Arthur Duncan Interview 4

Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library
Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Search this Transcript

JUDITH HELFAND: -- when you were exactly 14?

ARTHUR DUNCAN: Yeah, a short time in the hosiery mill and then a little later on went into the cotton mill.

HELFAND: But that was when you were 14. So if you could tell us, we moved because of the boll weevil.

DUNCAN: Yeah ok. Tell that--

HELFAND: We had to move because of the boll weevil, we moved into town


HELFAND: I was 14 and I was old enough to work and I started to work. Because we didn't how, what age you were when you told us that story.

DUNCAN: Yeah okay, you ready? Okay. Whenever -- whenever the boll weevils -- the reason we went to cotton mill work, in 19-and-23 the boll weevils drove us out of the country and we just -- we had to go out of the country to get somewheres where we could make a living. And we went -- moved in Newnan, Georgia, and I was 14 years old, old enough to go to work in the mill. And I went to work shortly 00:01:00after we moved to Newnan, maybe a month or two. I went to work on the 26th day of December, 19-and-23. And, ah, so I went to work in the mill, in the hosiery mill, and I worked there just a short time. I think I made 50 cents a day at that -- working when I was working for 'em. I'm not sure about that, but when I went to the hospital -- to the cotton mill in 19-- in early 1924, I remember that. And I was 14 years old. Well, I'd have been 15 in July when I went to work early in the year. But I went to work in the mill. As I said, I went to work for the fabulous salary of $5.18 for 60 hours, worked 60 hours. So -- but the boll weevil was the cause of ever being there. But I thought that was a good salary. But I thought that was a good salary. I thought I was going to be able to support the whole family with that $5.18. So, you see, your time changes. Now they think about if a (inaudible)'s going to give a fella $5.18 cents a hour, he 00:02:00still wouldn't want the job. (laughs) And then I worked 60 hours for it. But, anyway, it was a -- we was satisfied. Even in the years that we didn't know -- we didn't have no picture show. We didn't have no screen doors. We didn't have no screen windows, and I remember when we didn't even have a glass window. You shut the windows like you do a door. And -- but we was happy. We didn't know no better. We didn't know nothing else. And, you know, television and radio and telephone, we didn't have nothing like that, no electric lights.

GEORGE STONEY: Talk about your first radio.

DUNCAN: First radio? Well, we bought -- we lived in East Newnan. It'as 19-and-25 whenever we got our first radio. My old-- my brother, he was working and he bought that first radio. And he give something over $100 for it and it was an Atwater Kent. And, ah, it had -- you had a speaker that you could put anywhere -- anywhere you wanted to. And Daddy would have a radio in the other room and have the speaker in the room where we was at. But now we enjoyed that radio 00:03:00because it was just a wonderful thing and, ah, didn't many people have one. So we really had -- we had accounting meetings at our house a lot of times get to listening to the radio, the fights and Jack Dempsey and the different prizefighters and things that'd come over the radio. And, boy, it was wonderful. We thought it was great. We was living up in the sticks then, you know.

STONEY: Tell us about the first time you heard Roosevelt on the radio.

DUNCAN: It'as whenever he was running, but I just -- I --

STONEY: Just start, uh mention Roosevelt.

DUNCAN: Yeah I will. Whenever Roosevelt first was running, I don't remember just exactly, but he would -- he would come on the radio. Didn't many people have radios and, ah, but he was a man that begin to give people hope from the very first words he ever spoke, because he was a -- a man that was crippled all of his life -- well, it wasn't all of his life, but it happened when he was young -- and he knowed hardship and he had sympathy in the heart for poor 00:04:00people. He wanted to help poor people. And, therefore, he won the heart of the poor people right to start with over the radio and everything. And then he had what they called whistle stops. He'd come through the town, wouldn't get off'n the train, just get on the back and stop, and he just won people everywhere he went. Roosevelt was a great speaker and he was a great statesman and he was the right man at the right time.

