Eula McGill Interview 6

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EULA MCGILL: They are probably and it -- he was -- he was proud that she voted for it. It’s called -- what the law is -- it means that the company can write a letter to another company concerning them people that worked for them without the knowledge of that person. And as the law got passed here Alabama --

JUDITH HELFAND: This is recent?

MCGILL: Yes. [Ann Bledso?] -- I got to get the whole of it because the Women’s Political Caucus sent her a donation the other day and it burnt me up. They just sent her that donation because she was a woman, to my way of thinking. And I dropped out of the political caucus because I just couldn’t 1:00stand -- I’m too much of a Democrat, I couldn’t stand that other political people in there, you know. I called [Jane Rickles?] who was head of the Jefferson County Political -- Women’s Political Caucus and I’m going to ask her if she knows about that. And ask her -- I’m going to tell her that I don’t feel like I could write them but I think that they ought to -- we ought -- you ought to have been the one that recommended who to support down here, not the national. I think they support her just because she’s a woman and they don’t know nothing about her background. And they’re doing -- they’re not helping women when they support women who -- of that caliber.

HELFAND: What happened back in 1933 and 1934? Why do you think that there’s been so much of a silence and a lot of the older folks are even afraid to tell 2:00their children about their union activity?

MCGILL: I don’t think they’re afraid. I don’t think they’re afraid. It’s not fear that they’re afraid to tell them, they just forgot about it. It’s a failure and they figure it’s a failure, they failed. I think that’s the thing that I think is wrong. I don’t think it was a failure. You don’t ever win a war, you win battles. You never win a war. You never get everything -- as soon as you fight one battle, another battle comes up. You never win a war. You fight battles as they arrive. And this was a battle in the stepping stone of organizing the textile workers union. And as far as Alabama is concerned to me, it wasn’t a failure because Alabama -- we got so many good local unions that existed for years until imports cut into the industry and we lost so many textile shops to imports and foreign competition.


HELFAND: Now you always -- well, so -- so -- so -- so, but you -- so you don’t think that the reason so many people either don’t know about this or only know about it in terms of violence or blacklists, you don’t think that that’s about fear?

MCGILL: No -- well I don’t think that existed in (inaudible) to that point because most of us went back into the shops we came out of after the strike was over. And a few people didn’t have their jobs back.

HELFAND: People in Alabama?

MCGILL: As far as I know. That’s all I know about is -- is Alabama.

HELFAND: OK. Well we’re going to talk about Alabama --

MCGILL: Except what I’ve heard by my own knowledge. I heard from other people what happened other places but I never was -- after all, I wasn’t over there. I couldn’t walk over there and that’s the only way I could go because I was just a worker and organizing as a volunteer organizer. I had no money. So I 4:00only got to stay within -- in the area is where I -- where I worked, where I could ride a bus or street car. The only way I went to Huntsville was one of the organizers that was -- we had two paid organizers in the state and when they -- sometimes I’d ride up there with them. I think I made a couple of trips up there. But I was busy here during the strike because we had to maintain a picket line and you couldn’t go off and leave your situation.

HELFAND: Let’s start -- let’s start back. You talked about your first picket line. And I guess that’s where you learned about unions.

MCGILL: Well yes.

HELFAND: And that’s in a cotton mill town, right?

MCGILL: Well not so much a cotton mill town. Gadsden or Alabama City in Etowah County was steel mills, the Gulf State Steel which was -- later become part of 5:00US Steel. There were a lot of little independent foundries. There’s a stove foundry. There was a pipe shop. There was a railroad repair where they repaired railroad cars. There was a lot of industry in Gadsden in Etowah County. There’s hosiery mills and, uh, there’s just a lot of different, diversified industries. It wasn’t dominated by textile or cotton mills as we called them then as I told [Wade Flint?] one day. I said, “You know I didn’t hear the word textile until I joined the union. It was always called cotton mill hands or lint heads.” He laughed. I never heard the word textile until I joined the union. I never heard that word used in connection with a cotton mill.

HELFAND: Well what kind of words were they using?


MCGILL: Cotton mill. Cotton mill hands and lint heads. They called us lint heads. You come out of the mill with lint in your hair. You was a lint head.

HELFAND: What did lint head really mean?

MCGILL: It meant a woman who worked in the mill, a man who worked in the mill had lint in their hill, cotton lint. These mills was -- even after they got the humidifiers in there, there was terrible, terrible dust and cotton lint flying through the air.

HELFAND: But also --

MCGILL: It got all over you. You had to clean yourself off before you left. We’d take a -- they had, uh, hose like in there with air hose that we’d blow ourselves off with it before we came it if we didn’t want to come out with that cotton hanging all over us.

HELFAND: But aside from the specifics, lint head and lint. When someone -- lint had meaning, they had lint all over you. What did that mean class-wise when 7:00someone called you a lint head?

