Bill Woodham Interview 1

Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library
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GEORGE STONEY: You were in the mills in 1934 during the [big?] strike.


GEORGE STONEY: Can you tell us about that?

WOODHAM: Yes sir, we were actual on strike, but uh, I never understand it uh --

GEORGE STONEY: Just start saying I was in the mills at -- in 1934.

WOODHAM: I was in the mills in 1934 when the general strike was called. I dont remember where the government called it or all the textile plants called it or just what happened. But all the textile plants shut down for 30 days. Mm-hmm, we all was hurting. I had to find me a job as a saw mill, working part-time making whatever little money I could found to help feed the family. None of us had any money saved up. We was living from one week to the next. But 00:01:00this uh, union organizer came in here and he had been telling us about how the plants up North fared so well under a union the textile plants, not the textile plants but the steel mills and the automobile plants up there they were all faring so well under a union. And that he wanted us to join the union and improve our way of living. Actually, we all fell for it. I wasnt active in the union, I dont know how the strike was called, or what happened but in February, sometime in February of 1935, a strike was called. And, I guess about an hour a fulltime strike caller came around telling me to be ready to start my 00:02:00looms off at such and such a time. A few minutes before that time I had my looms topped off and I had everything was ready to shut down and I was one of the first ones out the gate. Cause I didnt want to stand around and see any violence, if any violence should take effect, which it didnt happen. I was afraid it would. Like I said, I wasnt too active in the union, I hadnt belong to the union for a while. I was trying to learn how to be a loom fixer. Repair looms, you know. And, I couldnt get the man that knew how to repair em to tell me anything cause I didnt know because I didnt belong to the union. So, I wasnt very active in the union. When the union called that strike, I shut my looms down and got out of there. Well, I was out on strike for about a week and a half. Money give out. (phone rings) And, no one was 00:03:00extending credit back in those days. (phone rings) Anyway, I had to do something to feed my wife (phone rings) and small baby. The baby was just a few months old. (phone rings) Five or six months old. Anyway, (phone rings) I went up to the union office, hoping to give me some money, you know. Help buy groceries with. (phone rings) Instead of giving some money they gave me a slip of paper. Told me to report to the WPA office (phone rings) they would give me a job. And, that made me mad. Well, I had a job down at the plant if I could get it. I just crumpled that piece of paper up when I got outside and I went back to the mill and asked for my job back. And, so I saw how things were going. They werent gonna take care of us. Which they never did. I got my job and 00:04:00went back to work. It was mighty hard working in the plant back in those days cause those men and women that was out on strike a lot of them kinfolks would pass us em on the street and they wouldnt talk to us. Wouldnt speak to us. It was mighty rough. But, we had to live through it. We had to make a living some way or another.

GEORGE STONEY: What happened to those people who when out on strike?

WOODHAM: Well, they stayed in the mill houses until oh I guess it was several months. And, the mill company had em evicted. And, they had brought the National Guard in here once a two before then, help keep peace. Help the local police, sheriff department keep peace in the city somehow. So ah, what was 00:05:00evicted those people from the houses there was some violence. One man got killed. I didnt know the old gentleman too well, but he was rather old. He just wouldnt let those people throw his stuff out on the street. And, he faced those National Guardsmen and they ran a bayonet through him and killed him. And then, things settled down and they evicted people, they all moved out, found houses elsewhere. In the meantime, they had gone to work for the government WPA or found a job somewhere and they managed to move out the houses. The mill company was able to move their families in who work in the plants, help keep the plants operating. It took the plant two or three years to get to 00:06:00where they could see kinda see daylight, to get people trained, run the job right. All those jobs, it took skilled labor to run em. Like weaving, fixing looms, and mechanics in the other departments, operators in other the other departments they were called skilled labor. It took a while to get people in here train them how to run those jobs and produce quality goods that the mill could sell. Mill company had a hard time standing up under that blow. Under the leadership of Calloway Bows, thats K as in Kalloway Mr. Fuller Calloway Junior. They managed to bring the mills through it. Im thankful for it 00:07:00because I live here, raised a family here, and educated em, Im thankful for it. A lot of hardship we endured them, back during those time but somehow we endured them. Pulled through it. We have much better working conditions here now.

GEORGE STONEY: Can you compare working conditions from then until now.

WOODHAM: Yes sir.

M1: Can he get a drink of water to clear his throat, hes coughing all the time.

