Highland Reunion Interview 2

Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library
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JUDITH HELFAND: In making this film, we’ve been having a tough time trying to figure out how to think about --

F2: Just about to talk about, you was saying that eight dollars wasn’t enough. You had to five dollars a room and you didn’t have any money to save.

FOOTS WEAVER: It was five bucks there for -- five bucks there for boarding. Well, you had --

F2: You wanted more out of life. Even as a textile worker, you were hoping you were going to be able to get more by this strike. You thought this was a way out?

WEAVER: That’s what it come down to, more money, a better living, a better conditions, working conditions. I was after all of that. I knew it was out there if we’d fight for it. But nothing is worth it if you don’t fight for it. I don’t care what it is, if you don’t put up a fight there, it’s not worth going after.

GEORGE STONEY: Lucille, could you tell us about your notebook?

THORNBURGH: OK. This is a scrapbook that I kept of the strike at Cherokee 1:00because I wanted to remember all the things that were happening there. And I was afraid that I would forget some of them and too I just wanted to save them, I guess nostalgia. I particularly like this one here. There is a leaflet that came from our national headquarters. It says the strike is on united textile workers of America. Now remember this was a nationwide strike. This same leaflet was being put out everywhere. And we carried these all over town like my friend Foots here said, he distributed 500 of them. We put them indoors in stores and wherever we could, whether the people were striking or not, we wanted them to know that we were striking. And our strike, we must’ve had publicity pretty much over the country because this is a picture of me from the Philadelphia Inquirer as far away as that. I don’t know what we were doing. And you could tell by looking at this picture if you could see it clearly from there, this is 2:00a picture o f the old Cherokee Spinning Company. And I was there just the other day. They call this the Cherokee Plaza. It’s nothing like what it was as the Cherokee Spinning Company. This was a notice that came from our national union too to all textile workers. Again, it’s nationwide. There must be solidarity. "There must be discipline, every man in his place and a task for every man to do, special strike committee, United Textile Workers of America." You know, there’s not a United Textile workers now. They have merged with Amalgamated Clothing workers. So they’re not there. And here is the clipping where the union votes to work out -- walk out today, Cherokee Mills people vote. Oh this was a bad situation. I want to tell you about this. Mister Hal Mebane who was the president of the Cherokee Company, the major stockholder and the general 3:00manager died right while our strike was going on. You must remember that we lived in the Bible Belt, you remember that Foots. And when he died, some of our members were saying, “Oh my goodness, we -- we -- we -- we have caused this. We have brought this on.” And we had to do some consoling there. And I shall never forget Franz Daniels who was an organizer at that time for the amalgamated clothing workers came to town and I told him, “What am I going to tell the people? The old man’s dead. I can’t say he’s not dead.” And I tried to tell them that we didn’t kill him, but what am I going to tell them. He said, “I’ll handle it. I’ll handle it.” So he was quite an orator and he told them during his speech, “Now don’t let Mr. Mebane’s death bother you one bit. His conscience killed him, you had nothing to do with it.” Well that seemed to satisfy them, at least for the time being. But that was something we 4:00had to go through with there. Then it’s when we got locked out. They got an injunction against us and we were locked out. You know that’s a strange feeling to go down to the gate there at the place that you’ve been working and there stands your foreman, in our case Andrew Waley was standing the re shaking his head. No, I was not one that could go in. You weren’t either. This is where they got the injunction against us. And that injunction was -- that was really bad. Uh, when we couldn’t congregate on a picket line on account of this injunction, there was no real gathering place. The people lived all over town and an awful lot of them out in the country. And so it was hard to get them together for a meeting. They would come as long as we were on the picket line, but -- well somebody else is going to the meeting and whatever you all decide is all right. A lot of times they didn’t have a ride from the country in. And we 5:00didn’t have that six cent street car token to be riding all over town to go to a meeting. So that was a very bad thing, that we couldn’t get the people together because they had no real meeting place there. So we carried on as best we could there, but being blacklisted was -- I don’t know, that was kind of a sad thing because you’d think that the people -- you’re never really completely off the blacklist. I’ll be a blacklisted textile worker as long as I live. And well it was particularly bad for me at the time because I had no training, I had no skills, and I didn’t know where I was going to work. So if I hadn’t got a job at TVA as a file clerk, I don’t know what I would’ve 6:00done because it was -- these other places around here, people told me, “Well you could get a job somewhere else.” Well where somewhere else? Standard Mill is not going to hire me. Jefferson Woolen Mill is not going to hire me. Hosiery Mill is not going to hire me. Who’s going to hire me? And I had no particular skills at that time.

