Charles (Zoltan) Grey Interview

Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library
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JAMIE STONEY: (Beeping) (inaudible) Ready? Rolling. (hammering sound)



JAMIE STONEY: (Hammering noise) Oops. Hammer, hammer, hammer. (Hammering stops)

GEORGE STONEY: Just say who you are, and then --

GRAY: My name is, uh, Charles N. Gray. Im a 30-year employee of Cannon Mill. And Im also a minister, pastoring, uh, a church in Huntersville, uh, Chapel Hill Baptist Church. And Im also, uh, very involved in trying to get the union in Cannon Mill for the last 17 years, and, uh, we failed every time, but wanted to say that the ministers of this area have always, uh, sort of been involved and theyre concerned about trying to get a union, uh, in Cannon Mill whereby wed be able to help the people that do work there.

GEORGE STONEY: Why is there so much belief in labor -- so many labor circles 00:01:00that the churches have been (inaudible)? Thats what I was wondering about.

GRAY: Well, one of the reasons because this is, uh, uh, one of the things that management has -- has taught people and theyd had been able to --

GEORGE STONEY: Sorry, could you start that out and just repeat my question in your answer?

GRAY: All right. The reason that, uh -- because people in management have told people that the -- the churches were against the unions, which was not true, and the reason they done that is because this wou-- uh, help the people to really not get the union in if the churches -- if they felt the churches was against it.

GEORGE STONEY: Eh-- Did they have evidence of that?

GRAY: Well, sort of. They had ministers to really make statements about, uh, the union would not help. Uh, personally, they put statements in the paper and theyve been on television about it, and uh, theyve seen those kind of -- and it confused the people. They didnt know what to do.


GEORGE STONEY: How have you been able to counteract that? Youve been doing some pretty strong organization.

GRAY: Well, there -- the way that we counteracted it, we have, uh, had meetings at churches with members, people that worked in the mill, and weve told them point blank that the ministers were not against the union. This was a decision that had to be up to them. The ministers were not trying to tell them that they didnt need a union. If they wanted one they had to write to vote it in or vote it out.

GEORGE STONEY: Now, pardon the question, but I was reading in the local paper, The Independent, and they kind of suggested that, uh, the membership was brow beating their ministers.

GRAY: Well, it couldve been. This was just -- when you work for Cannon Mill, I have been at 30 years, and, uh, they own -- they have control over the independent papers, so they can sort of tell them what they want them to say. 00:03:00And this has been one of their tactics in order to scare people from voting for the union.

GEORGE STONEY: Now, finally, could you tell me about the 23rd Psalm?

GRAY: Uh, the one that the person that wrote it --


GRAY: -- Im not -- I just -- only thing -- I -- I dont know who wrote it, uh, uh, but being a preacher myself, uh, I wouldnt have changed it. I think we can -- cause I dont believe in changing the word of God, now. But, uh, what they said about Mr. Fitzgibbon might be true. Hes only been with us for about eight months, uh, but what people have got to realize and do today in order for us to ever, uh, better ourselves, we got to do it ourselves. We cant depend on the company to do it, and, uh, weve had three chances and weve all let them slip away.

GEORGE STONEY: Now, finally, could you talk about yourself as a worker and also a minister? How does that kind of work -- people generally want to put you in 00:04:00(coughing) two different pack-- uh, pockets, and obviously you are kind of, if youll pardon the word, a worker priest.

GRAY: Well, uh, one thing that Ive tried to do by working at Cannon Mill, Ive, uh, tried to be an example to people, uh, no-- black only -- the white and black people, and to -- to try to live a life that people could say, Jesus is in my life. And Ive always tried to tell people to, Youve got your own mind, you know what you need to do, and you oughtta do it. And, uh, and things have worked out real good. Ive always been blessed to -- to get off for my church or anything that I needed to do for the church. I never had a problem out of that. And I think thats the reason -- the Lord has blessed me to be able to do that, uh, because Ive always stood for what I believed was right.

GEORGE STONEY: And do you feel that, uh, the blacks have -- I know theyve had a significant part in this whole new union drive. Do you think theres any reason for that, or how do you feel about that?


GRAY: Well, I -- I think so. Uh, I wouldnt say that -- I -- it-- it was balanced out a lot this year, uh, with blacks and whites standing up, uh, speaking out, and just telling it just like it is and, uh, that made a big difference. It wasnt just more whites and more blacks, it was, uh, pretty well balanced out on both sides.

