Fred Turner Interview 3

Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library
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 GEORGE STONEY: All right, sir, could you tell me when you first went into the cotton mill, how old you were, where your family came from, and how you happened to get into the cotton mill?

FRED TURNER: Well, I was born -- you want me to tell was I born and raised up on Sullivan Avenue, 19-and-13, January 13, 1913. And I went school at Perkin School and I went to work 1928 in the Cherokee Spinning Company at 15-1/2 years old. Told a story about my age for a 16 year old permit -- erased the 5-1/2 out, made a 6 and wadded the paper up and the boss give me a job 10 hours a day 1:00for 18 cents an hour. And my father come home on the shop train that night and worked for Southern Railroad. He taken me to the garage and whipped me for 15 minutes, the awfulest whipping I ever got in my life, and he hasn't told me from that day till this what he whipped me for, but it was for quitting school. I knowed what. He didn't have to tell me. When he whipped ye', he didn't have to tell ye' nothing, that he's sorry or what he'd done it for, but if he promised you a whipping, for two days later you'd get it.

STONEY: Why did you quit school and go to work?

TURNER: Well, I was -- I'd failed in school, didn't want to study and I wanted to make some money. And I'd get out and work for practically nothing. And back then money was hard to come by. My daddy made enough to keep 12 mouths to feed 2:00and everything. He didn't have no money to give like they do this damned time. But, anyway, I wanted to get me a job. I thought if I got one job, I'd have a job the rest of my life, which I did have till I retired. But I went to work for 10 hours a day, 55 hours a week for $9.90. I gave my mother two-dollars-and-a-half of that and my father two-dollars-and-a-half and I had $4.90. John D. Rockefeller didn't have nothing on me. I had more fun than anybody with $4.90. Now that -- I worked for that for years and years, till NRA -- from 1928 to '33, when the NRA went in, for 30 cents an hour. That was -- that was the way -- and when I got married in 19-and-38, I was still making 30 3:00cents an hour. I had left --

STONEY: No we’ll stop-- Tell us how it felt when the NRA came in.

TURNER: Well it felt a lot--

STONEY: Just uh, no when the NRA came in.

TURNER: Well it felt a lot better.

STONEY: Put your question in my answer. When the NRA came in.

TURNER: Well, when the NRA come in, I was making 18 cents an hour. Well, they raised it up and put on piecework then and hourly workers made 30 cents an hour and the pieceworkers, if they got to production, they made more than that. I got to where I could make $14 and $15 a week on -- by piecework as long as they had the material to put in the looms to operate. But if I had a loom a-standing, I didn't get nothing.

STONEY: What about short time?

TURNER: Well, you mean the short time working? Well, they run five days a week 4:00in Cherokee till, ah, oh, in the summer they would go down and you'd get three and four days a week, sometime two days. Then when the Depression hit, you didn't have nothing. You was lucky to have -- if you got one day a week. And that -- then we formed the union there several times during that, but they would let the higher officials come in at the meeting and talk the ones in to go back to work, that they'd take care of that later on. But they never did. Just like in 1934 when we went on the nationwide textile strike. All right. We was on nationwide textile strike on Labor Day of 1934 and Roosevelt promised that 5:00everybody -- the strike got so bad and so violent and everything and people getting killed and things of that sort. And so he come out, said he would settle that strike. If everybody'd -- everybody'd go back to work on their job and he would settle that January the 1st, 19-and-35. And from that day till this, 19-and-91, today's about the 12th, I think, of '91, and he hasn't settled that strike yet.

STONEY: Ok, now we want to go back and talk about uh, the strike in 1934. First tell me why did they go put on strike here and remember put my question in your answer. Why did they go on the strike on Labor Day in 1934?


TURNER: That was nationwide called a strike. I mean the nation -- textile union nationwide, the union of the textile called that strike for everybody to strike in the textile. And we had more scabs than anything else that kept 'em halfway operating and went against us and everything is what caused to much trouble.

STONEY: Why did they strike here?

TURNER: They striked to cooperate with the rest of 'em, to feel like that they were getting what the rest of 'em, the union, the ones that was unionized -- that we wasn't -- we wasn't union, didn't belong to a union. And, ah --

STONEY: Ok let’s start with saying I was working Cherokee Mills, we formed a union there or we didn’t or whatever the story is and when the national union called a strike we went out. Tell us about that.