[break in video]

GEORGE STONEY: Okay, compare the conditions now.

WOODHAM: Back when I first started working the mill, weavers only had anywhere from about six to twelve looms, usually eight or ten. Again, where they could stretch them out where one weaver could run more looms. Greatly improve that. 00:08:00Loom fixers got where they could handle more looms keep up more, improve their knowledge of looms you know. And mill companies improved working conditions for them. Well back when I first started working, a young man, (inaudible) would come out the mill every afternoon. We was all called lint heads, everybody in the cotton mill were called lint heads. They greatly improved our condition there, you see a man come out of mill now you dont whether hes been to dance, been working or what.

GEORGE STONEY: Did you resent being called a lint head?

WOODHAM: No sir, because I was raise up under it. I was used to it cause I knew 00:09:00I was a linthead. Depend on textile mills for a living. But a uh it just something uh that people use as a way of typing some people you know.

GEORGE STONEY: Now here is something that you may be responding to, uh, in the late 20s a lot of younger men who had been to college came into the mills as engineers.

WOODHAM: Yes sir.

GEORGE STONEY: Do you remember that at all? Can you describe that?

WOODHAM: Yes sir.

(Child yelling in background, shushing)


WOODHAM: Back in those days to get the young men out of the colleges coming in and take over any dang jobs. They take jobs that people in the plants couldnt run. We didnt have the necessary knowledge to figure drafts and gears all 00:10:00this that and the other. We didnt resent that because we knew we had to have somebody to run those jobs. A lot of the mills would work people up the ladder they called it. Like me I started right in the bottom, I worked my way up to supervisor, before I went into service. (inaudible) run a job like that where you had to have a lot of figuring done, it would take a college graduate to run those. The companies have improved working conditions so much that those young engineers come out of their working in the plants themselves, you know, and theyd see what was needed, come in with their ideas. (inaudible) put 00:11:00together the modern textile plants we have today. Like there no lint on anybody when they come out of the plant today. In fact you see very little lint in the cotton mill nowadays. They have ways of controlling it.

GEORGE STONEY: Now back to 34 again. You mentioned it took them two or three years to kind of get back in shape.

WOODHAM: Yes sir.

GEORGE STONEY: Could you describe how that changed the factory? I know for example, you might desribe if it was true here, that they put up fences and guards and so forth and so on.

WOODHAM: Oh, yes.

GEORGE STONEY: Can you tell about that?

WOODHAM: Yes sir. Some mills didnt have fences around them, but when the strike came up in 35 they immediately put fences up around them, you know the 00:12:00plants. Help keep the unwanted people out. Uh, I used to walk in some of the plants around here, talked to some of the kinsfolks, walk back out. It cant be done that way now. We wasnt allowed to hinder them too much but we could go in and speak to them you know, maybe give them some news about the family or something or other. Walk back out. Since they got fences up and guards, you have to go through the usual procedure of getting in. They want to know who you seeing, why you want to see them, and how important it is. One thing that brought that on is minimum wage. If you pay a man a minimum wage you got to earn that minimum wage or you lose money on him. Mill companies had that problem to contend with. (sound of wind chimes in the background) They had to keep the 00:13:00people on the jobs, keep them working, producing products they could sell. Pay them their wages. Thats uh

GEORGE STONEY: Now could you tell us about you or you are a gardener werent you?

WOODHAM: Yes sir.

GEORGE STONEY: Could you tell us about thehow it was before and after 1934 in terms of the guards.

WOODHAM: Before 1934 we had no guards around, we had gate watchmen. When a man got too old to produce in the plant, 60, 70 years old they gave him a job sitting out at the gate. Just watching the gate. Keep folks from coming in the gate that wasnt supposed to come in. Thats all they did, just sit at the gate. Theyd open the gates, shift change time. Close it when the shift change was over. Thats the only job they had to do. Now guards are lot more 00:14:00complicated. They have more to do. Have to watch, uh, check, uh ID cards, they have to check trucks coming in and out the gates. What the trucks carry in and out. A lot of differences now.

GEORGE STONEY: Do you recall when they started deputizing people to guard the mill?