GEORGE STONEY: And youve --

GRAY: And this is --

GEORGE STONEY: -- been there for 30 years. Could you just tell us how you came in, and then what happened -- the different jobs youve had?

GRAY: Well, in 1961 I started working on the yard. That was basically all the jobs that black people could get at that time. And then in 1967 I went on the inside as a, uh, receiving clerk. And from there a hyster driver. And now Im a receiving clerk and a hyster driver and, uh, almost had made 30 years there working in the plant. In 1961, uh, I started and uh, the year of 1991, December 7, will be my thirtieth year.

GEORGE STONEY: Could you talk about changed relationships between the races in 00:06:00the mills if youve seen it?

GRAY: There is a very good relationship between blacks and whites in the mill at this time. And, uh, one of the -- this is one of the tactics that -- that Cannon Mill tried to use. They tried to make this thing a race issue, which it wasnt because blacks and whites are basically working on the same type job, making the same type money, and when they cut blacks they cut whites. And so, thats not it. Uh, the racial relation with whites and blacks is very good in Cannon Mill at this time.

GEORGE STONEY: Well, now thats contrary to what a lot of Southern -- and I was born here --

GRAY: Oh yeah.

GEORGE STONEY: -- Southern people thought about, uh, what they called lintheads would never accept blacks in the mill. Obviously they have.

GRAY: Oh yeah.

GEORGE STONEY: Uh, you have anything to say about that?

GRAY: Well, its -- its been a good change. Basically, a lot of the blacks and white people have been brought up and raised up together in this community and they know one another. And they work good together. I mean, I dont care whether its black and white, youre going to have some folks not going to be able to work nobody. But there is a very good relationship between blacks and 00:07:00whites in Cannon Mill at this time.


JUDITH HELFAND: Yeah. Um, could -- could you talk about what the -- you know, why people are organizing right now? I mean, how youve seen -- what the treatment is like? And why -- why people n-- have finally sort of got it together to say, OK, Im ready?

GRAY: For -- you says union?


GRAY: OK. The reason that they wanted a union, simply because of the way theyve been treated. And many people in the mill whos -- had lost their jobs, had been cut, there -- there have been a loss. Some women were making anywhere from $75 to $80 a day. They been cut, uh, to $15 to $20 a day where they on a $55 pay scale. Uh, theres no fairness in the way they promote people. They do it on what -- what I call a buddy-buddy system -- people that they want on that particular job. Somebody that they can use. And, uh, and this 00:08:00is -- this is one of the reason that they wanted a union so theyd have somebody to represent them. And this time we had nobody to represent us, you see. You take your problems to management, they tell you they -- they would get back to you and the never do. So we needed somebody to help us, so this is why people were more willing to organize and try to get a union. More so now than they did in 74 and 85.

HELFAND: You know, weve um -- were doing a project about history. And one of the things that were looking at is early unio-- unionizing efforts. And so the strike. And weve been told again and again that the company has been using history like those movies and the captive audiences, and histories of strikes to frighten people. Could you -- can you talk about those -- those movies and the captive audiences and how theyve been using history as an int-- to intimidate people?

GRAY: Yes, they use their -- one of the latest films they showed us was about the strike in --


HELFAND: Could you start again and look right at me?



GRAY: The --

HELFAND: Pretend youre on the pulpit (laughs).

GRAY: One of the films that they showed us, uh, a few days ago was about the strike that happened in, uh, Virginia. The coal miners. And they showed, uh, you know, all of the negative things about it in order to scare and intimidate people. And, uh, this is one of the tactics they use in order to -- to put fear into peoples minds. They -- if you get a union, all its going to be about is strikes and dues. And -- and, uh, this was a very derogatory film that they showed because, uh, by us not ever having a union, uh, we really dont know what the outcome will be until we get one.

HELFAND: Were you in that movie?

GRAY: No, I wasnt in the movie. I just --

HELFAND: I mean, do -- were you in the audience?

GRAY: I was there at -- this is one of the things that the company showed the employees, uh, a few days before the election.


GEORGE STONEY: How did you get in there? I gather they

GRAY: They, uh, told us at 7:00 that we had to go to a meeting, uh, another one of the union meetings, you know, and, uh, this is one of the thing they stop off the jobs for about an hour so that we might go see these movies, uh, to educate us on the fact about how bad the unions are. And they do this throughout the plants until the day of election.

GEORGE STONEY: Now I understand that -- that some of the unions support system didnt get a chance to see those cause they wouldnt let em in cause they asked questions.

