Eula McGill Interview 9

Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library
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EULA MCGILL: -- works that. I don’t think -- oh go bring my book. I got a whole bunch of song books in that flat one. Bring it in here. Bring it in here.

M: But do the ones you know by heart verse, even if you only know one verse.

HELFAND: We could even hum it.

MCGILL: Oh that wouldn’t be no good. We’d sound like a bunch of bees.


MCGILL: (singing) “Hey boss man won’t you hear me when I call. You’re not so mean, you’re just tall that’s all. That’s all I know.” That’s all she wrote.

HELFAND: Can you hum that a little bit?


MCGILL: (humming) Then my favorite, right, one of the old songs that came on later, (singing) “I had a job in ’29 and everything was going fine, knew the pace was pretty fast, thought that it would always last. When organizers came to town, always sneered and turned them down. Thought the boss was my best friend. He’d stick by me to the end. Ta-ra-ra boom de-ay, ain’t got a word to say. They chiseled all my pay then took my job my away. Boom went the boom one day. It made a noise that way. I wish that I’d been wise. Next time I’ll organize. And finally it came to pass that all I had to eat was grass. The wolf don’t bother anymore. Starved to death right by my door. I skimped on food. I skimped on rent. Thought I’d save a lint cent. Thought I’d be 2:00a big shot too. Ta-ra-ra boom de-ay, ain’t got a word to say. They chiseled all my pay then took my job my away. Boom went the boom one day. It made a noise that way. I wish that I’d been wise. Next time I’ll organize.” I can’t -- let’s see. I had -- I -- I had -- oh I can’t remember that next verse out there skimped and saved and went to the bank. I can’t remember that other one. I got it all wrote. I found it and got it all wrote down in there. I like that talking union the best, that talking union, Woody Guthrie used to say that. Of course Miller made a marble is a favor, right. What’s them 3:00other short songs we used to sing on -- later on on picket lines.

HELFAND: What did you sing in ’33?

MCGILL: (singing) “Oh you can’t scare me. I’m sticking to the union. I’m sticking to the union. I’m sticking to the union. Oh you can’t scare me. I’m sticking to the union. I’ll stick to the union ‘til the day I die. There once was a union maid who never was afraid. She’d show her card to the National Guard and this is what she’d say. Oh you can’t scare me. I’m sticking to the union. I’m sticking to the union. I’m sticking to the union. No you can’t scare me. I’m sticking to the union. I’ll stick to the union ‘til the day I die. This union maid was wise. She something the 4:00company spies. She’d show her card to the National Guard and this is what she’d say. Oh you can’t scare me. I’m sticking to the union. I’m sticking to the union. I’m sticking to the union. No you can’t scare me. I’m sticking to the union. I’m sticking to the union ‘til the day I die.”

HELFAND: Do you know Hard Times in This Old Mill?

MCGILL: No. I don’t know much about them mills. I told you. No, I don’t like the tune of that either. I can’t sing it. I tried it. The tunes don’t go with the words. I like good songs like that. These late songs they wrote, they ain’t -- they ain’t -- they ain’t down to earth like our old songs.

HELFAND: Now -- now if you were at a union meeting back in ’33 or ’34 and you said you might be singing a popular song, what might that be?

MCGILL: Red River Valley.

HELFAND: Can you sing that.


MCGILL: Tennessee Waltz. No, I can’t remember it all. And -- oh Casey Jones was a good one too. We made a union song about Casey Jones. He went to hell scabbing. You know, Casey Jones was a scab.

HELFAND: You did this in ’34?

MCGILL: I don’t know when we did it. That tune to Casey Jones is an old song though. I don’t know how old. I’d have to look at the book to see how old it is. It usually had something there when it was written.

HELFAND: Do we have a song sheet?

MCGILL: I got a whole bunch of them, in that little flat box in there.

HELFAND: We found a song from the 1934 strike from the Mary Mack Mills.

MCGILL: Well go in there and get that little flat box up there. It’s got a whole bunch of songs and sheets, right in there in the floor. [break in video] And some of these I don’t know. I don’t know where I got that. Danny Boy, I don’t like that Danny Boy. When Irish Eyes Smile, I like that. My Wild 6:00Irish Rose, I like that. Shady Old Shady Town, I like that.

HELFAND: Do you remember Spring Time in the Rockies? MCGILL: No, I never did like that song. The ones I didn’t like I didn’t sing. I never cared to sing Spring Time in the Rockies. It’s probably in there. I like these old songs about --

HELFAND: Eula, we have --

MCGILL: (singing) “It’s only a shanty, old shanty.” I like them kind of songs. And I like this, There’s a Tavern in the Town, or My Blue Heaven, Wheelbarrow Polka, but you can’t sing that. This is a bunch of old songs, Deep in the Heart of Texas and all that, just a bunch of them here. You want to look at it? I was trying to find an old later song, but -- what was that we was talking about, that Sonya was just about when you go?