MCGILL: They were looked down on in Alabama City. The people who worked in the cotton mill was kind of second class people they thought. Most of them came down -- I read -- I can go back and get some more of that stuff. A lot of the mill would go up on the sand mountain and entice farmers to move into town and furnish them a house, put them up in there -- the mill owned a hotel. And they put them at the hotel until they could find them a house to work the women and children. And it was a great thing -- this people -- poor farmers come off the -- most of the mills worked those kind of people because they were subservient and they never raised no complaint. And they was living better than they ever lived in their life. To them, they didn’t think about them meddling in their 8:00personal life and all that. They even told them there in the Dwight Mill, they could tell them how big a house they could live in. They couldn’t choose their own house. They was assigned a house by the -- by the mill, by the owners. And they kept -- they encouraged them to keep cows. They had a pasture so they could keep their cows down there so -- to supplement their income so they could -- they wouldn’t have to pay them as much. A big pasture down there below the mill and people had cows and they’d feed their cows down there and they’d go down there and milk their cows.

HELFAND: Now when you said you never heard --

MCGILL: And they also had a section of that called up on [Bailey Hill?]. That’s where they signed the people that they considered -- that didn’t keep their yards up. And most of the village was pretty, had flowers and everything. But up on Bailey Hill, it looked like a slum. And the mill owned those towns too. But that’s where they let people -- put people up there that didn’t 9:00keep their yards up and didn’t keep their houses clean. Bailey Hill was even looked down on by the rest of the cotton mill workers as the place where the trash -- cotton mill trash as they called them.

M1: Can you try not to look at Peter? Just look at Judith.


HELFAND: OK. I know that’s hard.

MCGILL: I didn’t realize I was doing that.

HELFAND: That’s OK. You know, I once heard you say that before that you never heard that -- what did it feel like to be called a textile worker all of the sudden?

MCGILL: I didn’t think about it. I didn’t. I mean I don’t remember having no reaction at all. I’m still a lint head. I didn’t take the cotton out of my hair. I’ve been called a lint tower.

HELFAND: OK. Now -- now --

MCGILL: Textile labor, you know -- textile association had a -- I wish I could 10:00remember the name of that. They came out there and they sit and the manufacturer and made a picture of me and used it. And I didn’t think nothing about it then. That was before we ever had a union. I don’t know why they picked me. They took me out in front and wrote a story. I wish I could get -- I don’t know who did -- but it was the textile association -- manufacturer association magazine. It was in the late ‘20s. It was before we got the union I know. And they came out there. And I reckon that’s the first time I ever really thought about textile instead of cotton mill. And they -- boss come got me and took me out in the front. And they made a picture and they wrote some kind of a story. But I don’t remember ever seeing it. They probably didn’t think I’d be interested in it. They just wanted to use it for their own. And I don’t know what they wrote that story about. But it was a -- I might go look back and find -- if I ever wrote that down. I’d really like to know what that was about.


HELFAND: You might’ve been a model worker.

MCGILL: I doubt that. I was a lousy spinner. I was a lousy spinner. I hated the job. I was no good at it. I was the worst spinner. Hadn’t it been for the lady who headed me, I would never have been able to keep them frames up. I was too tall. I told them I wasn’t cut out to be a spinner. I tried to get them to move me to the white weave shop, but you didn’t get transferred only if they want to transfer you. I begged to be taken off those spinning frames because I was not -- I was too tall to be a spinner. I had to stoop and I just wasn’t no good at it. I hated it.

HELFAND: So if you weren’t good at it, why did they keep you on?

MCGILL: Well it’s hard to get hands out there at that little old mill. It was called a hobo mill. Very few people stayed there long because it wasn’t a very nice place to work. And I only worked there because of two reasons, I 12:00needed to eat and feed my family or I wouldn’t have worked there. But there was nothing else to find to do.

HELFAND: You know, that’s a -- can you stop for a second --

MCGILL: The conditions of that mill was the worst -- I never have been but two mills in my life. The Dwight Mill, whatever you say about it, it was clean and pleasant factory. The work was hard, the hours were long, and the pay low. It was kept clean. The restrooms were kept clean. But that mill out there was filthy, never cleaned up and they didn’t keep the -- enough -- the machines weren’t kept in good working order.

HELFAND: Um, let’s go back to -- tell me again about this -- and mention the 13:00“Selma Manufacturer Company in Birmingham where I was living.” And you could say how old you were when you started working there and the fact that it was a hobo mill, that’s something that we need to understand. Do you mean -- does that mean that people -- stop for a second. People -- people --

MCGILL: Very few people stayed there regularly. Most of the hands were --

HELFAND: They could leave because they didn’t like it. They didn’t like it so they left.

MCGILL: No, they was travelling around -- [Lloyd Davis?] was a hobo weaver for a long time. He just wanted to travel. And he worked all up and down the southeastern seaboard from Maine to Columbus, Georgia. He even worked out there in Selma for a while. There was people who travelled around just worked in different mills. They were called hobo mill workers. And that place attracted a lot. The conditions were bad. Nobody wanted to stay there any longer and getting a little -- a little money to travel somewhere else.