TURNER: Well, when they called the nationwide strike in 1934 on September the 5th, well, I was raised on union meeting bread. My daddy was a railroad, Southern Railroad man, union man, and they was strong. They never did lose anything. They won -- when they struck, they won. So that's the very reason that I didn't go back to Cherokee Spinning Company. I left there and I never was back in the door anymore.


TURNER: On account of I just didn't want the way they settled that strike and it never was, and I wanted to move on other places and felt like it couldn't work. But the people that I was raised up and associated with was in the community and everything that went out and scabbed against me.

STONEY: Did you get blacklisted?

TURNER: I got blacklisted. You can mark that down twicest. They blacklisted my 8:00brother and myself. They refused -- they said that it would never work us. They said that, but we didn't ask for it. But we did go back and (inaudible) Banard was superintendent and he was a German. He was a nice feller and we went out and asked him for a recommendation and talked to him a while and told him that we could get jobs elsewhere, that, ah, we'd have to have a recommendation with his signature on it. And he said, "Why, I'd give you a recommendation." He wrote out one that we was on fancy material, all kinds of fancy material, we were good production weavers at that time. And all we had to do is just show that and ever place we went, and I did have that, but it's gotten misplaced. 9:00But, ah, we never did have no trouble getting a job nowhere.

STONEY: Let’s go back on that, to make sure--uh, you struck, you got black listed. I want you to say, “We struck, me and my brother and we got blacklisted, but our superintendent our boss, was willing to give us a recommendation, so we could get a job somewhere else.” Could you say all that?

TURNER: Yeah. You want me to go back--

STONEY: Yes that’s right.

TURNER: To the strike now.


TURNER: And start where we went out. We were blackballed. My brother and myself were blackballed from this company. And people, when they come out everywhere they say you have to have a recommendation from your last employee a-fore they could hire ye'. And we got a job in Kramerton, North Carolina and left the day -- on Christmas Eve of that year and went to work the day after Christmas. But they give us -- (inaudible) Banor(?) give us a recommendation, 10:00nice and everything, and he didn't have anything against us as for as our work, but for striking, we was blackballed. They refused to work, cause my daddy was a union man, and other people went back and got their jobs. They didn't -- cause they wasn't in the union family. And they thought we would have, which I guess we would, if we'd have went back to work there, we would have helped form -- try the union again.

STONEY: Now tell us about that strike. You were on the picket line. Tell us how it ran.

TURNER: Well, we tried to run it --

STONEY: We tried to run the strike--

TURNER: We tried to run the strike in a nice way with the people and asked 'em not to go in and take our jobs. And they'd get violent with us and when they did, we'd get violent back. And we were connected with Alco Aluminum Company 11:00and Alcoa and they were on a strike over there. And we've visit one another. They'd come over here and we'd go over there and we'd get information from 'em and they come over and showed us how the strike ought to be -- the strikers going in. And a restaurant fed the people on two carts, fed with sandwiches and Cokes and first one thing and then the other, they would go right down by us and make fun of us, the people that owned this restaurant. And they said, ah, we'd go in here and feed -- said, "They eat like pigs" and said, "They want to get back in here to eat like pigs." Now that's what they'd say to us. So Alco Aluminum people, we got together and they come over to show us how to -- how to 12:00operate. And they come over one day and they come down the hill with their two carts loaded with all that stuff and it turned about a dozen flips down that hill. And they never did arrest anybody, cause they don't know who was involved in it.

STONEY: Well, I think that's not quite clear. Want you to tell it again. See, the company was feeding people who were -- feeding the scabs inside the mill. Is that right?

TURNER: Oh, the company didn't have nothing to do with this restaurant.

STONEY: I see.

TURNER: This was owned and operated by the local people. But they were against it because it was a-hurting their business and things and, you know, they were trying to protect their business and things. And we was trying to get 'em to keep the people from going in there and taking our jobs. And the more people come out of Severville and everywhere -- Andrew Whaley was born and raised in 13:00Severe County. And you'd go out there and tell 'em you was from Severe County and you'd get a hold of Andrew Whalen, you's going to work. He put everybody (telephone ringing) and then moved the mill in 19-and-54.

