Lucille Thornburgh, Roy Wade, Don Rodgers and Connie Leper Interview

Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library
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ROY WADE: You know it’s interesting that the company --

JAMIE STONEY: Start again Roy, right there.

WADE: OK, the company would use this footage and this information about the strike of ’34 to convince the worker in --

GEORGE STONEY: Sorry, if we start again -- in Kannapolis --

WADE: In Kannapolis, OK.

GEORGE STONEY: When we were --

WADE: The information of the strike of ’34 in -- to convince the workers not to vote for the union in the most recent organizing drive in 1991 in Kannapolis. Uh, wh-- what do you -- wh-- I’m sorry, what do you --

GEORGE STONEY: Your --

WADE: Where do you want me to go from there? I’m mentioned it now, so...

GEORGE STONEY: Just, uh, say that, uh, sorry -- let’s go back --

WADE: Yeah, let’s go back, yeah.

JAMIE STONEY: When you’re ready Roy.

GEORGE STONEY: OK.

WADE: One of the hardest things we had to do was overcoming the company’s use of the -- the strike of ’34, the misinformation, and the footage to convince the workers not to vote for the union -- not to form themselves a union in the 1:00’91 campaign. And here’s -- here’s some of the footage that was used.

GEORGE STONEY: Sorry, we’re going to start again.

WADE: Um (inaudible).

GEORGE STONEY: Let’s say Kannapolis.

WADE: Kannapolis, Kannapolis...

JAMIE STONEY: Take three.

WADE: It’s not as easy as it looks, isn’t it.

JAMIE STONEY: Take three.

GEORGE STONEY: Did they go union at that plant?

LEPER: No.

WADE: No, not yet.

GEORGE STONEY: It got voted down?

LEPER: It was.

WADE: Since in --

GEORGE STONEY: OK.

JAMIE STONEY: When you’re ready, Roy.

WADE: OK. One of the hardest things that we found and, uh, most recent Kannapolis organizing drive of ’91 was overcoming the company’s use of the -- the footage and information from the -- the strike of ’34, 1934. Uh, and they had -- had footage and -- and here’s some of the footage. (newsreel sound in the background)

GEORGE STONEY: Just react to this and say, “Well, I know where it is. That’s --”

2:00

CONNIE LEPER: This is -- this is Kannapolis, my hometown.

THORNBURGH: That’s a rather large mill in Kannapolis, isn’t it?

LEPER: Yes it is, it’s quite large.

WADE: That’s the main plant that --

LEPER: Plant one.

WADE: Yeah, plant one. And that’s the, uh, loop driveway that’s in front of plant one.

DON RODGERS: See -- they’re loading the National Guard.

WADE: Yeah. By the -- by the truck load.

THORNBURGH: And you me-- you mean that they’re using footage almost 60 years old?

WADE: Yeah, they -- they have these captive meetings where they show the workers uh f-- film to convince them the union’s a bad thing, and they -- they show them some of this -- this old, old footage from the strike -- I mean, from the -- the ’34 strike. I mean anything and everything to convince the workers not -- that the -- that the union is a bad thing.

RODGERS: Any kind of film that they could use that portrayed the strike -- especially one where there was violence, where they could get shots of cars and trucks being turned over, or maybe fights between people -- they used this to 3:00intimidate the employees.

WADE: This is the people coming out of the -- that’s not plant one now, that’s uh -- yes, that’s plant one, excuse me.

LEPER: Yeah, that was -- that was gate one, yeah.

WADE: Coming out of gate one. Coming off the shift at work. And the National Guard is out there waiting on them.

LEPER: Incredible.

WADE: I know.

GEORGE STONEY: Now it seems to me that you people ought to be using this same footage yourself, and if you think that’s right, you should say, “We should be using this same footage ourselves to have people recognize their grandmothers and grandfathers out there standing up to these people.”

WADE: Yeah. We should be using this same footage ourselves to convince people that would see this to see their -- their -- their family here. Their grandmothers, their grandfathers -- that they were standing up to -- to the, uh, mill owners. To the mill -- to -- to organize a union, to get -- get things changed within the -- uh -- within the plant. Better working conditions and all.

4:00

RODGERS: And -- and also to show the people just what kind of lengths the company takes --

LEPER: Exactly.

RODGERS: -- to stop a union drive.

WADE: Right. This is very interesting.

