Lucille Thornburgh Interview 6

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LUCILLE THORNBURGH: Look at you, I'm looking at you. What am I going to say. (laughter)

F1: Judy is your teleprompter, she's your script.

THORNBURGH: Oh my, she's my script. OK, give me a script during that.

JUDITH HELFAND: Well, I was hearing you tell that story. Was there any time in the organizing that you did, between '33 and August, '34, that you fell into some kind of trouble, that you felt threatened? Think about it.


THORNBURGH: Let's see, I didn't feel -- well, one time, but that was a little, that was a little bit later, when I was just organizing generally, for the AFL, they sent me to a place called Hollywood, Mississippi. It was just a small, very small place down there, and there was a hosiery mill there, and they sent me down there to organize that place. I was ordered out of town down there. They told me to get out of there. They didn't want any violence, they didn't want any trouble from me, and ah, for me to get out of town. Well, I was down there by myself and I'm no hero, I'm not trying to win any battles for bravery, so I got out. But I remember going out to a house to talk to a girl one night and her father came in and he said, "Now I want you out of here," he said, 2:00"you're one of them old reds." I said well, I may be, I'm not at all certain what a red is, I said, "What is that?" He said, "It's them old Russians," and I said, "Well that won't work for me at all because I live in Knoxville, I don't know a thing about Russia." And he said, "Well, it's you Russians." I said, "No, no, you're confused here." I said, "I'm from Knoxville, I'm not from Russia at all." Later, I did, I did leave town, because they had told me to, and I remember the bus driver telling me there. I told him about that man saying that I was a red and he said, "What made him think you were a communist?" I said, "I don't know, because I was union organizer I guess," and he said, "Well, that dumb SOB, he doesn't know the different in communism and rheumatism, so don't worry about him." But I did worry about him enough to get out of town. Well, you couldn't take those chances if there were that many against you. 3:00Like I said, I'm not bucking for any bravery medals.

HELFAND: What about that notion of outsider, outsider?

THORNBURGH: Oh, that outsider, that, that, that was rampant here during our strike. Everybody was considered, if you didn't live right in the city of Knoxville, you were an outsider. Outsiders coming in to stir up trouble, that's what they said all the time, that's an outsider. You could come from as near here as Sevierville or Dandridge or anything, you were still an outsider.

HELFAND: And you.

THORNBURGH: They were looking for somebody. They couldn't call me outsider because I lived here and was in the papers every day, and they knew I lived here.

HELFAND: So that didn't work.

THORNBURGH: No that didn't work, that didn't work.


HELFAND: When did you realize that the organizing that you were doing was as massive as it was, that it was something that was so big?

THORNBURGH: Oh, when we first started organizing Cherokee, I did know about all these places and different places up east that had been organized, and I knew how they had tried over in the Carolinas, to organize. But I didn't know, I really, for a while, I felt like we were alone, but as we organized and we were all together, we joined an international union and got in the central labor union here. Then we didn't feel alone, but at first you do feel that.

HELFAND: And at what -- once you join the UTWA, could you just, I guess maybe talk about this.

M1: (inaudible).

HELFAND: OK, so you know the thing that we are trying to really get close to is the point at which you all --

[break in video]

THORNBURGH: Because of that combination.

HELFAND: Will you start again?


THORNBURGH: The strike was called.


THORNBURGH: OK. The strike was called because, well, there was many factors in there. There was the discrimination, there was the stretch-out system, where the laws were being violated, that we talked about, the textile code, and all of that was being violated and there was just so many things, but discrimination, I think, of people who were, who -- not were on strike, but were actually trying to organize a union. See, they discriminated against them, they got rid of them when they hadn't actually done anything; maybe tried to organize on the job or something like that. So it was a combination of things, and they were getting all these grievances in up there, and I suppose the board of the UTWA didn't know what else to do but to call the strike. They didn't know -- there was no way to settle it, because it was all over, it wasn't just in one place.


HELFAND: Did you know that -- did you know about that convention, the special convention that they called in August of '34? Do you remember that? It was in New York.

THORNBURGH: Let's see, what was that called for?

HELFAND: From what I understand, they called --

THORNBURGH: To, to talk about the strike wasn't it?

HELFAND: Yeah. To come to a -- to determine whether there should be a strike or not, and delegates were sent from all over, but particularly from the South. Alabama had already --

THORNBURGH: Oh I, I know about that.


THORNBURGH: I know about that convention, but we didn't send a delegate from here for a simple reason; we didn't have money enough to pay their fares. And as I said, the international union, we were not getting any strike benefits, and we knew that we wouldn't get strike benefits, and there was just no money to send somebody to New York to vote on that. That's what they did, they called the convention to determine whether or not to have a strike, and the results of 7:00it was that they said to strike, I mean they voted to strike, the people present there voted to strike. Yeah, we knew about that.