GEORGE STONEY: Good. OK.

WEAVER: What’s the question?

F1: What do you want George?

GEORGE STONEY: Ask them about.

F2: Bring back some memories to you?

WEAVER: This is a woman that hangs down there that we had. That was a hard pattern there. That was rotten, rotten salvage on that color there, that dark brown was rotten salvage there. But this is one of the things that we wove down there in the weave room and they would -- many different patterns then. We wasn't the only mill in Knoxville that made them then, there were other mills 7:00that copied them. This was very fine combed cotton, it was. That was a hard pattern there to weave.

F2: Does that bring back memories to you Homer?

HOMER COLEMAN: Maybe 100 of them.

F1: Is that right?

COLEMAN: I was telling them I got him. I’ve got a whole bundle like this, string wrapped.

THORNBURGH: Cherokee before the strike -- of course I don’t know what they did after the strike. But before the strike, they made some beautiful cloth.

M1: They made cloth for some of the most leading shirt people there was in the country, the United States. They made [inaudible] Peabody was the backbone, they would sell them --

THORNBURGH: Arrow Shirts was one of their big customers. And they did, they made beautiful shirt materials.

GEORGE STONEY: Now it’s interesting to me and I’m going to cut in here just a moment that when I showed you this, you said -- and that you said, “They 8:00make.” Did you ever feel that we are making this stuff?

THORNBURGH: I guess the reason I said they is because they started making that -- I wasn’t in the weave shop. That’s what I was saying. Because you must remember now, don’t you all forget that the weavers were the elite of the mill people.

WEAVER: We would lead all people.

THORNBURGH: Absolutely.

WEAVER: Because I’ll say, that’s a person that never started a strike down there. Lucille, I don’t know what if she remembered, cause the spinning room didn’t come out but we closed them down, three or four days stopped up everything. They didn’t have nothing to go along, but we had the weave room there out.

THORNBURGH: That was a wildcat.

WEAVER: And when I told Bob Williams that morning there at ten o’clock everything would be closed down, pass it on. And we did.

9:00

GEORGE STONEY: Lucille -- Lucille as a -- you’ve had a lot of experience since then and you might say explain that to the audience. You’ve had a lot of experience since then in union organization. You keep calling this a wildcat strike. Actually it was a needed thing that came from the people and you contrasted that with this national strike that came from the national office as though that were a legitimate thing. Could you talk about the wildcat strikes as being --

THORNBURGH: All right, the wildcat strike is a very common word in the labor movement. And what makes it a wildcat strike is it has not been sanctioned by the international union. And we didn’t have any union.

WEAVER: Well I did that on my own that morning. The more I thought about seven to eight dollars a week, the madder I got. I was sweating plumb to my shoes by 10:00the time I walked up them steps there to get in the mill. I went by and I throwed my hand up. I went to the main office there and told them my hand up at Gerald [inaudible], James Earl went to school together, and Gerald's dead now. He's club footed, he's crippled boy. And Wade, he was in there. What was his first name Lucille, Wade?

COLEMAN: Albert Wade.

THORNBURGH: Albert -- Albert Wade.

WEAVER: Yeah, he was treasurer or something of -- anyway, I went to there and to the card room. I wanted to get the whole thing, the picture book, all of that. I just felt that I was doing something up there that was going to help somebody. And it did. It helped me. It helped me out in the cotton mill.

GEORGE STONEY: OK. Let’s hold it just a moment.

