W.W. Williams Interview 2

Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library
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GEORGE STONEY: Ok, uh, (inauidible). Uh, when you first started working in the mills, there were almost no colored in the mills. Could you talk about that? And how its changed?

W.W. WILLIAMS: Well, no, there wasn’t. The only colored that worked in the mill, the blacks, they had more or less— you cleaned the restrooms and they did manual jobs of that sort and they worked out in the yard, kept the yards clean and all they worked in cotton where they’d open up the bales of cotton, have to go haul cotton in and out, the bales of cotton and most of the time back then they didn’t have the machinery they got today to haul, they had old hand 1:00trucks you know and they would roll em in and out of that and they were used for that kind. And then another thing so they could not use the white peoples’ facilities and the restrooms, they could not use that. And then in fact the water fountains was the same way. They had one that they supposed to use and the whites had one they supposed to use. And that seems kind of bad but that’s the way it was and people just accepted it as that. But I’m glad now that its really not like that. Because they I got some good black friends today, fine friends. And I never did see where it was wrong for them to come up and take a drink of water where I was taking a drink of water, use the same restroom I use, but you know I am talking about in the men and the women, but it just did not 2:00happen back in those days.

GEORGE STONEY: You were in the mill when the change came about, you were a supervisor. Now tell us about how people adjusted to it.

WILLIAMS: Well now I wasn’t a supervisor till about in the 40’s. And well there’s a big change is a coming along at that time, too. And people resented as you mentioned a while ago, in this plant you were talking about how the modern machinery was coming out. Well they’d say, well that’s taking our jobs. And to a certain extent it was. But all at the same time I believe and always have believed that if you making things easier for one thing, you gotta have somebody to make that machinery that’s making it easier so you just swapping jobs so to speak. But a lot of times it put pressure, especially on the older fellas at that time, it made it hard because they couldn’t find a job 3:00because they didn’t have any other skills maybe. And they still the same way today. You read where there’s a mill what was it closed around here just a while back and I read an article in the paper bout this lady said all she knew, “Its all I know is working in this mill.” And I can sympathize with her because I know what she’s going through and its hard after you get, say you, she’s fifty-something years old and people may tell you, and it is a law that they can’t discriminate against you on account of your age or your color or religion or whatever it may be, but to a certain extent it is still so, whether we want to believe it or not because I know for a fact it being a supervisor that whenever you come across one you know you company -- we can’t -- they 4:00won’t come out a tell you we can’t hire too many this, or too old, our insurance go up, you know that, you average age of what you got in your plant, and if you got too many in there that’s got a lot of age on em, well your insurance is gonna be higher. And well all they got to say when you turn in a form application for a job, you look it over, you got too much age, say well, you don’t tell anybody that, but I never, well we were lucky to get what we could get when I’s coming along cause you couldn’t get enough to work. But at times, at one time, it did get to where you had a surplus of help, but you could pick that way if you wanted to. If you really decided to, you could say, you wouldn’t say that, but say well, but I don’t believe we need anybody in that kind of a job right now or either maybe you’re not qualified for that job and maybe they were. And you can get around a lot of that today with that and I 5:00feel sure it’s probably going on today, I don’t know.

GEORGE STONEY: Now this may not be part of your story, but I know that over in Columbus they were talking about the factories, the plants, preferring people that came straight from the country as against people who had spent time in the town. Was there anything like that that you know?

WILLIAMS: To a certain extent, yes, Sir.

GEORGE STONEY: Tell us about that.

WILLIAMS: Well, you see you could get somebody that hadn’t ever been inside of a plant, cotton mill, and you bring him in, well you teach him the way that that plant wanted him taught in that certain job, that he was supposed to have and to do. Well you put him with somebody on that job and you check on em see if they teaching em in the right way and ask the fella questions, too. Well he didn’t 6:00know no other way. But on the other hand you get somebody’d been in, they’d had a little knowledge of that job and maybe we did different, a little bit different at this plant than it was at the other. Well its harder to get them to go by your rules they wanna go for the old way, the way they were taught, so that I think that has a lot to do with it right there.

GEORGE STONEY: One of the things interest me is even when you started in the mills, I believe there were mostly women and yet we see so few pictures of women of that time we see so few leaders you know from out in the union from the women and so forth. Could you talk about the role of women then?