HELFAND: People from the South went to that convention and basically, I think they were the force behind that decision, and they came to this to give everyone a reality check and let them know what was going on down here.

THORNBURGH: That's right.

HELFAND: Tell me all about that.

THORNBURGH: OK. What those people went for, they had all these unsettled grievances, and they felt that the international union was not doing anything about them, which they, they weren't. I suppose they didn't know or didn't have staff enough to go around to all the states and try to settle these grievances. But they had them for the discrimination, the stretch-out, and the laws were being violated, but there was -- so, when they piled all those grievances up there, and they did, they had much more representation from the South than from 8:00any other, the eastern part of the country, because they had been organized up there and their conditions weren't as bad as ours. So it was the southern workers who decided that we'd have the -- that we'd call the strike.

HELFAND: So would you say -- stop.

[break in video]

HELFAND: Start again, Lucille.

THORNBURGH: All right.

HELFAND: Now maybe you could -- before we say that there are a lot of issues at stake, maybe we could just try to bring in. We don't have to answer questions, we don't have to answer these questions, let's just state these different strands of problems after a year and a half of terrific organizing.

THORNBURGH: OK, I'll just say it. After a year of constant organizing going on in all the mills in the South, we found out that we weren't getting anywhere. We still had discrimination on the jobs, they weren't -- they were violating the 9:00new hour law, they were violating the NRA and all these -- and the complaints were just piling up, and they had to do something about it. And I suppose that the national union, maybe they didn't know what to do about it either. They couldn't get those things settled. I'm certain if they could have, they wouldn't have ever called the strike, if they could have settled those things. But there was so many violations of the law, plus all the internal grievances that were coming up, you know like the stretch-out, and all those local grievances, that they had to do something. And a strike, you know the strike has always been, that's the only weapon the working people have. In the long run, the only weapon that the working people have is a strike, withholding of 10:00their labor, so that's what they had to do.

HELFAND: And what do you think was going on emotionally for all these locals who felt like they were being patriotic, that they'd done everything the government said to do, that they were being New Dealers, and nothing was coming. You know, how do you think -- maybe you could talk for a moment, about you know, your local, and then imagine what all these workers were feeling, you know, around the South.

THORNBURGH: What I think the workers were feeling all around the South at that time was that we're doing everything we can to better conditions here. We've organized, we're trying to organize, and we are organizing in places. We're doing all we can, but we have to have help from somewhere else. We can't do anything about the law being violated. We can't do anything about the stretch-out system, because management is doing that. But they thought again, that well, we have nothing to lose, so maybe a strike was all they could do. 11:00That was the ultimate decision. What could a local union, or maybe even all the local unions in the state, what could they do to keep the law from being violated? They couldn't do that. That had to come from a higher source, because these laws were made in Washington and somebody in Washington had to settle those, we couldn't settle them on a local level.

HELFAND: Was there also -- and in terms of you know, ethics, you know, and the fact that people had already -- maybe people had reached a place. Maybe people had reached a new place emotionally. You know, you were talking about attitudes before.


HELFAND: Were workers in a different place too? Emotionally, not just, you know about these laws, but just how they were feeling, you know. Had they achieved 12:00something even before this strike, in terms of power?

THORNBURGH: Well, they felt -- yes. The organized ones felt that they had achieved some power, and they actually thought that that power was being taken away from them when the laws were violated and the bosses and the manufacturers continued to do the same thing on the stretch-out, and the discrimination in hiring and firing. They felt that they were losing that power. They had it but they didn't want to lose it and they didn't lose it.

HELFAND: They didn't lose it?

THORNBURGH: They didn't lose what they had gained. They felt that somebody else had taken it away from them, but they didn't feel that they had done anything to lose their power.

HELFAND: And in fact, they were in a different -- they had some -- the power had shifted a little hadn't it?

THORNBURGH: Right, right.


HELFAND: Someone said to me the other day that it used to be that a lint head, that they looked down, they looked -- that they kept their head down a little bit. But after this year of organizing, that there had been a shift where maybe they thought of themselves differently and when they looked at their boss, they looked them in the eye, and that the biggest shift might have come that they looked straight in the eye of the boss versus looking down.

THORNBURGH: Well, looking the boss in the eye was one thing and something else too, that you could notice, of women particularly, in our union, which most, most of our members were women, that they would never have thought about getting up on their feet in any kind of a meeting, to speak. They gained that when they found out that they also knew something about unions, and that they had some power. They'd get up in the central labor council and speak and talk. I 14:00thought that was the greatest change that I saw in them, was having that courage to, to speak in public, where they had not done that before. Like some of them said, I asked one woman, I said, "I never heard you speak before." And she had made a real talk in the central labor council. She said, "Well, I never had anything to say before."