HELFAND: Which one?

MCGILL: Well I’m asking you which one.

HELFAND: Was it Gold?


HELFAND: Red River Valley?


MCGILL: I know that song. It’s in one of these -- I know it’s in one of these songbooks. (singing) “You would give me a handout to revive me again.” Then it might be in this book right here.

HELFAND: Eula, can we sing that one? Maybe I can show you this song sheet.

MCGILL: All right.

HELFAND: OK. Eula, this is a song sheet that has a song called Here We Rest that was sung in Huntsville, Alabama by the Mary Mack Mill village.

MCGILL: Yeah, what’s the tune to it.

HELFAND: Halleluiah I’m a Bum.

MCGILL: Oh I’ve seen this before. I don’t like that Halleluiah I’m a Bum. Here we rest [muh, muh, muh?], Dean the strike leader was killed during an outbreak. He wasn’t so. He wasn’t no killed. Who put that down there? 8:00John Dean died with pneumonia.

HELFAND: Well I think --

MCGILL: He wasn’t killed.

HELFAND: I found out --

MCGILL: It had to be pneumonia.

HELFAND: Well I found that in an old -- in a songbook by textile workers.

MCGILL: Well it ain’t right. There’s another thing that’s wrong too that they keep telling and I get so damn mad every time I hear it about Rosa Parks, segregating them busses. There was a young black girl that actually did it first and she was unmarried and had a child and didn’t want to use her because of her having this illegitimate child and they used Rosa Parks. It burns me up. What was wrong with giving credit to that girl who did it? And something else they keep telling about Eleanor Roosevelt come here to sow the commerce of human welfare – [break in video] wouldn’t have done it, she was a shy person. She 9:00wouldn’t have done a thing like that. Anybody that knew Eleanor Roosevelt, she tried not to draw attention. What she’d done she’d looked insincere if she did things like that. That woman was a shy person. She would never have done that in her wildest dreams, would’ve never done that. She marched down the aisle and come to the front and went over to the black section and sat down in the front seat. I was sitting in the far aisle and I saw it. I seen it. And saying he was killed during the strike, that ain’t so.

HELFAND: All right, well I’ll have to let the guy who wrote this book know that --

MCGILL: Well it ain’t so. He died of pneumonia right here. He was at our house and it was turned chilly. It was summertime, but it turned real chilly that night. We were going to Gadsden to a meeting. I said, “John you need something on.” He had on an old sweater of mine. And I remember that night he kept pulling it down because it kept coming up. And he caught pneumonia that 10:00night and died right here in Birmingham, Alabama in a hotel down here on an old second rate hotel which is gone now. Now all during that time, John Dean didn’t live long and during all that time, they were down at our house so much and my sister drove him that night to Gadsden. And I told John when we started out. I said, “John, you need some kind of jacket. It’s too cool.” And he got one -- I gave him one of my old sweaters. And he kept -- the whole time he was speaking, he kept pulling at his sweater because it kept crawling up.

HELFAND: Why were you going to Gadsden?

MCGILL: To a union meeting. To a union meeting.

HELFAND: Was this before the strike you think?

MCGILL: I don’t remember. May have been after, we met at Canterbury Station, in a hall at Canterbury Station. There used to be a community hall down there we used for everything, for plays and everything. And that’s where we had a 11:00union meeting at Canterbury Station.

HELFAND: So I understand that they got -- they got the information wrong. History sometimes works out that way --

MCGILL: It ain’t history if it ain’t right.

HELFAND: That’s true. That’s why we’re talking to you right now.

MCGILL: (singing) “We praise thee oh God for the strike of the south and we thank you Mr. Dean for calling us out. Halleluiah, how we rest” -- I kind of like this song. (singing) “Halleluiah Mr. Dean, Uncle Sam may give us a handout because we’re tired of these beans.” I almost like this song. I like it because of John. I like the word John Dean. I though the world of John Dean. He was fine organizer, good speaker, but he couldn’t match Albert Cox when it come to speaking. Albert Cox was the speaker. (singing) “We were standing on guard both day and night. We were doing our best to keep scabs 12:00away.” See I don’t mind. (singing) “We still are 100 strong and the strike still is on and the scabs still are standing but they won’t scab for long. That’s a little far out.” It’s not bad. A little I don’t understand, but it’s wonderful that they did it. (singing) “Halleluiah we are union, halleluiah our rest. Mister [Seymour?], send our checks out. We are standing the test.” That’s good. (singing) “The scabs are all sore cause we brought back Mr. Dean and they swore to heaven they would get him again. Halleluiah we are union. Halleluiah we were rest. Halleluiah, come and get him. We’re armed for the test. We thank you Mister Dean, Miss Berry, and Miss Daft and for staying her with us through the strike they called out. 13:00Halleluiah, we are union. Halleluiah, we were rest. Halleluiah, come and get him. We’re armed for the test.” That’s good. Good effort, A for effort.