HELFAND: No, Eula, did people do that as some kind of form of protest? They didn’t like where they was, so they picked up and left.

MCGILL: I don’t know why they did it except they just didn’t like to stay in one place. And you had very few people in the Selma Manufacturing Company that worked regular any length of time because they worked a lot, like I say, for a few weeks or a month and then they’d go and try another place because they can usually get jobs in these mills. That’s one thing during the depression, mills run -- I don’t know why, but the mills -- there wasn’t much of a depression in the mills as far as slack work. There was work. You just had to have no pay. I don’t know of any of the mills closing during the depression. They operated full blast around here.

HELFAND: In Birmingham?


MCGILL: In Alabama. Even the big Avondale chain was just one of the biggest. They always were -- had plenty of work. I think Avondale Mill, as I remember -- I’m not sure about this. I believe most of their work went for prison uniforms.

HELFAND: Really? Let’s --

MCGILL: Ours was sugar bags. The material we made went to make sugar bags.


MCGILL: I don’t know where it went to, to make sugar bags to put sugar in.

HELFAND: OK. When you say -- when you say ours -- stop for a second -- when you say ours you mean here in Selma.


HELFAND: OK. So what we’re going to do is we’re going to go back to -- we’re just going to talk a little bit about the first time --

[break in video]

HELFAND: So and remember to -- if you could mention also -- you didn’t live in the mill village ever in your life.

MCGILL: No, never, never.

HELFAND: OK. But you saw those people, knew people who --


MCGILL: Yeah. The path that I went to school, I had to go through that village to go to Dwight School. I went to elementary school at Dwight School.

HELFAND: So you went to a cotton school.

MCGILL: There wasn’t no public school. It was named Dwight. It was run by the -- they donated the land for the school. It was called Dwight school. The mill didn’t own the school but they donated the land.

HELFAND: Let’s start this story and maybe you could say, “I didn’t live -- I lived in a town -- I didn’t live in the mill village but I had to walk through there because I went to their school.”

MCGILL: That’s right. That wasn’t the mill school. That wasn’t the mill school. It was run by the public education. The mill just donated the land for the school and it was called Dwight School.

HELFAND: Could you start -- could you start from, “I had to walk through the mill -- I didn’t live in the mill village but I had to walk through the mill village to go to school.” And then maybe you could talk a little bit about --

[break in video]

MCGILL: We moved to Alabama when I was five years old. Papa went to work in the 17:00Gulf State steel plant. And we lived in Alabama City. It was halfway between the mill and the steel mill. Papa wanted to walk back and forth to work. The school that I attended -- the land was donated -- it was called Dwight School. And we had to walk by the mill through the village to the school building which was over by the railroad tracks. And going by the mill, I remember you’d see women -- they would let the women come out every morning and every afternoon because they worked 12 hours a day if they had nursing children. And the older children would bring the children and they’d come out on the grass and nurse their children. They brought them in the morning a certain time and the afternoon at a certain time. I remember that distinctly. Then we lived next 18:00door to a lady who worked in the mill, [Miss Tillery?]. And I don’t -- sometime during World War I, I don’t know it was 1917 -- ’18 -- something like that. They organized a union because practically everything up there was union at that time except the auto shops, the small shops like the railroad shops where they repaired the cars, and the pipe shops, and the hosiery mills, and there was an overall factory in Gadsden and several small foundries. We had a stone foundry. They were all organized. And the Gulf State Steel of course and the big mill were not organized. But all the other little industry around there had it unionized, pretty good union town. And I attended -- they went on 19:00strike. They organized the mill and went on strike. And me and mama would go up with Miss Tillery to the picket line and I was eight years old. So that had to be -- I was born in 1911, so that was 1919 was when that was. And that’s the first -- so one day, I had a big Labor Day picnic and parade over in Gadsden. And mama and I had gone. Papa worked because they didn’t have Labor Day off or any holidays. And that night we were eating supper and I said, “Papa what is a union?” I guess that’s the first time I ever really realized what he was talking about. And he told me, he said, “Well,” he said, “A union is an organization of workers banding together to try to improve their working conditions.” He said everything else is organized, even 20:00the preachers has ministerial associations, why shouldn’t workers be organized. That’s what he said to me. And he also said if you live in this country and don’t try to better yourself -- or make the world better, you ain’t living, you’re just taking up space. And he also told me, he said, “A person who says their satisfied, there’s no room for improvement.” He said, “Never be satisfied. Be content, but never satisfied, you always want to try to better yourself.” That’s what my daddy told me then. And it stuck with me.

