Eula McGill Interview 3

Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library
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 GEORGE STONEY: (inaudible) OK now you just try to get up your energy. And you’re talking about seeing Roosevelt, he rolled out.

EULA MCGILL: I was shocked. Surprised ain’t the word because I never dreamed he was crippled. I never read anything about that. That was pretty well kept shrouded at that time. I understand later. He was never seen, uh, shown standing up. And anyway, I was shocked when he rolled out in his wheelchair. But I never saw anybody that is light -- he just beamed. And it was so sincere. And, uh, first the thing he asked is, “Girls, have you had supper?” And then we said yeah and somebody asked him had he had his scrambled eggs. That was pretty well known that Sunday night his supper was scrambled eggs. So he 1:00sit and chatted with us a good while and just talked about different things, you know, so we went on up to the rooms here. And I never shall forget, I had just a regular room. Miss Molly and another lady had the Lincoln room. And I went in there and I wanted to see and I would’ve stood up and jumped up and down on that bed, in that big bed, Lincoln bed. Now when I see people on television talking about visiting the White House, going to Lincoln’s room, they didn’t have near as good a time as I did that week I spent there because I explored that thing. And I said, “Miss Molly,” I said, “Let me get on that bed.” Huge bed you see. And I just got up there and I jumped up and down and fell on it like we did when we was kids playing on the bed. And it was just wonderful. 2:00But nobody that never has experienced a thing like that -- I know later on they published a book. Someone sent me -- John [Connor?] I think sent us a book -- or that was somebody. I wish I could get a copy of it because they hate Roosevelt and said that just to think that Eleanor Roosevelt lowered the dignity of the White House by having common textile workers spend a week in the White House. And I don’t know if we were the first people, common everyday workers, to ever get to stay in the White House or not. But since then, it seems to have been quite a fad for a lot of them. They want to play politics with it. But at that time, those Roosevelts were sincere. Nobody can make me believe that the Roosevelts weren’t sincere in trying to make this a better country to live in.

GEORGE STONEY: Did you ever meet Mrs. Roosevelt?

MCGILL: Yes, she came in next --

3:00

GEORGE STONEY: Just tell --

MCGILL: Oh hell.

GEORGE STONEY: Mrs. Roosevelt.

MCGILL: Mrs. Roosevelt came in during the night and had breakfast with us the next morning. In fact, every morning we ate breakfast with her in the White House. We went down and had breakfast and sat around and chatted with her. And she horseback rode very morning. And she’d come in with her riding clothes on and, uh, have, uh, breakfast with us. I forget -- I remember one morning we just talked about -- you feel free to talk to her. It just -- and one morning she said, “Well look girls,” she said, “I think we ought to have breakfast one morning in the state dining room. Wouldn’t you like that?” We said, “Yeah.” Well you know the state dining room is in a horseshoe shape. And we sat down at the table and Mrs. Roosevelt said, “I don’t know why this table is made this way except they don’t want nobody sitting with their back 4:00to anybody else.” Of course Eleanor Roosevelt, her uncle Theodore -- she had been in the White House when he was in as president and she was no stranger to the White House. But she was talking one morning. We could discuss just about anything with her. We felt -- you felt really free to talk. And we was talking about legislation. And she said, “The only time that I get to talk with Franklin is when he’s swimming. I run up and down the pool and talk to him while he’s swimming. That’s about the only time I get any time with him.” And every night the usher would tell us, “Now the president is going to have a movie tonight. If you girls are free, you’re welcome to come.” He showed a movie every night. He loved movies. And we went a couple of nights. And I forget -- one of them had Ingrid Bergman in it. I can’t remember the movies that we saw. But he was alive -- he was just so -- you could hear him laugh when something funny come on the screen. I remember one night the news reel came on and showed his mother and I didn’t know it then but later and the 5:00people who knew him knew how he’s supposed to be dominated -- oh there’s momma, you know. But it was just -- I wish everybody could go and stay in the White House one time. They would never -- never be the same again.