WILLIAMS: Well you know, I hadn’t thought about that too much, but since you 7:00mentioned it, there were a lot of women that worked in the plants and especially as I said, I worked in the weaving department. And there a lot of weavers, in fact in seemed like the women were a little bit more apt with their hands, and could tie knots you know on a weavers knots you had to tie a certain knot well they could use their hands a whole lot better than most men. But now there’s a lot of men, but there’s a lot of women that did mostly the weaving and good weavers, too. And I think that had a lot to do with it, I can’t understand why, I hadn’t given that much thought, I am gonna be honest with you, I really hadn’t, but they had a lot of women in there, but you know back in those days man was the one that took the lead it didn’t make no difference what, you know, and to give him the credit I reckon it comes back to that, I don’t know.

8:00

GEORGE STONEY: How about remember when the women started to have the right to vote, did your wife vote, did your sisters vote? I’m just curious about that.

WILLIAMS: Well now yes, now my wife she would vote and in fact, but there was some of em that said they didn’t want to vote, you know it went both ways, but the reason why my wife… she was, when my kids were coming on small boys she was active in well we’ll call it PTA, I don’t know what they call it now, but any way, she played a big role in that and was president in it and all that. Well in fact I blame her a lot of times for the tax that we got here because she went on the radio with it at that time about that now she took an active role in that thing when there wasn’t no sales tax in South Carolina. We need sales tax for our children, which nothing wrong with that, three cent if I remember 9:00correctly. Ok, they got the three cent, what is is now: five. And it was supposed to go for schools, but now the women took an active part and you can see how some how they can affect things too when they do take a part.

GEORGE STONEY: You mentioned listening to FDR on the radio. Just try to think back and describe as though I wasn’t even there, what it was like, where you were when you heard him and what he said and all of that.

WILLIAMS: Man, I was right sitting right there at home, a young fella, and later years too, you know even up there after I was married, you found out he was coming on to make a speech --

GEORGE STONEY: Sorry, start over talk about Roosevelt and you want to use the word Roosevelt.

WILLIAMS: Ok, well President Roosevelt whenever he was to come on and make a 10:00speech well we sit around the house and listen and turn that radio on and waited for him to come on because I, to me, he was a great speaker. One of the best, to me. And he did things for us. And as we sit and listen to him that I think it was a very appropriate thing at that particular time, what our country needed and all the people that I knew, my friends especially, they were right in for it, if you said something about Roosevelt, you was, bad, you was usually in trouble, and I had to go along with that theory too because I thought he was a great man. Cause he did things that brought this country out in that great Depression that we had and when he put the CCC boys, 16 years old, if you go in they give you…and then finally got around to the WPA and all this, the NRA, and a lot of them’n said they was unconstitutional but anyway he did it. But 11:00we loved him and his speeches when he come in he tell about all these different things and what they’s gonna do and we all took a great interest in it, I fairly enjoyed his speeches, but I’d sit and listen to that. But I wouldn’t I don’t take too much time today with it when you can see him on TV. But maybe I ought to, I do listen some now, I’m not, I think we got a good President now.

GEORGE STONEY: When did you get your first radio? We got our first radio…

WILLIAMS: Well now I’m gonna have to stop and think about that a little bit now…that was…I believe I was about 12, 14 years old before we got our first…back in the ‘20s, late 20’s, too, before we ever got one.

GEORGE STONEY: Sorry, start again and mention radio.

WILLIAMS: Well our first radio, it had to be back in the late 20’s. Late 20’s, before we ever had one. And I can remember this after they got to be so 12:00popular, though. You take the Grand Ole Opry, you know we lived on these mill villages and the radios, everybody had one when it finally got to where you could have one, but you could walk down one of the streets and they listening to the Grand Ole Opry on a Saturday night, you would never miss a beat. Everybody’d have it on, wide open. I remember that well, you’d leave home and everybody listening to the Grand Ole Opry most mill people enjoyed that. That’s about the first thing I remember about radio was back in the, our first radio, was back in the late 20’s, bout maybe 29, 28-29, somewhere along that.

GEORGE STONEY: What about live music in the mill village?