HELFAND: What did she say?

THORNBURGH: She said, "I never had anything to say before." And I think really, what she meant was there, that she felt like that she had no influence and no power, but the way she put it was she said, I never had anything to say. She was afraid to say what she was thinking of course, to her boss, and but with all the new laws and being in the union and knowing that she had the backing of her coworkers there, she had the courage to stand up and talk. To me that was a great achievement.


HELFAND: One other question along the same lines. Had these people ever belonged to anything other than the -- had most workers ever belonged to anything other than the church before?


HELFAND: Can you talk about that?

THORNBURGH: No, they had not belonged.

HELFAND: Don't say they, say --


HELFAND: Say my coworkers in the mill or most cotton mill workers or textile workers. One second.

HELFAND: Is that OK?


[break in video]

M1: Wait, wait.

THORNBURGH: Yeah, I've got to look at her. We ready?

M1: Yeah.

THORNBURGH: These mill workers.

HELFAND: Don't say these. You're talking about your friends and your colleagues.

THORNBURGH: OK, OK, what do I say?

HELFAND: You could say we.


HELFAND: You could say us.

THORNBURGH: No, I want to say them. Let's see, could I say most of us who worked in the mill?


THORNBURGH: And particularly the women.

HELFAND: Start again, I was on you.

THORNBURGH: OK, what did I say?

HELFAND: Most of us who worked in the mill.


THORNBURGH: Most of us who worked in the mill, and particularly the women, had never belonged to any organization or agency other than their church before. We had a few that might belong to an Eagles Auxiliary or maybe one somewhere that belonged to a veterans organization or something like that, but they had, they had not belonged to anything except church, and of course their pastor was a man and they weren't used to women even talking in church, so they'd had -- I think like this woman said. She said I never had anything to say before. She, she didn't have an opportunity really, to say anything before a crowd. Where would she have had it? She couldn't do it in church, she didn't belong to any other organization. But when she got in the labor movement and felt right at home with her coworkers, then she had that courage and certainly the knowledge, to 17:00get up and express herself.

HELFAND: And she was somebody.

THORNBURGH: That's right.

HELFAND: You could be an officer, you could be a member.


HELFAND: I mean, you couldn't be anything in the mill but that job. THORNBURGH: That's right, that's right.

HELFAND: Can you repeat that?

THORNBURGH: Yeah. In the mill, we couldn't -- we -- all right, start over. In the mill, we couldn't be anything but a machine operating, listening to the boss, but in the union, we could hold an office, we could be a delegate to the central labor council, we could speak our peace, and it gave us a new freedom. A lot of those women thought, and maybe I was one of them, that you just don't get up in public and say what you, what you want to say, but when you're surrounded with your coworkers and you know most of them are thinking the same 18:00way you are, then you have that, that courage and you want to, to get up. You have an opinion, you want to express it.

HELFAND: So would you say that that might have been the biggest shift in the South, was this shift that all these workers had a voice, or they thought they did?

THORNBURGH: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. The mill workers began to think then, through their union and through the new laws that had been passed, that something new was happening. Something new was happening in their world, and it was giving them opportunities to do things, like that speaking in public that they'd never had before, and they used it.

HELFAND: Very good, not great.

THORNBURGH: All right, I hear you.

HELFAND: No, go.

[break in video]

THORNBURGH: All right. Some of our mill workers, some of my coworkers were 19:00losing a certain amount of faith in the government. After we had had all these, what we considered wonderful, and they were, wonderful laws passed to help the people, and we saw that they were not being enforced, many of them thought that. But on the other hand, and thank goodness there was more of them, thought that well, we've come this far and we're going to go farther, because we do have these laws, they will be enforced, and better things are going to happen. They did have an optimistic view about it and I think that was, that was good, because if they had continued to have lost faith in their government, they would have also lost faith in their union. They would have lost faith all the way around and that would have been bad, but they kept thinking that all of this will come all right, which it did eventually, of course, the laws were enforced. Then they began to take more hope.


HELFAND: But on the whole, people were getting angry.


HELFAND: And frustrated, and they needed to take some kind of public action.

THORNBURGH: That's right, they wanted to take public action and call attention to their plight of the stretch-out system, the discrimination, the law violations. They wanted to call attention to it, so how are they going to do it? Well, as we've said before, the only weapon the worker has is the strike. Withholding their labor, that's the only weapon they have, so they had to consider striking in order to get what was justifiably theirs.

HELFAND: Lucille, you're going to kill me. I want you to say it again but say we, because you're making it sound like some other folks.

THORNBURGH: Well, what did I say? I've forgotten what I said now.

HELFAND: You said, you said we were angry and we needed to make a public --

THORNBURGH: Who did I say?

