Cleveland Walton and Richard Allen Interview

Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library
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GEORGE STONEY: Could you gentlemen tell me when you started working in the mills and what you did?

CLEVELAND WALTON: I started working in the mills in 33 and worked up until 64. Oh dear.

GEORGE STONEY: How old are you now?

WALTON: Im 72. 72.

GEORGE STONEY: So how old were you when you started working in the mills?

WALTON: Uh. I was around like 42, something like that. About 42.

GEORGE STONEY: When you were working in the mills in 33, could you tell me what you were doing?

WALTON: I was a sweeper. Started out as sweeper and then on and on I run cards 00:01:00some, (inaudible), pick up (inaudible), clean up and blow the top down. Then when all that done, do that and get out of there by four hours -- get four hours to do it.. (laughter)

GEORGE STONEY: What did you do?

RICHARD ALLEN: I gathered twill and helped sweep. I did some of everything.

WALTON: Thats a special job.

ALLEN: Yeah, special. Put you on this. If you be short, then you go on his job until he come in, you see.

GEORGE STONEY: When did you start working in the mills?

WALTON: About -- let me see -- about 38, 38 when he started working in the mill.

ALLEN: And I didnt pay no attention.


WALTON: He got sick and he had to quit. I worked longer than he did but he stayed --

GEORGE STONEY: In 33 was the union in that mill?

WALTON: The union always tried to get in there, but they would never accept them. They wouldnt do it. I dont know. To my knowledge, five or six different times, but they wouldnt accept a union. Every time the union tried to get in there you have to get a two or three cent raise, you know. (laughter) Sure did. They wouldnt accept it.

GEORGE STONEY: Do you remember any strikes in your mill?

WALTON: Well, yeah. I do. Later you know for about two weeks they strike and then finally got together and went back. So thats the only one I was in at the time; the only one I can remember up there.

GEORGE STONEY: When was that?


WALTON: That was -- uh. Fifty-three. Fifty-three.

GEORGE STONEY: Now what mill did you work in?

WALTON: Swift. On Sixth Avenue.

GEORGE STONEY: Now in 33, 34, there was a big strike in Swift. Do you remember that?

WALTON: That was 34, I believe. Thats right. Thirty-four. Yeah, I remember something went on down there, I sure did, I sure did. But we was out of work, I was out of work a couple of weeks then, but they made an agreement and went back to work and got about a nickel raise and you know, everything got settled. (laughter) Every time the union try to come in, you know, we got a little raise. When I started working there, I worked 35 hours, me and 00:04:00(inaudible). When I quit work, retired, I was making $4.30; thats all I was making. (laughter) My paycheck when I started working was about $28-$30 a week. That was seven days, too, thats what Im talking about.

GEORGE STONEY: Could you tell us about -- would the union let you be a member?

WALTON: Well the union -- they were marching around there, you know. They begging them to come on join em, but they wouldnt let em do it. They were scared they would lose their jobs. I got card signed, I did; several of them did, but it didnt do no good. They didnt try to come up there lately, but they definitely wont accept them.


GEORGE STONEY: Were trying to think now about 1934, you know, when you first started working in the mills, would the union let you -- as a black person -- be a member of the union?

WALTON: No. Not then. Sure wouldnt, sure wouldnt. You cant do that. Sure wouldnt.

GEORGE STONEY: Could you tell me about the -- just a moment we want to get this -- better let this get by first (break in video) could you tell me about your -- how did you get along with the white people and the black people in the mills?

WALTON: Well we didnt -- we was all separate, you know what I mean? The black folk -- they done the nasty work in there, you know? They had to wait on the whites and they had a time, you know, it had a thing in that truck there and they had a what do you call it -- a dope man come by and bring groceries, you 00:06:00know, when it was time to eat and we had to keep working until the white people got there and got what they want and paid him and then when all the white people got what they wanted -- all the best of it -- then he had a little whistle and hell blow it and (inaudible). Sure did. Whats left? Thats what happened.

GEORGE STONEY: Just a moment let the plane get across. (break in video)When we talked before about two gates, could you tell me that story again?

WALTON: I can. They had a front gate in the mill; it was the whole block wide and you come up to the front gate to come into the mill. We had to go way out there on 16th; the mill was on 15th, but we had to go on 16th and park. The white people had the parking lot and then we had to walk all the way a whole 00:07:00block and come in the back gate. Cant go through that front gate -- and then hed be -- ten minutes late and theyll send you back home, sure would. And my job was right at the front gate -- I had to walk about a quarter mile to come around there and go back down to my job. (laughter)

GEORGE STONEY: Now Im going to ask you to tell that story again and to say that one gate was for white and one was for colored. Could you do that again?