LEPER: Interesting part of this is I grew up in Kannapolis and have lived there for 35 years, and until last year didn’t even know that this film existed -- or anything about the ’34 strike.

RODGERS: A lot of -- I mean --

WADE: But the company -- company used it, I mean they used it to show it in a bad light -- which to me it -- it shows it in a good light, it shows people standing together, trying to change things -- better themselves -- to better the conditions within the mill. But the company would twist it all into showing how hard, how futile it is to even try.

THORNBURGH: What you would know that the conditions in the mill there -- and other places in the textile industry -- where that -- where we had that nationwide strike, that conditions must have been pretty bad for people to have courage enough to strike --

RODGERS: Right.

5:00

THORNBURGH: -- right in the middle of the depression --

RODGERS: That’s right.

THORNBURGH: -- when they were having a hard time getting something to eat. But still they did. Conditions were that bad.

WADE: Conditions must have been ter-- terrible.

RODGERS: You know, they show -- they show these films to the people. They have to go these meetings and watch these films, and they’re telling the people, “You see what’s happening? Do you want this to happen to you now? You know, if you join a union, you’re not going to have anything but trouble like this.”

WADE: And these -- these workers were brave, courageous American citizens who were only trying to -- to -- to exercise, uh, the right they have as a citizen to form a union. And the company’s do-- and the company is using ev-- every means -- every underhanded means that they -- they can t-- to beat them down, and beat them back. Th-- this is -- this is good.

RODGERS: I wonder how many, uh, people in Kannapolis that saw this film could recognize --

WADE: I know they -- that -- that is something.

RODGERS: -- their, uh, kinfolk.

WADE: If they could see this -- I mean really see it 6:00without the company’s interpretation of it. That’s what -- that’s what it’s about.

GEORGE STONEY: Listen to this now. There’s a -- there’s a preacher, a woman preacher there out with a picket line.

LEPER: A woman preacher in Kannapolis in the ’30s?

WADE: Yeah, listen to her.

GEORGE STONEY: See this machine gun?

WADE: With -- with the machine gun, look at the -- look at the guardsmen standing. I mean he actually has the machine gun pointed at the workers as th-- as they’re -- they're coming. This is -- this is -- this is so -- so typical. She’s -- uh -- listen to her trying to convince them. Trying to tell the 7:00people -- the company’s got her telling the people that it’s -- it’s a -- it’s going to be a failure before you even start, don’t start, don’t try to do anything to change a thing. Just -- just be happy with being oppressed and -- and -- and basically owned by the company. It’s -- it amazes me that the lengths that companies will go to -- to convince someone -- to convince a worker that they don’t have to -- they don’t -- you know, it’s futile to -- to even try to better yourself, to do anything -- to do the right thing.

RODGERS: Right.

LEPER: It’s amazing how much it’s worked.

GEORGE STONEY: Pull down the sound just a minute.

LEPER: Um -- there are so much, still, anti-union sentiment in the whole area that showing this film basically just -- I don’t know -- just deepens it when someone see this and -- I mean, it could just contribute very, um, very heavily to it.

WADE: Well, if you put a -- if you -- if you -- if you interpret it the way the 8:00company would -- I mean, they’re sitting there showing this -- the film and putting their own interpretation of -- of the events and the actions of the employees. But if -- if you look at it in -- in the terms that we’re looking at it -- what it should be looked at is -- is these people were being -- were being brave and determined -- they were trying to change the working conditions within the plant, the unfair stretch outs, the workloads, the -- the -- the slave wages. I mean they were doing the right thing, and they were doing --

LEPER: Under the threat -- under threat of machine gun fire.

WADE: -- yeah. Yeah, I mean under this -- in the -- in the depression, like Lucy said. In a time in itself which was, uh, which was bad and -- and -- and the conditions within the country at the time and the living conditions themselves were bad because of the depression -- but here they are trying to -- taking a chance trying to better things. To make things better for themselves and their families.

THORNBURGH: Yes, but the company -- the company was using a good tactic there -- to have that woman minister, or preacher, out there in that line --

WADE: Oh, yeah.

THORNBURGH: -- because I was in the strike in 1934 at Cherokee Spinning Company 9:00and they -- the churches there were against us. All the preachers in the Protestant churches -- the Catholics and the Jews didn’t bother with us -- but they did have the -- the preachers doing that.

WADE: Right.