HELFAND: We needed the public attention.

THORNBURGH: Well, it wasn't all of us but we'll make it we, OK.

HELFAND: OK. We're ready.


THORNBURGH: All right. We were angry, we mill workers were angry because the laws were being violated. We knew enough about the laws to know that they had been enacted to help us, and when we saw that they were not being carried out, that the discrimination and the stretch-out system, and all of these other complaints were still going on. Then, we, we did lose a little faith in the government, but overall, we thought well, we have these laws on the book and eventually it's all going to work out, it has to. We had that much faith in, in government, even though it was wavering at that time, because we were mad, we were angry, we wanted something done about it right then. But in our cooler moments, we did realize that these books, these laws are on the books, and 22:00eventually, they're going to be enforced, which they were.

HELFAND: Now, do you think folks were frightened of management taking some kind of retaliation measures? Were you frightened of what comes along with a strike, particularly in the South, particularly knowing what had happened before?

THORNBURGH: Oh yes, that was the greatest fear, because see, the greatest fear all along was, of losing their job, of losing that paycheck. With people being hungry and in the heart of the Depression, that was the major issue, that we're a little bit afraid to go too far against the boss and the company, but still, we know that these laws are there to protect us. So it was a frustrating -- it was a frustrating situation all right.

HELFAND: And did anyone ever -- and did you all talk about what could 23:00potentially happen? I mean, did you think people went into the strike naïve, not thinking you know oh, they couldn't hurt us, or did they consider what, what could happen with troops, violence, deputies?

THORNBURGH: They can -- excuse me, we. We considered a lot of the things that could happen, but we didn't, we didn't dwell on those things. We knew that those things had happened to other places and could happen to us, but let's take that chance. That was, that was the attitude of the people, let's take that chance. They've taken it other places and let's take it too, let's, let's go with our coworkers.

HELFAND: OK, now, the strike was called at this convention. The southern textile workers stood up, along with everyone else, but I understand the 24:00southern textile workers were strong and firm.

THORNBURGH: They were.

HELFAND: And made a case. And then they brought this notion of the strike back to the general public and back to all the members. Do you remember when your local was notified about this strike?

THORNBURGH: We were notified by telegram, and we took the telegram to a meeting. We got the telegram, it was either on a Thursday or a Friday, when our meeting was to be on Saturday, and we took the telegram to the meeting and it was a unanimous vote that we go with the international union, that we would strike. The vote was unanimous.

HELFAND: Was that the second vote? Wasn't there a first vote, that people were a little uncomfortable?

THORNBURGH: Yeah, that's right.

HELFAND: Can you talk about that?

THORNBURGH: On the first vote, -- we, we had two votes on it, at two different 25:00times, that's, that's what happened on that, and they were a little apprehensive about that first vote, but when we took the second vote, after we had talked to the people, then it was a unanimous vote.

HELFAND: Let's -- tell me -- well, can you start with, we got a telegram from Gorman and the national UTWA, and if you remember what that telegram said. Did it give you directive to --

THORNBURGH: There's not a copy of that in the scrapbook is there? No, I don't think.

[break in video]

HELFAND: Your union, for the strike of your union, is that right?


HELFAND: OK. So, could you tell us, once you all decided to, to join that, first, what was the -- what do you think the biggest obstacle was in, in all of you having to go out on strike at that point?


THORNBURGH: Well, we, we -- I think actually, the biggest obstacle that we had in going out was the families of the strikers and the neighbors. See, there was a lot of families where there would just be one person in that family that belonged to the union, and since that person wasn't very well acquainted with the union themselves because we hadn't been organized long enough, they were having to think about their church was against them and members of their family was against them, and the neighbors. So we had to overcome that, and I think in a way, it took a lot of courage for those people, that in spite of their church, in spite of the neighbors and in spite of the family members, who were opposed to organized labor, or thought they were, they didn't know enough about it to be 27:00really opposed, but what they were thinking about more than anything else was, was losing that paycheck. See, this was Depression days, those people didn't have any money, and to lose a paycheck there, they had to face all that and of course themselves, they were thinking about, there won't be a paycheck next week. That was a big obstacle.

HELFAND: How did your local union deal with that, in terms of set up a commissary? What did you, what did you do?

THORNBURGH: No, no, no, we didn't have any money, we didn't have anything to set up any sort of a soup kitchen or anything like that, and we did not get any strike benefits from anywhere. Now, many of us had friends who would give us things like a bag of apples or maybe some meat or something like that. That was just friends giving it to us, but we, we didn't have anything like that, and that's why those people were fearful of a strike. What are we going to eat? It 28:00was down that far, that if you go out on strike you're going to get hungry, which certainly was a possibility and did happen in cases.