HELFAND: Eula, that’s the only song that we have been able to find for the 1934 strike.

MCGILL: Uh-huh. Well I don’t remember anybody writing no songs. Nobody in my mill had sense enough, had good ideas, but not for singing. I’m trying to look for Red River Valley.

M: Do you remember the melody of that one or were there union words for it?

MCGILL: I don’t know. I thought you said there was.

HELFAND: No, you were just mentioning that --

MCGILL: Oh, wait a minute. (singing) “From this valley you say you are going. We will miss your bright face and sweet smile. For you’re taking the 14:00sunshine from us that brightened our pathway a while.” I can’t remember it all. It ought to be here somewhere in here.

HELFAND: Could you just hum the words? Can you hum the melody? (humming)

MCGILL: Now here’s a song right here. It may not be about the -- no, it ain’t about the 1934 strike. Aragon Mill.

HELFAND: That was later.

MCGILL: Yeah. I don’t know. Oh 1974 -- copyright 1974.

HELFAND: Yeah, that’s Silicon’s song. That’s much later. Eula, could you talk a little bit about -- could you read these words, the ones -- could you read them, the ones from that song?


HELFAND: Just read them. Clear your throat and read it strong.

MCGILL: “We praise thee oh God for the strike of the south and we thank you 15:00Mister Dean for calling us out. Halleluiah, here we rest. Halleluiah, Mister Dean. Uncle Sam, he’d give us a handout because we’re tired of these beans. We’re standing our guard both night and day. We are doing our best to keep the scabs away. We are twelve hundred strong and the strike is still on and the scabs are still are standing but they won’t scab for long. Halleluiah, we are union. Halleluiah, here we rest. Mister Seymour, send us our checks out, we are standing the test. The scabs are all sore because we brought back Mister Dean. And they swore to heaven they would get him again. Halleluiah, we are union. Halleluiah, here we rest. Halleluiah, come and get him. We are armed 16:00for the test. We thank you Mister Dean, Miss Berry, and Miss Daft for staying here with us through this strike you’ve called out.”

HELFAND: Do you think the workers perceived the organizers to have called out the strike.

MCGILL: Yeah, I think [it’s that way. People vote to strike?].

HELFAND: People vote to strike?

MCGILL: What we done to get around outright -- I’m still on tape I better not say that. [break in video] (singing) “Parlez-vous, the boss are taking it on the chin, parlez-vous. The boss are taking it on the chin, parlez-vous. The scabs are taking it on the chin because the strikers won’t give in, hinky dinky parlez-vous. The scabs are having a heck of a time, parlez-vous. The 17:00scabs are having a heck of a time, parlez-vous. The scabs are having a heck of a time trying to cross the picket line. Hinky dinky parlez-vous. The boss is shaking at the knees, parlez-vous. The boss is shaking at the knees, parlez-vous. The boss is shaking at the knees, he’s shaking in his BVDs, hinky dinky parlez-vous. We’re going to win the union shop, parlez-vous. We’re going to win the union shop, parlez-vous. We’re going to win the union shop, we’ll clean the floor with the union mop, hinky dinky parlez-vous. We’re staying on the picket line, parlez-vous. We’re staying on the picket line, parlez-vous. We’re staying on the picket line until we get the boss to sign, hinky dinky parlez-vous.” Now I know we sang that.


HELFAND: You know we have actual news reel footage of cotton mill workers in Gastonia singing We Shall Not be Moved. Did you sing that?

MCGILL: Oh yeah, that’s an old standard. See that’s a religious song.

HELFAND: Would you sing that for us?

MCGILL: I will.


MCGILL: I’ll tell you a story afterwards though. (singing) “We shall not be, we shall not be moved. We shall not be, we shall not be moved just like the tree that’s standing by the water, we shall not be moved. The union is behind us, we shall not be moved. The union is behind us, we shall not be moved just like the tree that’s standing by the water, we shall not be moved.” Then 19:00you can make your own verses if you want, whoever is the local lead prominent, whatever.

HELFAND: Like what? You don’t have to sing from that book. You can look at us --

MCGILL: I’m looking. I’m trying to find a song in here.

HELFAND: But why don’t we -- let’s just sing We Shall Not be Moved for a moment and then we’ll look for that song.