GRAY: Many people were bought because of them standing up and not believing all the derogatory things that they were trying to instill into the minds of people, so therefore they just -- they bought em because -- see, some folks had enough nerve to stand up and say, Wait. We wont -- we dont believe this, we dont want to hear it, and they didnt go. And so by them doing that -- so they bought em or they wouldnt come.



HELFAND: I have one more question. (inaudible) The other day -- last night, we were talking to some people from Plant Four and they were saying that theres, uh, a bunch of churches that did go ahead, that were against the union, and they got a new bus, or they got a new organ. You know, they got these gifts. And they were just feeling very, uh -- they were really saddened by that. What -- (car noise)

GRAY: Weve --

HELFAND: Wait for this car to go by.

JAMIE STONEY: We have that truck over there, too. (tires screeching) Wait for the door to slam, too.

HELFAND: OK. Well wait for the door to slam. But you look great.

GRAY: (laughs)

GEORGE STONEY: Yes, nice soft light.

HELFAND: Beautiful.

GEORGE STONEY: Well show you in just a moment. (car noise)


JAMIE STONEY: OK. Door slam. OK, clear.

GRAY: OK. One of the things that weve heard is that the church there, uh, in town did receive a lot of money for one of the pipe organs that they received -- I mean, that they bought. Also, this is a white Congregational church. And also a black church where Reverend P.C. Holland pastors, we were told that Fieldcrest Cannon gave him and the amount of some $45,000. So these things are -- are pretty well accurate. And, uh, this is one of the reasons that he was so in, uh, not in favor of having a union, because, as again as I say it, we understand that we was on their payroll and so, you know, when youre on the payroll youre going to kind of stand up and defend where youre getting your money from.

HELFAND: What about that union that -- they call em the union buster, um, is it Donalds brother-in-law?

GRAY: Joe Mingle.


GRAY: Well, see, he works with an organization thats called, uh, the BNS 00:13:00Asso-- uh, BNS Associates. Its -- its a black organization out of High Point. Fieldcrest Cannon hired them to go into communities to get reports from people and bring it back. And, uh, what their job was to get a report, take it back to Fieldcrest Cannon, and theyve would as sor-- or, you know, re-evaluated, uh, list-- listen to it, and see what it -- take it back say, OK, this is what the people need. But they didnt do that. They changed their job. They -- they tried to tell people that we didnt need a union, because the union -- all the union was about was dues and strikes. And, uh, he was one of the ri-- the ringleaders of this thing trying to -- to -- to persuade people not to vote for the union. Thats Joe Mingle.

HELFAND: As a domestic? And --

GRAY: Well, in 1964 was when the first black lady -- early -- in the early years I understand they used to work there, but they started hiring them again in 00:14:001964. Black women couldnt work in the mill. So, thered been a lot of changes, uh, as far as blacks getting position jobs now than when I first started in 1961 and you could not get. The only thing you could get in Cannon Mill was working on the yard, cleaning spittoons and bathrooms, those, uh, very low-paying jobs. That was the only job that you could get. But now, uh, they will allow, well, you know, uh -- there was a law that was passed by the Supreme Court where it said you had to put so many blacks in jobs. And once they filled that quota, they dont do that anymore. So if a person gets a job in Cannon Mill now, uh, its because, uh, hes one of those type persons that is willing to do anything the company say. Lie, manipulate people to do anything that the company wants them to do, betray them, and those type things. And so 00:15:00its very difficult for a person that is really l-- saved to try to get a job, and lie and do what Cannon Mill would have you to do. They wanted me to take, uh, uh, uh, a supervision job. I told them I didnt want it there because I could not lie to people and mistreat people in order to make money. I just couldnt do it cause it just wasnt part of me.


HELFAND: Thank you.

GEORGE STONEY: (inaudible) Jamie, before you take the mics out

JAMIE STONEY: (inaudible)

M1: Dogs, ducks, chickens, and everything else in the world. (car noise) (coughing)

GRAY: Mm-hmm. What part of Georg-- Georgia are you from? (car noise) Did I see a Georgia sign on one of yalls cars? (car noise)

JAMIE STONEY: We need 30 seconds.

HELFAND: Thirty seconds. (dogs barking)



JAMIE STONEY: False alarm.


(break in audio)



JAMIE STONEY: By the vehicle. (whispering) Thats a nice shot. Nice, nice. (dogs barking). Judy, 30 seconds? No, I just -- right there.