HELFAND: Now, I remember that you wrote a letter to the newspaper, it seems like to explain to the public why you were all out on strike, to make some kind -- so that, so that the community would understand. Do you recall doing that?


HELFAND: Can you tell me, like so could you begin this with a thought. And so, so I wanted the community to understand what was going on, something like that.

THORNBURGH: OK, OK. I wanted the community, all along, to know what the strike was all about and why we were striking, so I wrote letters to the editor and talked to all of our own members and family members that I possibly could, to 29:00explain to them why we were doing this. See, there were people who, who, this was not a union town at the time, certainly not, and the people did not understand why people are quitting their jobs here in the middle of a depression, with no paycheck coming in. What are, what are these people thinking about? Well we, who worked in there, we knew what we wanted. We wanted higher wages, we wanted better working conditions, we wanted shorter hours, we wanted a better life all around, but the people didn't understand that that was, that was our way of going about getting that.

HELFAND: You know, I was reading last night. Could you stop that.

[break in recording]

THORNBURGH: Could I put it like this? While, while we were, while we were calling our strike and thinking about going out on strike, we, we had one 30:00objective in mind, and that is we were striking against the management, against the ownership of the mill, because they were the ones who could change the conditions there. Even though we had all these new laws, we weren't striking against the laws or against any particular legislation. We were striking against the company, because it was the company who could give us what we wanted, which was better wages and shorter hours. Does that explain it?

HELFAND: A little bit, yes, OK. Now, -- and, and I think that when we go through some of the documents, um, --

[break in video]

THORNBURGH: OK. I have to look at him and see if he's got it on now. Wait a 31:00minute, hold it a minute, I was -- my, my mind and knee is bad. When we voted to strike, I was -- well, it was not exactly that I was voted in, but it was just assumed that I was going to be the leader of the strike, and the reason it was, because I had been the most talkative one and I had gone around and visited in the homes and had done more organizing than the others. Certainly, it was not because I knew more about organized labor, because I did not, none of us did, but because I had been so active, I was made the leader, so I was the target. I was the target of the deputy sheriffs, I was the target of the newspapers. I was the one that they called, because I had been out there in 32:00front all along, and that was they I was getting all the publicity and being accused of being the communist and the troublemaker, and was the first one to be blacklisted, because I had taken such an active part in getting the union and then in leading the strike. That's where I got all the bad publicity.

HELFAND: But in terms of leading the strike, I mean how did it work? I mean, it's very hard for me to imagine, where there five people? You know how did you do -- what, you woke up in the morning, how did you organize for that strike? There had to be signs made or not signs made, or leaflets? I mean, what actually happened?

THORNBURGH: During this strike, there was a lot of work, there's a lot more work involved in a strike than people think for. Now at our time, at that time, all of our picket signs were homemade. They were made with shoe polish and cardboard, and made in somebody's backyard, and whatever kind of stick that we 33:00could think of to put it on. So it was my job to see that we had so many pickets with their signs there each day, and that was no easy task, because we'd have to get the signs made. Of course, we'd use the same signs over and over, but I had to be certain that there was a group of people there to do that picketing the next morning. We didn't expect the same people to come. However, on our picket line there, it wasn't just the people carrying the signs. All the other members would come there too, they'd just come there to watch and to be there, they didn't actually do anything. But we had so many that would walk up and down in front of the mill, until they got the injunction against us, and of course when they did that, we had to stop picketing. And that was the beginning of the end of the union there, when, when -- see, we had gathered at the mill. Well, when they got an injunction against us and we couldn't go near the mill, 34:00we lost our meeting place, that's where we were meeting all the time. And we'd still try to meet uptown, in the hall that we had been using all the time, but it wasn't the same thing. The people could come out to the picket line and see what's going on every morning and stay as long as they wanted to and leave, but then when they got the injunction against us and we could no longer picket, well that was the beginning of the end of our union.

HELFAND: Who got this injunction against you?

THORNBURGH: The company, the company got the injunction to keep us from picketing, and they could. All they had to do was get this court order to say that we couldn't come near the mill, which we couldn't.

HELFAND: Now, you were just exercising your rights of free speech weren't you?

THORNBURGH: I hope so.


HELFAND: Now, you were, from what I understand, you were -- there were two of you. You were a leader, Foots Weaver was a leader.

THORNBURGH: Oh, we had many leaders, well not many either, not really, leaders, because none of us knew enough about the labor movement. We had not been organized long enough to be real leaders, but we had people there who would try. Yeah, we had, we had, we had people, men and women, you know, who were willing to go out and do what they could and to do the best they knew how. That's what we were all doing.

HELFAND: Now, what does it mean to be -- do you have any questions, anything specific?

M1: No, that's good so far.

