Lucille Thornburgh Interview 4

Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library
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 JUDITH HELFAND: We did him there in the kitchen, it was great, and I thought --

LUCILLE THORNBURGH: Well let's just use that then, instead of this, (chuckles) if that was so great.

[break in video]

THORNBURGH: Keep your head down and look at Judy, OK.

HELFAND: OK, we -- OK, why don't we start with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. We are talking about how before, he dignified the workers, OK, all right.


HELFAND: So, let's start the counter, OK, and why don't you tell us about what, what, as cotton mill people, what FDR did for all of you.

THORNBURGH: Well, he did many things for the cotton mill people.

HELFAND: Can you, when you talk about Roosevelt, let's start with, you know, FDR or Roosevelt or President Roosevelt.

THORNBURGH: Yeah, mm-hmm, OK, do you want to start all over?



THORNBURGH: OK. President Roosevelt did great things for the working people everywhere. For one thing, I think one of the greatest things that he did, it was ah, eman, eman-- let's start over.

HELFAND: OK. Now remember, -- could we stop for a second?

[break in video]

HELFAND: You can go.

[break in video]

HELFAND: OK. Do you want to --

M: Wait, wait, wait, look at me. OK.


HELFAND: Yeah, we can start.

THORNBURGH: OK, then. President Roosevelt did many things for the workers in this country, but specifically for the cotton mill workers, and we were called cotton mill hands at that time. One of the things is, I think he brought us a certain amount of dignity, when we became textile workers instead of cotton mill hands. And do you know how we got that? We got that because we were given the right to organize. When we were given those rights, it was like emancipation. We were told then, and we knew then, that we had friends, and that somebody was 2:00telling us that we had a right to organize. We had never thought before, that we had that right. In fact, we didn't have that right; if we organized, we were fired. So we didn't have the right, but when we got the right to organize, then we felt like we had been freed, that we had something then, that we could do for ourselves, and not just have to do exactly what the bosses told us to do. It gave us emancipation from that, and that was one of the things that we've always been grateful for, that we were now, not completely in the hands of management and the bosses, but that we had a responsibility to ourselves because we're free. We're free to organize if we want to.

HELFAND: That's great.


THORNBURGH: Was that all right?

HELFAND: That was wonderful. Now, you know, remind us, now before President Roosevelt came into office, we were called, this. You know, and you can mention hands. And then, all of a sudden we were elevated to textile workers, and then you can tell us what textile workers repre-- what textile workers meant, like that you never heard that term before.

THORNBURGH: OK, now, it started out with before Roosevelt. Do I say all this again?

HELFAND: You don't have to say all that again.


HELFAND: You could just, you know that, that idea about um, what you said about --

[break in video]



M: Whenever you're ready.

THORNBURGH: Before President Roosevelt and the New Deal, we, we, -- wait a minute, stop it, let's start over. Let me get it in my mind. I like that rights in there, don't you?




M: OK, whenever you're ready.

THORNBURGH: I'm ready. Before Roosevelt and the New Deal, we didn't feel that we had any rights. But after we got our rights, the right to organize and to bargain collectively, without discrimination, then we felt that we had been emancipated, we felt that we were free then. But one of the greatest things among textile workers was that we were no longer lint heads and cotton mill hands. Now, we had become textile workers. I was never referred to as a textile worker. I was a winding machine hand. So that gave us a new title and we liked that. It gave us a little sense of dignity. While that might not mean anything to other people, it meant a lot to us in the cotton mills, to become 5:00textile workers. How was that?

HELFAND: That's great. Now the thing, Lucille, that gave you that emancipation was -- I mean maybe we -- let's go directly to the NRA, OK?


HELFAND: All right. Now, and the NRA came in, in July of 1933, but he was talking about it for a while. But you told me before that it was Section 7A that opened everything up, that was where this emancipation came.

THORNBURGH: OK, should we go over that again?

HELFAND: Well, let's -- yeah. Let's, let's talk about the NRA and let's talk about what the NRA actually represented to you, to your community, and to cotton mill workers in the South, and specifically, -- and you could talk about it in terms of hours and wages, but, but then let's speak about Section 7A specifically.


THORNBURGH: That's the one where we got the right.


THORNBURGH: Is that where we got the rights?

HELFAND: That -- yeah. So, you had, you -- we jumped to the rights. All that you said was wonderful, but we need to be really specific about what Section 7A, that little clause, meant a big deal.

THORNBURGH: My memory is not good. I may -- I can't remember everything we're supposed to say, that's, I guess that's it.

HELFAND: But that's why I'm here, we're just going to do a little chunk at a time.

THORNBURGH: OK, OK, OK. You ready?

M: We're rolling.

HELFAND: OK, Section 7A.

THORNBURGH: Section 7A was actually the legislation that gave us our rights. That was where we got our emancipation, when we were given the rights. And along with those rights, we were given dignity. Well, we considered it dignity, when we were no longer called cotton mill hands and lint heads, we're textile workers. I'd never been called a textile worker. I thought my only title was a winding machine hand, but under Section 7A, then we obtained dignity that we had 7:00never thought was available before.


THORNBURGH: How was that?

HELFAND: That was good, that was good.