STONEY: Certainly was. Certainly was. (laughs)

HELFAND: I wonder about those fireside chats. If you were the only house in the neighborhood that had a radio --

DUNCAN: Well --

HELFAND: Did people come to hear the fireside chats?

DUNCAN: Yeah, some. And they'd -- whenever he'd have the fireside chats, sometimes it would come out in the paper that he was going to have one, you know, ahead of time. And then you could go hear it. And he talked more just like he was talking to his family than anybody -- that's a fireside chat. He was just talking to his family and telling 'em what hardships was and everything, you know. And he had them even after he was elected President, you know, for years and years. You know, if he wanted something to go over, he'd have a fireside 00:05:00chat and get the people on his side. And that was the purpose of the fireside chat, to get people to agree with him and realize what he was standing for and what he was wanting to be done.

STONEY: Do you remember when he closed the banks?

DUNCAN: Yeah, I remember when he closed the banks. He wrote about in 1932, you know, when he was elected, it was during the Depression Years. It was terrible years we had. Everybody just -- well, everybody was done retired then. Nobody had to work. So they always had to (inaudible) who would take and just see that everybody else did, too, you know. That's what they said, you know. Of course, it was laid on him and I don't believe now it was, but, anyway, he would have -- he'd have them fireside chats to tell people about them things, you know. And people would -- would respond to him. So you had -- I mean they was ready for a change. People was ready for a change. Anybody could have been elected other than what was in there. They was ready for a change and, you know, we get that-away sometime. We get ready for a change, sometime we make a mistake by 00:06:00doing it, but we get ready for it sometimes and we want the change to be made. And he was a man that could turn the water -- turn the tide.

STONEY: Did you ever write to him?

DUNCAN: Not personally, no. I never did write to him. I spoke to him and talked to him personally, but I never did -- never did write to him.

STONEY: Talk about it. How did it happen?

DUNCAN: Well, he nev-- what he would do, he --

STONEY: And mention Roosevelt.

DUNCAN: Roosevelt. When Roosevelt was going to go through town they would always put ahead that he was going to go through there. And he would go through and if he didn't -- and people'd be -- I mean they'd gang up like they did on a mystic day to see Roosevelt come through town. And he would stop sometimes and spare a few words to people, but he didn't have time to really greet people like, you know, he would have loved to and like we'd have loved, too. But he was -- everybody just loved him. And you would go for miles to see Roosevelt even come through town, you know. He was -- I -- I thought it was a great thing whenever I seen him and talked to him and told him I was sponsoring him and pulling for him 00:07:00and everything like 'at. Like I said, you couldn't have much personal talk with him.

STONEY: Did you ever hear Gorman speak?

DUNCAN: No, sir, I never did hear Gor-- Gorman speak. I heard of him, but I never did hear him speak.

STONEY: Because he used the radio, too.

DUNCAN: Yeah, Gorman used the radio. But there still was very few radios back in them days, you know.

HELFAND: Did you hear Roosevelt talk about the NRA on the radio?

DUNCAN: Oh, yeah.

HELFAND: (inaudible) Could you talk about that?

DUNCAN: Yeah, he convinced people that that NRA, that was a -- you know, it was what we was going -- in other words, we was going to go into a new program. It was sort of like going from the Old Testament to the New Testament. We had a different way w's living under. And he was beginning to explain what that New Deal was for and how it would be. And it was great. It was a great inspiration to the people. And, as I said, he first started out, you know, with the CC Camps, (inaudible) the CC Camp. And, you know, a lot of families was supported by them boys that CC Camp. And be started a -- the - his relief program, we 00:08:00called it, you know, where you'd have jobs. He said, "Folks don't want to -- they want to work. They don't want to -- you know, just to have charity handed to 'em." So we had different projects we worked on. Now one time I worked on -- in the cemetery in Newnan. I worked on the PWA. I worked in the cemetery in Newnan and I'd work so many hours each week, you know, and get 30 cents a hour, I believe it was we get for it. But in a way it was a lifesaver. And that Clark Street in Newnan, I helped pave that street, a-pushing cement with a wheelbarrow in Clark Street in Newnan in the PWA under Roosevelt. So it was a great thing that he did and that was part of the beginning to bring the NRA into focus to get people to have confidence and to believe in what he did and do what he told 'em to do. And he generally talked people into doing what he wanted done.