HELFAND: So there was -- so you knew about unions? It wasn’t --

MCGILL: No, no I knew about unions. It wasn’t no mystery to me when they 21:00started talking unions after Roosevelt was elected. The organizers didn’t have to hunt me, I hunted them. In fact, they was trying to keep from knowing they was organizing. They was afraid of me because I did not live near the mill. They kind of felt like I was an outsider because I lived in Ensley Highlands. And I travelled by streetcar. I had to ride two streetcars to go part of the way to get to work. In fact it took me two hours every morning to get to work and two hours to get home because to ride the streetcar to town, transfer it, and riding out there, and then walking from the end of the streetcar line out to the mill. And they were kind of -- I wasn’t around there, you know, so they didn’t know how I felt. So they was keeping it quiet from me. I found out later, knowing nothing about my background or anything. 22:00So the second hand which is an underboss, a straw boss, he don’t have authority in firing and hiring, but still he’s an overseer of a section, he came to me one evening and he said, “Hey,” he said, “Did you know they was trying to organize a union here?” And I said, “No.” He said, “Well they are.” He said, “They’re having a meeting in the morning at ten o’clock.” He said, “How about going and seeing what it’s all about?” That’s the first I’d heard of it. So next morning I got up and got on the streetcar, made that same trip back over near the mill at the masonic lodge was having a meeting and attended the meeting. I went to join and I didn’t go back and tell him nothing because it was later on I found out actually he 23:00wasn’t against the union because he had been a worker in a railroad shop and had been a member of the union in Decatur, Alabama that closed down during World War I. But he had worked in there. And he had been a member of the machinist union. And he wasn’t really against the union, but he, as a boss, he had to do what he could. And my boss, the regular boss over spinning and weaving, he was a nice man. He was a very nice man. And he never -- I never knew him discriminate against anybody because of the union. And he discussed the union with me. He came down one afternoon and he said -- he called me Tootsie. I don’t know why he called me that. But he nicknamed me Tootsie. And he said, “Tootsie,” he said, “Do you know they’re trying to organize a union here?” I said, “They are?” He says, “Yeah.” He said, “And I 24:00understand you’re on the organizing committee.” I said, “Yeah I am.” He said, “Well I want to know why.” He said, “Haven’t I always been good to you?” I said, “Yeah Joe, you’ve been good, but you’ve done all you can for me. I got to get over your head.” And I said, “The way to get over your head is to get me a union.” And he just said, “Ah,” and walked off and never said nothing -- discussed it with me no more. And in fact he quit right after they fired me. I understand he made the statement when they started firing the best hands he had, it was time for him to leave. And he left -- he left there. I don’t think he quit because they fired me, but he left there and went over to Mississippi because he -- I went over there -- he come over here and asked me if I wanted to -- I didn’t have a job -- later on, I’m getting ahead of myself.


HELFAND: Wow. OK. Let’s go back. Stop.

[break in video]

HELFAND: Now listen Eula --

MCGILL: Uh, my father worked in the steel mill and there’s a girl who lived on the next street from us, [Dorothy Stringer?]. She lived with her half-sister. Her and her brother were orphans. And Dorothy felt like she needed to contribute something to the household so she said, “Let’s go up to the cotton mill and get us a job.” And I said, “Dorothy we can’t go up there and go to work. We’re not but 14 years old.” She said, “We’ll tell them we’re 17, that way we won’t have to prove it.” She said, “If we tell them we’re 16, we’ll have to prove it and get a school certificate. But if we tell them we’re 17, they won’t ask any questions because I don’t think they cared too much anyway.” Well I was big for my age and so we worked that summer doing the cotton mill. And they didn’t pay us anything for the first six weeks we worked. We worked six weeks, 56 hours a week, without any pay to learn. And the first payday I drew was three dollars and 16 cents. I 26:00didn’t draw but three dollars and a dime because they took a dime out to buy ice to make us a ice water and a penny out of every dollar to pay the company doctor which took all but a dime -- three dollars and a dime.

HELFAND: What did you think the first time you walked into a cotton mill and you were set up in front of a machine? Can you describe that to --

MCGILL: It ain’t in front of a machine. You don’t know what a cotton mill is. You have spinning frames.

HELFAND: OK. Can you describe that to me?

MCGILL: Well there are different types of spinning frames.

HELFAND: No, not the spinning frames. Can you describe you being 14 years old, pretending you’re 17, walking into the mill and there basically you have to start work?

MCGILL: Well when I went in they put me with somebody to learn. They put me 27:00with a trained hand to work with them. I wasn’t assigned any frames because I didn’t know anything. I worked with a person.

HELFAND: But what did it feel like?

MCGILL: I don’t remember how it felt. I don’t remember --

HELFAND: Can you remember --

MCGILL: -- having any emotional feelings about it at all.

HELFAND: Were these -- now these were the lint heads that you were going to be going into work with --

MCGILL: Well you must realize, I had never been associated with any lint heads. The only woman I ever knew was this woman next door to us that worked in the mill. They all lived on the other side of town. Miss Tillery’s husband worked in the steel mills. And so she lived next door to us. The rest of the people who worked in the mill lived on the other side of town back in the mill, in the mill village, or around the mill. Very few people that worked in the mill that didn’t live outside the city -- the mill village. It was a big village. Very few people lived outside of the mill village in their own homes.