HELFAND: Camera on, talk about it.

M: We're on, whenever you're ready.

THORNBURGH: Ready, OK. Excuse me just a minute, are we to start with 7A?

HELFAND: No, let's --

THORNBURGH: Start with, with the attempts to organize.

HELFAND: Right. We're going to make that, that comparison.

THORNBURGH: Mm-hmm. Ready? Organizing in the textile mills didn't really start with our 1934 nationwide strike. It had started earlier than that, in places like Elizabethton, Marion, and Gastonia, North Carolina, but all their attempts over there were futile, and no wonder they were. The bosses were against them, we had no protection whatever, but when we got Section 7A, then we had 8:00protection and we felt that we had that right to organize. But we had not had that before and naturally, those strikes were lost over there, because the employees, or the cotton mill hands, as we called each other than, as we were called then, they were looking, they were thinking all the time, about the management. Management was their boss and they had given them a job, and they were loyal to them. They thought they had to be loyal to them, but Section 7A, then they gave us protection, and it was that protection that we used in our organizing efforts after that.

HELFAND: Now did you tell me before that -- what was that big wedge for organizing? Just because you had Section 7A, you told me there was a wedge in your organizing that was about that loyalty.


THORNBURGH: That's right. Naturally, all the employees didn't feel -- they were not used to this protection, it was something new, so they still felt that they had to be loyal to their employer, to the boss, and to the manufacturer there. They had to be loyal to him, because he was the ones who had provided them with a job, and the job meant everything to them. That was their livelihood, and they felt that loyalty. So it took them a while to realize that we now had protection under Section 7A, that we could organize without discrimination.

HELFAND: Now, as you as an organizer, would you that that was -- that was like the big shift that you had to deal with. Was that one of the big problems in trying to organize?

THORNBURGH: OK, you want me to say that?

HELFAND: Yeah, talk about that, all of it, Lucille.


THORNBURGH: OK. Now wait a minute, let me get that straight. As I said, my mind, between him and –

[break in video]

HELFAND: Go back in your memory and think about -- if you could think about you having to talk to someone when you were organizing.

M: OK.


M: Yeah.

THORNBURGH: Well, one of the things that we had to deal with and myself particularly, as one of the leaders in the union there, was that we had these workers there, these cotton mill hands there, that still felt that loyalty to the management. They didn't feel like that just because we were working here, but that the boss has given us these jobs, and this is our livelihood. So we had to overcome that and that took a long time, to do that, because you had to instill something into the people that they had not had before. It was a new idea, it was a new attitude that they had to take, and eventually, of course 11:00they did, but it was time consuming and it was hard work, to get those people to do that. When you would go talk to a worker and ask them, all right, you want to join the union, of course the only thing we were thinking about was hours, wages, and working conditions; if you want those things, you should join the union. And they would say well, but my boss here, now what does he think about it? Well, we weren't thinking about what he was thinking about it. We were thinking about the, the good for our fellow man there. But they still had that sense of loyalty to the boss, because that's what they'd had all along, they didn't know any better. That's what they were thinking. So that did, it made a wedge between us, we trying to organize, and the management there, but I think 12:00eventually, we've overcome that and I'm certain today, that that is not a fact. Now did we get it in?

HELFAND: Yeah, we did, and you know what,

[break in video]

HELFAND: the start to think about this legislation and they did, and they felt this new hope.

THORNBURGH: But they still had the --

HELFAND: But there was still a lot of work to do.


HELFAND: OK. Let's, let's just play with that a little bit, if you don't mind.



THORNBURGH: Now, how do you want me to say it? You should have written me out a script.

[break in video]

THORNBURGH: In 7A, they started organizing all over the country, and then we began to feel that we could be a part of a great movement, you know that we wouldn't be one little individual group down here. That was a wonderful feeling, to think, and they would come in on the picket line and we would talk about it, and even before the picket lines, we would talk about it. Well these people have organized in Chicago, New York, Boston, and look what they're doing. And that was, that was a great help to us, because this was not just going on 13:00here of course, it was going on all over the country, that the people were aware of this new freedom and protection and they were taking advantage of it, and that was a selling point among our people. Look what they've done here, look what they've done in other places. So that was, that was, that was a wonderful thing, that the other people were doing so great with it, if they can do it we can too.

HELFAND: Do you remember what they did in Minneapolis, in San Francisco?

THORNBURGH: They had those strikes.

HELFAND: Minnea-- let's see, San Francisco. Well, let's go back one step. When, when you read about these organizing efforts in these other industries, or maybe you saw it in a newsreel or you heard about it on the radio, or you saw it in the newspapers. How was it presented to you? How did they present this organizing in other industries to you?

THORNBURGH: Oh they, they were presented to us, as ah, something that was not 14:00good, that they were rabble-rousers and that they were -- the least little thing could be turned into a riot. But still, our people knew, they were that intelligent. They knew that those, those people had a right to do what they were doing, and it was working for them, and if it was working for them, why wouldn't it work for us. We felt that we had the same -- that they had the same protection and was taking advantage of it, and why didn't we take advantage of it here.

HELFAND: When you started that sentence you said they, and what we should say is when the other industries were organizing, the newspapers, the newsreels, you know, the radio, the media at the time, our region here, they took their organizing efforts and always turned it into, you know something --


HELFAND: That would be really helpful for us.


