Lucille Thornburgh, Charles Taylor, Jeanne Childs, and Joe Jacobs Interviews

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

 GEORGE STONEY: Just easy.

JAMIE STONEY: Let’s wait for the police car.

(break in video)

LUCILLE THORNBURGH: Yeah, that sort of soothed them over. That was a hard meeting to go through. We had a meeting the very afternoon he died.

GEORGE STONEY: You want to be a little –

(break in video)

THORNBURGH: You say you don’t like white; you don’t like my hair then.

GEORGE STONEY: OK. We’re rolling.

JAMIE STONEY: Speed.

GEORGE STONEY: Tell them about the song.

THORNBURGH: You want me to start right now?

GEORGE STONEY: Yes.

THORNBURGH: OK. This is a song that we sang on the picket line when we were on strike there at the Cherokee Spinning Company. I particularly like this verse: “Well I hate a chiseler and a chiseler hates me. If I had the power, here’s where they would be. They’d all be in prison and I’d be the judge and in 99 years I’d still hold a grudge.” (laughter)

1:00

GEORGE STONEY: Let’s try it again -- you should be talking to them.

THORNBURGH: I almost have to read this.

GEORGE STONEY: That’s fine. But you can be looking back and talking to them.

JAMIE STONEY: We’re not here.

THORNBURGH: OK.

GEORGE STONEY: Otherwise wonderful.

THORNBURGH: OK. Tell me when you’re ready. This is one of the songs that we sang at Cherokee Spinning Company when we were on strike there. There’s one verse in there that I particularly like: “Well I hate a chiseler and a chiseler hates me. If I had the power, here’s where they would all be. They’d all be in prison and I’d be the judge and in 99 years I’d still hold a grudge.” (laughter) That song was made up by Jay Phillips. He worked at the Harriman Hosiery Mills.

CHARLES TAYLOR: Were they also out on strike?

THORNBURGH: They were out on strike, too, and he made that song. It always has verse and verse: “You counted on Franklin” -- that’s Roosevelt you know -- “to give us a break. Our jobs and our money, was all at stake. Come all 2:00you good people and stand up like men, and over these chiselers, a victory to win.” We like that one.

TAYLOR: Would this be sung on the picket line or --?

THORNBURGH: Oh, yeah. And everybody would join in because that’s a familiar tune. It’s the tune to 99 Years in Prison and they all knew that one. It’s a long song and we just kept --

GEORGE STONEY: OK. Now tell them what this means. Tell her what this means.

THORNBURGH: What means?

GEORGE STONEY: Just tell her what it means to have this experience, OK?

TAYLOR: I’ve never heard of songs like this and I was unaware that there were songs just around the 1934 strike and songs that came up in reaction to that and also during the times. We had no idea. I’ve never heard of anything like this.

THORNBURGH: Oh, we thought this was a good song. And the songs, they’d perk 3:00up your picket line; (laughter) you know walking a picket line without any music -- at that time nobody had a radio in their car and we were outside -- so if we had any music at all we had to make it. We always liked this song; particularly I think everybody knew every verse to it before it was all over.

GEORGE STONEY: Now what does this mean to you young people?

TAYLOR: As I was saying -- this song was written by somebody who was involved in the strike?

THORNBURGH: Right.

TAYLOR: We had no idea that anything like existed.

JEANNE CHILDS: We didn’t even know the strike -- we knew nothing about it.

TAYLOR: Yeah. We weren’t taught about it in school; we never heard the first thing about it.

THORNBURGH: Of course you wouldn’t, it wasn’t in your history books.

TAYLOR: No.

THORNBURGH: You had no way of knowing about it.

TAYLOR: That’s right. And it’s amazing to us to be sitting here with you who was there.

THORNBURGH: That was on strike before you were born.

TAYLOR: That’s right. That’s right. Well before.

4:00

CHILDS: I’ve never had the opportunity of working in a union company and I really don’t know that many union people. We don’t even have that many union companies in South Carolina. But God, it’s just an incredible thing to know that y’all were -- sixty years ago out on strike.

THORNBURGH: Look at this picture here. Look at the car. That’s some of our strikers; that’s when we were locked out. Look at that car; you can tell how old that picture is.

TAYLOR: When was that? October 1934. Yeah. That’s amazing.

THORNBURGH: Look at those cars.