THORNBURGH: So the company knew what they were doing in this bible belt that we all live in -- of having a preacher out there to do that.

RODGERS: And they still have the same tactics now -- why? Because they work.

THORNBURGH: They do?

RODGERS: They work -- they -- they get --

THORBURGH: They work.

RODGERS: -- they get the preachers in the -- in the communities --

WADE: Yeah, they still do it.

RODGERS: -- especially in Kannapolis this past summer.

LEPER: They put ads in, you know, the newspaper and some sign on, some have ads by themselves.

WADE: I mean they still us some of the same tactics -- tactics because they’re effective. You know, they’re subtle -- they’re -- they’re -- they’re subtle ways to convince you that it’s futile for you to try to do -- do anything better, to try to better yourself, to make things better. And -- and that’s their whole tactic, is convince that no matter how hard you fight -- no matter how hard you try -- you’re not going to win.

THORNBURGH: And they’re use-- they’re using the ministers and the church in 10:00more or less words tell you, “You’re going to hell if you join the union.”

WADE: Right. You know that -- that’s the same -- same thing -- it’s all bad to join a union --

THORNBURGH: right.

WADE: -- but it’s not. It -- it’s a good thing, I mean, we know that -- we wouldn’t be here -- you know that, you wouldn’t have fought so hard --

THORNBURGH: Those people on the picket line, at that time, knew that.

WADE: Right. I mean you -- you -- you fought hard as anyone in 1934 to -- to win --

THORNBURGH: Right.

WADE: What you were after. I mean you were out front, you were vocal, you were being pegged on the -- on the front pages as a communist --

THORNBURGH: Right.

WADE: -- you know, that you were some kind of -- of lowly form of life that slunk in under the door to convince people, you know, to go on strike so they would destroy their lives. I mean, that’s -- that’s totally -- totally distortion of history, because you were there to make people -- to d-- to be better themselves, you was there to help them, you was trying to help yourself -- to make things better -- because it’s a good thing.

THORNBUGH: And, in a way, we were only asking -- as these people were -- we were only asking for very little.

WADE: Right.

THORNBURGH: Uh, shorter hours --

WADE: Right.

THORNBURGH: -- better wages, and better working conditions. We never even thought about --

11:00

LEPER: No paid vacation, no --

THORNBURGH: -- holi-- vacation, we never even thought about holidays, vacations, sick leave, pensions -- we didn’t think about those things.

WADE: You were just after the basics.

THORNBURGH: We’re -- after the very basics --

WADE: The basics of life.

THORNBURGH: That’s right.

WADE: To be treated as a human being, a worker --

THORNBURGH: Right.

WADE: -- you know, like you should -- not as a slave --

THORNBURGH: Right.

WADE: -- not as a slave, not as a property -- but as a human being who had a right to basic conditions with the -- the -- the work life -- your work area, your job. I mean it’s --

THORNBURGH: That’s right.

WADE: -- basic -- if you don’t have rights -- human rights, or worker’s rights inside the factory -- inside the mill -- you know, if you can’t -- if it ends -- if your rights as an American citizen end at the gate -- what rights do you have out-- on your -- at -- at home?

THORNBURGH: You don’t.

WADE: I mean in your every day life. I mean if you can be robbed of any right simply because you work for someone, then you can be robbed of all your rights -- all your privileges.

RODGERS: That’s exactly right.

WADE: You know, you’re not true -- you’re not free at all. If you -- if you can be robbed and stripped of any fundamental rights you have as an American citizen, you can be robbed of all of them.

12:00

THORNBURGH: And our job is to make -- we know that.

RODGERS: Right, we know that.

THORNBURGH: Our -- our job is to make all the people in the mills know that.

RODGERS: Right, that’s it.

GEORGE STONEY: Now, I’d like to ask a question from behind the question -- let’s make sure I’m recording well -- we know that there was only almost no violence in Kannapolis in ’34 during the strike. We know that the troops were there because Charlie Cannon called up Governor Ehringhaus and said, “Send the troops over.”

WADE: Right.

GEORGE STONEY: But I believe that people interpret the presence of the troops there -- being there -- as an evidence that there was a lot of violence --

WADE: Right.

GEORGE STONEY: Could you talk about that?