STONEY: (inaudible)

[break in video]

STONEY: Alright sir.

TURNER: Well, when they formed the picket line in front of the mills, why, they would get together and there was, say, about 60% of us was on strike and about 40% went back in over a period of time, but there wasn't too many of 'em to start with. They'd go back a few each day and get skeered they'as going to lose their job and this and that and the other. And we told 'em if we got the union in, everything, the union would protect their jobs and which they promised to protect their jobs if they won. But they went on. We'd get together. They 14:00would be 25 to 40 people in each group. And they had -- in front of the mill there'd be, oh, I guess, 50 or 75 people there and at the back of the mill where they went in, there'd be, I'd say, between 25 to 40 people. It wasn't a very big gate at the back. That was a parking lot.

STONEY: Would they sing? Would they carry signs? What did they do?

TURNER: They carried signs and talked to people and things of that sort. They didn't get violent with anybody or call anybody names or anything of that sort. We tried to talk to 'em in a nice way, cause we knowed that if they didn't settle the strike a lot of us would never get to work there. We knew that to start with.


STONEY: Now tell us about why the strike was called off and how it was called off and what Roosevelt did.

TURNER: Well, it got so violent ever -- it didn't get too violent here in Knoxville, but in North Carolina, especially at Gastonia, North Carolina, they killed people --

STONEY: No, sorry, it was Honea Path, South Carolina, let’s start over.

TURNER: Do what?

STONEY: It was Honea Path, South Carolina

TURNER: Well--

STONEY: And one place in North Carolina.

TURNER: Yeah, Honea Path South Carolina--

STONEY: Ok, let’s start again. Ok.

M1: Hey Jamie did you--

TURNER: Well--

STONEY: Just a moment.

M1: Its fine now. Nope.

STONEY: Just one –

M1: Ok.

STONEY: Alright just--why did the strike end?

TURNER: Why did the strike end? Well, it got so violent and everything that the officials in Washington seen it was getting so violent and everything and they got together and had a meeting and Roosevelt come out. In other words, it had 16:00to go to him and he come out and made the statement on TV then --

STONEY: No, no let’s start again cause there wasn’t any TV then.

TURNER: No, no wait a minute he came out on the radio.

STONEY: Ok let’s start again.

TURNER: There wasn’t no TV then.

STONEY: I’m sorry let’s start again.

TURNER: I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

STONEY: Don’t don’t don’t –

TURNER: I used to have one myself. (laughter) But anyway…

STONEY: Uh when the – Why did they call the strike off?

TURNER: They got together in Washington and talked it over about so much violent and it was getting worse and worse, especially in South Carolina. And Dunhee(?) and Jantzen(?) mills was the biggest mills in South Carolina. And, ah, you take in North Carolina they were just about as bad with all the big companies there. And the little companies and the little mills didn't have much of a chance. And that's why that J.P. Stev-- Burlington, who is the largest textile company in 17:00the world now?

STONEY: No, no--

TURNER: Wait I’m getting a little off track.

STONEY: Ok let’s start again.

TURNER: Alright.

STONEY: Just, just give us the bare facts of this uh, the, the union people in Washington--

[break in video]

STONEY: Right from the beginning.

TURNER: After he made that statement --

STONEY: No, no--


STONEY: Sorry we have to start way back.

TURNER: Oh you want to go back to the violence e of the strike?

STONEY: Yeah just say--

TURNER: They called the strike-- The reason they called the strike off, it got so violent and everything of that sort and the people in Washington and Roosevelt come out on the radio and made the statement all the textile people in the world to go back to work, that he would settle that January the 1st, but everybody was to get their jobs back. Well, they didn't carry that out and he didn't stick to his word, settle it January the 1st, 1935. Everybody waited 18:00till January the 1st, 1935 and he did not settle it and the ones was blackballed in there got to moving around different places for different work and my brother and myself, we traveled a lot to different mills and things and worked at several. And we finally settled down in Kramerton, North Carolina, and I spent 41 years there. And I retired in '76 and I moved back to Knoxville, where I originally was at Cherokee Spinning Company. That's home, but I'm here at home and they in Sevierville.