WALTON: One was white and one was for black. The front gate -- the white people went in it. They come in and out it. The black folk all the way around and come down the back gate, sure did. Sure did. Sure (inaudible) did I didnt go toward that front gate at all. Before I quit, you know, when I retired, we were all together then. Sure was. I had done it a lot of times, be late, the little 00:08:00whistle blow as soon as you get to the gate and then you had to go around -- and they had to let you in that gate and Id be late for my job and I had to go way around and come back down to go to work. Then I had to go back round and go home. (laughter)

GEORGE STONEY: Did you have the same experience?

ALLEN: Yes sir. We were together. I couldnt tell you all of that. He can because I say this much, he decided to go around it was a straight half a mile, every bit, and then come back to our car.

GEORGE STONEY: Where did you live?

WALTON: [Kraut?]. Let me see, two, twelve, eight miles out 80.

GEORGE STONEY: You didnt live in the mill village, then?

WALTON: Oh no.


GEORGE STONEY: Did any colored people live in the mill villages?

WALTON: Lets see -- no, no. Sure didnt. Sure didnt.

GEORGE STONEY: So the mill didnt furnish you with housing?

WALTON: No. No transportation neither. No bus run every hour. We walk in the mills, crossing the river over there. It didnt go to the mill, we had to get there the best way we could; sometimes you be late and then had to come back and wait until the last bus run to go home. (laughter) We had a time, I guess we did. We sure did.

GEORGE STONEY: Now could you talk about what happened when that changed? Or has it changed?

WALTON: Well it changed since then. It changed. You can go anywhere you want 00:10:00to in this. They have a snack bar in every department, white and colored all sitting around a table and eat and everything. (inaudible) But the devil. Who-hoo. (laughter) Yes, siree.

GEORGE STONEY: Could you tell me when that change came and how it felt?

WALTON: Well it came along, lets see -- uh -- about 42. Everything went good, thats true. Everything was good. Oh yeah.

GEORGE STONEY: Do you remember when the blue eagle came in? The NRA, with Roosevelt, do you remember Roosevelt?


GEORGE STONEY: Talk about Roosevelt. Tell me about Roosevelt?


WALTON: He was nice fella. He brought on big change. I was so glad. Im telling you, I couldve jumped that high. (laughter) Hes a nice guy. So nice.

GEORGE STONEY: Tell me about him.

WALTON: He was for the black folk. He was right with em. He sure was. He was right with em. Just all the way. Nothing wrong with it. I wish he was there now. (laughter)

GEORGE STONEY: Dont we all? (laughter)

WALTON: Sure do.

GEORGE STONEY: Did you ever writ the Roosevelts?

WALTON: I never, never could write. When I was coming up I couldnt go to school. My mom and dad made us work in the fields. I done that until I started working in the cotton mills; I never could go to school and get an education.


GEORGE STONEY: Did you, sir, did you get an education?

ALLEN: (inaudible) couldnt read and write. I had to do where I could understand. (laughter) I had to go the hard way.

WALTON: Wasnt then like it is now.

ALLEN: Like he said. Was nobody but me and my momma. I couldnt go to school. I got big enough to go to school I had to go and plow like that. Fifty cents a day. I come on up, like he say, come on up. I had to go to work.

GEORGE STONEY: Im sorry. Could you tell us about that again? Because the camera man didnt quite get that. Tell about why you couldnt go to school.


ALLEN: Well, all right. Nobody take care -- nobody but me and my momma and there wasnt nothing coming in. I had to do some kind of work to bring in food to eat and see to my momma and myself getting something to eat.

GEORGE STONEY: So what did you do?

ALLEN: Plow. Plow for a white man. Thats right. Fifty cents a day, but he give me a dinner.

WALTON: Give him half and then pay the bills out of the other half. (laughter) Sure did.

JAMIE STONEY: How big were you when you started plowing? How old were you when you started working?

ALLEN: I dont know. I dont know. My momma aint never told me. I had to ask momma, People are asking me how old are you? You never tell me. You tell me born in March, but I dont know more then than I did. You understand dont you? Tell me I was born in March; she didnt know.


GEORGE STONEY: Now we were with a fella yesterday he was telling us -- showing us -- where the Ku Klux Klan used to operate -- could you remember -- do you have an remembrance of the Ku Klux Klan?

WALTON: I sure do. I know several people who went to the house and you know blindfold them, masks on, brought em -- the Ku Klux Klan right out here. That was way out there they got the man -- got a momma -- a momma, son and daughter -- all out of one house one night. Beat em up and left em in the woods. Sure did. Everybody know who it was and nothing happened. Sure did. I sure do. I remember that.