WADE: Well that -- that’s so -- I mean it -- it’s -- it’s -- back to the games again. If they -- if they show the troops coming in in force to maintain, uh, law and order -- it implies that the strikers are going to be unlawful and 13:00violent. I mean, it -- it -- it’s condemnation by -- by -- just showing the force of -- of -- of the guards having to come in when they didn’t have to come in. And we see that today, I mean, it -- not -- not as much -- they don’t call the guards in, but it’s like in plants -- in the plant that I work in -- if there’s -- if we’re bargaining with the company and we’ve reached an impasse or we’re -- we’re disagreeing with the way the bargaining is going and we -- there’s a rumor going on there’s going to be a strike at a certain time, you’ll go out the gate on your way home and there’ll be six or seven police there just because there’s a rumor of a strike. I mean if -- even if there’s going to be some kind of action or strike, doesn’t mean it’s going to be a violence -- any kind of laws are going to be broken. So why do they have the right to call the national guard in in ’34 and now have the -- the state troopers and the police sitting at the gate just because there was a rumor of -- of an action going to be taken, I mean that’s --

THORNBURGH: Well naturally, your average citizen -- just any person passing by 14:00that gate, and seeing any phase of, uh, law enforcement there, would think that there is either violence --

WADE: Right.

THORNBURGH: -- or there is going to be violence -- when there isn’t going to be any.

WADE: I mean, that makes me so angry because we -- we as citizens -- and worker citizens I like to call it -- we’re worker citizens, we’re union members -- but just because we, uh, are disagreeing with the company on an issue and are prepared to take a collective action -- not -- not a violent action, not any kind of action that’s going to break any laws -- it’s our lawful right to picket, uh, to disagree -- to strike, if you will. Just because we’re standing up for our rights and going -- going -- going -- going to go out the gate and picket, or strike, or whatever -- that’s -- that’s legal, that’s not illegal. So where do the police -- where do they have the right to call in people, uh, to -- just on -- just because we’re standing up for our rights to do something as American citizens, I mean that’s -- that’s not against the law.

THORNBURGH: We called it scare tactics.

WADE: Scare tactics -- that’s it, you got it.

GEORGE STONEY: OK, I think we’ve got that, now --

WADE: You take -- you take the –

(break in video)

GEORGE STONEY: Now just start on that in Kannapolis.

15:00

JAMIE STONEY: Start with the 12-hour shift.

WADE: OK. Uh, in Kannapolis in ’91 during the organize -- we found out that they -- they -- they put the workers on 12 hour shifts -- they didn’t give them a choice that they wanted to work 12 hours, they took them off the eight hour and put them on the 12 hours -- and if you didn’t like it or you couldn’t accommodate it, they tell you to hit the gate -- you know where the gate was.

RODGERS: OK, some -- so-- some of the workers told us, “Yeah, we did have a choice -- but when we in-- when we investigated it further, it was like you had plan a, b, and c for 12-hour shifts and what you had to do was choose the lesser of the three evils.” Any way you went about it, you had to work 12 hour shifts.

WADE: Right.

RODGERS: So they really didn’t have a choice.

WADE: Not only that, but they would just take -- take the looms, the -- the people running the looms, and they would just add looms -- all of sudden they’d go in one day and they gotta run two more looms. You know, they keep stretching them out -- just like they did in ’34. They keep stretching out the jobs. And not only that, but had people that would -- would take a job temporarily for the convenience of management. They would ask them to do this job a month or two until somebody come back that was out sick, and the minute 16:00they’d go on that job and then the person would go back, they’d go back to their old job and they’d cut their wages. And they would say, “Well, wait a minute. When I -- you asked me to go to another job and I did it for you, and I come back -- you cut my job 11 cents an hour -- 10/11 cents an hour.” “Well, you know,” the supervisors would just sit back and say, “Well, that’s company policy. I don’t have anything to do with that.” You know, and that -- that -- that’s -- that’s not right, that’s crazy.

RODGERS: You know, some of the same things that they were, um, complaining about in ’34 everywhere during the textile strike -- these were the same issues brought to us in 1991. It seems like, you know, the unions haven’t been that strong over the last few years, and it seems like a reversal. Going back to the old times where they want to go back to working five million hours a week for as little as you can get paid, and stretching out the jobs and -- with this, uh, Republican administration that we’ve had for the past several years, you know, we -- we seem almost helpless to do anything about it.

17:00

THORNBURGH: History repeating itself.

RODGERS: That’s what it seems like.