WEAVER: I went back in there and reorganized and then stayed with it, probably 11:00we’d have been -- some of the people would’ve been a lot better off, let’s put it that way, had we went back and went in there and made a good fight of it. I guess we quit too quick. A lockout didn’t mean nothing. You keep going to get locked out of every place or whether not, you still go. There’s somebody out there ready to help you. If you build your confidence in them, that’s what it takes. Build confidence and say, “I can do this. I can do that.” If you have to work over there as a union, get out there and organize, tell the people that it can be done. It can be done.

THORNBURGH: Can you get up there by yourself?

WEAVER: Yeah, I can get up by myself. But I hate to get up by myself (laughter).

F2: I’ve enjoyed talking to you so much. Thanks for what you did.

WEAVER: Well, you people have a better time than anybody else in the world.

F2: Thanks for what you did. You make me want to go back and work.

THORNBURGH: We called it

12:00

COLEMAN: Flying squad, you remember?

THORNBURGH: Yea.

COLEMAN: There's about five of them.

GEORGE STONEY: Lucille? Could you show him that picture again and could you describe what you were just saying then?

GEORGE STONEY: Wait. Hold it, hold it, hold it. Sorry. I'm sorry we can't do it. We have to get these people out first.

COLEMAN: Well he worked for Bud Wilson for a long time.

THORNBURGH: Yeah, he told me he did.

COLEMAN: I remember when he worked for him.

THORNBURGH: Bud was a good friend of mine, you know he built Hillcrest Nursing Home and I’ve been on that board out there ever since he started that. Yeah, Bud was a good friend of mine. I hated when he died.

COLEMAN: Yeah, I did too. And Ted Cheatham, Ted Cheatham--I went to Daytona. Bud had had a heart attack. I just could hardly --

THORNBURGH: Yeah, I know it. I hated that. He was really a good man. And you know he did a lot of things around Knoxville that he’s never been given credit for, building up that, uh, uh -- what was it called out there, that John Sevier 13:00highway. Oh out there at Thorn Grove, around through there.

GEORGE STONEY: Could you show him that picture now?

THORNBURGH: What am I going to say? What do you want him to do?

GEORGE: Show the picture that you have --

JAMIE STONEY: Actually Homer you said you thought you saw your old car in there.

COLEMAN: Oh yeah, I thought -- it was in the front I believe Lucille.

THORNBURGH: Let’s see. Is it in the front?

COLEMAN: I believe it is.

THORNBURGH: We was looking at it there.

COLEMAN: I thought it was.

THORNBURGH: Well we’ll find it. No, that’s not it. Where did it -- there it is. There is is.

COLEMAN: Yeah, but who’s car -- who’s car is that? Do you remember?

THORNBURGH: I don’t remember whose car that is.

COLEMAN: Could that be Carl Mathis? He had a --

THORNBURGH: Is that a Ford?

COLEMAN: Yeah, I had a Ford, but that looks like a Hudson.

THORNBURGH: A Hudson?

COLEMAN: Mm-hmm.

THORNBURGH: With that wheel on the front there?

COLEMAN: Yeah.

THORNBURGH: Oh. Well what about this one over here? None of our people wouldn’t have had a Hudson would they?

COLEMAN: Yeah, Carl Mathis would’ve had.

THORNBURGH: Would he?

COLEMAN: Yeah. He did have. He had one.

THORNBURGH: And what about this one up here.

14:00

COLEMAN: That’s an A Model there. This looks like my car right there, the ’32 Ford.

JAMIE STONEY: Do you remember what you paid for it?

COLEMAN: About $650, the best I remember. I don’t remember.

THORNBURGH: And that was brand new.

COLEMAN: Yeah, and it was one of the first V8s that come out, the ’32 was. And it was a touring car at that. All those old days are gone though.

THORNBURGH: Did it run good?

COLEMAN: Yeah. Yeah, I drove it to -- do you remember a man by the name of South that was on the picket line?

THORNBURGH: Oh sure, Tom South, yeah.

COLEMAN: He’d want me to take him and his family to Texas.

THORNBURGH: And you took them in that car?

