Lucille Thornburgh Interview 7

Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library
Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Search this Transcript

JUDITH HELFAND: How big this strike was, it was a nationwide strike and at least, at least 200,000 textile workers were coming out and joining, you know, joining over half a million people in something that the country had never seen besides that.

LUCILLE THORNBURGH: We, we at Cherokee, we didn't know --

M: Could you cut please, for one second?

THORNBURGH: Yeah, let me -- let's start over.

[break in video]

THORNBURGH: OK, what I was thinking about.

M: OK.

THORNBURGH: At the time of our strike, we didn't know, and possibly nobody else knew, how widespread that strike was going to be. So we were concentrating on our own little local situation here, but then when we did find out, and of course the only way we had to find out then, was through the radio and the 00:01:00newspapers, what was going on in other places. It was very much encouraging to us, to find out that there was such a large number of people who were doing the same thing that we were, but we didn't know that at the beginning of the strike. We didn't know how widespread it was going to be, and we were really elated when we find out, you know, well this is going on everywhere, everybody else is thinking just like we are.

HELFAND: Did you hear Gorman on the radio, and I understand that he went on NBC and he talked to people, just actually, I think the night before the strike was to take place.

THORNBURGH: He did, there was that --

HELFAND: Can you use his name?

THORNBURGH: A radio strike, Frances Gorman from the national union.

HELFAND: Can you start again, I'm sorry, I interrupted.

THORNBURGH: All right. Now what do you want me to start with?

HELFAND: Start with, yeah, Gorman used the radio or we heard it.

THORNBURGH: Frances Gorman from the national union, was on the radio several 00:02:00times, and one time just before the strike, he was on the radio. But how many people heard him? These textile workers or cotton mill hands, making $8.40 a week, didn't all have a radio, so the only news that we would be getting would be through the newspapers, and that was so slanted against us, that we really didn't know, for a long time there, that this was so widespread. And it was encouraging to us and we really glad to hear that people in other places, they've been treated just like we have, their conditions are the same as ours. We have coworkers all over the country, up to possibly 200,000. So that, that was very encouraging news to us, to learn that we had that many people who were actually cooperating and doing the same thing that we were.


HELFAND: Now, could we -- now, it was in the South that 200,000 textile workers came out.


HELFAND: And I think, you know, the country might have expected the North, but the question is did they expect the South to do that, and did you?

THORNBURGH: No. I think, I think the strikes throughout the South, I think that even surprised the national union, because southern workers had been referred to, you know, as docile, and that's why so many manufacturers would come south and set up their plants down here, to get this cheap, good labor, and I don't think even our national union thought that the strike would be as widespread. But, as we found out from Cherokee, they were being treated the same all over the country, that we were here. Must have been in New England too, because they went on strike, and possibly, since they had been organized longer, that might 00:04:00have been expected, but I don't think that anybody, including our national union, thought that there would be that many southern workers that would come out on strike, but we did, we showed them.

HELFAND: Was it in the North, we made up half a million textile workers that were coming out and making a public statement to this country. I mean, --

[break in video]

THORNBURGH: At Cherokee, we didn't realize, when we came out on strike, that we were going to be a part of one of the biggest strikes that had ever been in this country. When there was over 200,000 southerners on strike, and we don't know how many in the eastern states, and then that was very encouraging to us, to think that textile workers all over the country are thinking the same thing we 00:05:00are, that conditions have to be changed. Did that get it in there?

HELFAND: That got it in there.

M: Can you do it again though?

THORNBURGH: What? It won't be the same.

HELFAND: That's OK, Lucille. You know, but let's think about it. Sometimes words, you know we get lost in words, but think about how many people, I mean like think about southern textile workers now. Think about where people were emotionally at one point, and then they come out like that.

[break in video]

[break in video]

THORNBURGH: Because, --

HELFAND: OK, take a breath, though.

THORNBURGH: Now wait, I'd -- I do like to get that part in there, that we didn't realize at the time, that it was going to be that big. I think that ought to be in there. All right, do you want to do that, let's try it again.

HELFAND: OK. You could speak slowly about this and think about it, because it's a big deal.


THORNBURGH: It may be but I'm not. OK, are we ready?

M: Yeah.

THORNBURGH: All right.

M: Look at Judith.

THORNBURGH: All right. At the time that we come out on strike at Cherokee, we didn't realize that this was going to be one of the largest strikes that had been in this country up until that date. We were only thinking about what we could do here at Cherokee, and then we realized that mill workers all over the country were thinking the same thing that we were. Now possibly, we have some power, we can do something for ourselves. We can help to get better wages, hours, and working conditions, the things that have been horrible all these years. Now maybe we have a chance, we do have a chance, to remedy that situation, and our coworkers all over the South and in the New England states, are joining with us to get this, so what we need to do now is go forward with 00:07:00it. We've started it, let's finish it. How's that?