JUDITH HELFAND: Eula, since you knew them, maybe you could talk to us a little bit about -- you know, the textile workers wrote thousands of letters to Mrs. Roosevelt and the president during 1933 and ’34 commenting on the fact that the codes were being violated, talking about the strike, the outcome of the strike. Why did they -- you know, can you talk about why they went to Roosevelt?

MCGILL: Well the reason why I think, uh -- I worked through --

GEORGE STONEY: The reason why I think people --

MCGILL: The reason why I think people wrote the president and Miss Roosevelt because of the confidence they had in them. And they felt that telling them in some way or another, they could get something done about it. And -- and -- and 6:00they knew nothing about channels. Now, being a political mind like I am, I worked through my congressman and senator. Hugo Black was our senator. And, uh, we had a good congressman. And I helped defeat the one that was in and elected, uh, a radio sports announcer from here who was a very good -- Luther Patrick. I helped elected him to Congress. And I felt that I guess I was a little more knowledgeable about how to play politics because some of them was in rural areas where they wouldn’t have been listened to if they had to -- maybe they didn’t vote. You understand? And, uh, if you don’t vote, you don’t count. Nine times out of ten, and it might not be as true today, but back then 7:00definitely they knew who voted and you weren’t -- and none of the rural areas, the people didn’t pay much attention to average workers. And they felt like -- they felt a closeness to the Roosevelts.

GEORGE STONEY: Good, that’s beautiful.

MCGILL: They felt a closeness to them.

GEORGE STONEY: OK, you told us the other day that there were no scabs in your mill. Could you -- am I quoting you right? Could you say that and explain why?

MCGILL: The place that I worked, the Selma Manufacturing Company, we did not have anybody to try to go in -- it might’ve been because we were shut down and then we went into the strike situation. Maybe the company didn’t offer an opportunity. But one time while we was on strike, we got word that there was going to be an attempt of outsiders to come to go to work down there. The word 8:00spread on the picket line so we increased our picket line. And I understand that with two of our people who had helped us to organize had turned and was trying to get the plant open. And one young man whose father was one of the ones and he came up and he says, “I can’t hit my father. But you all get him and I’ll get somebody else.” And he had tears in his eyes. Well a truckload of people showed up. They were standing up in a big open truck like you hauled cattle in. But when they saw our massive picket line, they didn’t dare come in. So they didn’t try to -- try to go to work or to come in. I don’t know what kind of reception the company would’ve given -- really I don’t think it was company stuff -- I think it’s part on the people who was 9:00trying to get the plant open and felt they’d lost. And these were people who helped us start the union. And there was some petitions of course passed to try to get the plant open during the strike but it didn’t happen.

GEORGE STONEY: OK. Now this is taking --

HELFAND: Well Eula it seems like your picket line and this strike that -- your mill’s unique strike was on much longer than most of the people that we’ve spoken with. You know, they just were out for three weeks. And I wonder if you could talk about going out and then maintaining the momentum.

MCGILL: Well, you see we were locked out. We were closed down. And it’s quite different than going out on a strike. So the company closed us down in defiance of the union. And as I said earlier, I think that they might have had it in their mind when they closed down we’d scatter to hinder and they could 10:00reopen with probably new hands and would be no worse off because it was a constant rollover in there anyway. They would’ve been no worse off. Analyzing it now, it might have been they thought that they -- but as a result of it was that the general textile strike came about. And that didn’t materialize. So we had really a different situation. It wasn’t people who came out on strike. It was people who knew each other and they put them out.

GEORGE STONEY: OK, now --

MCGILL: So we had nobody in there -- you come out on strike, you have some people who maybe don’t want to come out who will stay in. But we didn’t have that situation. We had the plant shut down. There was no work there. The company wasn’t trying to operate.

GEORGE STONEY: Now one thing that we haven’t asked you but we’ve asked almost everybody else and I’d like to get your version of this, you worked in the factory and a factory -- a mill before the NRA and then you worked into 11:00after the NRA. Can you compare the two things? You weren’t working in when the NRA came in were you? So just describe the difference. People have said we didn’t know what to do with our time. Other people said we first saw daylight. I mean, all this kind of thing. Just personally describe the difference between working before the NRA and after the NRA code.