CHILDS: (inaudible)

TAYLOR: It makes me wonder how many people, you know, in our area in South Carolina ’cause we know that letters were written from Greenville, from Greer, from Spartanburg, from Chesney, from (inaudible) --

CHILDS: -- (inaudible) I know.

TAYLOR: -- from all those places. I’m wondering if anybody in our area would have a scrapbook or would’ve been involved in that. This is just a missing piece of our history we’re seeing for the first time.

THORNBURGH: And the reason I started this scrapbook was -- I never thought anybody would care anything about looking at it -- I just made it for myself so 5:00I could remember the dates. That was my -- all I had. Now this is the leaflet that we put out just before the strike.

TAYLOR: “To all textile workers official notice; the hour for final action is at hand. We have exhausted every method of getting relief from intolerable conditions.” And that was true, wasn’t it?

THORNBURGH: That is right. That is right.

TAYLOR: That’s after people had written Roosevelt and the NRA and asked for help with the stretch out and they tried everything --

THORNBURGH: That is right. That is right. We had tried. See how this one ends up, “Yours for solidarity and victory.” Eventually on the picket line -- on the first one we had was about the chiselers and then this Franz Daniel -- an organizer with Amalgamated Clothing Workers -- he came to town and he brought us that old Wobbly song of Solidarity Forever and we started singing that one then (laughter). That one was new. We learned all the verses. [singing] “Solidarity forever...”

6:00

CHILDS: That's a new one.

TAYLOR: So everything -- the songs and everything like that was basically just passed by word of mouth; that’s the only way you learned them.

THORNBURGH: Oh sure, oh sure.

TAYLOR: -- someone coming here from another area --

THORNBURGH: Sure. Nobody --

GEORGE STONEY: Now start relating this to your own work.

CHILDS: One thing we’ve tried to do is have a cultural aspect in the work that we do, but it’s a different kind of thing. We listen to the radio and we try to come up with songs and it’s really kind of missing because we don’t feel those things; it’s all history we don’t feel “Joe Hill” or Solidarity Forever; it’s kind of artificial in a way.

THORNBURGH: You would just be listening to either the radio or the television or a tape recorder or something; we didn’t have any of that. When we got this song that Phillips had written for us we had to copy it in long hand for the others to learn the verses.

7:00

TAYLOR: Isn’t that something? That’s amazing. That’s -- I think that’s part of what’s missing now. One thing that strikes me about this whole time was the importance of songs and different things and we saw very powerful letters and poems and all that kind of stuff and we never knew they existed.

THORNBURGH: Uh-huh. And do they write new songs now? I haven’t heard a new union song for a long time. And they certainly should have them because like I said walking up and down in front of this dreary looking mill, there, without somebody singing -- and we always had -- no matter if it was a meeting or if we were on the picket line -- we always had one guy that could play the guitar (laughter); there’s always one.

TAYLOR: I think this is a lesson for today; this is something we need to do a better job of incorporating kind of movement songs -- old ones and writing new ones like you’re saying. We need to --

CHILDS: There’s some new music but if you ever march in groups, it’s the songs y’all sing, it truly is.

8:00

THORNBURGH: Well it helps a lot; it perks people up. While they’re singing these songs they’re not thinking about all these problems, we’re not going to have a payday, you know, with the men -- don’t know what my wife’s going to say when I get home -- no payday. See we didn’t have strike benefits; we didn’t have anything.

GEORGE STONEY: Jane could you kind of repeat what you said in your letter to us -- to tell her what it means to you to have this kind of legacy spelled out.

JUDITH HELFAND: You might want to be specific about coming from a time where nobody talked about the past and your whole family was working in the mill and --

CHILDS: We’ve talked about -- in part the way that it felt to grow up and you had similar -- especially early on you felt the same I think about the kind of -- and not to be, you know, cruel to anybody -- but the shame that was attached to that in a way. And you know we had this – Charles and I have a great 9:00family -- there was always -- and I loved them but there was also like a pity, too, attached because I know they couldn’t be everything they wanted to be. They are proud people but they couldn’t be proud in a way and this -- um -- everything that we learned you don’t know what it does.

GEORGE STONEY: I’m sorry I’m going to ask you to do that again because you see we may have to use this independently. Anything else we use, to identify the fact that your mother did work in the mill. Then everything else would work. I’m sorry, but --

HELFAND: Maybe Greenville is good. Maybe that part of South Carolina is different from other parts of the south and the other states that we’ve been to, so try to be more specific. (laughter)

GEORGE STONEY: OK. Right. OK.