WADE: I mean things aren’t as severe now as they was when you was -- in ’34.

THORNBURGH: No, of course they weren’t -- the economy was --

WADE: You know, they’re not as severe but they’re -- they’re still just as bad in a lot of ways. When -- when you’re being stretched out -- and even if it’s ’91 -- I mean, and you’re being stretched out and your wages are going backwards instead of forward, and you -- and your -- you got all the taxes you have to pla-- pay, the insurance, that’s -- that’s -- the -- her -- the -- you know, everybody knows how insurance premiums --

THORNBURGH: Right.

WADE: -- have gone sky --

THORNBURGH: Right.

WADE: -- high. I mean, and you -- it’s -- things are just as bad for -- for the working people now. Uh, and the only right -- the only way they can change that is to get active -- if they have a union, get active in their union -- but to do as they did in the [pride?] of ’34 was for-- form their unions and participate in their unions -- because they -- only recourse they have to change the things and make them better is to go, and that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

THORNBURGH: That’s right.

WADE: That’s what we’re talking about.

THORNBURGH: That’s right.

18:00

WADE: That we -- we can form and unite to make a difference in the workplace.

RODGERS: That’s right. If -- if one person has got a problem and they go to see the boss about it, wha-- what is -- what can that one person on his own do? The supervisor is going to laugh at him and tell him to hit the gate if he doesn’t like it, but what happens if you go to the office and you got 100 people coming in with you behind you? That boss is going to have to listen to you because he’s going to have a problem then.

THORNBURGH: We had the same thing in 1934 -- where the boss, I think ours at that time was the superintendent, he would tell us, “My door is always open.” It was open. You’d go in there by yourself, you’re hitting the gate.

WADE: Right.

THORNBURGH: But you go in there with 100 people? And you have a strong union committee? Then you get a different answer.

WADE: Right. Like in Kannapolis in ’91 -- the -- the biggest thing I hear when I go talk to workers as an organizer -- we’ll be talking to them, explaining what the union means -- that 19:00you’re not alone, that you’re not asking for anything when you go to a supervisor, and you’re not alone -- you have people be-- you have a union behind you, which is the workers. And the worker would say, “Well, you know, I don’t -- I don’t need anyone to talk for me. The supervisor tells me anytime I have a problem, I can come talk to him one on one and we’ll get the problem solved.” But time after time you would talk to someone who would -- who went through that system that the company wanted, and they would go in and talk to the supervisor, and year later they’ve heard nothing from -- back from the supervisor about the problem. And if it was a problem that the supervisor knew needed to be fixed and was a bad problem, he would do like you said -- he would say, “You know where the gate is.” I heard the workers in -- in -- in -- in Kannan-- in Kannapolis in ’91 say that over and over again -- that, “When I go in with a problem, I’m told that if I don’t like it, I know where the gate is.”

RODGERS: Or -- or a nice thing that they said, one of the favorite lines of all the employees was, “We’ll get back with you.”

WADE: Yeah, get back with you.

20:00

RODGERS: And, you know, three, six, nine, twelve months later they still haven’t been -- gotten back to you.

WADE: And that’s the difference between being a worker who has a union and one who doesn’t -- is you don’t have to wait for them to get back to you. You have a system that you go on with, you have your grievance -- your grievances, you go on -- you don’t have to wait on that supervisor who takes his own sweet time -- if ever -- to get back to you. You can force him to get back to you, you know. That -- that’s what’s so great about it.

GEORGE STONEY: OK. I would like to call that –

(break in video)

JAMIE STONEY: Was it at the front -- was it at the front?

GEORGE STONEY: No, it’s -- it’s all right.

JAMIE STONEY: I got that on tape. (laughter)

WADE: Oh! Thank you very much.

JAMIE STONEY: You can buy that back and it’ll cost you one headlight. (laughter)

WADE: OK. We haven’t gone back far enough, right?

GEORGE STONEY: No, that’s -- yeah.

JAMIE STONEY: That’s good enough.

WADE: Just want to leave it on, that’s --

GEORGE STONEY: Yeah.

WADE: OK, all right.

JUDITH HELFAND: (inaudible)

JAMIE STONEY: No, we’re not seeing it.

RODGERS: I think it should clear.

WADE: (inaudible)

RODGERS: Cleared. (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) OK.

WADE: But the -- this stuff is powerful --

RODGERS: Yeah.