THORNBURGH: OK, OK, shall we start with the media?

HELFAND: Yeah, just, you could basically say the same thing again, it's just when you, when you started --

THORNBURGH: The media.

HELFAND: -- versus, versus saying they, you could say when the newspapers or the radio.


HELFAND: Or the media, you know, covered, you know what was going on in the organizing in the other industries. We didn't know about it like organizing, it was presented to us like violence. Can you try that and do you agree with me?

THORNBURGH: Let's see now. Yeah, I agree with you. I want to get it in, get it in words. As I told you, my memory is not as good as it was. Go ahead.

M: OK.

THORNBURGH: When we would read in the newspapers and hear over the radios, what was happening in other places, like in the big cities, in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and all those places, we realized though, and we were, we were a 16:00little bit ah, apprehensive about it to start with, because it was always told to us as something very violent, something that these people were doing. That wasn't exactly right, but we did listen to it and then, among ourselves, we would talk about well, those people are in bigger cities than, than we are, those people are smarter than we are, and they're organizing, so why can't we? They're taking advantage of this protection law that we have and why can't we do the same thing? We did have a hard time getting that word around, because of course everybody was reading about the strikes and everything that was going on, and they'd have different versions of it. Well, if we organized, will we be in all this violence and will management be against us? Will we lose our jobs? And all those things, so we had that to overcome, but I think we did overcome it, because we were taking advice and listening to what our coworkers were doing 17:00in other places and then it gave us courage to try it here.


M: That was beautiful.

THORNBURGH: Oh, thank you. Ready?

M: Yeah.

THORNBURGH: Now, if you had asked me about these laws, Section 7A, NRA, and all the other New Deal programs that we had at that time, I think I could have quoted them to you verbatim, but that would have been 50 years ago.

HELFAND: Why? Why would you have known it so well?

THORNBURGH: Because I was so interested in it and I saw that it was there for my welfare. That was really the way I felt about the New Deal and about all that legislation that was being passed in Washington. I thought that is for my welfare and for the welfare of my coworkers. So I was very much interested in 18:00reading and knowing every detail of these New Deal programs.

HELFAND: And then did you turn around and put it in language to tell your coworkers?


HELFAND: Tell me that.

THORNBURGH: All right.

HELFAND: Use my sentence.

THORNBURGH: OK. I tried to use that, in fact I did use it among my coworkers, and I got them reading about the laws, and pointing out to them that these laws have been enacted for our welfare, and I think I made it stick with them.

HELFAND: How did you do that, Lucille?

THORNBURGH: Talking when I should have been listening. You don't have to put that in there. (laughter)

HELFAND: Talking when you should have been listening?


HELFAND: Now, had you ever talked like this before, I mean was this the first time you ever got active yourself personally?

THORNBURGH: Oh, absolutely, absolutely.

HELFAND: Tell me that, say that, this was the first time for me.


THORNBURGH: Right. I was interested in all this legislation, particularly for me. I had never been active in things. I was living just like all my coworkers were, that we were working for the boss, and I didn't realize that there was a better life. I had to learn that there is a better life, and I think the New Deal brought a better life to everybody. Maybe I'm a little prejudice, the way I loved Roosevelt and all of his New Deal programs, but just the same, I think that brought new life to all workers in the United States.

HELFAND: And to a cotton mill worker in a small village in North Carolina or South Carolina, who didn't live in a city like this. Think about that and say it, to a cotton mill worker in a small village in North Carolina, in Honea Path, in Newnan, Georgia.

THORNBURGH: That it meant something to them too.

HELFAND: What do you think it -- yeah. Just think about it.



HELFAND: We're going.

THORNBURGH: Not only did I think that this, all this New Deal legislation and this protection that we were getting, I didn't think that it was just valuable to me. I thought it was valuable to all my friends up in Sevier County, over in all the North Carolina counties, and everywhere else that there were cotton mill workers. I felt that this legislation was good for all mill workers, I mean textile workers, we became after the New Deal.


[break in video]

HELFAND: The NRA and the textile code went into effect, I mean like, like as a moment, the 17th of July of '33.


THORNBURGH: As soon as the NRA and Section 7A went into effect on July 17th of 1933, we started then, we began to think then, with our thinking, this, it seems that it almost changed the attitude overnight, that we had protection now, that we didn't owe all of our loyalty to the manufacturer and the cotton mill bosses. We felt then, that we had a certain freedom, and it came almost overnight. But some people didn't quite understand that. Now that we have this, what are we -- what, what can we do with it? Will we be disloyal to the manufacturer that's given us the job, or are we at liberty to join unions? So, we decided, I think the majority did, I know they did where I worked, at Cherokee, the majority 22:00decided we did have that freedom and let's use it, which we did. We began organizing and got our union set up.

HELFAND: Would you say that that was going on, and like in like my mill, I know that that was going on all over the South. People started organizing local unions. Is that?


HELFAND: You would agree with that?


HELFAND: OK, so could you make that leap? It wasn't just in my --


HELFAND: We were on the ground running, this was going on across the region.

THORNBURGH: You ready?