COLEMAN: We had a two wheel trailer. We hooked that thing on the back of the car. Here we went to Texas. It was back when the drought was -- had such a drought. And you could see cows laying out in the pasture field just bone. We went across the Red River and it’s dry, charged me two dollars and a half to 15:00go across the Red River and there wasn’t even water in it. And we went on to Hobbs -- El Paso City, Texas. He had some people live there. And there’s a textile mill. And that thing had a concrete top and you talk about a hot place. We walked in there. And they was going to give us a job. And I said, “I can’t work here.” So we went on over to Hobbs, New Mexico. They wanted to give us five dollars an hour --

GEORGE STONEY: Read that and he’ll just be watching you and listening to you.

THORNBURGH: You want me to read this long one?

GEORGE STONEY: Yeah, that’s right because we want him to look up.

COLEMAN: Just take off.

THORNBURGH: OK. This is a notice that’s in my scrapbook. “To all textile workers, official notice, the hour for final action is at hand. We have exhausted every method of getting relief from intolerable conditions. No more 16:00boards and no more juggling around. No more tricks and no more waiting while government board give us the run around. We’ve been patient while our people have been starved and exploited. We have suffered the stretch out until we can endure no more. Employment is at the lowest level since the code was approved. Employers have discharged workers because they have joined our union. We have tried to negotiate but employers will not negotiate.”

GEORGE STONEY: OK, hold it. Now just keep on him and back that off a little bit. Could you talk with him now, please. Talk to Homer so he’ll be looking at you. Don’t respond, just --

F2: You just want the picture not the words? OK. Homer, I’ve enjoyed this very much. This has been real interesting. I think I actually -- I understand what you’re saying about young people, what you were starting to say about young people just don’t know how to stick together now that -- that’s one of the 17:00things that worries you. It doesn’t seem the same. I don’t know what you all had, but you had something different back then. Maybe it’s too easy now for people.

GEORGE STONEY: OK, that’s very good. Now, I’m going to sit where Foots is -- was and, uh, Lucille I want you to be listening to me and to Homer so that we can get close shots of you just turning back forth. OK?

THORNBURGH: OK.

GEORGE STONEY: OK.

THORNBURGH: I’ll look at you.

GEORGE STONEY: You see the reason for this is then we can cut out different sections but cutting to your face. And of course, we’ll always do that when we can.

THORNBURGH: I’m sure you will. I’m sure you will. You want me just to look at you?

GEORGE STONEY: Well look at me and turn and look at Homer. So I’ll be explaining all about this kind of thing. You can just nod and say yes.

THORNBURGH: Am I supposed to say anything?

GEORGE STONEY: You’re not supposed to say anything.

18:00

THORNBURGH: I said something. I’m not going to say it anymore.

GEORGE STONEY: This is mighty quiet isn’t it.

JAMIE STONEY: Yeah.

GEORGE STONEY: Yeah? What do you think?

F2: Yeah, Lucille and I go a long way back. We have been docking around here at Highlander for quite a while together.

GEORGE STONEY: Well that’s right. You’ve known this place for a long time haven’t you?

F2: Yeah, I used to work here and Lucille was one of my main idols and promoters. I was always glad to see Lucille when I would come out here to meeting because she’d get me by the arm and say, “You hang in there girl, you union mate.”

GEORGE STONEY: Well she told me one -- my favorite story is about Highlander when we were filming We Shall Overcome out here, she was telling us about some people that had interracial meetings out here, which at that time, pretty dangerous. And some fellow had been up here to one of those things. When he got 19:00back home, people were saying, “What are you doing up there where these colored and white folks sleep in the same beds?” He said, “What in their beds?”

THORNBURGH: Homer doesn’t know our beds up here, they’re awful.

JAMIE STONEY STONEY: Lucille, what was your reaction to having your picture in the Philadelphia Inquirer and the description they gave of you?

THORNBURGH: Oh I just wondered -- my first thought was, “Where did they get it?” Why would they get a picture of me way up in Philadelphia, you know? And I was surprised. And frankly I was a little pleased because I thought it was advertising our strike.

JAMIE STONEY: One more time, we weren’t ready.

GEORGET STONEY: No.

JAMIE STONEY: Well I thought we were just doing cutaways, unless you want to boom for an hour and a half.

GEORGE STONEY: No, no, no, no, let’s try it again. OK?

JAMIE STONEY: OK.