MCGILL: Well you have to make up things as you go according to the situation you’re in like whoever is the leader there, you’d say so and so is behind us and so and so is behind us and so and so is behind us.

F: Could you sing the verse again where the union is behind us without --

MCGILL: (singing) “The union is behind us and we shall not be moved. The union is behind us, we shall not be moved just like a tree that’s standing by the water, we shall not be moved. We’re fighting for our contract and we shall not be moved. We’re fighting for our contract, we shall not be moved just like the tree that’s standing by the water, we shall not be moved. 20:00We’re fighting for our freedom, we shall not be moved. We’re fighting for our freedom, we shall not be moved just like a tree that’s standing by the water, we shall not be moved.”

HELFAND: Now that was a church song first?

M: Eula, can we do that one more time without the book?

MCGILL: Oh I was looking at my --

HELFAND: Yeah, that’s why --

M: I keep hearing the sound from pages turning.

MCGILL: Oh you do?

M: Yeah.

HELFAND: Right, right.

M: Can you look at Judith.

HELFAND: Yeah, you can look at me when we sing that. That’s fine.

MCGILL: You have to always start off with the chorus first so the song means something. (singing) “We shall not be, we shall not be moved. We shall not be, we shall not be moved just like a tree that’s standing by the water, we shall not be moved. We’re fighting for our contract, we shall not be moved. 21:00We’re fighting for our contract, we shall not be moved just like a tree that’s standing by the water, we shall not be moved. The union is behind us and we shall not be moved. The union is behind us and we shall not be moved just like a tree that’s banded by the water, we shall not be moved.”

HELFAND: What was the story of how that went along with it.

MCGILL: Well I refused one time to sing that. I got so sick and tired of hearing that on our picket line in Knoxville, Tennessee. And I said, the next time we start -- that’s all they’d sang. It’s easy, you know. And they’d sing it over. And I said the next time you all start singing this song, I’m going to leave this picket line and go to the union hall. I’m so sick and tired of hearing it. I got for a long time -- every time I’d hear it -- because ever time you’d sit together there would be We Shall Not be Moved 22:00sung. I just got tired of it. And I said I will not go to the picket lines as long as you’re going to sing that song. I hated it. I started hating it, I got tired of listening to it. Sing something else.

HELFAND: Now when you were on Selma on the picket line, how many -- the plant was big. Were you all around the plant?

MCGILL: The plant had a fence around it.


MCGILL: That was easy to have picket lines when plants had fences around them because you could block the gates easy. And they got to putting these plants out in fields where they could come from all different directions, a picket line wasn’t very effective. But as long as they had fences around them mills you could block the gates.

HELFAND: Tell us about the picket line at Selma.

MCGILL: That’s what I’m saying. They had to go in a certain gate and you didn’t have to -- you know we didn’t have much trouble with the law out there. I don’t know why. Nobody seemed to bother us much. We didn’t have many people trying to scab. Most of them was somewhere else I guess on a job. 23:00But honestly, the picket line wasn’t -- we didn’t have no trouble. One day that our so called leaders that was the leaders of the union come down on us going to scab. And I never will forget one young fellow. His daddy was in the bunch. And he was a second hand too. And that child tears coming up in his eyes and he said, “I can’t hit my daddy. But some of you all get him and I’ll get some of the rest of them.” He was on the picket line and here come his -- they were second hands. All of them that came in was second hands. He said, “I can’t hit my daddy, but some of you all get him and I’ll get somebody else.” We didn’t have much trouble out there, never no fights. Our union hall was right at the end of the fence and that’s where we had an old store building there that we -- we didn’t used it for meetings, but we 24:00used it to kind of relieve the pickets and where we’d distribute the food that we’d collected. That’s where we’d bring the food back when we go out and we’d have teams to go out in stores to get the food, uh, and gather up donations, go to union meetings and ask for donations because the union didn’t have much money and I know I didn’t get -- I didn’t ask for nothing. I got some shoe soles on shoes, but that’s all I got out of it. But to some people, you know, they had to have more assistance.

HELFAND: So at your plant -- I mean, in Alabama the -- the National Guard wasn’t called out?

MCGILL: No. I don’t ever remember having much police down around there. If you see the mill, you’ll understand. It was away from everything else across the big railroad tracks and out there by itself. And it’s grown up a little 25:00bit around there now, but then that old mill was just standing out there. It really didn’t -- looking back on it now, I guess the old man was just as well not to operate it. You know, he had mills in Mississippi where the union wasn’t giving him no trouble. But he did reopen and recognize the union later on as I told you. But I was gone from here then when that happened. They didn’t give up the union when we went back. They still kept the union going and kept trying to -- and finally got a contract.

HELFAND: You know -- can we -- in terms of Hey Boss Man, we like that song so much.