M: Yeah.

THORNBURGH: This was not only in Knoxville and in this area here, but it was going on all over the country. It was going on in North Carolina. Wherever there was a textile mill, this was going on, and that made us feel that we were in good company, that we were along with other people, that we were thinking like they were. It made us, give us a feeling of security, to know that we 23:00weren't alone in organizing.

HELFAND: OK, that is great. Now, say, it wasn't just --

THORNBURGH: You don't have to say it's great every time, we're going to chop it up. Go ahead.

HELFAND: OK. (laughter) It wasn't just here in, you know. So it was here in Tennessee, it was in Alabama. Let's bring some momentum to this. It was in North Carolina, it was in South Carolina, it was in Georgia, it was in places where textile workers had never dared organized a local before.

THORNBURGH: Didn't I say that just now?

HELFAND: You did, but I, I need all the states, Lucille.

THORNBURGH: What states shall I --

HELFAND: I need Georgia, I need North and South Carolina, I need Alabama, I need Tenn -- here, obviously in Tennessee, and then I need Georgia, North and South Carolina and Alabama.

THORNBURGH: I'll probably reword that but we'll go ahead.



M: OK, we're ready.

THORNBURGH: All right. This organizing and this new attitude, and our new, what 24:00you might say, destination, of where we were going, was not only happening here in this area, it was happening all through the southern states where they had textile mills. It happened in Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama. And the people there were thinking like we were, and that gave us a feeling of security; we were all in this together. It was like a big army. We're not standing out here alone; we have these coworkers everywhere, that are thinking as we are, and if they're thinking of organizing, let's go with them. Did I get it in?

HELFAND: You did, you did. Now, would you say that people were organizing in communities, that there were some communities where they had never even tried to organize before, that there were, that there were communities that had never heard of such a thing.


HELFAND: Can you, you know, what would -- I mean, like you know, Greenville, 25:00South Carolina, Gastonia again, you know, Charlotte. What's wrong?

M: Nothing.

HELFAND: Oh, OK. I mean, should we name some places or? I mean, were there places you think, that you know, this just had never -- on some level, this had never occurred in such a big way, this had never occurred in such a mass way, particularly in towns that --

THORNBURGH: Well it had never occurred really, never had occurred at all, you know.

HELFAND: All right, tell me about that.

THORNBURGH: All right, you ready?

M: Yeah.

THORNBURGH: In many places, including Knoxville, including this area here, the mill workers had never even thought about organizing. They, they wouldn't have known how and they didn't think that they had that freedom to organize. They had always just worked for the boss, for the manufacturer, and all they knew was 26:00loyalty to their employer. They didn't realize, well they didn't have, they didn't have to realize, they didn't have the right to organize and to still keep their jobs. And they realized that and then, when the NRA and Section 7A came in, they saw then, that they had this protection, and that almost happened overnight with some of them. They started thinking, now I have this right, now I can do this. So it actually changed the way of thinking in places like Gastonia, North Carolina, Elizabethton, Alabama, all through the Deep South, where there were textile mills. Now, did we get it in?

HELFAND: We did.

THORNBURGH: Well don't say it's great.

HELFAND: I won't.


[break in video]

THORNBURGH: When the, when the NRA and Section 7A came in, we were concerned, of 27:00course, about how it was going to help us. We also had to think about how it was going to affect management, because the first thing we did at Cherokee, where I worked, we put some notices on a billboard down there, that we were going to have a meeting, and the bosses came around right after that and tore them all down. We knew then, that they were not for what we were doing, which was trying to do what we had been given a right to do under NRA and Section 7A. How was that?

HELFAND: Well, but the management was supposed to comply with the NRA. They were all part of the New Deal too.

THORNBURGH: Well, they didn't, they didn't comply with it. If they had complied with it, we wouldn't have had to have gone on strike. So they didn't comply with it.

HELFAND: How could they get by without complying with it, if they were members 28:00of the, of the blue eagle? Did they wave a blue eagle --

THORNBURGH: Oh yeah, we had blue eagles all over the mill, but according to management, that still didn't give us the right to organize, even though it was a law, where it had said that we had the right to organize, bargain collectively, without discrimination. The bosses didn't think that that applied to them and they were still, we're management, you're our workers, you're our hands, and they, they were still of the same attitude. Our attitude and our definition of it was different from what theirs was.

HELFAND: Did you listen to them?

THORNBURGH: No. If we had listened to them, we never would have organized the union there.


HELFAND: Now, do you have something else you want to say?

THORNBURGH: No, not on that, go ahead.


[break in video]

THORNBURGH: I knew that I was not going to work in a cotton mill all my life, that there must be a better world somewhere out there, that I could fit into, other than standing on my feet 50 hours a night, for $8.40 a week. I knew that there must be a better life somewhere, so when the union came along and they started telling me about how I could have shorter hours, better working conditions and higher pay, I went for that, and that's all we talked about at that time, was those three things. And I thought just give me shorter hours, give me a little more pay, and it must be somewhere, and it's not here in this mill.