WILLIAMS: Oh well about the only live music we had outside the radio was, there’s always a group of men in the village that could play instruments you 13:00know and those would get together, say on a weekend. And if they didn’t have a house, I meant a dance hall or somewhere, some of the people in the village would say Hey, come on over to my house. And they’d roll up the rug and clean out that room; you’d have a square dance. And that’s the way we got most of our music was in that you’d practice with a guy I know could play the guitar too good but I tried to play the banjo a little bit with em and then you’d go out to these dances, and especially I can remember this, you brought that up about music, made me think of one funny thing. We was went to a place one night to play for him, and I couldn’t play too good for em, no way, but we had two good fiddle players and had a couple of guitar players and different instruments fellas had and I had that old banjo. We was playing away there, and dancing 14:00away, we went back in, and you passed a hat to see if you could get anything went ahead and had that dancing, playing that music, and passed that hat, just about 1932, I believe it was. Right in the heart of that Depression: got one dime! Louis Long, he was playing the fiddle, he said, looked over at me, and looked at the other fellers, and he says here we’ll make em pay for that. And he started off you know the regular way he played the “Waiting for the Robert E Lee” and he started off with the regular and he got faster and faster and faster and faster and had those people they got to, “hey! slow it down slow It down slow it down!” we just die laughing, just kept right on, you know. But that’s the way you had your fun, you made most of it yourself. And the music was the same way.

GEORGE STONEY: What about moonshine in the village?

15:00

WILLIAMS: Oh you could always find that. Mostly back then, you know there wasn’t any liquor stores it had to be corn liquor. Bootleg liquor. Well there’s a lot of it went on the villages at that time, some of em would sell it to make em a little extra money. But the biggest thing was what we called homebrew. It was beer, but ya know but it was just that now there’s a lot of that most of the families make ‘em some home brew but not all now, I’m say there’s a lot of’ em that would make that. But if they found out you was making it and selling it well they could have you up in court about it. But they a lot of people had that, the home brew.

GEORGE STONEY: Did the people running the village, the manufacturers, did they 16:00care about that kind of thing?

WILLIAMS: Well usually, now they’d leave you alone, especially the ones I was working at. but I’ve heard, at one particular plant here in town, at that time, This man that run that he was very very strict in fact we used to laugh at some of the guys that worked down there and tell em you know that you got to do what, I’m not gonna call the man’s name, tell you what he said do because if you don’t you’d lose your job and a lot of them would, but if you didn’t do exactly like he said do they tell me, now that’s just heresy, but they come pretty straight, but that if anybody come to your house, some of your people and wanted to stay a while, if they stayed too long, they’d come and tell you you got to get them out of there, they can’t stay you know now that to me I’ve 17:00never had that to happen in my lifetime in all these plants that I worked in, and I worked at different ones but I never heard that but they told me that happened there. he didn’t want other people coming in and staying in the company house, and I couldn’t understand why in the world that man could tell you to get some of your, get people out of your house when you was paying him, well rent was very reasonable but at least you was paying rent on that house, that’s your house while you was renting it from him. But they say that happened, now I wasn’t there but I got reason to believe and I heard it many times that people that worked there’d said that.

GEORGE STONEY: Talk about the quality of housing you got.

WILLIAMS: Well tell you the honest truth some of those houses are still standing today but now they been improved some of em. You didn’t have underpinning on the houses in fact when I was a little old boy, houses pretty high off the 18:00ground, you played underneath the houses on a rainy day, you know when it wasn’t too cold. But usually they just regular houses but the biggest problem was maybe in the winter time where you’d have to try to keep warm cuz most of the houses had high ceilings and they didn’t have window fans and things and air conditioning like you got today. And you’d freeze a lot of times at night you’d take maybe some times going to your room, I never did do that, but I’ve heard tell of a lot of people, well I believe my sister did it, warm by the fire, warm some bricks and things and wrap em up in a towel or something and put em at their feet you know and things of that sort but --

19:00

GEORGE STONEY: What I’d like to have you do is compare the mill housing with the kinds of housing that the same kind of class of people had around the mill village. Could you do that?

WILLIAMS: Well, the houses that we lived in, as I said, they had big windows and they had high ceilings and they had well like most of the houses but they wasn’t as well equipped you know as the houses that wasn’t on the mill village. Now some mill villages kept the houses up and they looked great they just as comfortable as any of ‘em in town, they really was. They may not have been as pretty a house or anything cuz a lot of them made on the same style you know as you go down the same way but all at the same time most of those houses they were comfortable and I didn’t have what they had, now there’s wood floors and they didn’t have where you could see down through the floors and things of that sort. They’d usually have every mill would have usually a 20:00carpenter they called it and so whenever you would have a problem at you house you’d report it to the company and they would come down and they would if it was legitimate and needed to be done they tried to do it, to keep em up, I’ll have to say that, the only ones I lived on they really did. And some of the houses todays got better lumber in it than the one I got right there right now.