MCGILL: It must be in one of them song books there.

HELFAND: Could you -- could you sing it again and then just hum a couple of those verses. The humming is beautiful. Just a couple.


MCGILL: (singing) “Hey boss man, won’t you hear me when I call. You’re not so mean, you’re just tall, that’s all. Oh yeah. I can’t hum much. It sounds a little silly.”

HELFAND: Come on try it. (laughter) It sounds beautiful, come on hum it.

MCGILL: (humming) That’s not humming, that’s that old southern feel hand to it.

HELFAND: It’s gorgeous. It’s beautiful.

MCGILL: Yeah, it’s really nice.

HELFAND: Do a little more. Can you hum it one more time?

MCGILL: I wish I could remember some more of them words. I love that song. Of 27:00course, it’s sung a lot by the country singers too. And there’s another one that’s sung a lot -- (humming) (singing) “Hey boss man, won’t you hear me when I call. You’re not so tall, you’re just tall that’s all. I made a mess out of that. (humming) You’re not so big, you’re just tall, that’s all. That tall was big.

HELFAND: Now we have -- we have -- we found some really interesting things that were sent from the national union to the local -- to the local unions once the strike was called because I know that they were -- they were communicated to 28:00each other.

MCGILL: Well they had to be.

HELFAND: Do you remember that?

MCGILL: Nu-uh. I wasn’t no officer until later. You know, I wasn’t -- like I told you. And when the strike come, I couldn’t stay down here. I had no way of making a living. I had to go home where I could eat. I was gone a lot of time from here during the strike. My folks lived out in the country and I had to go out there to stay. I couldn’t stay on the picket line all of the time. I had no visible means of support. And I had to go home and stay some to eat and to live. And they’d come up -- Albert Cox would come -- take me up there and I’d stay a while and they’d come back and get me. And he’d drive up on [Chandler Mountain?] and get me when they thought they had to have me. But I couldn’t stay. See I didn’t have nowhere to live when I lost my 29:00job and when I was out on strike. I had nowhere to live.

HELFAND: And then where --

MCGILL: My husband -- I mean my sister and her husband had separated at that time, you see, and she was working for the National Youth Administration and I had nowhere to live since I lived with her and she had no home here then. And she was on the road and her children stayed with her mother-in-law. And I had to stay -- mama and papa lived up on the mountain because they bought that little farm up there and they had to go up there to live to, you know -- to get by. And I had to go up there and stay some too because I just couldn’t stay down here because I had nowhere to stay. I did stay a night or two with the girl that lived right above the plant as long as she could maintain -- she had a 30:00sleeping room and I slept with her some and eat wherever I could.

HELFAND: Was the -- when you were in town, were people -- was your committee meeting around this strike, night and day. I mean was there --

MCGILL: I don’t know. I wasn’t on no committee. Later -- I was secretary of the union later. During the strike, I hadn’t -- I was not on no committee. I was not no officer. I could tell you, frankly all of them were men except Alice and she -- her influence come through -- at that time she was travelling with John Dean. I couldn’t stay. If you can’t have a place to live, you can’t live on the streets. Some people could, but I couldn’t.

HELFAND: Did you hear about the violence in Honea Path and what was going on in South Carolina and North Carolina?

MCGILL: Very sketchy, very sketchy. I didn’t know much was going on up there 31:00whether I heard about it then or later, I don’t know. [Ida May?] told me a lot of stuff. She was up in there then. She was working. She wasn’t working in a plant, but she was up in that -- she lived in that area. And her mother was a mill worker during that strike, [Ida May McAfee?]. And later on, I don’t know if I knew what -- I can’t know whether I knew about it then or was told about it later. I do know what happened. But whether I heard about it at that time when it was happening, I don’t know.

HELFAND: OK. So now in retrospect, when you think about the violence that so many of these strikers were met with and the way that the mill owners were working with their local governors to send out troops --

MCGILL: Well I got to say, in North and South Carolina, the textile industry practically controlled the state and politicians in North and South Carolina. And to some degree, Georgia too, but especially in North and South Carolina. I learned this from people who later on -- there was one guy, was very active in 32:00the strike later on -- I can’t remember his name. And I wish I could. I was thinking about him the other day. But he was a textile worker. He went on to be in the state legislature and but he was in that textile strike over there. I know it ain’t [Fritz Hollands?] but I can’t think of his name now. He was a good friend of Ida Mays. He was in the state legislature later on.

HELFAND: What did you think of -- you know, when the strike was over -- can you talk about when the strike was over and they called everyone back to work and the promises that were made?

MCGILL: I don’t remember no promises. I don’t remember no promises. We just went back like we come out, went back like we come out. We lost. We didn’t get no kind of contract.

