?

BROOKS: What?

HELFAND: What did you do during that strike?

11:00

BROOKS: Spinning, the hardest job in the mill -- still is. But like I said, we endured it. It was hardship, but we -- we endured it because it was better than we had in the country. I mean, we didn’t have that kind of money when we lived in the country because we’d get our crops gathered and gather other people’s crops.

HELFAND: Could you tell me about you and your family joining the union? Did they come to your house? Or how did they approach you to join the union?

BROOKS: Oh, they’d come to us when we was working, and then they got us started going to the house and, uh, from that, they b-- began to have it at the school building or under a tent or something like that.

12:00

HELFAND: Could you tell me what the meetings were like?

BROOKS: Oh, they’d just get together and talk, and one argue against the other one. Didn’t any of them know what they were doing, I don’t think.

HELFAND: What was your understanding of what the union was going to do for you?

BROOKS: It was my understanding that we would work shorter hours and get more pay, but it wasn’t that way until Roosevelt declared it that way.

HELFAND: Excuse me.

GEORGE STONEY: Cut?

(break in audio)

HELFAND: I know. (laughter) Now, the way that I have understood it, that after Roosevelt brought in the Blue Eagle --

13:00

BROOKS: Mm-hmm.

HELFAND: Do you remember that?

BROOKS: Yes.

HELFAND: Well, tell me when they brought the Blue Eagle to East Newnan.

BROOKS: We weren’t at East Newnan then. We were down here.

HELFAND: OK. Well, from what you’ve told me, you were working in East Newnan in 19-- before that strike. Is that right?

BROOKS: Yeah, in 1928 and ’29 and ’30.

HELFAND: OK. Well, the strike took place in 1934, and so if the strike took place in 1934, you probably would have moved here after the strike, OK?

BROOKS: Mm-hmm, yeah.

HELFAND: And Roosevelt came in in 19-- Roosevelt changed the hours from 12 hours to eight hours --

BROOKS: Mm-hmm.

HELFAND: -- in 1933. So you were still working in East Newnan, from what you’ve told me, in 1933 --

BROOKS: Mm.

HELFAND: -- when the hours changed. OK? Is that -- are you getting that?

BROOKS: Yeah.

HELFAND: OK. So I’m wondering -- I’m wondering why, if they had -- if you 14:00had already had lower hours and lower pay, uh -- higher pay and lower hours, why else -- I’ve been told by some people that the other reason why they -- why they wanted to strike was because the work was speeded up.

BROOKS: Yes, it d--

HELFAND: Do you remember that?

BROOKS: -- yes.

HELFAND: Could you tell me about that speed-up that took place?

BROOKS: They speeded up all of the machines, and they was running so much faster than it was till it was just horrible. I mean, you couldn’t keep it to save your life a-going like they wanted it to go, but we lived through it. I don’t know how.

GEORGE STONEY: She was in the spinning room.

HELFAND: Right.

BROOKS: Yeah, I was in the spinning --

GEORGE STONEY: Ask her to compare the numbers she ran before --

HELFAND: Yeah.

GEORGE STONEY: -- and after.

15:00

HELFAND: OK. Could -- do you -- could you tell us how many frames you ran from 12 hours and compare that to how many frames you had to run when you started working eight hours?

BROOKS: Well, we were running the same m-- amount of frames for the 40 hours as we did for the, uh, eight hours. But they didn’t have ’em speeded up as much when we was on the, uh, 12 hours a day as they did when they went on eight hours a day. They speeded them up so till we just couldn’t manage ’em.

HELFAND: Could you tell me that again, and compare 12 hours a day to eight hours a day, and tell me how you felt at the end of an eight-hour day during that speed-up?

BROOKS: Well, we felt like getting out and going, having fun at the end of eight 16:00hours. But Papa played with us a lot. He’d play horseshoe and marbles and dice balls, anything to keep us occupied because there was so many of us we had to.

HELFAND: Did y-- um, you said before you were so tired after an eight-hour day --

BROOKS: Mm-hmm.

HELFAND: -- you couldn’t keep it up.

BROOKS: Me and my snuff.

HELFAND: When did you start taking snuff?

BROOKS: Oh, I was so little. I don’t much remember when I did -- been a lot of years.

HELFAND: Did you take snuff in the cotton mill?

BROOKS: Yeah.

HELFAND: Why?