GEORGE STONEY: I’m afraid you’re going to have that same question again because the sound wasn’t prepared. I didn’t signal to my sound man.

20:00

JAMIE STONEY: When your picture was in the Knoxville paper and the Philadelphia Inquirer -- how did the description read?

F2: It’s usually the lovely Lucille Thornburgh who looks like a debutante.

THORNBURGH: Well I was surprised for one thing as to how my picture could get all the way up to Philadelphia. But then I was proud of it too because I felt that it advertised our strike. So I liked it. That’s why it’s in my scrapbook. Got my picture in a Philadelphia paper. That was something then.

GEORGE STONEY: Now I’m curious about this business of -- the whole feminine thing. So many of the people in the textile union were women and yet for the most part, there were men officials and men leading and so forth. Maybe we ought to save that for our close up, when we talk to you individually. Let’s hold that. Let’s hold that.

GEORGE STONEY: OK.

21:00

THORNBURGH: Her picture doesn’t do her justice.

GEORGE STONEY: And then you’re looking at Lucille.

F2: You’re kind Lucille.

GEORGE STONEY: And you’re looking at Homer.

JAMIE STONEY: Just going to leave a little room for the lower territory but today is her birthday.

F2: You want me to look at these people actually right?

GEORGE STONEY: Yes, that’s right.

F2: OK. I get a kick out of Homer when he talks -- you don’t want me to talk?

GEORGE STONEY: That’s right.

GEORGE STONEY: Could you put your -- rest your chin on your left hand like you were doing. And then switch sides because we have you doing that at least once. Switch the other --

JAMIE STONEY: Switch hands.

GEORGE STONEY: That’s it.

JAMIE STONEY: Yeah, there you go.

GEORGE STONEY: That’s it.

JAMIE STONEY: Not like that.

F3: My daughter does that one. When I saw "no elbows on the table."

JAMIE STONEY: Look over towards my father. There we go.

GEORGE STONEY: OK, that’s nice. OK, now to Lucille.

22:00

THORNBURGH: Come on, look at me.

GEORGE STONEY: Put your hand down and look at Lucille more.

F3: I am looking at you.

GEORGE STONEY: And then over to Homer. OK. Over to Judy. OK, all right up to Lucille. Look up more. That’s it. Great.

JAMIE STONEY: It’s called cheating your eyeline.

THORNBURGH: Is that what it’s called?

JAMIE STONEY: See what we do after we have the reporter ask all the questions afterwards.

GEORGE STONEY: OK, that’s fine.

JAMIE STONEY: Now stick your feet up and you can be Foots.

HELFAND: Sure, and also in terms of you as someone who was an educator. I think, yeah, if you could bring that into it.

23:00

F3: Well I worked for the labor union in cotton mill towns all across the south. We worked very hard to try to organize a union. And I used to get very, very discouraged. But when I hear you two talk about what you did, I’m just really struck by what we were based on. Everything that we did was based on you.

JAMIE STONEY: No, you’ve got to talk like you were talking to Foots here a while ago. You were loud and you had a sparkle in your eye.

F3: Yeah, it was real.

GEORGE STONEY: Thank you very much.

F3: It’s true.

JAMIE STONEY: And your audio level was twice as loud as you were just talking.

GEORGE STONEY: Good, right.

F3: I could probably do it if I stood up and talked to Lucille. Everything that the labor movement is based on what you and Lucille and Foots did. If it hadn’t been for people who had that kind of courage, there wouldn’t be a labor movement. And you may have lost the strike, but to me you won. You won because you had the courage to stand up and do what you did. We wouldn’t have 24:00a labor movement today. We wouldn’t have a union. We wouldn’t even have the option of a union. And so many textile workers wouldn’t have the working conditions that they have now if it hadn’t been for you guys. And the fact that y’all were able to pull everybody out on strike is just amazing to me. It’s an inspiration for me that I’ll never forget.

GEORGE STONEY: Jamie, I wonder if we -- with Lucille and Homer listening. OK, I want you to start very strong with what you were saying about your appreciation for these people.

F3: Yeah. I mean just think about a minute -- because I can get into it when I really think about it because I’m --

JAMIE STONEY: Was Mr. Plain bad or good.