WOODHAM: Yes sir. That was during the strike. Um the local police force just didnt have enough man power to help the plants maintain order around the fences. So the mill company uh, hired these deputies to come in, the sheriffs department deputized them and they acted as guards around the gates 00:15:00round the fences. And they had to get them from out of town. Quite a few people in town would take the jobs because well having to work with their own people, friends you know, next door neighbors such as that. But they wouldnt, no one would take it. They had to go out of town to hire these men to come in here and take those jobs. And they had a pretty rough job too, cause they didnt know the people. They couldnt get acquainted with them too well. That was pretty rough on them. But after they had been here about a year it began to improve. They got uniforms for them, put em in uniforms. They began to make friends among the workers. Theyd greet them as they come in and out of the gates, 00:16:00this that and the other. They begin to make friends and learn people. And it was much better on the guard situation back then in 1934 and 35. I mean, yeah 34 and 35, 35 when they brought the guards in here. 34 was the year they didnt need any guards. All they need was men to punch clocks. See that no fire originated in the plant anywhere. People hang around the gates just transmit news from one to another, hear news, pick up news. And that the reason to come hang around the gates back them cause the mill wouldnt start running back then during that national strike. And when that strike come off in 1935 the gates was a hot spot. The mill gates was a hot spot cause anybody that started hanging around the gate, the mill company wanted to know why they were hanging around.


GEORGE STONEY: Now finally, youre a baseball fan I gather.

WOODHAM: Yes sir.

GEORGE STONEY: I believe you had ball teams here.

WOODHAM: Yes sir.

GEORGE STONEY: Could you talk about that?

WOODHAM: Yes sir, the mill company had teams. Each mill had their own team. Back in the 1920s, we had some baseball teams here that were second only to the Atlanta Crackers. That was before the Atlanta Braves and all, but the Atlanta Crackers was a professional team in Atlanta. We had teams here that were second only to the Atlanta Crackers. Sometime they would bring the Crackers down for an exhibition game and our team would play them. Sometime they would beat them. Naturally the Saturday afternoon ball game was the main affair of the week. 00:18:00Thats when everybody come out and meet the neighbors, discuss the news and all, while they watched the ball games. And all root for the home team. We had uh, East Mill Company had their own hecklers. Some of them had two or three hecklers. But uh, that was a fun part of the game. You had hecklers ragging the players. I will remember some of the old gentlemen, they were old gentlemen you know, stand there and heckled opposing players, the (inaudible) players. And we had more fun hearing those hecklers ragging those baseball players. But that was the main event of the week, during the summer months. Was having a baseball game. Some of our baseball players went from these teams on up to the major leagues. A few of them you know, they were good players they went up to 00:19:00major leagues, and made good players. They had a good brand do baseball going here.

GEORGE STONEY: Now somebody over in Columbus told me that he workedhe played baseball, and so even though he was on his shift somebody else had to do most the work. Is there anything to that or was that just bragging?

WOODHAM: Oh yeah that was true. Each mill wanted to have a winning team you know. If they could get a good college player to come down here or some good ball player to come down and work during the summer months. Especially a school student that was good a baseball and give them a job in the mill. They couldnt pay him to play baseball, that was against professional rules and all, amateur rules. They couldnt pay em to play baseball, they could give them a job in the mill. Hed play on weekends, practice during the week, play 00:20:00on the weekends. They didnt give him any hard job. If the job was too hard for him, theyd put someone on there to run the job for him. But that way of acquiring a winning team, good baseball team. I know, um one year our team hired a pitcher form an opposing team and gave him a job of painting. (inaudible) and watch the other painters paint. But he helped win a lot of ball games. He earned his salt. And he bring folks out to the ball games. They didnt work him hard they didnt demand so many squares to be painted every day or nothing like that. So he got out there and showed up at the game so they could say theyre painting him to paint.


GEORGE STONEY: Talk about music around the mills.

M1: George?


[break in video]

GEORGE STONEY: One moment. (inaudible) Wait a minute.

JAMIE STONEY: Strangle a child.

WOODHAM: A child.

[break in video]

GEORGE STONEY: Okay when youre ready.


GEORGE STONEY: Tell us about music in the mills.

WOODHAM: All the plants were owned by Mr. Callaway. Mr. Callaway hired a man here as a band director. And hed get band players from all the plants. And every weekend theyd have a little (inaudible). Especially during the summer months. Usually on Sunday afternoon like out here in the park. A little veranda like place. They would play music, a band. It was wonderful music. And we had a 00:22:00lot of good musicians here. Mr. [Vanny?] Sanders, he ran that job for several years, almost a lifetime. He ran that job as music director for Callaway Mills. Hed go into the schools teach music in the schools, and he had bands in the schools. But the band that he had from all the plants, that band was second to none around here. It take a band like a Fourth Corps Army band, Fourth Corps Army, to beat our band. They had a real good band. But the man that taught them he relly knew what he was doing, hed been educated for that you know. They gave him a job of doing all the (inaudible). Help people understand and appreciate music.