HELFAND: So you never really knew any mill people except for Mrs. Tillery. So now you walk into this mill and you’re going into another world I assume.

MCGILL: Never had -- never thought nothing about the mill. I passed by it going to work, but I never thought about it. In fact my -- my father’s cousin, [JD?] Loner was superintendent of that mill. The Loners, L-O-N-E-R, my grandmother’s people were from textile industry, but my father had never had nothing to do with the textile cotton mill. He was a carpenter. And we had no association with any of the mills although the Loners owned mills in Dalton, Georgia. And JD who was my father’s cousins was superintendent of that mill. But we never had any relationship with him. And he only came to see us when my grandmother would come who was his aunt. She’d come to visit us. Well he’d come over there and to see -- he called her [Aunt Nan?]. But I never spoke to 29:00him. When I went to work in the mill, he’d come through the mill, I wouldn’t pay him no attention because I was afraid he’d recognize who I was and he knew I wasn’t 17 years old.

HELFAND: But was there any -- did you feel when you walked in knowing -- I mean you knew that these people were looked down upon. You knew that they were lint heads I’m assuming.

MCGILL: Fine people. They were fine people. I never met any finer people in my life than I did in those mills -- in that mill. Fine people. Most of them could come off farms, but they was good people, very good people

HELFAND: What I’m just trying to understand is did you -- was there a moment of consciousness for you -- like what did they -- like here you were working inside the mill with these people that people in town called lint heads. Was there a moment for you that you started to --


MCGILL: No. I got to tell you, I don’t remember anything about that. It was just fun for me and Dorothy to go in there and make us a little spending money. I bought us a pair of silk stockings with the money I had. It costs a dollar and 95 cents. I never will forget it -- and a lipstick. I always wore it -- it was fun to me to go in there and get me a little money.

HELFAND: Now a couple of years later, you moved from Gadsden to --

MCGILL: No, no, no, you’re getting ahead of yourself. Uh, uh, let’s see. Papa got fired from the cotton -- from the steel plant. You’ll recall, papa got fired, I think I -- right after that and he went to work with Alabama Power Company. He was building all those dams up and down the Coosa River and went to 31:00work there. So me and mama stayed there in town and during the time my papa got fired, I went back in the mill and went to work full time. I guess I was about 15, maybe a year later.

HELFAND: So you left school?

MCGILL: After that summer vacation, yeah, and went to work while papa was gone because if papa had been there I don’t think he’d ever have let me quit school. But papa was away working and when he was gone he’d just come home now and then because he had to work and that’s the only way he could do. So then me and mama moved down to near the job. Papa got us a place to live in. There was no place to live. And the place we lived was just like a shack down there because when they built -- you can’t realize how -- in the country where they’re building these dams on the river to make power, it was country. And 32:00there was no place for people to live who were transit. And we lived in the back of a grocery store, two rooms. Papa moved me and mommy in there.

HELFAND: So you stopped working in the mill at that point or you were working --

MCGILL: Yeah, I went down there with papa and mama. I went with --

HELFAND: So you left working in the mill.



MCGILL: But I went back later and worked a couple of years there and stayed with my aunt. We moved -- came back to Birmingham. In the mean time I had married and had this child.

HELFAND: So you don’t mind -- I just want to -- I just want to -- yeah.

MCGILL: Well I was -- I married and had this child and papa brought us back to Birmingham and left us. We stayed with my sister a while. Then when the dams jobs got finished, his part of them, the construction part that he was working 33:00on got finished, he came back and the bought a little place out here and started a little grocery store. So the people in the area was having -- and that’s when I went back in that mill to work because it was not far from the place where papa -- a place called Ketona, a little town outside of Birmingham here. And the people in the area had dances at their house. So papa built them a vision and had a dance there every Saturday night.

HELFAND: Now this is -- now we’re talking Birmingham.

MCGILL: Yes, Jefferson County.

HELFAND: Jefferson County. And when you say working in the mill --

MCGILL: I went to work in the mill --

HELFAND: At Selma?

MCGILL: In Selma. We was between there and Birmingham, downtown Birmingham.


MCGILL: I rode in with my brother-in-law who went in to town every day and he picked me up every evening coming back. He and my sister had moved out there 34:00with us by that time and we enlarged on this place.

HELFAND: OK. So just for us to -- I followed you all the way through it. So you went back -- so really when you’re about 16, that’s when you started working for a little while full time in Gadsden. And then that didn’t last too long. You stayed there for a while and then you and mama --

MCGILL: Well I got married. When I got married and my husband went into the penitentiary for hauling whiskey. And papa thought it was best we sever relationships because I was a kid and I went along with what papa said. So me and mama moved then I realized I was pregnant. And so that’s -- I stayed down there and my child was born down there. And then papa -- when his part of the 35:00work was finished, no more work for carpenters, he was laid off. We had to come back to Birmingham. So we moved -- went and stayed for a little while with my sister and her husband because they had a big house. And we stayed there until we could get located. So then papa bought that little place out there. And we had to have something to do. And then I went to work in the mill again.