GEORGE STONEY: I wanted to get that feeling about, the mills really looked after the place?

WILLIAMS: Yea they did. They did. And most of them did and in fact the one that I worked at when I was telling you about where they had [?] the first ones that I know of that had indoor plumbing. We had it in the houses then and most people, plants didn’t, they had outhouses. And they had em up then in the 30’s, way up in the ‘30s. Before there was ever that, before they changed 21:00them around. But even back then, we had em. And that’s what I tell you I was fortunate to be where I was at that time, because we had water in the house, everything. Now when I was a boy where we lived we didn’t. They had what we called a spigot up in the middle of the street, just like this street here. You’d put one out there in the middle of the street. Well everybody on that street went there to get water. You had to carry it. But you can see how we’ve come along way. But that was a difference in the houses that come back in the houses, now, I imagine most of the houses around, maybe up in town, would have that in it.

GEORGE STONEY: Jamie how would a pan off of this be?

JAMIE STONEY: You mean a pan across?

22:00

GEORGE STONEY: Yes. Would you get a feeling of the neighborhood from here? Just look at it and see.

GEORGE STONEY: Ok?

JAMIE STONEY: Mmm-hmm.

23:00

[break in video]

24:00

[Silence]

25:00

[Silence]

26:00

[Silence]

M1: Alright if you could talk to me,

WILLIAMS: Alright.

M1: And, and move around a little bit because you’re going to be --

WILLIAMS: I am gonna move this out of the way, will it matter where it’s at?

M1: I’m gonna get so its behind you.

WILLIAMS: Oh behind me.

GEORGE STONEY: (inaudible) your feet, but we would see about down here (inaudible)

M1: Do, do this for me. It sounds ok.

GEORGE STONEY: Just a still of the family picture.

M1: I guess it’s alright.

GEORGE STONEY: Just a little more.

M1: Sometimes we get the sound of the cloth.

WILLIAMS: Yeah that’s right it would rattle wouldn’t it .

M1: Yeah

WILLIAMS: You fellows think of everything (inaudible). Who would have th --

[break in video]

27:00

WILLIAMS: My wife, she’s sickly and not able to get about now she used be a little old skinny thing. And I tell you when she had that operation that’s when that started, something happened to her pituitary gland.

GEORGE STONEY: Yes, yes, nice Jamie that’s good. Go into the grandfather

F1: (inaudible)

(inaudible background conversation)

WILLIAMS: What are you talking about? Oh.

GEORGE STONEY: You see we’ve got --

WILLIAMS: Oh, she, she’s—

F1: What did you think I was talking about.

WILLIAMS: I didn’t know I wanted to (inaudible) talking about.

M1: Ok sound is ready.

GEORGE STONEY: Alright, now I’m going to -- just tell me who the woman is on the picture up there and then the man.

28:00

WILLIAMS: This is my mother and this is my dad.

GEORGE STONEY: Did they work in the mills?

WILLIAMS: Yes, sir they certainly did. They worked in the mill. And these are my brothers and sisters.

GEORGE STONEY: Could you do that again and say both my parents worked in the mills and my father, this is my mother. Just a moment are you ready?

M2: Mm-hmm

GEORGE STONEY: Alright, go on.

WILLIAMS: Both my parents worked in the mills, and this is my mother and father and brother and sister that you see here. And I imagine that picture was taken, I’m just a guess at it, but I would say around 1910, 1912.

GEORGE STONEY: Could you do that once again and point them out?

WILLIAMS: Ok. This...wait a minute, how’d you tell me to say that before?

GEORGE STONEY: When you --

[break in video]

GEORGE STONEY: OK go.

29:00

WILLIAMS: This is my mother and father and they both worked in the mills. And these are my brothers and sisters and they worked in the mills back in those days when I come along well I went into the mill also. And these books that we have right here, a friend of mine, an old gentlemen I’d always thought a lot of him, a fine man, and he give me these books and he told me he says now I know things are different today even when he give me these books than they are today, when he give em to me but he says the fundamentals is all still the same. And I’ll never forget the gentlemen for what he did to me and his name. He’s a great big man and he had great big bushy hair and when he talked and he was --

30:00