HELFAND: OK, so, you know, --

[break in video]


THORNBURGH: I worked 50 -- my job at Cherokee Spinning Company was on a winding machine. I wound thread from a cone, onto a spool, and I worked on the night shift. I worked ten hours a night, standing up, and for that, I got $8.40 a week. So I knew that there must be -- so when, they came along and talked about the union, when this organizer came to town to talk to us about that, we all thought, at the time, and we -- and I still think we had nothing to lose. You lose $8.40 a week, what have you lost?

HELFAND: Now, was that $8.40 before -- that must have been --

THORNBURGH: That was for 50 hours.

HELFAND: That was for 50 hours.

THORNBURGH: That's right.

HELFAND: Now, when the textile code come in, of the NRA, it said that you -- it changed your working hours, didn't it? And it changed your working conditions.

THORNBURGH: No, it did not change working conditions, it did not change that, 31:00but it did shorten the hours to eight hours a week. And then we started getting $12.40 a week.

HELFAND: Eight hours a day, right?

THORNBURGH: Eight hours a day.

HELFAND: OK, let's not --

THORNBURGH: Or eight hours a night, let's don't forget that night shift.

HELFAND: OK, let's, let's start that -- let's start that again, because see, a lot of people -- can we stop for a second.

[break in video]

THORNBURGH: Well actually, working conditions did not change that much. We did have shorter hours, but our production was increased. See, where I was winding, where I was winding to get 70 pounds on my shift, then in that eight hours, I was still supposed to get that same amount. So your working conditions didn't, didn't change any. You didn't get any -- you didn't -- we didn't have any breaks, we didn't have any more lunch hour, we didn't have any lunch hour at all, so the conditions didn't change that much. It changed enough and we 32:00appreciated it of course, we were glad to get that eight hours instead of the ten hours. We were glad to get that $12.40 a week but still, it was still that same hard work that we were doing before we organized.

HELFAND: Was it harder work after the NRA than before?

THORNBURGH: It was for a while, it was for a while.

HELFAND: But when you have to do 70 pounds of work in eight hours, at the same -- and you used to have to do 70 pounds in 12 hours, that's taking advantage of you.

THORNBURGH: Of course it was.

HELFAND: And that's --

THORNBURGH: That, that, that was one of the arguments that we used in talking to our coworkers about joining the union, that our working conditions had not changed.

HELFAND: Had they gotten worse?

THORNBURGH: They were actually worse, because you were supposed to produce the same amount of work in eight hours, that you had been doing in ten.

HELFAND: In some mills, they had to do, in eight hours, what they used to do in 12.


THORNBURGH: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, yeah, some of them, where they were working 12-hours shifts. We had 10-hour shifts at Cherokee.

HELFAND: Could you actually say that, and I know that in some cases, what people had to do in 12 hours, they now had to do in eight hours. And I think that's called a stretch-out, Lucille.

THORNBURGH: It is, stretch-out, it is.

HELFAND: Stretch some of that out. Could you use that term and could you tell me sort of what gave the management the gumption to pull that on people?

THORNBURGH: You ready? Well, at Cherokee, after we, after we had the NRA and after we got our eight hours a day and our $12.40 a week, our working conditions didn't change. We had to produce just as much in that eight hours, as we had in ten, and as I understand it, at a lot of other places, where they were working 34:0012-hours shifts, they had to do the same amount of work and produce as much of whatever it was they were producing, like thread in my case, they had to do the same amount in eight hours. And I don't know how management got by with that, but that was what we called the stretch-out system. It was, it was stretching out your work. So actually, we didn't gain a whole lot there. We were appreciative of the shorter hours and the higher pay, from eight up to twelve dollars a week, but still, working conditions hadn't changed enough. If they had, I don't know that we, we could have organized, if everything had just been running smoothly and we didn't have to work as hard, but we were working harder. We were working much harder, and that was what we didn't like, and that was one of the things that we wanted to join the union for.

HELFAND: So here you are, it's such a paradox. Here you are, working harder, 35:00but now you have -- you're supposed to have this respect.


HELFAND: How could -- you're supposed to -- here you are, you're able to join a union and you're supposed to have a voice, and now they're treating you worse than they were even before.

THORNBURGH: Right, right, right.

HELFAND: Can you talk about that?

THORNBURGH: Well, we, we thought, and according to the law, we should have had better working conditions. That was a part of it, to just work eight hours instead of ten. But what was the advantage of working eight hours, when you had to produce as much as you did in that ten hours? So we couldn't see any justification for that whatever, except management was still management, it was their mill, and they could run it as they saw fit.

HELFAND: Now I understand that even in some cases, they laid some people off, you know? Oh, you know, if I have to pay you, if I have to pay you $12, and that was minimal.

THORNBURGH: That's the minimum.


HELFAND: I'm going to make the $12 maximum, and if I have to pay you $12, you can do the same amount of work in 12 hours, in eight, and in fact, you're going to do the work of your buddy next to you.

THORNBURGH: That's right. That was all a part, that was all a part of the stretch-out system. Stretch out, lay off one worker, stretch out the other one. That's where we used the term stretch-out.

HELFAND: Were people tired?

THORNBURGH: Of course they were.

HELFAND: Exhausted?

THORNBURGH: Well of course you were. You work ten hours a night, as I did at Cherokee, standing on your feet, in front of a little machine, winding thread, of course you're exhausted, you're tired out.