THORNBURGH: OK, we got it great.

HELFAND: Did you think that you were changing, really challenging also, a social system here?

THORNBURGH: No, just thinking about the cotton mill, we weren't thinking about anybody else.

HELFAND: Yeah, but didn't the cotton mills, particularly in the South, mean, didn't that also mean politics, didn't that also mean a social structure? Didn't that mean that --

THORNBURGH: Remember now, we were in the Depression days, we was thinking about that old paycheck.

HELFAND: I know that Lucille, but I just don't believe that people can come out in such numbers, if they're also not thinking about their, their role as citizens and the fact that they are doing something that is markedly different. I just think that you all must have been imbued with something that wasn't just about hours, wages and working conditions.

THORNBURGH: Do you realize that all of those people working in those mills, 00:08:00including me, were very uneducated at that time. High school was all I had. Most of them didn't even have fifth grade, so they weren't thinking about community, they were thinking about this paycheck next week. How am I going to eat, how am I going to live? I don't think they had any particular social feelings about it at all. That paycheck. You're hungry, it's Depression days. I don't think we had any community spirit there. We can put something in there if you want to.

HELFAND: You really don't think so?


M: But how come you went on strike? That makes no sense if you're thinking about the paycheck.

THORNBURGH: Well, to get a better pay.

M: Talk to Judy.

HELFAND: Talk to me.

THORNBURGH: But to get a better paycheck. See, you're in the Depression and it's awfully hard to teach a hungry person anything about economics or social 00:09:00activities, when they're -- so what, what they were working for was those three things that we repeated over and over; hours, wages and working conditions. So I doubt that there was any feeling about building a community or helping anybody else. I don't think so.

F: Lucille, did you help one another?

THORNBURG: Yes, we did, we certainly did, we helped one another.

F: So doesn't that, in a sense, start that feeling of sort of greater social thought, even if it's just --

THORNBURGH: I don't know, I don't know whether -- can you teach social thought to a person who can't read and write? I don't know, I don't know how you do it.

HELFAND: I think you did it, I think you did that. You talked it, you talked about a better way of life, you talked about we have rights as individuals, we're no longer lint heads any more. I think you -- I think you are downplaying 00:10:00something that was much bigger.

THORNBURGH: Well, well, maybe, maybe we did, OK, how do you want me to say it?

HELFAND: Well, you don't -- well you have to believe it. But I just, maybe, maybe I need to how you some pictures and look at the faces of some of these workers.

THORNBURGH: No, let's go ahead with this. Let's, let's get this over. What else we got now?

[break in video]

HELFAND: You said Judy, you probably don't get it. No, you can talk -- you all young people might not get it but 200,000 southern textile workers coming out against, against great odds, and they were, Lucille.

THORNBURGH: They were, right, right.

HELFAND: It wasn't just losing a job, they sent the militia out, and these mill owners were really very much a part of the local government. They had a lot of power. How do you think they got an injunction against you.

THORNBURGH: Of course they got an injunction yes, is because they were against 00:11:00us. They were against us, the whole what you might way, the public was against us. We had laws but they weren't any help to us, so the whole structure was against us, the whole community.

HELFAND: Were lint heads allowed to try to say, I'm allowed to have a better life like this? I mean, was that really what the --

THORNBURGH: Well, during the strike we did, after we organized we did. Then people, they started to realize, well I have a right, I have a right to, to say what I want to say.

HELFAND: Now do you think that was one of the reasons why the government, why the local mill owners could call up the governor? I know they didn't do it in Tennessee, they did it in North and South Carolina and they did in Georgia, to call up the National Guard to come in and challenge these strikes and make it, 00:12:00you know, make it possible for loyal people to go in and get their jobs. You must have heard about that.

THORNBURGH: Oh sure we had.

HELFAND: Tell me about that.

THORNBURGH: Well see, they had an injunction against us here and in other places, they were calling out the National Guard. We didn't have real violence here, and I don't think they had violence that was that real other places, but they did call out the National Guard and the militia, I suppose just to keep peace. And that, that was, that wasn't right, because we thought that we had laws that would protect our freedom of speech and that we could do -- that we could picket and do what we wanted to. However, those laws broke down, they weren't of any help during the strike, because they did sent out the militia and they sent out the state guard and policemen, deputy sheriffs and all those 00:13:00people. So in a way we did not have that right. We came out in protest because we didn't have it. Does that answer it?

HELFAND: Yeah. And did you hear about what was going on, I mean in terms of when you started to hear about violence, you must have heard about Honea Path.