JAMIE STONEY: It was OK.

GEORGE STONEY: I think we’re OK on that. OK. What else would you like to say?

F3: Oh no, nothing.

THORNBURGH: What did she say?

GEORGE STONEY: She was saying how much she appreciated what you did in that time.

25:00

THORNBURGH: OK. Who should I look at?

GEORGE STONEY: Her.

THORNBURGH: Hold it just a minute. Let me get it started here. I think that you are right. What we did there -- we did sow the seeds for a stronger labor movement. But we -- I don’t think we realized at the time. See our wages were so low and conditions so bad that I don’t think we were thinking in long term then of building a labor movement. We were thinking about doing everything that we possibly could to better our own conditions there. But I’m glad -- I’m glad that we did that if it has been any help at all to the labor movement. And I feel that, uh, with us having all of those people come out on strike as we did, that should be an inspiration to other people that if we could do in 1934, 26:00they could certainly do it in 1991 with all the different conditions that they have and so many agencies and such a much stronger labor movement than we had. I hope it’s an inspiration to them because we certainly fought for it at the time.

GEORGE STONEY: Good.

JAMIE STONEY: Dumb question, could I get her to do that read again. I shifted light so she looks much more better.

GEORGE STONEY: Which one?

JAMIE STONEY: Make her statement about textile workers again.

F3: Me?

JAMIE STONEY: Yes. I just made you look a little much more better. So I’m always relighting.

F3: Do I look like a debutante?

THORNBURGH: Yes you do.

HELFAND: Your eyes are shining --

F4: Flashing eyes.

GEORGE STONEY: But give us a little more volume.

F3: OK. It’s hard. Some of the newspapers wrote about that strike. They said it was a disaster strike for the union. And that makes me mad in a way, for us 27:00to think about it in that way because what you did and all the other people like you in that time that had the courage to walk out on the mill owners and against the community and face National Guardsmen, bayonets, starvation, blacklist -- if you hadn’t done that and if all the other people of the 1930s hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t have a labor movement. I just wonder sometimes if we’ve got the kind of courage to do it now. But then when I think about it, if you could do it then, it makes me think that textile workers can do it now and it makes me want to go back out there and organize. I know I didn’t do it the same way, sorry.

GEORGE STONEY: Fine.

F3: OK.

HELFAND: Hold it and read it with your finger. Point it out and read it out loud. Yeah, read it out loud.

28:00

THORNBURGH: The strike is on the united textile workers of America affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. Don’t scab. It’s now or never. That’s a leaflet put out by the national textile workers union in 1934.

HELFAND: (crosstalk) OK. Now it was this picture that you pointed out to everybody before right?

THORNBURGH: Uh, what is interesting about this picture are the cars -- are the cars that are parked in front of the place there. You can see the old models that were there. There’s three cars in this picture. And that’s some the strikers that’s milling around. This was the day we were locked out.

29:00

HELFAND: OK. And we’re just going to get a big one of that. You want a wide one of that too? OK, now this was another one that you read. So we’re going to hold on it long enough just to see you to read through it just a little bit. Jamie do you want -- maybe we should the whole -- at least that.

THORNBURGH: We go now?

HELFAND: I’ll tell you. I think so. George, do you want to come take a look at this.

THORNBURGH: To all textile workers, official notice. This was the notice that was given to us just before the strike telling us that this was to be a nationwide textile strike.

HELFAND: OK, one second. We did this one too.

JAMIE STONEY: What about the picture of her?

THORNBURGH: Uh, this one was on Tuesday September the fourth, 1934 with the headline on the front page, “Unions vote to walk out here today. Both plants 30:00say they will be open as usual this morning. But they weren’t open.

JAMIE STONEY: We just got it. We just got it in focus.

HELFAND: We need you to hold it just for a little bit. OK, we’re just going to have you hold it. I’ll tell you when to turn it. I’ll tell you when Lucille.

GEORGE STONEY: Now hold it. That seems to wobbling a little bit. OK, fine. OK.

THORNBURGH: This was from the lockout. Strikers say they have 203 now locked out. We actually had more than that locked out because we had 600 to start with.

HELFAND: You know what --