HELFAND: Now that same feeling of inspiration and hope, is that what the textile workers felt when they said, "Yes, I'm going to join the union"? And could you talk about that?

DUNCAN: Him a-giving us hope?

HELFAND: Yeah, and how did that hope affect people to join the union?

DUNCAN: Well, ah, I -- as far as joining the union's concerned, I don't know how that helped people on -- on -- unless they got the impression that he was strictly for a union and, therefore, they wanted to do what Roosevelt said. Anything that Roosevelt said was what they wanted to do. So they got the impression that he was for the union. Now he never did come out and say he was for the union, but he was in favor of people getting equal rights and equal treatment and the right treatment and everything, which the union did represent. So it sounded like that that was what he was advocating, although he did not say, "I want you to join the union." But he did say at one time, "You ought to have the right to organize if you want to." He did say that.


STONEY: You've got it right and a lot of people were misled.

DUNCAN: Misled.

STONEY: You're quite right. He's got it absolutely right. Yeah.

HELFAND: Now I met a young woman who was a union organizer a couple of months ago. I was in Cincinnati actually with George. George was selling some of his old movies to people. And she said to me, "Judy, you know, people don't just wake up one morning and say, 'Okay, I'm going to join up'."


HELFAND: Something has to happen there. She said, "What happened?" I said, "I don't know what happened." She said, "Well, you go down South, find out what was going on there to make people get the guts to join." So if you could help us get inside of that a little bit, it'd be great.

DUNCAN: Well, if -- the reason -- I think the reason why they done things like people joining the union is just like I said to start with. They was, first, wanting to better themself. They had been at the bottom of the barrel so long that they was grabbing at straws. They wanted to get out of anything. And that give 'em some hope and some far-sighted idea that they could get things better. 00:11:00And that's the main thing that convinced people that they ought to organize, because they understood that one man controlling the mills, that could fire-hire and everything, they needed a bunch of people to get together where one man couldn't have the control. And I think that was the idea of them wanting to join the union. It was talked over and discussed and (inaudible). You know, in other words, a person would come up to you and say, "Well, you know, the boss done so-and-so to me." "Yeah? If you belonged to the= union they couldn't do that. They couldn't do you that-away if you belonged to the union." And, therefore, they just won it over by saying things like that, you know. "They couldn't a-fired you that-away if you belonged to the union" or "They couldn't have done that to you."

STONEY: Now were there black people in the union?

DUNCAN: No, sir, never did know of no black people being in it, because at that particular time black people did not work in the mills. We didn't have any black people in the mills because the South was -- they was prejudiced at that time. Now I wasn't -- I never was. We was raised on the farm and we was raised with 00:12:00colored people. I played with colored children and everything else all my life. My daddy and them always told us not to, ah, ah, discriminate against because they were a different color. But they did tell us not to mix with 'em, you know, racially and things like that. But we was not taught to discriminate against a colored person, but at that time if they'd have put a colored person in the mill to work, everybody else would have walked out. So they was not in the union at that time -- not in the South.

STONEY: Very useful. Yeah. Good.

HELFAND: I wonder about self-esteem.

DUNCAN: About what?

HELFAND: How people felt about themselves. If you worked under somebody that had so much control over you, how did that make people feel emotionally?

DUNCAN: Well, it made you feel like --

HELFAND: Could you start aboutdescribe how someone worked over you

DUNCAN: Well, if somebody was over you and they had so much authority over you, you felt like you was more of a slave than you was a free worker. You felt like 00:13:00that, "Well, when I'm here, I'm under his control." And you was. You was under their control and you had to do what they told you to do or do what they told you not to do, not to do it. And, ah, you -- you could go or come whenever you wanted to. Now when you went home, they still can have control over you, but you felt like, "Well, if I do anything here," like I said, if you do anything that was illegal, like drinking or something like that, it would cause you later to get fired. So, you see, you felt like that you was sort of a slave like in a way, sense of speaking. You was a slave to what you was working under, you know, and that, therefore you wanted -- anybody that's a slave wants freedom.