HELFAND: What about getting jobs back?

MCGILL: I don’t know of nobody that wasn’t rehired at our place if they 33:00wanted their job. Our mill like I said is a different -- people had didn’t have too much concern about their jobs for very few people because it was a hobo and most of the people come and went. A lot of people probably even left there after that closed down, didn’t even bother with it, went on somewhere else.

HELFNAD: We met so many people who are blacklisted and never went back to work in their plant ever again.

MCGILL: It might’ve been, yeah. But that didn’t happen at Selma as far as I know. Selma Manufacturing Company -- I don’t know.

HELFAND: What do you think about the fact that so many of your brothers and sisters who were trying to do the same thing you were doing got blacklisted like that?

MCGILL: Well blacklisted is no good for any reason and certainly for the union. Of course it’s just dastardly, but what could you do about it. You could feel sympathy but that don’t help none. You have to have -- and even then when you pass laws -- I’ve always said that laws are passed for law abiding citizens. People who want to violate the law will find a way to violate it. And that goes 34:00for companies too. They’re going to find something to fire you for without the real reasoning -- the burden the proof is usually they fired you for that. That’s the hardest to have to tell a worker. You know that? I never told a worker you can’t be fired for joining the union. The boss can fire you for any reason. Now if you can prove he did it unfairly you can get your job back. That’s why I always tell the worker your best protection if you’re going to join a union is to let the boss know you’re active. Then you’ve got better ammunition to fight him with if he fires you. You first have to prove the boss knows you was a union member. And nine times out of ten, them people never -- they’ll whisper to each other and somebody will go tattle on them and they’ll have no support when they go to trial to prove the boss knew they was even in the union. You understand? That’s why I never relied on laws. And 35:00I’d tell the people, “Now the law says this, but the laws are always broken.” Your best bet, if you’re going to be in the union, is to let the boss know you are. That’s your best protection against being fired for union activities because the first you got to prove is the boss know -- knew you was a union member.

M: We have a couple of questions left. Could we wait for a second. I know daylight is going down.


MCGILL: Daylight Saving Time now.

M: That’s true.

MCGILL: Oh it’s six -- uh, it’s after six. Six, after six.

HELFAND: How long would it take us to get out to, uh -- um, tell us -- this is a long -- it’s a long answer and it’s a short question. And you had been talking about it a little bit in and out all over this morning. After the 36:00strike was over, what did you learn from the strike and what did it do for you over the next 40 years in terms of making decisions for you being involved in the labor movement?

MCGILL: It was the beginning of my life. If no one explained that I would never -- I wouldn’t be living today if I had stayed in the cotton mill. I don’t have no doubt about that. And when I was fired and had to get into union work full time and was put on the staff, it meant the beginning of a long, good career in something that I loved to do. I had job security. I didn’t worry about getting fired. And it gave me a stepping stone to do things to help 37:00people which I’ve always wanted to do all my life. And I -- it just meant -- opened a whole door, give me a new perspective on -- I had the perspective, but it gave me an opportunity to do things that I’ve enjoyed doing and love to do. And I wouldn’t take nothing -- I’ve often said that it meant -- I had completely been happy with my life, but I would not have been able to have done it without my mother and father taking responsibility of my child, leave me free, absolutely free. There’s a lot of people who would’ve had done as good as I done, but they didn’t have the opportunity I had. They couldn’t done as good of a job as I’ve done and worked just as hard and meant just as much, but they didn’t have the opportunity that I did. And I think that I’m thankful for that, that I had a family that backed me and was able to support me 38:00and I supported them so they could support me.

HELFAND: After the strike, unlike a lot of people, you actually went back to work -- you went back to work at the Selma Manufacturing Plant and maintained your union. Could you talk about that some?

MCGILL: Well we carried on our union activity, but then I got in the Women’s Trade Union League which is an organization which was formed way back in the late 1800s to try to help women workers. I don’t know of any woman organizations. It wasn’t predominantly a woman’s organization. We accepted men. And we’d accept non-union women. A certain percentage of our membership could be non-working women. We had a lot of good support from a lot of good prominent women. We had several women here in Birmingham. We had a federal judge, [Louise O’Charlton?] who was a federal judge was in our trade union league. We had a couple of women lawyers. The first woman lawyer I ever knew was [Corrie Thompson?]. She was active in our league. And my main -- when my 39:00local fell apart, just had a few members enough to maintain the charter, I devoted -- and especially after I got fired -- my time to the Woman’s Trade Union League.

HELFAND: But you -- you -- but you got fired because --

MCGILL: I went to a convention of the Woman’s Trade Union League.

HELFAND: OK, so you were working at the Selma Manufacturing Company --

MCGILL: That’s right.