HELFAND: Now once the stretch-out took place, once the stretch-out took place, can you give -- do you imagine, do you know, was there more exhaustion than there had been before? Were people asked to do something that was inhuman?


THORNBURGH: I, I don't know that there was a lot of that, because one of the things, you must remember, this was Depression days, and getting that extra four dollars on the week meant so much to people, that we were -- I was one of them. We were willing to do this extra work, to get that extra money, because it was so badly needed. See, we were -- that was Depression days, that's in the soup lines and we, we just took what we could get of course, but the, the additional pay there, a lot of the people thought well, that makes up for having to do the extra work. I didn't. I, I didn't think that. I didn't want to do that extra work and many others didn't, and there were some people that were laid off. If I can do the same amount of work in eight hours, that I did in ten hours, how 38:00about my coworkers over here, we can get rid of one of them. How are we doing?

HELFAND: We're good.

[break in video]

THORNBURGH: At their last class, I talked to them, and most of them are black, and they love superstitions and they love things like that saying you had, "Don't bang my head with the tea kettle." I'll tell them that one, you know, everything.

HELFAND: This is part of your work?


HELFAND: What do you mean?

THORNBURGH: Well, this senior aides program that they have, it's, they have two weeks of training down there and on their last day we make it a fun day, and I tell them stories. And I found out that those black people, they love superstitions, you know just of all kinds, and they told me a new one the other day that I had certainly never heard of. Did you ever hear that you're not supposed to cut a baby's teeth until it's a year old?

HELFAND: You're not supposed to cut a baby's teeth until they're a year old?


THORNBURGH: I mean a baby's fingernails, I'm sorry, a baby's fingernails.


THORNBURGH: Did you all ever hear of that one? I never heard of it. So I asked one of them, I said well what if the baby's fingernails grow out? She says the mother is supposed to bite them off, that it's very bad luck. The child will grow up to be a thief if you cut its fingernails before it's a year old. I thought that was very cute, I'd never heard that one before. Oh, and they --

[break in video]

THORNBURGH: Well, well, well, you got me a script?

HELFAND: How did it change, Lucille?

[break in video]

THORNBURGH: They supported us. Max Friedman was one of our --

HELFAND: OK, can you start that, I liked, I liked the Jews because they were good to us during the strike.

THORNBURGH: Yeah, you want me to say it just like that or you got me a script.

HELFAND: No, you could say it that way you want to, just give us a lead in.


M: Yeah.

THORNBURGH: Well, during our strike at the Cherokee Spinning Company, we had 40:00support from the Jewish community here. One of them I remember very definitely was Max Friedman, who was a jeweler here and later was a city councilman, and remained a city councilman until he died. But we had support from all of the Jewish community here.

HELFAND: Now, we'll --

M: Can you attach the --

[break in video]

HELFAND: Section 7A was passed and the textile code was passed. When management wasn't complying with the textile code or wasn't complying with the NRA, what did the workers do, aside from organize unions?

THORNBURGH: Oh, we wrote -- you ready?

M: Yeah.

HELFAND: And if you want to build, build up to my answer, your answer, that would be great.

THORNBURGH: All right. Even though the ah, NRA and Section 7A was in effect, still, management was not living up to what the requirements were in those -- in 41:00that legislation, and because of that reason, a lot of the workers, who weren't even thinking about joining the union at that time, were concerned that management -- they knew that much about NRA and Section 7A, that they wanted to know why wasn't management living up to that code? And they were not living up to it, and they started writing letters to President Roosevelt and Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, and all those people in Washington, to find out why, why aren't they living up to this code? I remember very well, that there were people then, that wrote to their congressmen about that, who had never written to a congressman before. I remember them showing me letters “Look, I've got a letter from my congressman, I got a letter from my congressman, because I, I've written to him, and look, I've got a letter.” It was, it was -- it spread. 42:00They thought, they didn't think about doing anything locally, because they were thinking that President Roosevelt and all this New Deal legislation, and rightfully so. That was what had given them their rights and their protection, so they sent their letters to Washington, to the president, the congressmen, senators and all.

HELFAND: Now, I heard that one of the reasons that they sent it to Washington was also because they had set up these NRA compliance boards in each state, but often, who was on those compliance boards? Mill owners.


HELFAND: People connected to the industry.


HELFAND: People in the chamber of commerce.

THORNBURGH: Who, who appointed those people, that they got that kind -- I know they had that kind of a conglomeration on them, but who appointed them? Were they appointed in Washington or where were they appointed?

HELFAND: Well, from what I understand -- can you cut.

[break in video]

THORNBURGH: It was called the -- wasn't it called the -- what was it?


HELFAND: The NRA compliance board.

THORNBURGH: Compliance board. You ready?

M: Yeah.

THORNBURGH: The workers and all of the -- my coworkers there, we all sent our letters to Washington. We sent them to our congressmen and to our senators, because we didn't trust the people that was on the NRA appliance board.

HELFAND: Let's start again.

THORNBURGH: Compliance.

HELFAND: OK, it's compliance.

THORNBURGH: Yeah, compliance.

HELFAND: Also, say we wrote directly, use the word directly.