STONEY: Now did you ever -- when you were working at the machine, what did you dream about doing?

DUNCAN: Well, the biggest thing -- when I was working on machinery, most of the time that I trained about and studied about while I was on the machinery was a shorter way to do what I was doing, so I could get it done quicker and have more 00:14:00leisure time. And I would spend -- try to figure out a different, shorter, or better way to do whatever I was doing. Even when I got the job of working on the machinery, they'd show me the way it wasn't done and I went straight to studying a way to get through it quicker. And a general way, you could find it, a way to get through it quicker. And even when I was learning that, I'd tell 'em, "So-and-so can do that quicker than you can." And the fella said, "Well, you got the right idea. You need to do it the quickest way you know how." And that's what -- that was my main thought in working on machinery or any other part I was working on, was how to get it done quicker with less effort.

STONEY: Now could you -- you've been in church all your life.


STONEY: Could you talk about the churches and the unions and the bosses and what it was like?

DUNCAN: Well, I don't think that, ah, the union ever really got in churches. I think that -- I don't think that ever really -- I think the union stayed out of churches. I never did hear of nobody getting any kind of confusion in the church, but now, as I said, I worked with one time when I worked at East Newnan, 00:15:00we had a superintendent by the name of -- I can't even think of his name now, but, anyway, the superintendent, he felt that -- I mean he almost told you how to -- where to go to church at. But we didn't all listen at him. We went where we wanted to go when we's out of the mill because they wouldn't fire us for it. But as far as the union ting affecting the church, I can't say that it ever affected a church any.

STONEY: What about the employer?

DUNCAN: Well, the employers? I don't know. I don't reckon it ever affected them either. I wouldn't say that it ever affected them any other than just they was on one side and you was on the other.

STONEY: They contributed though?

DUNCAN: Oh, yeah, they contributed by doing what they was told to do, just like anybody else, you know.




HELFAND: Umm. Did you know that the strike -- did everyone in the village know 00:16:00that the strike was national and was happening all over the country?

DUNCAN: Yeah, whenever they had -- whenever the general strike come, the one you're talking about, everybody know the strike was in general, that it was everywhere. But each plant waited till the squad come through and shut 'em down before they closed each plant. That squad went through and closed each plant down. And then they'd leave it after they closed it down, you know, but they'd leave pickets on the line and close it down. But everybody knowed in general it was a general strike called -- the whole textile industry, you know, was called on strike.

STONEY: Did you ever see any -- did you ever go to the movies?

DUNCAN: Yeah, I went to the movies a lot. Yeah, I went. I used to be a real movie fan back whenever I was a child, because we didn't have nothing else. Of course, I remember back whenever there was nothing but black, white, no talking or anything else. You had to read what she said, you know, but, anyhow, I enjoyed going to the movie. I went to the movies ever chance I got and ever --

STONEY: Did you ever see any movies of the strike?


DUNCAN: No, not other than some -- the strike personally other than what we saw on slides like y'all showed us where the troops come and carried people in. About the only thing I ever seen of the strike in the union -- about the union.

STONEY: There was no newsreel in the show?

DUNCAN: They didn't have -- you know, we didn't have televisions and things and we didn't -- you didn't see newsreels much in them days. They just -- in other words, you got it by hearing the radio or word of mouth. You didn't get anything by newsreel because there was no television or nothing to give 'em on, you know, so.

STONEY: I think we should go to the documents.


[break in video]

STONEY: Okay you want to read it out loud.

DUNCAN: Oh, I want to read it out loud? I better get my glasses.

[break in video]

STONEY: So I get in.

CREW: Speed.

STONEY: Okay, Arthur, when -- when the strike was over, do you think the union did anything for you?