21:00

WADE: I mean to see these people coming from -- off the shift and some of them going in, and having to go through the machine gun pit -- I mean, I guess you could call it -- he’s got a little block set up there with a machine gun stand sitting on it, and he’s got it aimed at the -- the workers coming in. I mean like, like they’ve done something -- I mean they haven’t done anything wrong. But they -- it’s powerful stuff. I mean, these people -- I mean they were -- they were brave people. I admire -- I would admire them, I mean, I just can’t express how I admire them -- because the conditions of the depression, and -- and them doing -- and then still making ano-- taking another stand, that was a (right?) stand against all the odds -- I mean -- they’re doing it.

GEORGE STONEY: Connie --

LEPER: Yeah?

GEORGE STONEY: Connie, could you talk about seeing all of these white people -- all -- almost of all them white people involved in that -- and does this have any kind of relevance to you and your -- the people you helped organize?

22:00

LEPER: When I look at, um, the footage in terms of, um, particularly not seeing that many African American faces, and connecting the relevance to me and my organizing -- it -- it’s very useful because, once again, where I work, you have to realize that we’re a multi-cultural grass roots organization.

GEORGE STONEY: Could you hold up that -- I think we’re going to want to move the cam--

JAMIE STONEY: OK. When you’re ready.

LEPER: One of the relevances of, um, footage for -- from the 1934 strike, um, for me and my --

JAMIE STONEY: Plane.

LEPER: As an organizer for the Piedmont Peace Project in Kannapolis, uh, one of the relevanc-- one of the relavences for the 1934, um, strike coverage for me and my work is you have to understand that we’re a grassroots organization -- very progressive -- and we, um, try to organize, um, on a multi-racial and a multi-class level -- and although there aren’t many black faces in the 23:00coverage, for me there are a lot of working people -- and working people’s history is very, very important -- particularly in the area where -- like I said earlier -- prior to 1990, I had no idea that -- that any of this stuff existed, and what it does for me, as an organizer, is gives me a powerful tool to show people -- low income people, working people -- that we did not necessarily take the oppression sitting down -- regardless of race, regardless of class, and regardless of gender -- that this is a powerful tool. And -- and that’s how I see it being helpful, um, for me. Plus, it’s a sense of history and there’s a history that we need to reclaim -- and once you find out that even though there are condition stretch-outs, etc, that we did not necessarily agree with now and didn’t agree with then, that people did not take it sitting down. We’re not cowards, we’re not, um, afraid to speak out, uh, for themselves. 24:00And that’s very important in an area that is still, um, very much has the sentiments of company town mentality -- people are afraid, very fearful to do a lot of things. And what this shows -- it predates, um, you know, everything -- in 1934, it shows that we have a legacy, we have something to draw upon, we have something to be proud of -- and regardless of race, regardless of gender, regardless of class -- we are a proud people and we need to reclaim that heritage.

WADE: That’s right.

GEORGE STONEY: Yeah.

THORNBURGH: Of course, in --

GEORGE STONEY: Ju-- just a moment.

(break in videO0

LEPER: In the struggle for economic justice, I don’t think that a person -- whether you’re a person of color or not -- needs to concentrate on organizing black people or white people. I think that, um, what organizers have to do -- and what we do at Piedmont Peace Project -- is to organize people.

WADE: That’s right.

LEPER: And -- and that’s very important because I think the ’34 strike had a lot to do with economic justice -- and still today, economic justice and the 25:00distribution of wealth and power is very important and critical in terms of our work.

WADE: That’s right.

THORNBURGH: Yeah. Of course, in, uh, 1934 -- in our strike then -- of course we were living in a segregated society.

LEPER: Mm-hmm.

THORNBURGH: But it never crossed our mind that what we were fighting for, at that time, was for all people -- particularly in the mills.

WADE: That’s right.

THORNBURGH: We wanted better conditions in the mill.

WADE: Mm-hmm.

THORNBURGH: We didn’t care what color their skin was -- we weren’t even thinking about that. We were thinking about getting better conditions in the mills. And then, of course, after the civil rights movement -- then you did have black people. And it’s working out fine -- but what we did in 1934 was for all people, it was --

WADE: That’s why it [was there?] yeah --

THORNBURGH: -- it was a struggle for working people.