HELFAND: Where six people, the seven people who were murdered. You must have heard about the guards actually, you know, the guards actually killing people. Could you talk about what happened when you started to hear this and what that made you think about local governments here.

THORNBURGH: Let's see now, let me get that straight. OK. When we heard about the violence, and we certainly heard about the violence, that was the part of the strike that we heard about all the time, the violence that was going on, and 00:14:00about the highway patrol, the deputy sheriffs, and all of those people coming out to fight the strikers. We were wondering what, what has happened to these rules and laws that we have, that were supposed to protect us? And there was enough, by the sheer numbers of mill workers that came out, showed that we did know that we had rights and we wanted to show that we could take advantage of those rights.

HELFAND: And what did southern, southern industrialists and the management do when they started to realize that you were possibly really going to challenge all the structures that they'd worked so many years to put in.

THORNBURGH: Well, they got, they got injunctions against us.

HELFAND: They got injunctions against you, and, and on a massive level, for the region, what do you -- you know, what did they do to break this strike and to 00:15:00end this?

THORNBURGH: That's, um, in some places -- wait a minute, I don't like that, in some places. Well, actually our strike was broken here because we, well we weren't getting any strike benefits. They had an injunction against us, to where we couldn't meet and then, all over the country, as we heard it here, they were going back to work, the strike was being lost, and I think, I think the strike, I don't think it was lost in one day. I think it was lost over a short period there, of what we would read about what is happening in other places, that they were using the National Guard against those people, that they were breaking up the strikes, and it was really a discouraging time then, to think 00:16:00about it, because we were losing the strike.

HELFAND: And how did you, how did you feel, you know you'd wake up in the morning and you have this responsibility, you know you're one of the leaders of the strike. I don't know, were you president of your local by then?

THORNBURGH: By then I was.

HELFAND: You were? By the time of the strike?

THORNBURGH: Yeah, yeah.

HELFAND: Oh, well then you have to tell us that. What changed, that you became from secretary to president?

THORNBURGH: Because the president of our local union here, he had a family and he was an itinerant preacher, and he went somewhere. I don't know where he went but he left town. Nobody blamed him, he had to have a paycheck. So when he left, I was elected president. I was the most talkative and active one in the union, so I was elected president and had the responsibility of running that 00:17:00strike, which having had no previous experience, I had a hard time doing that.

HELFAND: So let's go to the end of the strike. Now, how did -- what kind of communication came to you that the strike, that the nationwide strike was going to be over and people were going to start going back to work?

THORNBURGH: Let's see, I don't remember, did we get a telegram? How, how, how was it announced? How as that announced, that the strike was over? I'm trying to think.

F: It was the newspapers? I'm sure you must have gotten --

THORNBURGH: I think we must have -- I'm thinking about a telegram. I'm certain we did, and the telegram was sent -- wait a minute, I'm thinking now. The telegram was sent to me and I had to spread the word around among the people, 00:18:00and I remember that that was very hard to do because none of us had a telephone. But of course in the neighborhood where I lived, there was a lot of those people, and that's the way, we just had to spread the word by word of mouth, that's the only way we had to spread it. And of course it came out in the newspapers that the strike was over, and all these disillusioned people started going back to work.

HELFAND: What happened when they went back to work?

THORNBURGH: Well in most cases, like ours here, I think -- well, of course the overwhelming majority went back to work. I couldn't go back to work and there was about 15 or possibly 20 of us, who couldn't go back to work, because we were blacklisted and blacklisted forever. I couldn't work in a textile union today, because blacklist doesn't wear out.


HELFAND: Could you repeat that and say, I couldn't work in a textile mill today.

THORNBURGH: What did I say?

HELFAND: You said union.


HELFAND: But Lucille, didn't you, um, did you actually -- I mean, how did you find out about this? Did you go back to the office and you knocked on the door and --

THORNBURGH: What office?

HELFAND: The mill office. How did you know?

THORNBURGH: How did we know what?

HELFAND: How did you know about this blacklist?

THORNBURGH: Oh, oh, how did I know about it. I went back just like everybody else did, to the mill gate, to apply for my job, and they told me no, not to ever come back there again, that I was blacklisted. I was told by the superintendent that I was blacklisted. I was told to my face. I didn't get a letter or anything, that I could never come back there again. They were letting other people in but when it come to me to go in the gate they said no, definitely no.

HELFAND: So you turned away.


THORNBURGH: And went back home. What else could I do?

HELFAND: How did you feel?

THORNBURGH: Well, at the time, I guess I wondered well, what am I going to do, I'm blacklisted and I haven't worked anywhere else, what, what, what can I do? So I just started wondering where I was going to find a job and of course being blacklisted, I couldn't get a job, nobody else in Knoxville would hire me. There wasn't any store or restaurant or anything like that, that's going to hire a blacklisted person. I suppose they thought I was violent or something like that, but I couldn't, I couldn't find a job here in Knoxville. And I finally did get a job, with the help of some friends, at TVA, as a file clerk.