CHILDS: As you know we, well I grew up in Greenville, South Carolina and both my 10:00folks worked in the mill. My mom for like 25 years and my dad off and on when we were growing up and they’re great people; they really are. We had five girls in our family and the mill was always a big part of our lives and mom and dad would talk about it a lot when they came home from work and all that stuff. But we never knew the history of textiles and in Greenville they -- you know -- union -- God no one would talk about union. But union, you might as well, you know, talk about -- they might as well be atheists than be union members. You know we couldn’t -- it wasn’t even conceivable to talk about being a union member and so you know as a result of that we were always a people who were -- we didn’t have a history; we really didn’t. It’s -- my folks and their children, me, all of us have tried to forget who we are and to try to become something else; that’s what we all did. And um, what y’all have given to us in these days that we found out this wonderful legacy that’s ours, I can’t 11:00tell you how -- I can’t tell you what that’s given to us. I think my sisters -- God they are going to be so freed to know we have a proud history and the struggle that y’all were involved in. You know, I can’t tell you.

THORNBURGH: Well maybe you don’t understand why your parents didn’t talk about that, but I can. There are many people that don’t want to talk about it. Like we said, there are some people -- I know people right there in Knoxville who worked in the mills and then particularly after this strike they got better jobs -- and as times changed they sent their children to college, they moved into a better neighborhood, and they don’t want to remember; they don’t want to remember those days. I have friends right there in Knoxville who, if I want to talk to them about the Cherokee strike, “Oh that was a bad time in my life.” They want to forget about it.

CHILDS: In a way I can understand that and I appreciate what you say that comes 12:00to me, but I don’t want to blame them for it, but you know I don’t know where I came from. I could’ve been dropped right in the middle of the earth; I don’t know what happened before me. It’s OK if they leave the mill, if they are union people, that’s OK. But I need to be able to say that about where I’m from, you know. I need to be able -- as individuals, I think, all my sisters were hurt by not -- you know -- we could not say what we were and we didn’t have any pride in saying what we were, and it’s OK to be proud. That was a strong, beautiful movement and it’s OK that people go to college and they leave it and they aren’t working people anymore, they aren’t working class but they can identify with what we were, what we all are.

THORNBURGH: Your parents loved you very much not to tell you about that.

CHILDS: I think, yeah, I think that hurts me though.

THORNBURGH: Sure it does. But they weren’t thinking about it that way; they were thinking -- here you are -- are you a college graduate?

13:00

CHILDS: No. Student now, but soon.

THORNBURGH: If you are a student, then you will be a college graduate and they were thinking, “Well I don’t want her to think that her parents were lint heads,” you know. They looked at it that way; you don’t, but they did.

CHILDS: Well for a long time I did and that’s why, in a way, this history breaks my heart because it’s -- um -- it’s -- it makes my family -- we’re able to love one another and feel peaceful about it. I want my parents -- and I don’t know that they’ll ever have that -- I really don’t know if they can feel that way -- but I want them to know that it’s OK. It’s not just OK what they did, but I’m proud of what they did.

THORNBURGH: And you appreciate the hard work they did in the mill for you, of course you do.

CHILDS: I do. I really do. And now I want to tell people about it. I don’t want to say, “You know my folks worked in the mill and they were trying to raise us and you know we were hard and we were poor, but they wanted the chance to go to college,” you know I don’t want to say that. I want to say, 14:00“They were part of a great,” and actually my parents weren’t --

THORNBURGH: I am certainly glad to talk to you to hear that side of it because I hadn’t heard it just that way.

CHILDS: Yeah, I mean --

THORNBURGH: That you want to be proud of your parents, but they think they haven’t done anything to make you proud.

CHILDS: Yeah, it breaks my heart that they can’t know that; it really does. I wish they could know that, I really do.

GEORGE STONEY: How do you feel?

TAYLOR: Well, just about your mom in particular, because I work with a group called “The Carolina Alliance for Fair Employment,” and this is an organization that tries to inform employees about existing rights and assist people with job problems in the absence of unions. I mean in Greenville there is a 1% unionization rate, so that’s how Jean and I first met, through her Mom. She was having a problem at a Dan River plant. The thing that struck me is that she was incredibly defiant. In the mill they called her “Tiger Lily” because she was real quiet but she was strong, a strong woman. But it 15:00was like she had to fight by herself with very little support and I think she would be so tickled to learn about this history and to learn that 200,000 people went out at the same time. These are southern textile workers who are supposed to be independent minded, you know, respect for authority, individualistic, you know, don’t do stuff like this.