GEORGE STONEY: Now. Whats that? OK. Well thats all right. Could you talk about the Klan?

ALLEN: The time?


WALTON: The Ku Klux Klan, you know the time when they beat (inaudible) and thats what he wants.

ALLEN: I dont know nothing about it but this hood about it. The hood got beat up. Thats all I can say about that.

WALTON: Thats who it was. Thats who it was. (inaudible) nobody knows. (laughter) Sure did. Sure did. And they really done that -- along that time they was -- her son was messing around with a white woman and they found it out 00:16:00and they got him and they got his sister and they got his momma too; his daddy was dead. They brought up him up down that hill and they killed em, sure did.

GEORGE STONEY: Do you remember about when that was?

WALTON: Lets see. About -- that was along about 31. Sure was. About 31. I can remember it. Thirty-one. Thirty.

GEORGE STONEY: Were there klanspeople in the mill?

WALTON: If they did, I never did hear nothing about that. I imagine they would, though, cause anybody know who they was. (laughter) All of them were Klan 00:17:00along them times, sure was. Didnt nobody know.

GEORGE STONEY: What about the company guards in the mill? Did they have their own police?

WALTON: They did. They sure did.

GEORGE STONEY: Tell us about that.

WALTON: Well they, they -- uh -- they had -- he had two in our part you know -- they called them guards. When I come out, they were searching, seeing what you had in your pocket. You better not have something in your pocket. (laughter) Yes, sir, they sure would. You couldnt come out of that gate with nothing. You better show that when you walk in. Thats the way it was. We had a rough time.

GEORGE STONEY: Tell me about some of your bosses in the mill.


WALTON: Well, Cecil Wiley -- he dead -- he was a white guy and he had been a dirty rascal and Pat Crockett -- he was pretty good, you know, and he was better than Cecil. But Cecil was who-hoo. (laughter) Couldnt get along with that man. Couldnt satisfy him at all. He was our overseer walk, walk. Crockett -- he was pretty good at times; he was a devil too. He was better than him. That was a dirty white man. (laughter) Everybody was glad when he died; I was. (laughter) Yes, sir. Im telling you. Sure was.

GEORGE STONEY: Were there any black supervisors?


WALTON: No, sir. No way. Not now. Sure wasnt. Not now.

GEORGE STONEY: You worked in that mill until you were how old?

WALTON: I retired at 62 and then I worked about -- I worked about two years part-time, didnt take out or nothing -- the boss man he liked me pretty good. He was a devil too, but me and him got along pretty good. Hed call me and Id go in -- help him get samples and stuff. He was pretty good at times. (laughter) Thats true. When they got on 12 hours, I quit. I come on in. I got the retirement check coming in, Social Security.


GEORGE STONEY: Now your daughter has been telling us about all the work youve done since you retired; could you tell us about that?

WALTON: Well I get up in the morning time, pick up cans, do my little carpentry work back there and then I go -- walk like three hours or more and come back home. Sometimes I have (inaudible) four or five hours. Im thankful. (inaudible) Sometimes I made about $3. I do that exercise; I cant just sit down and hold my hand. (laughter)

ALLEN: Not when youre used to working.

WALTON: Thats true.

ALLEN: Go hard.

WALTON: Oh yeah. Thats what I do every morning. Get my sack and get cans.

GEORGE STONEY: She was telling me about your building on to this house. Could you talk about that?

WALTON: Well I -- I hired some of it -- but the big of it I did, you know. I wasnt able to pay high-price carpenters. (laughter) A friend, up here, from 00:21:00that boy where you took his picture at -- he has some of those old (inaudible) -- he made me a good deal on -- he let me have a $7 a hundred. I bought 2600 from him. That was about the biggest expense I had. The rest of it come in and give a little hand.

GEORGE STONEY: OK. Now both of you are retired; what do you want to do now? What do you see in your future?

WALTON: Well, there aint hardly nothing I wouldnt do if I were able, but I aint able to do nothing now. (laughter) I just aint able; I want to do things, but I just


GEORGE STONEY: Now could you go back and remember what it was like when you were first in the mill and could you describe it to me because Ive never been in one of those places. So just tell me about the dust and the heat and so forth.

WALTON: Well, it was about a -- I worked in there about three, about five years before they put in air conditioning in there. They had a window fan -- in that heat -- Lord have mercy -- who-hoo. You go in there, before you change clothes and leave the bathroom, youd be sweating, and they wouldnt allow you no -- (inaudible)the overseer had turn the fan on, knock the hands down -- too much air and cut em off. Then they put the air conditioning in (inaudible) about 00:23:00a year before -- (inaudible). (laughter) Thats so. They did that. We did that.