MCGILL: It was common everybody worked 10 -- 12 hours a day. It was historical. I think it was back even in the ‘30s that the government workers got the eight hour day. Uh, 12 hours a day was just the way people worked. It was common. And so you worked and you went home. You had no recreation time, no 12:00other time. If you made money, you couldn’t have spent it because you weren’t able. I remember I worked 12 hours a night. All day Saturday I laid around the house. I didn’t have no energy. I might -- if I happened to have a quarter to go to the movie, I’d walk over the hill to the local neighborhood theater to a movie, uh, because you didn’t have the money for spending for recreation. We made our own recreation and our own -- we’d have community dances and we played music. But when the first shift that I worked eight hours day and I went into work at two in the afternoon. I had been going in at six at night and working until six in the morning. And I went in two in the afternoon and I got off at ten. I come out and I said, “Man this is a breeze.” It didn’t seem like I’d worked at all. To have four hours a day cut off of your time. Do you know what I did with my extra time? Ruth, this friend of 13:00mine worked the first shift. She worked six to two. And she would meet me with a couple of guys at ten o’clock and we’d go night clubbing until one or two o’clock in the morning. That’s where I spent my extra time. I had never done that before in my whole life, been able to have any fun. Ruth would have -- meet me at the plant gate at ten o’clock. And of course she had it rough getting up and going to work at six in the morning because she had to ride the street car that hour and a half too. But just about every night we went night clubbing until about midnight or 12 o’clock. Because I had it fine. I could sleep until the next afternoon. But I had a good time. That was the best days of my life. I mean we had fun, had no money, but we had fun. We’d buy hamburgers for two for 15 cents and beer at ten cents a bottle. And we’d get a sack of hamburgers and a bottle of beer and a guitar and go out and turn the 14:00car lights on in the park and sit there and sing and play the guitar and eat our hamburgers and drink our beer. And back then, by the way, most of the guys didn’t make money. We, us girls, put up our 15 cents too. It was a community affair. Or we’d go to a nightclub. You’d play the jukebox. We had a lot of live music. We had a place out here at Rose Hill, right out here, near here, Rose Hill Nightclub, had live music. You didn’t pay to go in. You pitched the musicians a donation. They played for whatever they could collect. And it was a nice place right out here near here on Rose Hill. In fact, it didn’t close down until I guess back in the early ‘60s when they built that highway through there and closed it down. It was a nice club out there.

GEORGE STONEY: Now that was so different from what people tell us in Newnan for example, at East Newnan, where they lived in the cotton mill village. And if 15:00you drank, if you did anything like that, they’d make you leave the --

MCGILL: That’s right. The company and company villages are almost universal. The only one I know anything about was the Dwight and that was as a child. Of course when I left there, you know, I was about just really getting grown. But I can remember how the company, they’d come around and inspect your house and you had to be clean or move up on over the hill. And you had to conduct yourself in the way they wanted you to. My dad always said he’d never live in a company house or trade at the commissary because he wanted to be able to spend his money where he wanted to. But most of the people -- I knew people in the cotton mill and Dwight mill. When I worked there. About a year that I worked there, I knew being in that plant that never drew a penny there, they had owed the company store because they’d always borrow money on their paycheck or 16:00they’d check it out, we call it [googaloo?], someone called it [clacker?] and then sell it to get money, they’d sell it ten cents on the dollar. They’d get, you know, 90 cents for a dollar’s worth of clacker. And then people could go to the company store and spend it. I know people that never drew any money in their paycheck, was always in debt to the company because they lived in the company house and traded at the company store. And things were very high in the company store, very high. I trade the drug store. The company owned the drug store. And I knew people that never drew any money unless they went and draw some clacker and traded for the money out on the street.

GEORGE STONEY: How did the mothers, young mothers, nurse their babies if they were working in the mill?

MCGILL: During the time that I was doing to school at Dwight Mill and passing the mill to go to work, the children at home, the bigger children would take 17:00care of the little children. And they was very lax about school. They weren’t as make sure they go to school like they should. Those children would bring the nursing babies up to the mill and the company would let the mothers go out and sit out on the lawn and nurse the children in the morning and in the afternoon at certain times. And I noticed that in passing the mill going to school. But a lot of these children couldn’t go to school, they had to stay and take care of their younger brothers and sisters at home.