HELFAND: Now, Lucille, when you walked away from that gate, did you think to yourself, did I do the wrong, thing, should I have stood up and spoke out like this? I mean, did you start to question your own motivation?

THORNBURGH: Oh, I definitely did.

HELFAND: OK, can you start with when I walked away from the gate, and think about what was in your head.

THORNBURGH: When I walked away from the gate, after being told that I was blacklisted, for just a short time there, I had guilt feelings. Maybe I should have done this, maybe I should have done that. I was taking the whole responsibility on my shoulders, you know I should have done this. And then I thought well, it's not only here, it's lost everywhere. Is that what you wanted me to say?

HELFAND: No. I want you to think about it and tell me the truth. At least, you know, I don't --

THORNBURGH: Well, I just felt guilty that I hadn't.

HELFAND: Did you feel guilty?


THORNBURGH: Yeah, that maybe I hadn't done everything I should have done. And I, I thought too, I was proud of what we did. I thought maybe it's a start. And a lot of people, a lot of the textile workers thought that too. Well, we lost this one but maybe we'll gain the next one. So it was not, you know, it was really not a -- it was frustrating but it wasn't hopeless.

HELFAND: And you didn't just give up, because I know that you started -- you maintained your sense of community.

THORNBURGH: After ah, when I was told that I was blacklisted forever, that I could never work in the mills again, what I had learned in the strike, about the labor movement, I knew that there was no other way that textile workers were 00:23:00ever going to gain any foothold or have any power or do anything, except through their united strength in a union. I, I realized that even though the strike was lost, all of this effort that we've put into it and all of this education that we got out of this has not been lost. How's that?

HELFAND: Lucille, did you feel let down by the national union when the strike ended?

THORNBURGH: I didn't know enough about what was -- (phone rings) Uh-oh.

[break in video]

THORNBURGH: I hope so. OK, bye.


HELFAND: Let down by the national union when they -- the national union called off the strike. They made a deal with Roosevelt didn't they? And I guess the national union felt well look, we're not going to be able to help these workers, and people have gotten killed. So the national union made this deal at the time.

THORNBURGH: Well see, we, we, we didn't know enough about the whole trade union movement, and we trusted that national union, and we thought that if they had made a deal to stop the strike, that that was the right thing to do. We really 00:25:00did, we had confidence in our national union. Now later, we discussed it, and we didn't all feel that they had done the best they could on that, but many of them did. And you know the national union continued after that, and then eventually, you know, they merged with Amalgamated Clothing Workers. But at the time, we, we did, we had confidence in that national union and we felt that if they had been able to organize all of these thousands of textile workers, that it must have been a good organization. And we, we had confidence in them.

HELFAND: Now, I --

M: (inaudible).

HELFAND: Can you stop running for a second.

[breaking in video]

THORNBURGH: I think they were just hoodwinked up there, that they didn't ah, they made a deal with the government somehow. Nobody ever knew for sure what that deal was. Did you all ever find out what it was? If they'd call off the strike they'd do something.

HELFAND: They'd get their jobs back.


HELFAND: There'd be no discrimination against the leaders of the union.

THORNBURGH: Yeah, well that didn't work.

HELFAND: OK, can you, can you -- maybe you could recast that.

THORNBURGH: All right let's see now.

HELFAND: That was the deal, I think.


F: And then also, the same thing that your government --

THORNBURGH: Without discrimination.

F: Exactly.


THORNBURGH: But that didn't happen.

HELFAND: And then -- right.

F: And it didn't happen because management had never said that they would comply with the agreement.

THORNBURGH: That's right, they should have had management in on that agreement if they was going to have an agreement at all. OK, let's try one there now.

M: OK.

THORNBURGH: Now wait a minute, let me get -- my knee here keeps my mind going. Hold it just a minute. In order, in order to settle the strike --

HELFAND: You want to look at me.

THORNBURGH: Oh, yeah. In order to settle the strike, that's a good way to bring it up? In order to settle the strike?

HELFAND: Yeah, yeah.

THORNBURGH: OK. In order to settle the strike, our national union, United Textile Workers of America, made an agreement with the government, that they 00:27:00would call off the strike if the government would guarantee that all of the workers would be put back to work without discrimination. We trusted our national union. We thought that was a good agreement, we're going back to work with no discrimination, but it didn't work out that way. When we went back to get our jobs, there were people all over the South in the same position that I was, that was told at the mill gate, no you can't come in, you're blacklisted. Now, did I get that in?