HELFAND: We wrote directly to President Roosevelt, Hugh Johnson.

THORNBURGH: I told her she ought to have a script. We wrote directly.

HELFAND: OK, and it's Hugh Johnson, who is he? The president of the NRA.

THORNBURGH: Was that what he was?

HELFAND: Director of the NRA.

THORNBURGH: I think though, that most of the letters addressed to the president and the congressmen and the senators.

HELFAND: Well, to the president, even Mrs. Roosevelt.


HELFAND: And Secretary Perkins, and Hugh Johnson, lots of them were sent to Hugh Johnson.

F: But you know what happens is sometimes what they would do was, --


[break in video]

THORNBURGH: My coworkers and myself too of course, we were writing letters all the time. We would write them to President Roosevelt, to Mrs. Roosevelt, to our congressmen, to our senator, and to Hugh Johnson, complaining about management not being in compliance with the textile code and with the NRA regulations. We didn't know where else to go, because we didn't trust the state compliance board, because it had been staffed with people who were in the textile industry and we didn't trust those people. So we sent our letters to Washington and we did hear later, that our letters that were sent to these representatives in 45:00Washington, were ferreted out to Hugh Johnson, who was head of the NRA. But what we were concerned about was trying to get these people in compliance with these codes. We had read enough, we knew what the codes were, and we knew that management was not going by the codes.

HELFAND: Now, had textile workers ever written -- I mean some people would say that textile workers were not a literate people.

THORNBURGH: We said that a while ago didn't we? I said people had written to their congressmen that had never written before.

HELFAND: Yeah, but let's work with, let's just work with the idea of never writing before, that taking, actually taking a pencil and some slate paper, and writing a letter like that. What kind of action was that?

THORNBURGH: OK. Many of our people, our textile workers, had never written to a congressman before. In fact, many of them had not even voted before that time, 46:00because up until we got rid of the poll tax law here, it cost $2.00 to pay for a poll tax, and during Depression years, the people didn't vote, so a lot of them didn't even know until that time, but they certainly became interested in who their senators and their congressmen, and who their representatives in Washington were, when they saw all these violations of the NRA and the textile code. Did that get it in?

HELFAND: That gets it in, that gets it in. Were you someone who had written letters before?


HELFAND: Tell me about that.

THORNBURGH: Oh, I wrote letters to the congressmen and senators all along. I would report conditions even where I was working, but there was nothing negative about it. At that time there was no laws. The man who owned the factory run the factory the way he wanted to run it. But I did, I've always been a letter writer.


HELFAND: Now, do you think you all expected these letters to be answered? Did you think something was going to happen?

THORNBURGH: Yes, yes. We, we thought that we had these elected representatives in Washington and that if we wrote to them, that something would happen. We definitely did, we thought something would happen, and particularly when we got answers back from the letters.

HELFAND: Do you recall getting any answers back from any of these letters?

THORNBURGH: Oh, yes, and other workers there, who had never written to their congressmen before, were showing me the answer that they got from their representative in Washington. And usually those letters, I think they all said the same thing, that they would investigate it. Just a real political letter.

HELFAND: Did they investigate it, Lucille?

THORNBURGH: Not that I know of, I don't think they did, but times did get better, things did change. The stretch-out system, that was cut into very 48:00deeply. They stopped the stretch-out system, and then later, I think we had -- I'm sure we did. Of course, I didn't get to go back to the mill after the strike, but as I understand it, they were given luncheon, lunch breaks, and maybe coffee breaks, but we didn't have that. So things did change. Maybe their letters helped.

[break in vdieo]

HELFAND: Start that again.

THORNBURGH: Roosevelt was very respected. He was little god, Roosevelt was, and particularly, when he brought -- when we had all this legislation that was for our protection and security, and then when he brought TVA here, all that new Deal legislation, Roosevelt was absolutely worshiped. Well, you know that, because he was elected, reelected four times.

HELFAND: Now, they wrote -- people even said, do you remember getting on the radio or in the newspaper and saying if you have any problems, write to me.



HELFAND: Can you talk to me about that?

THORNBURGH: Yes. Where we got the idea of writing to Roosevelt was, we would hear this over the radio, you know, in that very, very nice voice that he had, "If you have any problems, you can always refer them to your president." Well, we took him at his word and sent the letters direct to him, and maybe they were effective. We, we thought that they were.

HELFAND: Now there came a point when you weren't getting any responses, that the boards weren't doing anything.

THORNBURGH: Yes, and I don't know what it, what -- I think a lot of those boards that ah, what was it, the national labor relations board? Oh, the one that used to investigate the unions.

HELFAND: Oh, the Textile Labor Relations Board.

THORNBURGH: A lot of those boards didn't do anything, but I don't think that was 50:00Roosevelt's fault. I think he appointed them, you know, to do good, but they didn't. I don't know why.

HELFAND: Do you think it had anything to do with them being very close to industry in some way or industry having their fingers in there?

THORNBURGH: Well, it could have been, and maybe they were contributing heavy to a political kitty, even Roosevelt, but still, I think he's the greatest president that's ever been. I don't think we'll ever have anybody to match him.

HELFAND: Do you remember voting for him, that, that 1932 election?