DUNCAN: I really don't believe they did. I really don't believe they did anything for us. I think it was just a wasted -- I think the union actually just wiped us off after the strike was over because they couldn't organize and they said they'd go somewheres where they could get more sympathy and more organization.

STONEY: Well now, I'm going to show you some documents that we found in the National Archives. Here's one of them that's dated October the 2nd, 1934, filed by, ah, S.A. Hoolahan, Director of the Textile Strikers Headquarters, 91 Trinity Avenue in Atlanta. And it says, "I wish to make a complaint of union discrimination and violation of Section 7(a) of the National Industrial Recovery Act against the Newnan Cotton Mills, Number 2, Newnan, Georgia." And it says 00:19:00down here, "The following are names of some of the workers that have been refused employment and are victims of union discrimination." And, Arthur, down here is your name among several others that are listed here. You see that? And you'll find you name listed. Just turn it over and you'll see. You see your name listed?


STONEY: Maybe you want to get your glasses so you can see it.

DUNCAN: Yeah. In this -- in this particular place I see they have got my name listed as a card -- in the card room of the complaint about what -- the discrimination about -- the union did for the workers -- it didn't do for the 00:20:00workers after the strike was over. In this complaint, I still -- we got this complaint in there. Like I said, it never was any -- it never was anything done on it. And, ah, this is the one I was speaking of earlier about my daddy being in that trial. And they had him -- you know, he was one of 'em that was put up in the trial and they fired him because he didn't wear a mustache and they fired Mr. Arthur (inaudible) because he wore a mustache. And they made it stick. Judge Freeman had enough of power and enough of authority that he could make them kind of things stick.

STONEY: So even though the union did protest --

DUNCAN: Protest, yeah.

STONEY: -- it didn't do any good.

DUNCAN: It didn't do any good. In other words, the power of Judge Freeman overruled anything that the union tried to do.

STONEY: Now here is another document I have from the Newnan Cotton Mills sent in 00:21:00to the government, dated November the 13th, 1934, and it says, "On Friday, August the 31st, 1934, the following statement was circulated among all our employees." And it says, "To our employees..." You might want to read that. Do you remember getting such a document?

DUNCAN: In this particular time, November the 13th, 1934, this document that we -- I have in my presence here now, I don't remember seeing that document. I don't remember us having anything about it. I'm sure that probably some of the head officials of the union did, but as far as me personally, I didn't see this document or didn't read it.

STONEY: Did you get any warning from the employers before that strike that you shouldn't strike?

DUNCAN: Well, we did. On July the 4th before the strike was -- was -- come off, they gave a barbecue and they -- in other words, they didn't come right out and 00:22:00say, "You cannot join the union," the officials didn't that was speaking, but they give us warning that they would not be buckled under to the union organization. So we did have a warning from July the 4th of 1934 before the strike. They -- they did give the employees a warning that they was not going to recognize it.

STONEY: Here's something else that you might like to see speaking about evictions. You want to read that?

DUNCAN: Now this -- ah, this document here was written by Gus Crawford. I know him very well and this -- well, I reckon he sent this document in to 'em, but it says, "The mill desired to have a possession of the premises now occupied by you at 9 Field Street, and you are hereby notified to vacate one on or before Saturday, March the 23rd." Now this was Gus Crawford. I remember him and I 00:23:00remember him a-getting this document. I remember him getting this particular document, but me, personally, they didn't give me a document. They did tell me they would like for me to vacate the house, but I never was contrary to 'em and they, ah -- they never did -- never did press me too hard. They give me time to get a place to get out. So they was fair with me on that particular issue.

STONEY: Why do you think they did that to Crawford and not to you?