HELFAND: Yeah. Don't worry about getting it in. So when you finish a story, just let go.

THORNBURGH: OK. I won't say did I get it in, OK.

HELFAND: I'm telling you, it's all good, so don't worry about that.

THORNBURGH: OK, oh go ahead, now what?

HELFAND: Now, now, but the thing is, do you -- can you -- I mean, you knew southern management, you knew the southern industry.

THORNBURGH: Oh, I should have put that in there.

HELFAND: OK, yeah, but maybe we'll put it in now, I mean Roosevelt made a deal 00:28:00with southern, with, with basically the textile industry, which was probably majority southern. But, but you knew southern management's attitudes didn't you?

THORNBURGH: That's right and they --

HELFAND: You probably knew better than Roosevelt did.

THORNBURGH: -- didn't, and they didn't carry it out. OK, let's, let's ah, wait a minute, let's put that in there.

HELFAND: Look at me, don't worry about that.

THORNBURGH: This ah, this agreement that was made, between our national union and the government, which was Roosevelt, it seemed to us that that was a good agreement, and we trusted our national union, because the agreement was that the textile workers would go back to their jobs without discrimination. Well, that didn't happen. The manufacturers and the cotton mill owners didn't carry out 00:29:00the agreement. The people were not put back to work, people like me, who went to the gate and was told that I was blacklisted. Well, that was discrimination. So, evidently, when the, our national union and the government was working out that agreement, they didn't realize how hostile these cotton mill owners were going to be toward these employees who had had the courage to strike. They didn't realize that, that those people would do that.

HELFAND: Do you think anyone ever anticipated um, -- did you -- did you anticipate that that might be the end of that -- that that might be the beginning of the end of this mass movement?


THORNBURGH: Yes. Wait. I think we could say it like this, that in a way, when the workers saw that the agreement between the national union and the government was not being carried out, that was really discouraging to them, to wonder well, what can we do next if we can't trust our government, if we can't trust our national union. But I think that feeling, with all the love and admiration there was for President Roosevelt then, and these people so strenuously looking for a way out of their way of life and to improve themselves, they soon thought and realized, like I did, that the only way a worker can improve their life and to gain any strength at all, is through unity, and that unity has to come 00:31:00through the labor movement.

HELFAND: So here you're at the gate, you've just been told that you're blacklisted. You turn around and from what we understand you continued, right then on, with a lot of the other blacklisted textile workers.


HELFAND: You didn't let your union fall apart.


HELFAND: Talk about that.

THORNBURGH: We kept our union together, just as long as we could after the strike.

M: Could you start that sentence again.

HELFAND: It was just a car horn, a truck horn.

M: A truck was honking its horn.


M: OK.

THORNBURGH: After the strike was settled, we tried to keep our union, our local union together here, and we did for a while, and then it began to disintegrate because the people had gone back to work. The ones who had gone back to work, and we blacklisted ones, and frankly, they were afraid. They were afraid to get too active in the labor movement. I wasn't, I had nothing to lose, I was 00:32:00blacklisted anyway. So I joined the American Federation of Government Employees at TVA, when I went to work there, and I was back in the labor movement then, full-time, for 36 years.

HELFAND: At the time, you were working at TVA but still maintaining your UTWA chapter, to try to get people their jobs back.

THORNBURGH: Right, right, right.

HELFAND: That's quite, that's quite a feat.

THORNBURGH: I tried, but it failed too, it really failed.

HELFAND: Before we get to the failure part, let's talk about what you did to try. How many people were still left in your collective? I mean I still, I think about it as some kind of success, that even after that, that you were able to maintain some sense of your local union and your community that you had together.

THORNBURGH: Well, we, we, we continued to have our meetings there. In fact, 00:33:00being the last president of the local union, I was the one to call the meetings. And I still tried to have those meetings, and the meetings at first, they were rather enthusiastic, but then also, there was some discouragement there, that we have been out here on the picket line and we have done all this and we haven't gained anything. Still, there was a feeling among some of them that the labor movement is our only -- that, that's our only chance. What else could we do? We have to join with a group of our people. So we held it together for a long time there, trying to keep it going. I didn't want everything that we had learned through this strike to be wasted, and I don't think it was.

HELFAND: So you wrote letters?

THORNBURGH: We wrote letters, we did everything.

M: Can you start that again.

HELFAND: Try to be -- try to be specific in terms of writing letters to get your 00:34:00jobs back or who you wrote your letters to, or -- and if there was a feeling of, you know, what that feeling was that you all had in trying to do that.