GEORGE STONEY: Now we’ve heard a lot about the fact that when the NRA came in and there was the eight hour day and so forth, there was something called the stretch out came in. Do you recall that?

MCGILL: How well. I -- during the time that I was working -- I worked in the mill there that summer. And I went back in around 1927, something like that. 18:00This mill, the Dwight Mill, that was working at then, it was -- the land was donated. That was a privately owned mill. And the land was donated by the Agricola family in Gadsden. And the stipulation as I understand it in that -- when they let them have the land, that they had to operate 30 years without being shut down 30 days or the land would revert back to the original owner. I happen to be working there at the time that the 30 years was up. They shove out and retooled. And that’s when the bee-do system came in or known as the stretch out. I remember some of the weavers said they have given us so many looms, we have to use roller skates to service them. But I was working -- it 19:00was during the boom years they call it. And I was making 18 dollars a week. Although I was working 12 hours a day. I was doing pretty good. Eighteen dollars a week at that time was pretty good money, doing fine. Well I was off that 30 days and came back to work and they completely retooled the place and put in different yarn and different styles of frames and I asked the, uh, second hand, my immediate supervisor, I said, “How much am I going to be earning?” And when he told me seven dollars a week, I walked out. I had been cut from eighteen dollars a week to seven dollars a week. And I left and quit not knowing -- but the boss sent word through my aunt to tell me to come back. He knew I needed the work and to come and see him before I went to the mill. And I 20:00went to his house and he was just getting up because he had slept that day, he worked nights. And he told me, he said, “Uh, come in tonight. You’ll have to stop at the office and talk to the old man,” he said, “And don’t say nothing.” He knew how hot tempered I was. And he said, “Don’t say nothing, listen.” And he said, “Uh, you’re going to get to come back to work, but you’re going to have to listen to a good lecture.” And he said, “Just sit -- if you will, just sit and take it.” That’s what he said, just sit and take it. And from the mill -- from the office, it’s about a block to where I went down to go up to the steps up to the spinning room and man tears was rolling down my cheeks having to stand in there and take that tongue lashing that I took for walking out. But I stayed about a year that time and left there for good. I guess it was a better place than I went to work, but 21:00unfortunately my folks had moved to Birmingham and me too.

GEORGE STONEY: OK, now I want to skip to her. Just sit back for a moment and rest.

(break in video)

MCGILL: -- that the city council went on record against fast track. They also passed the resolution against fast track.

M1: What’s that, the dogs?

MCGILL: No, that Mexico, called fast track.

GEORGE STONEY: Uh, just think now, we’ve talked about ’36 and you got fired. And you’ve told us that it was probably the best thing to ever happen to you. You can just start by saying, “Well when I got fired it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me because this is the way my life has run since then.” OK?