[break in video]


HELFAND: We're not ready yet, you just think about...

M1: On camera.

THORNBURGH: We had held our meeting and knew that we were coming out on strike, so I think all the employees were there that first day to join the picket line. 36:00Of course we didn't need all of them, and on that weekend, we had made our signs, and they were all coming out, everybody. See, they, they didn't know anything about a strike, they didn't know what was going on. Really, they had voted to strike because they knew that they wanted to better their conditions, but they came out to see, well what are we going to do, and then was when we would have our meetings. That was why I said that the injunction actually ruined -- was the beginning of the end of the union for that reason. They would all come to the mill. Oh, we had people all around the mill there. We would just have so many pickets, because there were just so many people, and you could not go around that mill. There was one big gate, the mill faced on a street there, and there was one big gate, but you could not, we could not of course, go 37:00into that gate or go around to picket it, so we only picketed in front of the mill.

HELFAND: Now here you are, you're picketing in your mill, Cherokee, and then there's Brookside, and that's just in Knoxville. This strike is going on, this was a nationwide strike.

THORNBURGH: Yeah, mm-hmm.

HELFAND: Can you talk about, you know here you're running one strike, but at the same time, you know that this is going on all over the country. Use some of my words and then thinking about that.

THORNBURGH: We knew -- are you ready?

M1: Go ahead.

HELFAND: He’s ready.

THORNBURGH: Oh, OK. We knew, when we were on the picket line there, that there were mill workers all around the country that were also on strike. We tried to find out and we did have a little help. Once in a while, a person, say from Georgia or North Carolina, would come through, and we, we'd try to get information from them. Were we doing it right, are there other ways to do this? And of course we did not get any of that information out of the newspapers. 38:00They would only report the violence and if the strikes were on at these places, but we didn't get any -- we, we needed help and the only place that we got any real help at all was from the Highlander Center, Myles Horton came down, and he tried to guide us and did.

HELFAND: How did he do that?

THORNBURGH: (coughs)

HELFAND: Want some water?

THORNBURGH: Let's see, I think it will go down.

HELFAND: I'm going to get you some water.

[break in video]

THORNBURGH: What, what, are we talking about?

HELFAND: Actually, we had just talked about Myles Horton.

THORNBURGH: Do you want me to bring that in?

HELFAND: Well, if he came to give you some help.

THORNBURGH: He did, he did.

HELFAND: OK, so let's -- yeah. If Myles Horton, who was a labor educator, right?




THORNBURGH: All right.

HELFAND: If he was coming to give you some help, then that's great, tell us how he did that.


M1: Can you scoot over just a little bit more?

THORNBURGH: How's that?

M1: Great, thank you.

HELFAND: And, and if there were other people who came and gave you help too, of sorts, or another, we can talk about that too.

THORNBURGH: The only real help that we got -- what, what we needed was advice and people to help us, to tell us what to do, and that was hard to come by. Now, some of the unionized railroad workers here did help us out, they would come and tell us. But actually, what would fit a railroad strike was not exactly something that you could use in a textile strike. But Myles Horton, a labor educator down at Highlander Center, now when he came to town, he was very, very helpful. He would go out on the picket line and talk to the people, and when we would call a meeting, he would come in and keep their spirits up, he did 40:00more of that. He was the one who introduced us to the labor songs. We didn't have any labor songs, we didn't know there was such a thing, but Myles came in and introduced us to "Solidarity Forever," and we all started singing that then. Myles was a big help to us and he advised us on what to do, things that we were doing wrong and all that. He was very helpful.

HELFAND: What were you doing wrong?

THORNBURGH: Well, what was considered wrong, we were blocking the streets in places, and Myles would tell us, "Don't block the streets, they'll get an injunction against you," which they did anyway. But see, we had so many people that would come down and just members of course, that would come down just to view the picket line or just to be there to give us moral support, that they would be blocking the streets. That was one of the things that we had to not do.


HELFAND: Didn't you get advice on how to carry out a picket line, from the UTWA?

THORNBURGH: No, no we did not. UTWA didn't tell us. They would tell us to appoint committees and things to do, but what we needed actually, was a person here to guide and lead us. We did not have it. We did not have it locally, we did not get it from the international union. The international union would encourage us to stay out and to stay on our picket line, but they didn't offer any real, genuine help of the kind that we needed.

HELFAND: Why couldn't they offer that to you?

THORNBURGH: There were strikes all over the country, there was no money. They didn't -- they couldn't pay strike benefits. They didn't have any organizers to do that. See, the few textile workers that were organized before this strike, there wasn't enough of them paying dues into the national union, for them to 42:00have any money for strike benefits, or to even send people in to help us. Like I told you in the beginning, it was a railroad boilermaker who organized the union, it was not a textile worker. They didn't have any money to send anybody. It was a general organizer for the AFL.