THORNBURGH: Well, in, in getting the jobs back, one of the things of course was that this new agreement that had been worked out there, was really not being carried out, because they still had the same old discrimination, still had the same old job conditions that they had had before the strike. So actually what a lot of the letters were about was that we want changes made here. So we did, we would devote a whole meeting to writing letters, and we're write to our senators, we'd write to the president, we'd write to Mrs. Roosevelt, we'd write to the mayor, to anybody that we thought could help us, and I think eventually 00:35:00it did help us. At least it brought attention to our plight.

HELFAND: So you said that you went on afterwards, for the next 36 years.

THORNBURGH: Yeah. More than that I guess.

HELFAND: I guess.

THORNBURGH: Until I retired.

HELFAND: So, so could you talk about that?

THORNBURGH: About what?

HELFAND: About what you went on to do. Was this a jumpstart for you?

THORNBURGH: Oh, after. You may not want to put all this down, you might. After I was the blacklisted textile worker, I got a job at TVA, as a file clerk, and I worked at TVA here in Knoxville for about two years, then I worked at Wilson Dam TVA for about two years, then I was transferred to the War Department in Washington, D.C., Fort Belvoir, Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and I stayed there about 00:36:0018 months and from there then, I had decided for certain, that I did not want to be a government employee all my life. My heart was still in the labor movement, so when I left the War Department up there, with everybody thinking I was crazy, leaving a good civil service job like that, and I did have a good job. I was the supervisor of the records and mail section, but I left that job. My heart wasn't in it at all. I wanted to get back into the labor movement. So I got back into the labor movement then and stayed there until I retired in 1972. And during all those years that I was in the labor movement, I had various jobs. I was a general organizer on the AFL staff, and it was just AFL then, it was not AFL-CIO. And I continued as an organizer there until I got a scholarship, the 00:37:00AFL gave me a scholarship to Ruskin College at Oxford, England, in 1947, and over there, I got a scholarship upon a scholarship, to study a month in Holland, and I went there and after my term over there, after this long tenure over there, I came back to Knoxville and started organizing again.

HELFAND: Organizing what?

THORNBURGH: Organizing glove workers. Let's see, I organized glove workers here and went back into some of -- one of the hosiery mills, and I did that for a short time, and then I became associate editor of the East Tennessee Labor News. But all, all this time, I was organizing on the side. I was helping the organizers who would come to town. If they came to town to organize, say 00:38:00painters, construction workers, factory workers, places like Rohm and Haas that we had here, and the foundries and all. I helped them and marble workers particularly, I helped with those. I helped any organizer who would come to town, and then I was associate editor of the East Tennessee Labor News, and was on that job. In a few years, I was made editor, and I was on that job then, until I retired in 1972.

HELFAND: Wow, that's a life.

THORNBURGH: OK, what else we got?

M: How about after that, what have you been doing?

HELFAND: Yeah, what did you do after you retired?


F: We know you're still going, Lucille.


THORNBURGH: Yes, I retired. He's going to get a sore finger from having to do that.

HELFAND: Stop just a sec. Should I move that?

[break in video]

THORNBURGH: After I retired in 1972, when I retired, I decided that I was going to learn to crochet and I was going to sit on the front porch and rock, and not ever work again, draw my social security check and live like that, on what they call a fixed income. I stayed retired. I visited friends and went to all the meetings that I wanted to, and after three weeks, I started back to work again. I started back to work for the Community Action Committee, in their office on the aging department, and I have been there ever since. I just work part-time, but I like it, I like that job, and I found out, I couldn't live without 00:40:00working. I have to be doing something. I have to be in that workforce.

HELFAND: What do you do with, what do you at the community action project, that, that's, that advocates for senior citizens in a way that's even similar to what you were doing before.

THORNBURGH: Yes, yes it is. It's what we are going is helping people, and of course that's what we were doing in the labor movement, helping them in their daily lives. And what, what I do there, I work in the transportation department and get rides for people to go to the doctor. You know, there's so many senior citizens who, for different reasons, maybe they don't have a car, maybe their eyesight is too bad to drive, maybe they've lost their license. So they have no means of transportation, and we, we furnish that. And when I say they have no means of transportation, of course we have public buses here. Some of them are not physically able to ride those buses, and when it comes to taxi fares, the 00:41:00social security check won't hardly stretch that far, so they don't, they don't have that fare. Those are the people that we help.

HELFAND: Now, can you, in, in a way, I mean you mentioned all the specific jobs, but can you actually talk about it in terms of, you know, communities that work -- you know, people that you are organizing in the South. I mean, your commitment to organizing workers in the South, post-1934, could you talk about that? You know, I mean even if you list all the different kinds of people that you were organizing, the different kinds of jobs.

THORNBURGH: Well, what is it, what is it now, you want to know, I wasn't listening.

HELFAND: You started to, when you mentioned glove workers and you mentioned marble.