WADE: Yeah, that’s right. When I go to a house to talk to a worker about my beliefs of the union -- that the union is good -- I don’t go kn-- knocking -- I don’t think when I’m going to this door now, “Is this person going to be 26:00black or white?” You know, and “Should I be talking about an issue that affects just the black person or the white.” I go, I’m talking to this worker about the union -- and what I think I think it means to me. When I’m organizing that’s -- you know, that’s the way I do it. I tell them -- I’m telling them what I feel is right for myself because I believe it -- and it’s -- and what’s right about it is standing together as one --

GEORGE STONEY: Mm-hmm. Totally.

WADE: -- As all workers.

GEORGE STONEY: OK. Uh, could –

(break in video)

THORNBURGH: With the mic. Um, I’m lookin -- looking there --

JAMIE STONEY: No, no -- no mira, no mira! OK.

THORNBURGH: Ready?

JAMIE STONEY: Mm-hmm.

THORNBURGH: When we were on strike in 1934 at the Cherokee Spinning Company, we weren’t thinking about people of color or white people -- we weren’t thinking about that. We were thinking about better -- getting better conditions for all workers -- particularly those who worked in the mill. We didn’t have any black people in the mill then -- but we do have now since the civil rights 27:00movement -- and I think that is good. And it wasn’t our fault that we didn’t have black people in the mill at that time -- it was just -- we were living in a segregated society -- but our fight was for all people.

LEPER: And since it was a segregated society, it is my opinion that if black people were visible -- that when -- when something happen in terms of a line of attack that -- that black people would be the first ones to be hurt, or shot, or whatever --

THORNBURGH: That is right.

LEPER: -- so I think that -- because of the era, because of the time, because of such deep rooted segregation and Jim Crow laws in the south, it would have been foolish to have black people in the forefront --

WADE: Yeah.

LEPER: -- of -- of that movement.

THORNBURGH: Oh, absolutely.

LEPER: Particularly with -- with -- with the -- it being a strong Klan haven -- that particular area of the country.

THORNBURGH: That’s right.

WADE: Today, I mean, when you’re organizing -- you don’t think race at all. I, you know, nobody -- I don’t know any organizer that does or that even 28:00considers race, uh, in the organizing. You just think worker -- you think worker.

RODGERS: Right.

LEPER: Yeah, because the la-- the labor movement doesn’t have a monopoly on race.

WADE: That’s it.

LEPER: Um, I think that, um, the labor movement -- whether you’re a mill worker -- any -- any type of labor, um, has to be for the people, you know, by the people.

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

LEPER: And -- and race should not be the criteria that we judge if we’re going to become involved or not. And that’s why I don’t like to concentrate so much on race -- although there are barriers still because of, um, harassment in the area -- that it’s pretty hard to bridge the barriers between low-income blacks and whites --

GEORGE STONEY: Right.

LEPER: -- and that’s one of the charges of organizers -- whether you’re a union organizer or -- or community organizers, or whatever, is to somehow try to bridge the barriers between, um, um, people, um, regardless of their -- of their race.

WADE: Why -- why did you in -- in 1934 -- what -- why did you get so involved in it right upfront? I mean, what was -- what was you feeling then? I mean, you know, 1934 -- at -- in -- in the depression -- you know, and you -- you jumped 29:00right out front. I mean what -- what -- what strength pushed you to the front? What did you --

THORNBURGH: I don’t think I was particularly, uh, had any particular strengths or was courageous -- I was just plain mad.

WADE: Right.

THORNBURGH: I was mad. That’s standing on my feet 10 hours a night -- I worked on the night shift --

WADE: Right, mm-hmm.

THORNBURGH: Ten hours a night on a winding machine -- for 50 hours a week.

WADE: Right.

THORNBURGH: And getting $8.40 --

WADE: Right.

THORNBURGH: Was -- I was just mad about it.

WADE: That was a week too, yeah.

THORNBURGH: And when -- when the organizer -- I didn’t know anything about unions --

WADE: Right.

THORNBURGH: Didn’t know anything about organized labor at all.

WADE: Right.

THORNBURGH: But when this organizer came to Knoxville and was telling us about it -- I was grasping for something.

WADE: Right.

THORNBURGH: Something -- anyth-- anything would be better --

WADE: Right.

THORNBURGH: Than what we had.

WADE: Right. You knew the system then, I mean, was just totally un-- you saw it every day --

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

WADE: -- in -- in the mill. Yeah.

THORNBURGH: In the middle of the depre--