BROOKS: Well, the, um, uh, yarn was color, a lot of different colors, and that color was poisonous too. We’d pull the string up and catch it in our mouth and 17:00hold it till we could get it threaded up, and that’s the reason we used snuff in the mill.

HELFAND: What did the snuff do for you?

BROOKS: We didn’t swallow the saliva.

HELFAND: Where would you spit the sn-- where would you spit in the cotton room?

BROOKS: I carried me a jar in my apron pocket. We all had to wear aprons with big pockets -- kept me a jar in my apron pocket and used that.

HELFAND: OK. I want to g-- get back to the 12-hour day and the eight-hour day. You were telling me how t-- how hard it was to work once you went on eight hours, because they speeded the machines up.

BROOKS: Yeah.

HELFAND: Could you com-- could you tell me that again and compare that to what it was like when you were working 12 hours?

18:00

BROOKS: When we was working 12 hours, we could ask them to cut the speed, and they would, and it would do better. Well, we could sit down a little while at the time. But when they speeded up, it didn’t do better, and we couldn’t sit down. We just had to keep right on and go all the time.

GEORGE STONEY: Move on to the (inaudible) --

HELFAND: Did that -- did that speed-up have anything to do with why the union came in?

BROOKS: I don’t really know.

HELFAND: OK. C-- you told me that the organizers came to you while you were working at your machines.

BROOKS: Uh-huh.

HELFAND: Could you tell me that again and explain that to me?

BROOKS: Well, they’d come to us when we was at work or at church or anywhere we went. And oh, they made it sound so wonderful and everything, but I really 19:00don’t think they knew what they were doing. If they had, it might have worked out.

HELFAND: What would they tell you when they approached you, and could you say -- not they, but the -- the organizers?

BROOKS: The organizers would tell us that, uh -- that they were going to shorten the hours and, uh, up our, uh, wages and everything like that, but they didn’t do it. They just shut the mills down, all of them.

HELFAND: Did everyone in your family join?

BROOKS: No.

HELFAND: Could you talk about that, and could you tell me about who in your family joined and what occurred when they did join?

BROOKS: Well, it was just me and my sisters that joined, and my daddy didn’t ever join it. And, uh...

20:00

HELFAND: Some people have told us that when one side of the family would join and others didn’t that it caused a --

JAMIE STONEY: (inaudible)

HELFAND: -- some people have told us that when -- when one group of people in the family would join the union and others didn’t that it caused a little turmoil.

BROOKS: Yes, it did.

HELFAND: Could you tell me about that in your family?

BROOKS: Well, it -- it really didn’t in my family, but it did in several families. But, uh, they worked it out and -- and got along all right.

HELFAND: OK. Tell me about the mill village during that period of time, the relationships between people and the community when the union did come in and people started joining up.

BROOKS: I don’t understand you.

HELFAND: OK. I’m going to ask a different question. Some people have told us that they had to go to these meetings in secret. Could you talk about the union 21:00and s-- and why people would have had to be secret about it?

BROOKS: I don’t know why they wanted it to be secret. I really don’t. But they wanted, uh, all the members to go to the meetings, but I never did get very much out of it myself because they didn’t -- well, they didn’t make you understand it.

HELFAND: Did you go to a lot of these meetings before that strike came in?

BROOKS: Well, not too many of them, because it hadn’t been in effect too long before the strike come in.

HELFAND: OK. Could you tell me how long they’d been organizing before the strike came in, and in a full sentence?

BROOKS: Well, they had been organizing it for, uh, I’d say three months or longer, but they still didn’t -- they didn’t understand it. That’s the 22:00reason they couldn’t make us understand it.

GEORGE STONEY: Could you, Judy, ask --

HELFAND: Yes.

GEORGE STONEY: -- who the organizers were, if they --

HELFAND: Yes.

GEORGE STONEY: -- were local or --

HELFAND: Yes. Who were the people that came to organize the union in East Newnan?

BROOKS: I don’t remember their names, but it was a man and a woman.

HELFAND: Where did they come from?

BROOKS: I don’t know where they lived at that time, but they would come to East Newnan to have the meetings.

HELFAND: So were these -- could you tell me, in a full sentence, were the organizers from East Newnan, or were the organizers outsiders?

BROOKS: Well, I don’t know where the man lived at that time, but the woman lived in Newnan on Lagrange Street down at -- under that bridge, overhead 23:00bridge. There's a a couple of houses down there, and she -- that’s where she lived.

HELFAND: Do you -- n-- now, d-- do you remember their names?