STONEY: Now why did you have to leave Knoxville?

TURNER: Well, you couldn't get a job. I went to work at -- now let me explain that. I went to work at Gray Knox Marble Company right up here on Sullivan 19:00Avenue. Mellon(?) left $10 million to put $10 million worth of Tennessee marble in this art gallery building in Washington. Gray Knox Marble Company got three-and-a-third million dollars. (inaudible) got three-and-a-third million dollars and Appalachian Mill got the other three-and-a-third million dollars. And I went to work at Gray Knox Marble Company up there for 30 cents an hour and I got married in 19-and-38. I was making 30 cents an hour and my brother was back in Kramerton, North Carolina working and he got me a job over there as a weaver and we left Knoxville in April of 19-and-38. Yeah, 1938, and went to work over there and I stayed 41 years over there.

STONEY: Now we know that a lot of people got blackballed here--



STONEY:-- and they went all over the country. Could you talk about those people that got blackballed and where they went and where you've seen them?

TURNER: Well, some that got blackballed went to North Carolina and some from South Carolina and, ah, Alabama. The Maples went back to Alabama. I remember them very well. And the Hicks and (inaudible) went back into North Carolina. And Floyd Henderson, from Greenville, South Carolina, he went several different places. And he went to Kannapolis Mill in North Carolina and we got him a job at Kramerton. Also Ed Clayton was at the Cotton Cord Mill. We got him a job there. We just had -- we got each other jobs and brother Hicks -- Ernest Lane went to Chicago, went to Chicago Heights at the Forester Textile Company right 21:00off of Otto Boulevard.

STONEY: Now when you were getting these people jobs and looking after each other, did you ever think about forming the union again? Now put my question in your answer.

TURNER: Yeah, they tried to form a union at Kramers over there. And see --

STONEY: Just, just say afterwards we tried to found a union.

TURNER: Afterwards, they -- the mill was over there. Now they the Mayflower Mill and the Old Mill, they called it, but the Old Mill was where --

STONEY: Just a moment--What I’m trying--

[break in video]

STONEY: Just after we left here.

TURNER: Well, after we left Knoxville, we roamed the country a while and we'd got to places and we'd settle down and we was gonna try to form a union, get it back, and the people at the old mill wasn't connected with the Mayflower. That's where the looms was all at, and the yarn mill was at the Mayflower -- I mean at the old mill down here. Anyway, they wanted to form it and we had a smart, real 22:00smart man from the University of Tennessee graduated and he was our district manager for Burlington. And he was smarter'n people thought he was and the people wasn't up to form that union. They was gonna form it at the old mill and they tried to get the Mayflower Mill to come in together and he put 'em in separate mills and they couldn't vote enough to each mill the way they was gonna put 'em together and vote together to get enough of a majority. And he was smart enough to divide those two mills and they had to take their election at one mill and election at the other and they didn't get enough votes to bring the union in. And it wasn't too many years after that we decided that we didn't 23:00have much of a chance and we'd just work on. And Burlington -- it's hard to fight Burlington, as large a company as they are.

STONEY: Did you ever work in a union cotton mill after you left Knoxville?


STONEY: Just say (inaudible)--

TURNER: No, I never did.

STONEY: I’m sorry just say, after I left Knoxville--

TURNER: After I left Knoxville, none of the mills would ever organize 'cause you couldn't get the people in the textile to organ-- to stick with ye'. They'd go with ye' so far and then they'd back out and sell out or do something of the officials of the mill, see, would talk 'em out -- see, they own the village and the houses and you're in their houses and they can tell you go get out and you had to get out or get throwed out. See, that's the way the mills in North Carolina and South Carolina. They had all these mills had their villages. When they give you a job, they provided you a house to live in. And that way, when 24:00you left there you'd get out. And if you done anything to get dismissed or quit or anything or do something, out you'd go. Well, they had the advantage over us. We couldn't form nothing.

STONEY: Okay. Now I want to go back to Roosevelt again. You were the only textile man I've found, save one, who seemed to realize that Roosevelt really did you dirt. So I want to make sure that we have that. How did you feel about Roosevelt when he first came in and then why you trusted him and then how you felt when he called it off.