HELFAND: -- and you still maintained your local union --


HELFAND: -- and you were involved in this organization --

MCGILL: But we weren’t active in the local union. What I mean we didn’t act -- it was kind of undercover. But when I went to the, uh --

HELFAND: Could you start that again because that’s really important.

MCGILL: Well see we just had a few members. We tried to hold a charter. We was playing it low key because we had no job protection. As far as I know, the company didn’t know we still had a local. But I was active in the Woman’s Trade Union League and the league gave me a scholarship, what they called it, to 40:00the convention. And I had asked Joe to let me be off that month. He didn’t ask me why and I didn’t tell him why -- I mean a week. He didn’t why I wanted off and I didn’t tell him. And he said, “Well nearer time -- I asked him way in advance and he said, “Nearer time remind me. If I can let you off, I will.” He let me off. The day we was to leave to go, we had published in the newspaper with our pictures Mrs. Roosevelt invited us from this chapter, from the Huntsville chapter which there’s only two chapters in Alabama, to be her guest that week at the White House. Well that came out in the paper and when I came back old man [Ames?] come up from Mississippi and when I went into work and started around the office to go into the shift -- my shift at two o’clock, he picked on the window and called me in. And he said, “I didn’t know we had a union here.” I said, “We don’t.” He said, “What’s 41:00this thing you’ve been to in Washington?” And I was trying to explain -- his daughter was trying to find out all about the White House. She thought it was wonderful I had been up there. She was sitting in there too. And she’d ask me what the White House blah, blah, blah, and he told her to shut up. And he fired me right there on the spot for union activity. That ended my career as a spinner, thank God, which I was lousy at. He was getting rid of a bad hand and I was getting rid of a bad job. So that’s how that come about. After that, I don’t know what happened because I just lived from handing them out for a year and got volunteer organizing and I still went to the council meetings 42:00and I worked with women’s auxiliaries and I worked on union label, tried to get union labels at the store. And I had a friend who was on the WPA and I slept with her and she gave me a donut and a cup of coffee every morning and the rest of the day I got something to eat wherever I happened to find it. And once in a while the trade union league would give me a couple of bucks. [Hugh Debowls?], sometimes I’d go to a union meeting. I’d leave. There’d be five dollars slipped in my pocket book. I wouldn’t even know who did it. But I got by, but I had nothing. But -- and the people -- my friends would take me out to eat, you know. And like I said, I had a bed to sleep in with this friend of mine who was over the WPA. And I felt really bad about -- I had -- I just had -- I just didn’t want to apply for the WPA. But I finally went down. I 43:00was so ashamed just sponging off Ruth and I finally went down there. I couldn’t get a job. But I applied for the WPA.

HELFAND: Why didn’t you look for another job in a factory or a mill?

MCGILL: There wasn’t none here. Certainly Avondale ain’t going to hire me. I’m limited -- my job opportunities was limited. I was black -- I was known all over the -- I had been active in the union all over the place. I was just like the guy over at the mill guarding on who I was when I went down there to visit, you know, come down there to run me out of the mill village. He thought I was down there trying to organize a union when I was with this girl visiting her sister. I was pretty well known as a union representative around town. And -- because I’d helped out at steel mills and I’d been on -- I handed out leaflets. I walked and handed out leaflets all over town. And my activity -- and listen, they kept tabs on you. These companies had their spies out and they 44:00had lists of people who was active in the union. And it was distributed among employers so they’d know who was likely to be a union sympathizer. And you just didn’t walk in and look for a job, you know. And I went down and worked one day on the WPA. And that night the typographical union was having their convention here in Birmingham, their international convention. And Frank Gregory who was president of the typographical local here had me as one of his hostess, but I was really to spy on the Juanitas and come back and tell the progressives what they was doing in their meetings. (laughter) Anyway, I didn’t do -- so I had been down there about until midnight and I went home. And didn’t been there -- and I went back to the room I was sharing with Ruth. 45:00I got a call, it was Miles [Hartford?]. And Miles said, “Eula, what are you doing?” I said, “I’m just about to lay down.” He said, “Well come back down here.” He said, “There’s somebody here I want you to meet.” And I went back and it was Clyde Mills who was southern -- had been appointed as southern director for the amalgamated to start campaigning down here. We was from the typographical union. And Miles had told him he was looking -- Miles -- he had come down here to see my sister who was president of the Women’s Trade Union League. And Miles told him and said, “You don’t want her, you want Eula.” He said, “She’s the one that’s active.” Said, “I don’t know where you got your information,” but said, “really the person you want is her sister Eula.” So he hired me. See I’d worked a year on the staff 46:00during the [TWUOC?] days as a temporary.

HELFAND: Could you --

MCGILL: That’s when I went to work for the Amalgamated.