HELFAND: And then it was you, Lucille, don't discount yourself.

THORNBURGH: Cut it out.

[break in video]

THORNBURGH: Suppose they threw you out at Oak Ridge and told you to make an atomic bomb, nobody to help you, what would you do? You'd try to get some help wouldn't you? But you couldn't.

HELFAND: Lucille, it sounded like you knew what you were doing back then.

THORNBURGH: No, I, no I didn't know, no. We would have won that strike if we'd 43:00had -- no we couldn't, there was no way to win the strike, there was no way, not in that time. It could be won today. I think if we'd have had strike benefits, but see, we got nothing, and when people begin to get hungry, and that rent is due, it makes a big difference, a big difference.

HELFAND: Well, but it wasn't, when you guys, when it came time for that strike, when it -- you started on Labor Day, didn't you?


HELFAND: The first day of the strike. Now what, what does Labor Day mean, why Labor Day? What was -- what did that symbolize?

THORNBURGH: I really don't know that we were so involved in what we were doing, we weren't thinking about Labor Day, you know as having any particular 44:00significance. Believe it not, workers generally, we didn't care anything about Labor Day, because all it was, was, it was a day off without pay, and everybody lost a day's pay. We didn't get paid for any holidays you know, so we didn't care anything about Labor Day and Memorial Day and those days that they let us off, because it just meant that you'd lost a day's pay. HELFAND: So was that Labor Day, did that Labor -- did that specific Labor Day though, calling the strike out on September 1, 1934, did that have some significance? I mean you marked it?

THORNBURGH: I think possibly, the reason it was called for that Labor Day, was because the national union thought that that would be a good time to do that, because people who knew the significance of Labor Day, that it would call more attention to the strike. That's probably the reason, I don't know.


HELFAND: So the song that you sang, so what was the day-to-day life on that picket line prior to this injunction, I mean what was the feeling like on there?

THORNBURGH: Well at first, -- I wasn't looking at her. At first, like the first few days on the picket line, it was fun, oh that's fun, carrying these banners. But as time went on and by the end of the week, no paycheck is coming in. By the end of the week, it wasn't so much fun, and the crowd had dwindled some, not significantly that first week, but everybody that could, of course was finding a job somewhere else, because they needed a paycheck, there was nothing to eat, nothing to pay the rent with. So the ones that could were finding jobs other places. Of course, there were very few jobs, there was very few that we left, 46:00and some had begun to move away. If they could afford the moving price, they would move to somewhere over in North Carolina, where a mill was still open, and to try to get jobs there. So, regardless of what some people might think, a picket line is no fun. You're out there working for something, you don't know whether you're going to get it or not. You're using the only weapon that you have and it's, it's really not a fun thing at all. It was a very serious matter, to be carrying that picket sign, and of course we had change in that every day, not having the same people do the walking up and down, and we'd change them three or four times during the day for that matter. OK.

[break in video]


THORNBURGH: Yeah, I could speak the same -- OK, all right, you want me to -- let's see, I think I know the words to that. One of the songs that Myles Horton introduced us to, in fact I think it was the only one, because it had so many verses, we tried to learn it all, and that was that well-known song of, "Solidarity Forever." And the way that one goes is, "When the union's inspiration, through the workers blood shall run, there can be no greater power anywhere beneath the sun. Yet, what force on earth is feebler than the feeble strength of one, but the union makes us strong." And then we'd go into, "Solidarity, solidarity, solidarity forever." And it was a catchy tune and they liked it, and I think everybody learned that song, because it had sort of a marching tune to it. Myles introduced that one to us and we made copies of it 48:00by hand, to give to everybody, so everybody would have it, and then they'd bring them to the picket line and we'd all see it.

HELFAND: Could you hum the melody for me?

THORNBURGH: No. You do it, you know that old song.

M1: But it will help the film a lot if you do it.

THORNBURGH: Well look, I can't, I can't sing, you know I can't.

HELFAND: You were singing beautiful last night.

THORNBURGH: Oh, I can't sing, now you all know that.

HELFAND: Oh, Lucille, what is this can’t business, where does it come from? You sang beautifully yesterday.

THORNBURGH: Oh, I, you know that I can't sing.

HELFAND: I do -- is that why you're putting up such a fuss, because you think it's out of tune?

THORNBURGH: Yeah. (sings) "Solidarity forever, solidarity forever, solidarity forever, for the union makes us strong!" That's it.


M1: That was good.

THORNBURGH: (laughs) Well, I, -- do you want me to make an album?

HELFAND: Now what about those folks you said there was -- that two people from the TVA came to help you out and they brought you a songbook?