MCGILL: When I came back from Washington and the old man -- we called the owner the old man. He came up and he says, “I didn’t know we had a union here.” I says, “We don’t.” And he says, “What’s this thing you’ve been to in Washington?” And I began to tell him. Well his daughter was sitting over there and she wanted to know why I was in the White House and so and so. But 22:00anyway, I was fired. Well with that said, it’s probably the best thing ever done because I had to do something in the end. I was afraid to quit my job. I had responsibilities. So about a year I had it tough. I had good friends, a lot of good friends. And I stayed around and was able to make it. But one morning I got a telephone call. And it was pouring down the rain. And William Mitch with the United Mine Workers. He was district president, the [district 20?] United Mine Workers call me and said, “[Eulavey?], they’re going to start a big drive to try to organize -- they’re going to start a big drive to try to organize the textile workers.” And he says, “How about coming down here. Let’s talk about it.” So I didn’t have car fare and I walked down there, it’s a good bit. I walked from Twelfth Avenue North down Twenty Sixth 23:00Street to First Avenue North -- First Avenue North is 12 -- 13 blocks. Sheesh, I can make that in nothing flat. And it wasn’t no walk. But anyway, it was raining. I went in. And he said, “Why don’t you apply?” He again told me that he was going to put on a staff and he said, “Why don’t you apply for a job?” And I said, “Well I don’t know if I can do it or not.” And he said, “What in the hell do you think you’ve been doing?” Because I’ve been a volunteer organizer and chairman of the union labor committee or the Birmingham trade and labor council. So he had his secretary write a letter. And [Franz Daniel?] was heading up the drive in the Atlanta and he had me come over. First time I had ever been in Atlanta in my life and I went over to Atlanta, went on the staff as a TWOC, Textile Workers Organized Committee, headed up by [Sydney Hillman?] of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers. And my 24:00first attempt, I went to the Avondale Mills. Of course I got nowhere. And then I went to Memphis which was a hotbed then. The union was really fighting. They had Crump who was a political boss in Memphis, Tennessee at that time. The automobile workers had tried to organize Ford and road workers that were trying to organize Firestone. And we didn’t have much of interest in there. We had to work in there out from Jackson, the mill in Jackson in Dyersburg but we stayed in Memphis. They had a little cap factory there in Memphis. International Lady Garment Workers had had a company and there’s a dress factory. But that didn’t seem to bother us as bad as they were after the auto workers and the -- and the, uh, rubber organizers. But I stayed up there a while and Homer [Welch?] was up there too. And then we came back to Alabama. 25:00We never did get much of organizing around here. Actually, I don’t think looking back now there was much planning done. It was more of you’re on the staff, get out and see what you can do. And I worked about a year and then they reduced the staff and Homer and I got laid off. Again, I was without a job. And I went back to the same old 76, doing the same thing, volunteer organizer, meeting every morning downtown at ten o’clock. Me and [Bernie Meat?], we’d pick us out a place to go try to organize. We organized a group of 100 people that had done alteration in these department stores where you buy suit, you do alterations, German tailors. Some of them were German tailors. Some of them were just alteration workers. And we got 100 of them together one time, but I couldn’t do anything. All I could do was get them together but nobody 26:00followed up on it and it fell apart. I always felt like it would be a good thing because it would help us promote the union labor better by having these alteration workers, uh, in these department stores doing the alteration. But me and Bernie would try to organize anything. And in fact, we was able to get the, uh, people ready for -- in the Merida bakery, in a tip top bakery near bakery Ross -- Betsy Ross Bakery. Bernie had worked in the bakeries. And we’d go down there and we’d just walk in and talk to people in there. They just thought we was in there visiting them. And that’s how we organized. We just do that during the day and just walk in the plant and talk to the workers in the plant. And to have lunch, we’d go out and sit out in the outside and have lunch with them. And the company never thought -- didn’t know we was talking union. So we get enough of them together well we turn them over to the representative for the bakery work. And, uh, then one night I was -- had been 27:00to a meeting of the International Typographical Union had their national convention here in Birmingham in 1939. And I went home about midnight, just got in bed, and the phone rang. And it was [Miles Hartman?]. And Miles said, “What are you doing Eula?” I said, “Well I just got home.” I said, “I just left the hotel and got home and got in bed.” He said, “Well get up and come back down here.” He says, “Somebody here wants to talk to you.” So [Clyde?] Mills who had been hired by Hillman as he was started to organize in the clothing industry in the south. And he had hired Clyde Mills of the Typographical Union as Southern director. And Clyde was in here and looking for me and Miles knew me. So Miles called me and I went down and met Clyde Mills and went on staff with the Amalgamated. Now I knew about the Amalgamated 28:00before because this old German tailor here, Mr. [Bueler?] who owned a tailor shop over [Joy Young’s?] restaurant. I used to spend a lot of time in there talking to him when I was trying to organize the German tailors. He was a member. And they had just recently merged with the Amalgamated. And he was telling me about him and he’s the one who told me all about Hillman, the Amalgamated, what a great union was, and what it’s done in the clothing industry. And, um, I was so happy to -- and I worked for him for 44 years as a staff. I don’t say working for him. I represented the workers. That’s the way I like to say. I didn’t work for the union. I was representing the workers, doing the things I had been doing without pay and getting paid for it. And I like to tell something, the Arrow work, my first assignment, I found it to be quite different --

M1: Can I get a --