THORNBURGH: Oh I helped, I just helped out with -- I just helped the organizers who would come here with those. I guess until I left there, I never did stop 00:42:00organizing, and when any union would be on strike, I helped them, you know, in every way that I could. And I worked with the amalgamated clothing workers, I worked with the construction trades and with the textile workers, wherever people needed helped, I helped with that, because just being editor, I was first associate editor and then editor, of a weekly paper, was not really full-time work, so I could still devote time to organizing and helping with that.

HELFAND: Now, from what I read in your scrapbook, that the reason that a lot -- there were a number of other textile workers who were given jobs at the TVA, who were also blacklisted. Did they make a space for blacklisted textile workers there?

THORNBURGH: Let's see, wait a minute how did they do that. Oh, the um, the TVA 00:43:00was, was very good to the strikers. I don't, I don't think they were giving them any special consideration, except they knew that there was this whole group of people. See, we had this coal mining strike up at Wilder, and all those people were out of work at the same time, and the TVA accepted them and gave them jobs, because they were people with no particular skills, but they could get a job as a common laborer at the TVA.

F: Lucille, you also continued, obviously, to be very politically active.

THORNBURGH: Oh, I've always been politically active.

F: Can you talk to us a little bit about the political activity that you've done as well, just you know recently, you're backing your friend for a commission. Tell us what you've been doing.

HELFAND: And being on the Highland board and the community for the --

THORNBURGH: Now wait a minute, this is going to be about that textile, you're getting me in there too much.

HELFAND: We just want to show that, that there was a relationship between what 00:44:00you started to do back in 1934, and the way that you've led your life all these years, that that's what happens when you're part of something like that. It changes you.

F: Don't you think that that, that started you, right, that started you on a goal.

THORNBURGH: Yeah. Let's see, could I get up for just a minute?


[break in video]

HELFAND: Putting all the words in all the right places. Just think about that work, that anger.

THORNBURGH: OK. I was really angry, I was mad from being blacklisted, because for one thing, I knew that I was a good cotton mill hand, I was a good winding machine operator. But here I was, blacklisted for trying to do something. I 00:45:00think it was -- maybe I was sorry for myself, that I thought well here I've done everything that I possibly could to help myself and my fellow workers here, and it all comes to naught, and here I am, a blacklisted worker who has to work for a living. I had to find a job somewhere, and I felt that management had been extremely unfair, and I didn't think that the government, through that agreement, had done what they could to protect people like me, who had done nothing more -- we had no violence. There was none of that at all, and all I was trying to do was to help myself and other mill workers to a better way of life, and that was the treatment I got for it; a blacklisted cotton mill worker was what I was. And when I was dubbed that, of course nobody else, no other 00:46:00business in Knoxville was going to give me a job. Who would want a clerk in the store with people going by saying well, she was blacklisted and blacklisted must have meant that you did something very bad. So I was mad about it, I was very angry.

HELFAND: And what did they expect to happen, throwing all these activists out, anyone who had spoke up for themselves? I mean that's what they were doing weren't they?

THORNBURGH: Absolutely, they were throwing all of us out, out of a job, which this is still Depression days and that job meant everything to us, and blacklisting us, threw us out of a job, not only in the textile industry but everywhere. And who was to blame for that, of course we blame management for that. They were the responsible ones.

HELFAND: Did some people blame the union?

THORNBURGH: We had a few who blamed the union but not very many, and some of 00:47:00those, one person in particular that I remember was a good friend of mine in the mill but told me later, I don't want to ever have anything to do with unions any more. They've caused us to lose a job and here you are blacklisted. That man is a very good member of the painters union today. He soon realized, as I did all along, that the only recourse a worker has is the strike, that's all. Withholding our labor is the only power that we have.

HELFAND: And could you -- I mean, has the South accepted unionism to this day? I mean, I'm trying to visualize. We have all those lists of all those names of all those people who were blacklisted, they were basically saying what? If you speak up you're out. I mean what were they -- what was this industry doing?

THORNBURGH: Well, when it was putting all of these people out of work, in a way 00:48:00it was breaking up communities, because they had to go other places to find jobs. They were in the same position that I was, that you can't find a job as a clerk or as a waitress or anything that we were qualified to do at that time, so the only thing to do was leave town. So it did break up communities, it broke up families.

HELFAND: And did it break up a community of protest? Did it break up an idea that we can change our life?

THORNBURGH: To some extent it did, but thank goodness, it was not widespread. As the unions continued to grow here and through the efforts of the AFL, now AFL-CIO, they did continue their organizing, and even our National Textile Workers, they continued organizing and made a very progressive step when they 00:49:00merged with Amalgamated Clothing Workers. So the organizing did continue and some of those people who were so mad at the union for knocking them out of a paycheck for that long and then it amounted to nothing, some of those people, with organizers coming in and with TVA bringing a liberal organization to Knoxville, attitudes did change.