THORNBURGH: Oh yes, that was two former members of the, what they called the "Wobblies," the Industrial Workers of the World. One of them was a Canadian and the other one was somewhere from -- had been a lumberman out in the West. They came down to help us and they brought us the Little Red Songbook, and that was great, that had some songs in it that we could use. But, you know something that we had to be careful of on those songs? A lot of those songs were written to religious tunes and we could not use those, because I remember one 50:00definitely, that was written to the tune of "Sweet By-and-By," and they said that was, that we could not put union words to that at all, because that was God's song and he didn't want it messed with. So we didn't -- we couldn't use that one, but the solidarity, I don't know where that tune came from, it's probably one, but we couldn't use songs that had been set to the tune of a religious song.

HELFAND: I think that song was called "Long Haired Preachers," is that it?

THORNBURGH: Yeah. Yeah, the one about the sweet by-and-by was, (recites) “Long haired preachers come out every night, try to tell you what's wrong and what's right. When asked about something to eat, they will tell you, in voices so sweet, work and pray, live on hay, you'll get pie in the sky when you die.” 51:00That's it, yeah, you sing it.

HELFAND: Now, did you want to sing that?

THORNBURGH: Well, we would have -- some of us would like to have, we didn't see anything wrong with it, but you must remember, we're living in the Bible Belt, we had to be careful on things like that.

HELFAND: Now, did you -- did you ever sing it?

THORNBURGH: Oh we did when a group of us were together, that none of the fundamentalists were listening, we might have, but we, we didn't, we didn't use it in the meetings, that wouldn't have been -- they wouldn't go for that at all. See, we, we -- you must remember, during this strike, we had all of these fundamentalists, they call them right wing now, we had all those preachers against us and it was very hard to talk unionism and trade unionism and picket 52:00lines to people all week, to have a preacher tear that down on Sunday, but that was what happened.

HELFAND: What would those preachers say?

THORNBURGH: Well, they would just talk to them about loyalty, loyalty to the organization that's giving you a job, and things like whose bread I eat, his song I sing. They compared all the unions, that there might be violence. We didn't have any violence, but violence could come of it. So it made it hard for us. Everything we had done all week would be torn down on Sunday.

HELFAND: What about the devil?

THORNBURGH: The devil, he was in the fundamentalist organizations, so you had to watch out for him.



M1: Why was -- why did the preachers do that?

THORNBURGH: I don't know. I have had some ideas. I don't know and nobody knows for certain today, whether or not they were getting money from the manufacturers or not, we just don't know, but they had some reason for doing that. The only churches who really stood by us and helped us in any way at all was the Catholics and the Jewish church, that was the only ones. These fundamentalist churches, and maybe the other Protestant churches just didn't want to get involved.

HELFAND: How did you actually -- how did the Jews and the Catholics actually help you?

THORNBURGH: They helped us. (train in the background)


HELFAND: Say who they were.

M1: Wait, for the train.

[break in video]

THORNBURGH: Ralph [Chaplan?] you know, was the old Wobblies. He was the guy who wrote their songs. And then "Union Maid" you know that one.

HELFAND: From then, Union Maid was then?

THORNBURGH: I don't remember, we didn't, we didn't have to sing it, but that's an old song you know, (recites) There once was a union maid who never was afraid. I've forgotten the words, what's the rest of the words? Never was afraid. Oh, you can't scare me, I'm sticking -- we didn't sing that one. That was to the tune of -- I can't think. I can't find my Little Red Songbook, I looked for it last night.

HELFAND: You can't find it?

THORNBURGH: No, it's here somewhere in all this mess.

HELFAND: Maybe we'll help you look for it.

THORNBURGH: Oh, it would be anywhere.

HELFAND: How did that -- how did that Sweet By-and-By go, were the lyrics to it? 55:00What's the melody?

THORNBURGH: Let's see. (sings) Long haired preachers come out every night, try to tell you what's wrong and what's right. But when asked how about something to eat, they will answer in voices so sweet, work and pray, live on hay, you'll get pie in the sky when you die. He didn't get that out. Oh, Lordy, now what else do you got?

HELFAND: What do they mean, you know, what do they mean by that, work all day and you pray, and then --

THORNBURGH: Oh, I think it was just a song.

HELFAND: But what do those words, what are they trying to say, these words?


THORNBURGH: I, you know I think in that song really, I think that must have -- could possible have been written by an atheist, because see he says the long haired preachers come out every night, try to tell you what's wrong and what's right. They don't give you anything to eat, when you ask about something to eat. It's a revolutionary song for that matter, but we didn't sing that one, that tune came from one of the -- one of God's songs, couldn't sing that one. Now what we got?

HELFAND: OK, well, --

THORNBURGH: I'm trying to help you get -- wrap this up.

HELFAND: OK, um, kids, what do you think?