GEORGE STONEY: What about hillbilly music, string band music that kind of thing?

WOODHAM: That didnt come along till about World War II. A few people began to get up their own string instruments. (inaudible)Before then only a few people would get together with guitars, mandolins, string instruments and all, and play for square dances. Theyd have band last for a while and then vanish. Another band come up, theyd play dances for a while. We had to pay to dance. You had to pay the fiddle. To dance you had to pay the fiddle. But anyway that was the only kind of music we had up until World War II. Started people, they own their own homes, you know, and theyd start forming combos. 00:24:00And the young people would form combos make dance music this that or the other. And of course we had that music instructor you know, all the time. And hes always give them a hand you know, any kinds of problem they had. But they did that mostly on there own. The mill company stuck to the brass band. But weve had a lot of good musicians in this here town.

GEORGE STONEY: OK now is there anything youd like to say that we havent talked about?

WOODHAM: Well, I would like to say that Ive enjoyed living here. I raised a family here. I raised them, I give the teenage club credit for raising my two boys. Cause theyd come to the house grab a bite and run out to the teenage club when they get out of school. Mr. White, called him chief, [Samuel?] White 00:25:00he was hired, he was a retired Navy man. He retired from the Nay after about 30 years in the Navy. He raised a family here. And he took the job as a director of the teenage club and (inaudible) recreation building. And the young people formed these teenage clubs, and Mr. Callaway hired their own people to advise these teenagers and (inaudible) after them you know. Supervise them, look after them. And I know Miss Moore and Miss Brown were two ladies that spent long 00:26:00years at that teenage club, working with the teenagers. Miss Moore is dead now, but when I see Miss Brown, Im gonna call her (inaudible) Brown. I always think of her looking after my kids while I worked. Helping me bring up my children. Well for a thing like that Im thankful for. And the mill company gave scholarships, college scholarships, and if it hadnt had been for that, my oldest son wouldnt have gotten to go to college. He was just getting over a sickness, a bad sickness, we spent all out money on it, and didnt have any money to put him in college. But Mr. Callaway give him a scholarship, and he was able to enter college. He entered Georgia Tech and he graduated from Georgia Tech, and later went back to the University of Georgia in Atlanta Night School, 00:27:00got his masters degree, and he has responsible job in Lockheed now. My youngest son, he didnt want to go to college, he wanted to go to work and buy him a car. He went to work in the Post Office. He worked awhile in the plants, he put in for a job at the Post Office. When a job came open at the Post Office he had to go to Atlanta at the Post Office. He got up there he got interested in electricity. He went to school at night, learning electricity. He got to working with the (inaudible) mailing plant and Brookhead, working on those conveyor belts, (inaudible) lights and all of that. So they sent him to the University of Oklahoma and gave him an engineering degree in electricity up there. Of course it only took 6 to 8 months to do. But thats the only way he got to go to college.


GEORGE STONEY: I didnt ask about your education.

WOODHAM: I didnt have much education. I went and had one year of high school. Back when I was going to school it was seven years of grammar school and four years of high school, which is 11 grades. We have 12 now. I finished grammar school and had one year of high school before I become old enough to go work in the mill. When I came old enough to work in the mill I had to go to work in the mill and help feed the family. There was 8 of us children, I was third oldest. It just come (inaudible) each child do his part to help keep the family fed and clothed. After I got married I saw the need for education. I started 00:29:00correspondence courses, in national correspondence course. I took it in plain and fancy weaving. And it helped me to get up to the job I had when I went in service. And when I went in service they kept me in school all the time. Helped educate me. After I come out of the war, I still helped further my education by taking correspondence schools. And before the war broke out, long about 38, 39, Mr. Callaway built a vocational school here. Teach folks textiles. Thats all they taught em, textiles. Of course they had reading, spelling, reading and writing, which was a necessary part of school. I went through that 00:30:00school. I was in the first graduating class of that school, and that helped further my education. And it was a big help to me, service. Cause I went through those service schools, cause a lot of the studies I had in service schools in the Navy, I had already taken in vocational school. Such as mathematics. It was a big help to me.

GEORGE STONEY: Ok, thank you, I think that does it.