BROOKS: No, I don’t remember their names.

HELFAND: Did they work in the mill with you?

BROOKS: The woman did, but the man didn’t.

HELFAND: OK.

GEORGE STONEY: Uh, just get her to say that -- that again with, “The woman worked in the mill, but the man...”

HELFAND: OK. C-- could -- I’m going to ask you to repeat this again so we get it in one sentence, OK, Irene?

BROOKS: Okay.

HELFAND: Could you tell me again that these organizers -- that the w-- that the woman organizer was local and came from the town and worked in the mill, but the gen-- but the man didn’t, and that these were the two who came to organize your local union?

BROOKS: Um, uh, the man didn’t live in the -- the city where we was, but the woman lived in Newnan in the city, and she worked in the mill where we did. But 24:00I don’t know where the man worked.

HELFAND: I’m going to ask you to repeat that one more time and -- and include the word “organizer” so someone who doesn’t -- who doesn’t know who the man or the woman is would know who you’re talking about.

BROOKS: Mm-hmm.

HELFAND: And when you -- when you finish explaining that to me, maybe you could go on to tell me how this woman in the mill -- how she came to you and organized you, if -- if you remember that, OK.

BROOKS: I’ll do the best I can.

HELFAND: OK. You’re doing great.

BROOKS: Uh.

HELFAND: We were up to the woman organizer and the man organizer --

BROOKS: Mm-hmm.

HELFAND: -- and that she was local, and he came from outside. She worked in the mill. You were going to tell me that in a full sentence and lead into a story about the woman organizer organizing you. OK?

25:00

BROOKS: Uh, the organizer -- the woman worked in the mill where I did, but I don’t know where the, uh, male organizer worked. I don’t know where he lived at that time or what he done. But, uh, the -- the woman would make it just sound so good, and she talked to all of them about it, but all of them didn’t join the union. Some of them did, and some of them didn’t. We had to pay a dollar to join, and then we had to pay a -- a certain amount every month, and it was even hard to get up that dollar because dollars were few and far between. But somehow, we got the dollar up. They’d visit while they was organizing and all that stuff.

26:00

GEORGE STONEY: Let’s move on to wh-- how long they were (inaudible).

HELFAND: OK. Could you tell me about the -- this -- the -- the beginning of the strike. It was -- it took place in early part of September. Wh--

JAMIE STONEY: Can we wait on the train or not?

GEORGE STONEY: We'll wait for the train.

(break in audio)

HELFAND: OK. Irene, I’m wondering -- well, what I was going to say was a lot of people have told us that these organizers always came from the outside. This is the first time that we’ve really heard that the organizer was from -- local, from inside the mill.

BROOKS: They were local. Uh, uh, the man was local, and I don’t know where he was -- lived at that time, but the woman lived in Newnan on Lagrange Street. I remember where she lived because we met at her house one time.

HELFAND: And what was that meeting like in her house? Could you describe that to me?

BROOKS: Well, it was just like it was when they held it at school or under a tent -- anything like that. It was the normal routine that they was going to 27:00have them to raise our wages and lower our hours, but it didn’t turn out like they said it would -- not at the time.

HELFAND: Could you tell me about the strike, what your recollection of -- w-- of the strike when it first started and as it progressed? Could you explain that to me?

BROOKS: Well, we’d go to these mills and, uh, ask them to not go into work, but the ones that was willing to go, um, to work, they seen as they got to work safe. But, uh, the ones that didn’t, they wouldn't let them in at the gates. They had a fence around the mills, and they wouldn’t let ’em in the gate. And when we went to Newnan to the other mill in there, they had the troops out there to see that nobody got hurt and harmed, and they had their guns like they 28:00were going to shoot and all that. But they didn’t ever shoot, and, uh, they asked us to -- “Did we want to leave quietly?,” and the -- we had been -- by the other organizers had been, uh, told to do that when they asked us to leave, to leave and not put up no fuss about it. So that’s what we done.

HELFAND: OK. Now, so you were there at the old mill --

BROOKS: Uh.

HELFAND: -- when the troops came.

BROOKS: Mm-hmm.

HELFAND: So did you go out on these flying squadrons? Did you go out with the other strikers to help them close down other mills?

BROOKS: No. They asked them to not go in.

HELFAND: Right.

BROOKS: And they knew better than to go in, the ones that belonged to the union. But the ones that didn’t belong to the union went on in and did their work.

29:00