HELFAND: Did you think -- did you -- OK. So could you say -- just so that we can just condense this a little -- could you say so I moved to Birmingham and tell us the date --

MCGILL: I don’t know the date.

HELFAND: You don’t know the date.

MCGILL: I must be old --

[break in video]

MCGILL: -- they needed hands. Like I told you a while ago, anybody could get a job out there because they couldn’t stay long. They was always looking for hands because it was a lousy place to work. Nobody wouldn’t stay there if they didn’t have to. I remember when we started joining the union, there was a woman who lived out -- rode the streetcar with me and they had seen better 36:00times. Of course there were a lot of people who had seen better times in the depression. So Roosevelt got elected and started the VA. Her husband got a pretty good job on the VA because he was well educated and he got one of the better jobs on the VA. Well when she came to work in the mill -- this was before Roosevelt was elected -- Joe came over to me one night and he said, “I hired a lady tonight and she said she’s experienced and she’s not. If she’s ever been experienced, she’s lost all of the experience.” And he said, “I told her I was going to have to let her go.” And said it upset her and she started crying and he said, “If you and [Lootie?] will help her, maybe I can -- that’s the kind of man Joe Davis was. He said, “If you and Lootie will help her until she gets learned enough to run the frames, maybe I can keep her.” So me and Lootie helped her. And then a couple of years later when we 37:00started organizing the union, her husband had got a good job on the VA. She got to wearing a hat to work and dressing up and coming down the street and highfaluting lady and so one of the men said to me, he said, “I can’t get that lady to join the union.” He says, “You ride the car with her, why don’t you talk to her?” So I approached her and I said, “I know you have been asked to join the union.” And she said, “Yes.” And I said, “Well why don’t you join?” And she forgot all this help we’d give her ever, you know. She said, “Well you know I really don’t have to work. I may quit.” I said, “You know I don’t have to work either, I could starve to death.” 38:00That was my answer I gave her because she came there in destitute just like the rest of us, would have not been there had it not been for me and one of the other girls helping her, and her boss who was a nice fellow. And all of the sudden she got too good for us.

HELFAND: Did she ever join?

MCGILL: I don’t remember. I don’t remember. From that day on I don’t know if I ever thought about her anymore. I don’t know what happened to her. She may have quit.

HELFAND: So when -- did working in the mill either -- working in the mills for first in the summer and then later for that year in Gadsden and then you come and you have to look for -- did you want to work in a mill when you first came to Birmingham or there was no other place?

MCGILL: I didn’t think of nothing else. There was nothing else that I was qualified to do. And women didn’t get much of a chance to get a job anyhow. 39:00Cotton mill and that kind of work, well that’s about women would get to do except stores. And by gosh, I think we made more money in the cotton mill than they did in stores back then and certainly didn’t have to dress up. I tell you these clerks as I remember them when I got active in the Woman’s Trade Union League later, and we got in contact with other women in other fields of work, I found out there was girls working as secretaries in offices making ten -- 15 dollars a week.

HELFAND: Did you -- you know, in those early years, right. Let’s say -- now it’s the late depression and it’s ’30 and it’s ’31 and it’s before Roosevelt, the work in the -- did you have any recourse whatsoever when something happened in the mill, you didn’t like it, what was that -- what went on for you? There was no union for you to --


MCGILL: You let it go and didn’t say nothing about it. What good was it to do. We helped each other though more. We helped each other. The workers helped each other more and looked out for each other. We helped other people if they couldn’t handle the job to keep them from getting fired. I think we were close together as workers.

HELFAND: Could you -- could you possibly talk a little bit about, you know, conditions and the way you were treated and the way -- your relationship with the boss men?

MCGILL: I never had any problem with that. I never had any problem except same things that the bosses couldn’t do anything about which is why I joined the union was shorter hours and more pay. As far as being treated fairly and outside of that I hadn’t had no complaint with none of my supervision. I couldn’t have been treated no better, no nicer. But like I told Joe, to do 41:00any better -- he had done all he could for me. His kindness, I couldn’t spend it at the grocery store. And he was nice. I can truthfully say that Joe Davis who was my boss most of the time that I worked in the mill was as nice a man that I ever saw and had compassion for the people that worked under him.

HELFAND: Was he an exception to the rule?

MCGILL: I don’t know. I didn’t spend that much time in the mill to have that much experience with bosses. I don’t know. From what other people had told me later on went on in Dwight Mill after they changed hands, they fired JD Loner and the Cone mills took it over. And they brought a man in there. They called him Wild Bill. I heard stories about how mean he was -- superintendent 42:00of that mill, later, from other workers up there when they started organizing the unions and I went back up there as a volunteer organizer to some of the meetings. Because you see, there’s still some old people there in that mill that had joined the union back in World War I. [Burns Cox?] was one of them who was a -- who we talked to that was there. The loom fixer started the organization in the ‘30s, the highest paid group of workers in the plant, in the mill, started the union, the loom fixer. They was the highest paid -- I called them the aristocrats of the trade because the loom fixer was a skilled worker. And they organized -- really started the union. In fact, I have a -- a -- a -- he gave me, Burns Cox, gave me a copy of incorporation papers that they 43:00had formed an organization prior. I forget what they called it, but I got a copy of it. He gave me -- I got a copy of it.