GEORGE STONEY: Could you tell me about -- did either one of you break bales in the picker room?

WALTON: Bale of cotton?


WALTON: I did, I did.

GEORGE STONEY: Could you tell me about that?

WALTON: Well you had a buggy -- you know that you push, you know -- you go and take the handle, put it over there and dump it out. They have a hook -- about that long -- put a hook and the bale will come along and take that hook (inaudible) --. (laughter) Then you had to go over and fold it there and pick up a big piece, this big, and drop in the hopper. I done that for years.


GEORGE STONEY: Was that dusty and was there a lot of lint in the air?

WALTON: Oh yah, thats where the dust started -- in the picking room -- what you called it -- thats where the dust began. And then when you get ready to clean up -- blow all that top down, it be -- stuff on the floor that thick. You cant see. Its in there. You had to do it. Sure did.


JAMIE STONEY: You want to hold up one sec.

GEORGE STONEY: OK. I want you to tell me again what the picker room was like because we had the wrong light on you then.

WALTON: The picker room. Had a big old hopper; longer than that pick-up there. 00:25:00You stepped through the cotton and had a big gate up on the back and throw the cotton in and go up on a wide belt until you get to the -- what they called it -- clean cotton. Thats where all the dust came in there. You get all that trash and then -- one bale of cotton -- some of them weigh 600 or 700 pounds -- (inaudible) and one it was eight hoppers -- you had to keep them loaded. There was one you had to bring cotton in, open it up and feed them hoppers for thirty cents an hour. (laughter)

GEORGE STONEY: Can you talk about the dust and the lint? And what it was like to breathe it in.

WALTON: Well that dust -- he run a lot of people -- you know -- I know some people theyll retire. Theyve been back to the doctor with that dust on them; sure did. It damaged my health. He cut that noise down some, though. 00:26:00Right now, I have ringing in my ear right now.

ALLEN: I cant hear good.

WALTON: Hell get you.

ALLEN: Rolling in my head.

GEORGE STONEY: Did either one of you have any trouble with brown lung?

WALTON: I have it. I sure do.

GEORGE STONEY: A lot of people have had that. Do you remember the company doctor?

WALTON: His name -- whats that doctors name?

ALLEN: Hh-mm?

WALTON: What that doctor name over there in the mill?

ALLEN: The doctor?

WALTON: Yeah. Dr. (inaudible) that was him. (laughter) Sure was. That was him. Dr. (inaudible).

GEORGE STONEY: Did you ever use him or get to know him at all?

WALTON: I used him. He was just about my family doctor. All the children was 00:27:00working in the mills. (inaudible) He took all of them.

GEORGE STONEY: Now could you talk about how many children youve had?


GEORGE STONEY: Could you just tell me, Well I had...

WALTON: Hh-mm?

GEORGE STONEY: Start out from the beginning and just tell me about all of your children, how many you had and so forth.

WALTON: Call their names?


WALTON: See. When I was working in the mill, he laughed at me. He tell me about two to three weeks to get all them childrens name and age and stuff. (laughter) I finally get them; I may miss some of them. Lets see, the oldest one is named Elizabeth and the next one is Mildred and the next one is [Louise?] --


F1: Mary. Her name is Mary.

WALTON: Huh? Mary.

F1: Mary Lou.

WALTON: Maylo. I told you Id forget it. (laughter)

GEORGE STONEY: Just tell me again -- just say, Ive had so many children, so ahead.

WALTON: Fifteen.

GEORGE STONEY: Just say -- I need to have you say, Well Ive had 15 children.

WALTON: Well I had 15 children, sure did. Fifteen.

GEORGE STONEY: How many of them worked in the mill?

WALTON: Uh. All of them. Every one of them, sure did. I got all of them jobs there. They were all working there.

GEORGE STONEY: Now did your parents work in the mills?

WALTON: No. They never worked in the mills.

GEORGE STONEY: Did your folks ever work in the mills?

ALLEN: Mmm-ummm

GEORGE STONEY: So youre both farm boys?

WALTON: Thats right.

GEORGE STONEY: Well now, when you move -- when you move from the farm to the 00:29:00mill, was there anything you missed? Could you talk about moving? What was it like to move from the farm to the mill?

ALLEN: Well, all I can see is (inaudible) until I went to the mill, but when I went to the mill, I had a little money. Thats why I wanted to get in there so bad.