HELFAND: So would say, so then do you agree with me or you don't agree with me, that I mean George Stoney was thinking that the South has lost a lot by not accepting the right of ordinary people to speak for themselves, and he, that's his feeling about this. He felt that all these communities of dissent, it's breaking up, stop it, that all these communities.

[break in video]


THORNBURGH: I think at first, that this attitude that the people assumed from the big textile strike being lost, that it did affect people, that they thought well, we, we don't have this freedom of speech that's guaranteed to us under the constitution, we don't have that. That went on for a long time, but as the union organizers came in and explained to the workers that their only recourse in unity is their strength, that they have to get into an organization of their coworkers to improve their lives. So I think that feeling is dying down and I certainly hope so. How was that?

HELFAND: Do you think, well is there a union, I mean why is it still so hard for 00:51:00people to organize today? Why, why is that? Is there a connection, do you think? I mean from what we know, it's really very, very difficult to organize unions today, and maybe necessarily union isn't the only, you know model, but it's still so difficult, and I think that's why they asked us to make this movie, was to try to make a connection between a big, big, big attempt, and one that some people think was a real failure, and the fear, you know and all this fear that was really put into people. I'm sorry, I'm just going off on a --

THORNBURGH: Yeah, go ahead, now wait just a minute now.

[break in video]

M: OK.

THORNBURGH: That fear of unions and of organized labor did spread, because see, so many people were affected by that textile strike. Families, friends, acquaintances, and just the general public, they felt, well they lost that 00:52:00strike. I never did think the strike was completely lost, because no organizing is ever lost. Once you teach people and try to train them and help them that way, that little seed that you have planted there, it will eventually grow, because they knew then that even though we had lost that strike, that they had no other recourse. But it was widespread, and I think that strike had a lot to do with people having fear of unions, particularly in the South, where it was so widespread and affected so many people, that it did have, and it took the labor movement many years to overcome that fear and possibly some of it still exists. Did that answer it? No, I shouldn't have said that.

HELFAND: No, that was great.

THORNBURGH: I thought we was going to talk about politics.


HELFAND: What is on that paper, politics?

THORNBURGH: Oh, this was, this was just something. You want to --

F: I don't want to hear about politics, Lucille. I want to hear about --

HELFAND: We want to hear of what you went on to do politically.

THORNBURGH: OK, well, now I'm going to put some of this in just for the fun of it and you all can cut it out later, because you need to know it. OK?

HELFAND: Go ahead.

THORNBURGH: OK, you need to know it. I have always been interested in politics, because I came from a political family. My father was a justice of the peace up in Jefferson County for 32 years, and I can remember, just as a little girl, a very little girl, up there on election day, I would try to stay awake at night. They counted the ballots while the election was announced from Dandridge, which was the county seat of Jefferson County. And I can remember waiting for my 00:54:00daddy to come home, to who was elected, who got elected, and of course he was elected all the time and most of the time he didn't have an opponent, and he was always able to get rid of his opponents before election day, because he didn't like to count ballots, and so he would get rid of them. But I have always been interested in politics, and I think everybody should be, because your entire life is governed by the people that you elect, whether you like it or not. And I have a leaflet here that I've always appreciated very much, and I wish everybody in the United States had a copy of it. It's neighbor you're in politics whether you like it or not. As you get out of bed, the mattress you've been sleeping on has contents regulated by the Federal Bureau of Standards. OK, you have to elect somebody, to send them to Washington to appoint a bureau of 00:55:00standards, so you better be careful who you elect there, so they will examine your mattress before you're sleeping on it. When you set off your alarm clock at night or turn on your lights, your public service commission is telling you it is regulating how much you can use and how you should use it. Well where does that public service commission come from? It comes from the governor of the state, who appoints that commission, so you'd better be interested in who you elect governor. And it goes on and on. There's no area of your life that is not affected by politics, because it's all run by the officials that we elected. I've always been interested in who's going to elect, and when I watch politics, I watch to see, well how is this senator going to vote on this, how is 00:56:00that congressman going to vote, how is my city councilwoman, and I do have a city councilwoman here, how is she going to vote on this. And then the next election comes up, you can gage them by their vote. So to me politics is extremely important. It's very important that everybody should know that. All city and state employees are hired by officials that you elect, that we elect, so we'd better be very careful who we elect. And that's one thing that I think the labor movement does do a good job on. The AFL-CIO really examines those records before they make recommendations to their membership as to how to vote. To me, that's one of the most important things that they do.

HELFAND: Now, did you --