DUNCAN: Well, I think it's because he was front man up -- he taken -- Crawford taken so much front leadership and interest in it and worked so hard against, you know, people, the company and everything, till I think that they more or less used Gus Crawford as an example more than they used him as a -- as a personal man, used him as an example. And this one they got, (inaudible) in East Newnan. I don't re -- I knowed some Spraddlin's in East Newnan at that time, but 00:24:00I don't remember whether it was R.O. or not. Says, "The mill desires to have the possession of the premises occupied by you on 17 Freeman Street." And I know where that was at. But they notified and give him the same document, "to vacate by March the 23rd, 1935." But now I did vacate my house in -- in about April-March -- about the middle of April, 1935. I give 'em my house about the middle of April, 1935. Now this is J.M. Agner. I knowed them. Said, "The mill desires to have this premises at 23 Hill Street and you are hereby notified" -- all these got the same document to vacate by the 23rd of March. And I didn't get one of these, but I do know several people that did get 'em and I knowed these people 'at's in these documents, was personal acquainted with 'em. And that's where they -- they got it out that the union was so much against -- discriminating so much against the people that taken -- that these, that they 00:25:00got this particular document, was the ones was front leaders in the -- you know, in other words, they was leader of the bunch, you know, and that's the reason why they give them this specific document. The others, they just asked 'em to vacate at the earliest possible time.

STONEY: Okay. That's very good, excellent

HELFAND: Okay. Now could you describe to me again when the national strike was called, what happened in East Newnan?

DUNCAN: What happened in East Newnan? In East Newnan, what happened, when the national strike was called in East Newnan was they -- the flying squad come through and closed the mill down, but they didn't stay when they closed the mill down. So they just went on and everybody around East Newnan went home except a few that joined the flying squad -- flying squad and went on to the other mill to shut 'em down. Everybody else just went on back home, you know, and let -- 00:26:00routine -- let it run as it wanted to. So, in other words, it went back to sort of a normal situation. They didn't-- didn't do anything other than that, just -- other than just go -- didn't try to do any violence or didn't do anything to the mill property or anything like 'at.

HELFAND: Did they leave pickets in East Newnan?

DUNCAN: Yeah, they left pickets at the gate. Yeah, you had pickets on at each gate in the -- of ever one of the mills. In other words, they had about three gates, I believe it was, they had pickets at each gate. So 4-5-6 people walked up and forwards. And they had what they called "picket sticks", you know, they toted on their shoulders and that's -- that's just -- in other words, just walking backwards and forwards, you know, and telling -- if anybody tried to go in the gate or anything, come up to go in the gate, had a key, they'd just bunch up in front of the gate and wouldn't let 'em through.

HELFAND: How long did that last?

DUNCAN: Well, that didn't last -- I don't think that lasted but just a very short time, maybe a couple of weeks, something like that. I'm not sure about 00:27:00that. Now I just wouldn't probably say how long it lasted, but it wasn't too long because they got a injunction. The mill come and got an injunction, you know, and they went right on back to operating. And they give each employee at that particular mill, if you come in by a certain date, you still had your jobs, the ones, you know, that wasn't a leader in it. But if they didn't get in there by that date, then they didn't have a job. But they's -- they's some of 'em that they wouldn't even let come in for the -- even, you know, to give them a date on it, like the ones they give them documents to.

HELFAND: Now what was happening to you during this period of time? Where were you and what were you doing?

DUNCAN: Well, I had a -- my oldest daughter was only about a year or about two years old then, and she was very sick. And I was at home most of the time with her, carrying her to the doctor and one thing and another. So that's one of the reasons why I wasn't -- didn't know too much about what'as going on, because I 00:28:00was combined at home with a sick child.

HELFAND: How did they know well talk about this -- you were in the union and your brother was in the union?


HELFAND: Could you talk about how your joining the union, what that did to your family life at home and, ah, how that affected your family?

DUNCAN: Well, it affected 'em in a certain way of causing unrest more than any -- joining the union, unrest more than anything else because, ah, you didn't know what was going to happen and you and your family both was wondering whether you done the right thing or whether you should have participated in it or whether you should have taken the bigger hand or just what you should have done. So more or less just causing unrest in the family among, you know, immediate family members. And it -- and I don't know -- not in my particular family, it didn't cause anything like strife or violence, but it did cause -- we did have some opposition and unrest more than anything else.