THORNBURGH: Let's see, wait a minute, did I -- oh, yes, yes, I remember voting for him, but at that time, we had to have a poll tax receipt to take to the polls with you. See, we hadn't done away with the poll tax at that time, so it was real interesting. I don't remember exactly what year the poll tax went out, but I know the voting went up, and I know people who had never paid their poll 51:00tax before, in order to vote for Roosevelt the second term. They got the two dollars all right, to go vote for Roosevelt.

HELFAND: What about --

THORNBURGH: Of course he was elected, it was landslides, you know all the way through.

HELFAND: What about that first term, you know when he took over from Hoover, that big transition between 19 -- you know, between the Depression and easing out of it in 1932. Do you just, do you happen to remember that, that transition?

THORNBURGH: I remember when Roosevelt was elected. You know, we had talked about Hooverville and all these little soup lines and how people were living and all that, and if you remember what Roosevelt's theme song was, "Happy Days are Here Again." Well, we took him at his word, happy days are here again, and all the way through. When we went to the polls to vote for him, we were all singing, "Happy days are here again because Roosevelt's going in." And sure 52:00enough he did, you know, with a landslide.

HELFAND: Can you sing it?

THORNBURGH: No, no, you sing it.

HELFAND: Come on, Lucille.

THORNBURGH: No, I can't sing it.

HELFAND: Yes you can, I know you can.

THORNBURGH: But it was good. Let's see, I have forgotten even how it goes, but we were singing that, you know.

HELFAND: (sings) Happy days are here again.

THORNBURGH: Go ahead, you're doing fine.

HELFAND: That's all I know, is that.

THORNBURGH: That, that was, that was a great song though and people believed it. You know, we, we were in such dire depression, and that was kind of an uplifting song, happy days are here again. People believed him and sure enough, they were. No wonder people worshiped Roosevelt.

HELFAND: You know, before, you were telling me before that in the Depression, everybody --

THORNBURGH: Now don't tell me what I told you before.


THORNBURGH: Because I've forgotten that. What did I tell you?

HELFAND: All right, all right, all right. We're just going to go back to the Depression, since we're talking about it, for a minute.



HELFAND: You said that around, in the '20s, and before -- during the -- particularly around '29, and particularly around the time of the Depression, that other industries, you said were getting some more -- were getting paid better, but that the textile industry was one industry that was really having a tough time. You read this just the other day.

THORNBURGH: Yes, now just a minute, until I get that, so it won't be too long.


[break in video]

THORNBURGH: In reading a book --

M: I wouldn't say that.

HELFAND: Don't mention the book, just tell me what you know.

THORNBURGH: OK, OK, wait a minute now, she said don't mention the book, don't mention the book. Ready?

M: Yeah.

THORNBURGH: In the 1920s, you know wages were good in most places. It was because of the automobile industry, you know Ford had just started his assembly line and are turning out all those cars. That made business good in steel, tin, 54:00rubber, glass, and all those things. Wages went up and people were going to work and the middle and early '20s were good years, but the wages did not go up in the textile industry and in the coal industry. That was two that they did not go up in. If there was, big time, big jobs, and roaring '20s as they called it, it did not hit the coal industry and the textile industry. We were still working for those low wages.

HELFAND: And where industry is actually moving in from the north, industry is moving textiles over here.

THORNBURGH: Over to the South.

HELFAND: To take advantage of that low wage.

THORNBURGH: To take advantage of it, sure. Do you want to put this down?

HELFAND: Do you remember that?

THORNBURGH: Yes. And because some of the textile mills -- are you doing?

M: Yeah, you're going.

HELFAND: Look at me.

THORNBURGH: Oh, I'm sorry. Some of the textile mills up east, that we would 55:00read about, were organized and had been organized for some time, but of course they weren't organized down here and we were still getting that very, very low wage. And for that reason, a lot of the textile industry moved south, that was the big move at the time, that they were talking about. All the mills were coming down south, just to get this low wage of course, and they did come here.

HELFAND: How did you feel about that?

THORNBURGH: I don't know at that time, what I was thinking about anything or not, that was before the strike and before the union.

HELFAND: Well what do you think about that now?

THORNBURGH: Well, I think, I think that was bad, but it was our fault down here, that we didn't organize and get the good wages that they were getting in the East. We were just afraid to organize. We had been taught loyalty to management and we hadn't organized, and those people up in the East had organized. So it gave management that opening to move south, where wages were 56:00still low.

HELFAND: And what about this notion about Anglo-Saxon workers and they're good to -- you know, they didn't make good employees. You know what they say about, what they used to say about southern workers.

THORNBURGH: About, oh yes, that southern workers were more docile and they made better employees, and they were so industrious and all, which of course wasn't true. We were just people like there were people all over the world, some of them were good, some of them were bad, but we were considered the good workers. Maybe it's because they thought we weren't as well educated and wouldn't get organized and do as well as the others, that they'd move down here to get us to go to work for them.

HELFAND: Did you show them?

THORNBURGH: I think we did in the strike. After we became organized, we didn't do anything until we were organized.


HELFAND: Now let's, let's, let's, let's figure out how you all got organized, because this is a big question for a lot of people. How did they do it, piece by piece. So, um, --