HELFAND: The Dixie Federation of Labor.

MCGILL: Yeah, uh-huh. They had -- and so when the textile workers come along -- in fact, those people -- in Gadsden, they in a way were more experienced in unionism that some of the people who was calling themselves union organizers that came on because from World War I they had experience of trying to organize since 1919. And there was a nucleus of people in there who had studied the labor movement and too the whole background of Gadsden had been union for years. And we had good training in how to run a union and what unions meant. It wasn’t new to the people in Dwight Mill or the people of Gadsden. It was only 44:00when Goodyear come in there with their goons and their anti-union tactics that give Gadsden a bad name.

HELFAND: But about union to Alabama, to most cotton mill, to the rank and file, was union something that they knew?

MCGILL: I don’t think so. I don’t think they -- they heard -- the sad part about it, most of them were ignorant of anything that went on outside the mill. That’s my feeling I’ve got about it. I don’t think I ever read a newspaper or ever thought about anything beyond the mill, just whatever the boss said because they depended on the mill for their house, their school, and their church. And it was dominated by the mill owners, especially Avondale Mills which is the biggest mill owners here in north Alabama. They tried to run their 45:00entire life. In fact out here, they had a guard house. If you went in that village, you had to stop at that guard house and tell who you was visiting and what your business was.

HELFAND: But did Roosevelt change that? Did Roosevelt change --

MCGILL: There were people who worked right here in Avondale Mills in Birmingham, Alabama that when the NRA was passed that brought the wages up to -- I think the first was 37.5 cents an hour, that the -- Donald [Comer?] sung the blues in poor mouth so bad that he couldn’t operate if he had to raise wages until when that law was passed, there were people who went to him and told him that they’d refund him back, to give them whatever they could pay and they’d refund him back the difference if he couldn’t afford to pay them the minimum wage. That’s how he had control of those people. The people that I worked with in 46:00that little mill out there were more independent. They didn’t care where they worked or not because it’s a hobo mill, they work there, they work somewhere else. There was very few people that thought they’d have to stay there forever. And the best thing he ever done was fire me, got me out of there. I didn’t have courage enough to try something else. I had too much responsibilities. I was afraid to try to quit that to go to work somewhere else. I had to have a paycheck every week. My father wasn’t working. I was the sole supporter. I was the only one who had a job in my whole family. My brother-in-law was a plaster, he had no work. I was the only person bringing in a paycheck and every penny I made, although it was little, had to be given there. All I got out of it was carfare back and forth to work. The family had to have my paycheck to live.


HELFAND: So wasn’t it risky for you to get so involved with the union if you were the sole supporter of your family?

MCGILL: Well you know what, my step-mother said --

HELFAND: Repeat my question about that case.

MCGILL: Well I’m just going to tell some background of what I’m going to say. My mother -- we were sitting at the table talking. And we were talking, I said, “Organize the union out there.” My brother-in-law and my father had been a union carpenter. My brother-in-law was a union plaster. My sister had been a member of the hosiery workers union back during World War I. My whole family was union orientated. And I said, “Well I think I’ll join.” And my mom said, “If you do you’ll lose your job.” My mother said, “What’s she lost if she loses it?” She said, “She’s eating and sleeping. She’ll eat and sleep someway. I haven’t seen skeletons of people laying around where they starved to death.” And that gave me the courage I needed. My mother had guts. She wasn’t afraid of nothing. And that’s exactly what my mother said. She said, “You ain’t doing nothing but eating 48:00and sleeping. She’ll eat and sleep somewhere. I haven’t seen any skeletons of people laying around where they starved to death.” My mother is from the hills of north Georgia and she was a fighter.

HELFAND: They didn’t worry about the fact that you were the one who was bringing in the income?

MCGILL: My sister did. My sister did, she was scared I would lose all of the money coming in. My sister was scared. She’s seven years older than me. She’d been used to living high. My brother-in-law was a union plaster, made twelve dollars a day, and that was big money. That was big money. She’d been used to living high. I went in high society with her bridge clubs and everything and she wanted to maintain that.

HELFAND: She couldn’t have been maintaining it much if all she had was a paycheck from your --


MCGILL: Well that didn’t last very long. It was just for a little while, temporary. We had the house we lived in. We raised our groceries in the backyard. We had a chicken a lot. We didn’t fare as bad as a lot of people because we had ways that we -- my mother canned. Every once in a while, somebody had to get a job, my dad would get a patch or maybe Lawrence would get a patch job, pick up a little money now and then. And they’d swap work. Sometime they had an organization -- it was a neighborhood thing. But if they didn’t have money to pay for it, they’d do a job in exchange for something they had. You had to make do. I don’t think people could go through things today that we did then.