CHILDS: Or even cowardly. I mean --

TAYLOR: Passive. You keep on getting worse and worse adjectives as you go along. And that’s not the history at all that you lived. It’s totally different from that.

THORNBURGH: Right.

TAYLOR: It was active, it was strong, it was defiant, it was unified and we don’t have that history. It’s like a big, dark hole in our history and that is just -- and today there is a lot of stuff I think now for the first time looking on it -- that came from this period. For example, a lot of people call the group, “The Carolina Alliance,” today when they get fired. They’ll call and say, “I got fired for this and that and I don’t think it was fair,” and a lot of people who call say, “I’ve been fired and I want to 16:00report it to the Labor Board.” Well we’ve always kind of laughed about that.

CHILDS: What are they talking about?

TAYLOR: Yeah, and our kind of standard response is that there is no labor board. There are a number of different agencies which handle problems, depending on whether it’s race discrimination, whatever. But now I believe when people call and say, 60 years later, “I’ve got a problem and want to report it to the Labor Board,” I swear I think it came from 1934.

THORNBURGH: Right.

TAYLOR: And the period right before that Roosevelt, the NRA and when people were encouraged to contact the Labor Board at that time, the NRA.

THORNBURGH: That’s right. Oh we wrote letters to them on top of letters.

TAYLOR: So while we have no history of the strike; it’s not in our books. We’re not informed about it but at the same time I think there are vestiges of it that still remain that come directly from this time. Another striking thing to me about this whole thing is the role of organizers vs. workers and leaders -- ’cause my understanding is that there was only ten paid staff people with 17:00the union in the south -- and if you had 200,000 people out on strike, that’s like one organizer for like what, 20,000 workers? And so what that means of course is that this would have to be a worker-lead movement.

THORNBURGH: I often wondered how they got those people out on strike without any leader. See I didn’t know anything about unions and when we asked AF of L, one of our weavers in the plant -- he had known about unions somewhere. He had worked at other parts of the country, and he started talking to us about joining a union and so I said, “Well, how do you go about it?” All he told me was, he says, “We can get better wages here. We can get better working conditions, too.” He said, “We might even get the hours cut,” well that sounded good to me.

TAYLOR: Yes ma’am.

THORNBURGH: You know, and (inaudible) where he’s coming from. So he wrote the letter to the to the AF of L and asked them to send us an organizer. They sent 18:00us a railroad boilermaker. They didn’t have any textile workers; he didn’t know anything. We couldn’t talk to him about -- I couldn’t talk to him about my machine in there; he didn’t know. But he did know the labor movement and he told us what a union could do for us.

TAYLOR: I think that’s what’s missing even today, even in Greenville. We have been talking before and you were saying back then nobody knew what a union was and what it did.

THORNBURGH: That’s right, that’s right.

TAYLOR: That’s true for the majority of workers, I think, today in Greenville, South Carolina.

THORNBURGH: You mean even today?

TAYLOR: Absolutely.

CHILDS: I know that sounds incredible; I know that sounds incredible. But my image of a union before -- even like three or four years ago -- was that image that was implanted when I was a child. It was irrational and not based on fact. I know that information was available to us in part, but we didn’t learn it, we didn’t know it.

TAYLOR: I mean if you’re talking about an area that has a 1% unionization rate 19:00that means you don’t, in your daily life, run into a lot of union folks. And then because you have no context when the word “union” is mentioned, then you have to fall back on the crap that you’ve been fed, you know, through work, you know, through newspaper, whatever. the Greenville Piedmont was -- is -- the evening paper in Greenville and I don’t care where it was, we used to laugh about it. If there was a strike anywhere in the world, the Piedmont would run a picture of it and that’s the only thing the Piedmont ever did about unions.

THORNBURGH: Well I’m relatively certain that even in my hometown -- the people there, you know -- for instance, all my nieces and nephews, they work in jobs -- there’s not a union there -- they don’t know anything about it except what they’ve heard from me.

TAYLOR: You see it makes me really angry in a way to learn about this history because I mean we have a lot of prominent people in Greenville and I know now 20:00how they made their money and that’s shameful; it is shameful.

THORNBURGH: Yes, it is.