TURNER: Well, when Roosevelt run, things was in such a mess in this country. And he went in with the promise of the people that he'd help. All right. He went in and he put all these places on WPA and all such as that and made 25:00different jobs of all kinds of things for people to make a halfway living, something to eat, till it could get better. And he done good and he was re-elected and the next time, but he come out with that and he was afraid to go against the union -- I mean afraid of the union, 'cause they's always -- our government's always been against the union.

STONEY: Let’s start that over. Roosevelt did a lot of good he started the blue eagle and so forth, but he was afraid--ok?

TURNER: He was--

STONEY: Start Roosevelt.

TURNER: With Roosevelt in, he done real good till it come to this nationwide textile strike and it was too much involved and he knowed what would happen to him when he went with the union. But he promised for everybody to go back to work, that he would settle this strike and get people back on his side to get re-elected and everything, 'cause election was coming up. And he didn't live up 26:00to is word that everybody was against, but didn't have enough to -- and he stayed in 'cause of the good work he done otherwise, that he helped all the poor people that didn't have nothing to eat or know starvation and things like that, that they put him back in there over the years.

STONEY: This is so important I'm going to just go over it again. You see, so many people don't -- I think because Roosevelt had brought in the Blue Eagle and reduced the hours from 55 to 40 and increased the wages from, say, $8-9 to minimum of $12, when he said that they had a right to form a union they believed him. And then when the strike came and they got – That’s what I want you to tell all about that.

TURNER: Well, when Roosevelt went in, he done everything and he kindly favored 27:00the people and helped 'em and he knowed this nationwide strike was coming up, but he didn't have anything to say against either side. And, ah, he did -- one of his aides said that they didn't want violence, if they could keep it down. But it got in a place where the violence got pretty rough. Then when it come time to make a decision, he made this decision, and the way he made this, it wasn't, I'd say, very truthful. It wasn't too much belief in that he was wanting people to settle it to get it down. He knowed that if he could get all the people back to work he could, that the rest of 'em couldn’t find a job. That's the way I looked at it. That's the reason I never did vote no more for him. And he stayed in till he died.

STONEY: But you were angry with Roosevelt?


TURNER: Well, in a way, yes, for not standing to his word.

STONEY: Just say, “ Yes I was angry with Roosevelt.”

TURNER: Yes, I was angry with Roosevelt 'cause he didn't stick to his word. And I was raised up my word was my bond. We didn't need nobody to sign a note or anything. Your word was your bond. If you give somebody your word, why, that was your bond. That was the way I was raised up. But over the years, you don't have no bond and the people that signs for ye', they don't believe half of them. I'll just put it that way. Now that's the way it's gotten. But back then you could go and if you wanted a favor of anybody and you'd tell 'em you'd return it at a certain time, it was returned then. That's the way we was raised up, and lived that way. And we had good neighborhoods and neighbors all went to visit one another and get together and have different things. Nowadays you don't even know your next door neighbor. Now that's a fact. I've been here nearly 16 29:00years and the only man I know's Mr. Acup. He's a -- he's a big executive of human resources. The reason I know him is he'll talk to me. The rest of 'em, they don't even talk to ye' or tell ye' who they are or nothing, all in this neighborhood of 16 years. And I've been around to visit a lot of 'em and got blessed out with one neighbor, we did one day. Walked out to introduce ourself to the lady and she just practically blessed us out.

STONEY: Well, that's not the way it used to be in the cotton mill people.

TURNER: When I was raised up in the cotton mill, the cotton mill -- let me make this statement about the cotton mill people -- was rated a low-class people, the poor class people, and they looked down on 'em. Anybody that was in a cotton mill, they looked down. They didn't know what textile was. They was cotton mill. "Cotton mill trash" is the way they put a lot of 'em. The big companies and this and that and the other put people down as "cotton mill trash". I'll be 30:00fair with ye'. I've heard it and I went to work in there. My daddy wanted me to be a railroad -- six of us boys and he wanted us all to go to the railroad and none of us never did go. But I have fared very well the years I've been. Since 1934, I have fared very well. I raised a nice family. I got a nice home and I'm retired and enjoying myself for 16 years.