HELFAND: Eula, it seems like the difference between you and others was you had some autonomy -- maybe -- you know, you weren’t under the same kind of thumb or you could take a risk. You, as a leader, were in a different place.

MCGILL: I took the risk. I don’t know why I got fired and in the meantime, I 50:00had somewhere to lay and somewhere to eat. I had that. That’s all I had when I was working. Did you know I went to work with pasteboard in my shoes? I never went to a beauty shop. My sister made my clothes out of pieces of cloth I brought from the mill, my underclothes. I never paid a penny for nothing. She made my underwear and my brassieres and everything. They’d give us a piece of -- it was good material because it made sugar bags. And if you wash those sugar bags, they were nice. And they’d give us pieces of cloth to clean our frames with. I saved mine and used an old one and take my -- they’d sometimes give us a big piece. I’d take it home and make me a brassiere or make me a slip or make me a pair of pants. My sister made my underwear that I wore during that time. I didn’t spend a penny for nothing.

HELFAND: Union made?


MCGILL: Well my sister made it (laughter) out of material. If they caught me going out with it, I would’ve been caught for stealing, but heck they was only using for the machines and would throw it away anyway. But that’s where my underclothes came from during that time. And we made sheets out of it and we made pillow cases out of it. If I could get a big enough piece, we used it for a lot of things.

HELFAND: Now do you think that cotton mill people had expectations before Roosevelt got into office? Did they have expectations of making their life better?

MCGILL: In Gadsden they did because they had that background because Gadsden was -- I don’t know much about textile villages and textile towns. I never lived in one. It depended on the mill altogether for their livelihood. I never lived in one. All I know is that’s hearsay and people I talk to which I believe that they were beholden to the company because that’s where they had -- they were scared to move. And but I think Roosevelt and his program and especially 52:00in Alabama -- we had some good politicians, Hugo Black, Buster Hill, John Sparkman, Bob Jones. We had some -- Luther Patrick. We had some good liberal politicians in Alabama. And I think they had courage enough to take the chance that they’d be protected by these people. Bibb Graves was our governor. He was very nice, a very good governor. And I think that gave them courage that they were backed by the government. They had a feeling. Now I don’t think that was true in other -- in North and South Carolina which was completely controlled by the textile industry, you wouldn’t find that I don’t think because they run the states, the textile industry run the states.

HELFAND: So Alabama was a much more -- had a much more diversified --

MCGILL: Diversified industry, that’s right.


HELFAND: I spoke over you. So if you could -- could you talk about diversified industry in the state and in this city and just that that put people in a bit of a different position?

MCGILL: Yeah, well of course it did. They had a chance to do something else. They weren’t dependent just on one job or one factory or one mill or one type of work. That’s all I can say.

HELFAND: We need food.

M1: We need to feed you.

HELFAND: We need food.

M1: We need to feed ourselves --

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MCGILL: Yeah, what they called sexual harassment today, to me, sexual harassment -- they don’t know what the hell sexual harassment. Some of these women get patted on the fanny, they think that’s sexual harassment or they get asked with their eyes lifted to go out on a date. Do they think that’s sexual harassment? They don’t know what sexual harassment is. Sexual harassment is somebody being told, “Unless you go out with me or sleep with you, you needn’t come back to work tomorrow.” Or a man being told he wants to go for 54:00his wife and if he don’t he’ll fire the man. Now that has happened. And I know it to be my own personal opinion. To me, some of these todays -- some of these women -- they don’t know really -- to me, that’s not sexual harassment. That’s flirting. That’s flirtation. And women is just as bad at it. When I was a business agent, I’ve had men to come to me about women going and fondling them. I have. And I said that at a women’s meeting one day, they thought I was lying. I said, listen, when I was a business agent, I had two occasions where me and -- and I don’t know how many more it had happened to that didn’t mention it -- but one guy come to me, he said, “You know this woman won’t keep her hands off me and all the men are laughing at me. Can you do anything about it?” Well it certainly wasn’t a grievance, 55:00just between two members. So I took her off to one side and I told her what the man said to me. And I said, “Now you know whether you’re doing it or not. I’m not accusing you. But you’re embarrassing him and he asked me if there’s anything I can do. Now, I can’t do anything about it but you can.” I said, “Well I ain’t thought about that,” she said. I said, “Well it needs to get better, the other men is making fun of him.” And one of the men’s wives worked in the plant. And the women around her -- and she was a nice woman. And two women got in a fight over him one day there in the plant and his wife was right there. She just worked on. Other women started watching the fight. His wife just worked on. And the men can help it, but they don’t think about -- they don’t think about sometimes -- I’m talking about 56:00today what people call sexual harassment, they think it’s a man harassing a woman. Hell, it’s been worked both ways.

HELFAND: Back in the cotton mills --

M1: We need to change the tape.