TAYLOR: It changes my view of -- I always knew that workers were mistreated, you know, because we hear from thousands of people every year in the work that I do. But when you go back and see what these people did in 1934, how they, you know, reneged on the agreement they made to put everybody back to work without reprisals, how they blacklisted people like yourself, how they ran people out of communities, that pisses me off.

THORNBURGH: Well you see a strike today -- supposing you had a nationwide strike of textile workers today -- it still wouldn’t have been as bad as this was. This was the middle of the depression. I was working in the cotton mill, Cherokee Spinning Company, not because I wanted to but because I had to. I had to. We were a family of five; five brothers and sisters and my mother and 21:00father. My father had owned a grocery store; he lost that completely. OK, there is the real bread-winner gone. We had to go to -- my sisters and I had to go to work in the mill. When I went on strike that meant that we were going to have less to eat at home. And there was nobody -- we got no strike benefits -- and there was nobody to give us food because everybody was as poor as we were.

TAYLOR: How could you justify that -- family wise -- how did you work through that kind of tension and make those kind of hard decisions?

THORNBURGH: It was real hard and one thing that I thought was very unfair there. After that picture of me that you saw in there came out in the paper that I was one of the strike leaders, my sister was fired from the glove company. Nobody had tried to organize the glove factory; it wasn’t involved in the strike in any way, but they fired her. OK that takes two bread-winners out of the family.

22:00

TAYLOR: They were trying to kill you, basically.

THORNBURGH: They certainly were.

TAYLOR: They were trying to kill you.

THORNBURGH: We really appreciated the Red Cross flour; that was all we got, you know. There wasn’t any welfare; they weren’t going to give welfare to strikers. So we really had it hard. Now if you were on strike today you would know enough people around and they’d say, “Oh well he’s on strike,” and they give you money and give you food. Nobody had anything to give you; we were all in the same boat.

GEORGE STONEY: OK. I think that’s (inaudible; overlapping dialogue).

JAMIE STONEY: Should we get some tone here?

M1: Room tone.

23:00

(break in video)

JAMIE STONEY: I got a mic right there.

GEORGE STONEY: Then let’s go in a bit more.

JAMIE STONEY: Speed.

GEORGE STONEY: OK, Joe. Remember you’re talking to these fellas and not to us.

JOE JACOBS: After the strike was called off by Francis Gorman, the first thing that he did was got folks together who were on the staff. The folks on the staff, a lot of them were volunteers -- a lot of them were paid people -- and in most instances even those who were paid were even reduced to getting just 24:00expenses or being able to live with somebody in some of these mills. He said, “Now what we’ve got to do is make sure that everybody gets returned to their jobs and if we have any complaints that we then file them with the board,” that was the [Wyman?] Board that Roosevelt had set up that was supposed to handle any of the grievances. These people were spread around; they were in the two Carolinas, in Georgia and Alabama. Overnight it meant that a half a million people had to be returned to work and in they flocked we told them to go back. When they went back we had instance after instance where they were met at the gates and then were sent back. We’ve got all kinds of documents which shows what was being done. The way that they operated was George Googe had his office in Atlanta, Steve Hollahan who was one of the international board people was in 25:00Atlanta and he was the one that we funneled the complaints through. I remember he had his office in the trinity -- on Trinity Avenue -- in the labor temple and they had people on typewriters and what they were doing was interviewing the textile workers; they were interviewing people who came in who were officers of the local unions and they were typing up the complaints. What did the complaints consist of? They fell in certain categories. When they returned to work they were met at either the gates or they were met at the plant or when they tried to go in the plant they were not permitted to go in the plant. They told them that they didn’t have any work for them and there were all kinds of reasons; I’m going to go into some of those reasons with you. And when they did that we told them to document it and then bring it back and we’d send it to the board. The board operated out of Washington; they had three people up 26:00there and they were supposed to hire trial examiners. Well there was no such animal as trial examiner then, nobody ever done anything for a board like that. So what they doing, we were hiring lawyers. Well, most of the lawyers that they were hiring had lawyers with commercial practice, real estate practice, stuff like that and had no experience with textile workers, had no experience with labor unions at all. They were supposed to be the hearing officers and before we get through I’m going to show you an example of a man I knew and knew for many years later and a hearing he had and how little he could do with the way the board was set up.

GEORGE STONEY: Joe, this is getting a good bit too detailed. Let’s start again and I want to start out with how you’ve all been hearing about the unions going out and leaving so --