HELFAND: Could you talk -- could you -- could you -- could you -- well let’s think. Should we go so that we don’t use the light?

[break in video]

MCGILL: The air started this operation of ERA in Atlanta.

HELFAND: You can stop me.

MCGILL: I hardly ever --

M: If you were fired, you were blacklisted, you were kicked out of your house. You had to go through all sorts of trouble. You went through something that’s really tough. What is -- it must have meant something to you and how did you --

MCGILL: It made me mad. It made me fight harder to overcome it and help other people, keep them from going through what I did. I’m that type of person. I get in tight, I fight harder. I don’t get scared. I may get scared, but 47:00I’m scared -- if ever I said I was scared -- someone said I was afraid to join the union, afraid I would lose my job. I said I was afraid not to join the union because I knew damn well I’d lose my job. I was more afraid not to have a union than I was to try to get one if you understand what I mean. You have no hope whatsoever if you’re in a shop and you don’t have a union and bargaining rights. You have no rights whatsoever. You work under the boss’s conditions or you leave. It’s that simple. And I just didn’t like that. I don’t like this way of living, that old country song, you know.

HELFAND: How’s it go?

MCGILL: I forget the rest of it.

HELFAND: Did you see a real -- so maybe you could even repeat what Peter said in 48:00terms of, “I was blacklisted, I was fired, I was this, I was that, and it just fired me up.” Could you -- could you -- could you come dance all of the organizing and the strike and then the repercussions and then that year of being blacklisted into a sentence and then tell us --

MCGILL: Well I told somebody one day. I said, “You know, I never -- I was young and I was working and I said -- but when I paid a dollar and a half to vote and join the Democratic Party and a labor union, I didn’t go nowhere but up after that. I had no -- there wasn’t no future a person have if they don’t have some hope. And without -- if you’re just working every day in a mill with no say so in any of your conditions, I just wasn’t raised that way. It’s like I told you my father said to me when I was eight years old, “Why 49:00shouldn’t workers be organized? Everything else is organized.” And why shouldn’t workers be organized? Why shouldn’t they? He said, “You sure you’re in business as same as the boss is. And you should help him make that business go, by the same token, you should have some say so about your working conditions because you’re in business same as he is. He’s putting up the money but you’re putting up your life and your labor.” And I was raised that way. And I was loyal to a company. I felt like if I worked for a company I should support this company and make it go. By the same token, I was due some respect too because I was part of that company because I was putting something into that company too, my life and my labor. He needed me and I needed him or the boss. And it should be a partnership. I see nothing wrong with that. And I think as time has gone by, more and more -- they call it enlightened management -- recognizes that. A disgruntled worker can do a boss more harm if 50:00they don’t have some way to let off that steam, get that grievance off, they can cause the company more grief than you can imagine if they haven’t got some way of settling their problems.

HELFAND: What do you think the south lost by blacklisting so many of the leaders of the textile local unions in ’34?

MCGILL: I don’t believe nobody believes there’s such a thing as a blacklist except us that were blacklisted. And that would be hard to prove too. Although we knew we were, we never seen one. But we know it exists. Just like this law that passed in Alabama where a person -- if you quit a place and you go to work somewhere there’s a recent law that passed where a boss can write a letter to your perspective employer about you and you don’t have no right to look at it 51:00and see to see what he said about you, whether it’s true or false or not.

HELFAND: How would the south be different if all of the local activists and the people like you who had stood up and spoke and said, “I want -- I have the right to speak out and make my life different.” So many of those people had to leave their communities, had to leave for years and years and couldn’t stay or chose to because they couldn’t make a living. What -- what -- what are the ramifications of that loss of all those activists.

MCGILL: It all comes back to power I think. I think it all comes back to power. I really believe because there’s a lot of politicians that don’t want a lot of people to vote. It’s easier to control a small vote than it is a big one. And if we got everybody, a majority of the people thinking and voting and trying to uplift theirselves, certainly it would be better for the average person. And 52:00I think it would be better for the community and businesses as a whole, but business don’t see it that way. And unfortunately whether we -- at this point in time and ever since I can remember, business controls the government, whoever’s in, Republicans or Democrats, because enough of the workers or enough of the average person don’t go to the polls and vote and exercise their rights as citizens to change it. So I say if enough of the people -- so many people are afraid because of what happened to us. They use it to scare the other people in submission. They pick certain people out and they fire them for this activity to scare the rest of the people. And it works. It’s worked for them. So why would the company quit? It works for them. Now, uh, we used to 53:00try to say the first person who gets fired, we’re all going to walk out. And it just wouldn’t work and didn’t even work that way when it come down to it. It sounds good on paper, that’s what we ought to do. But when it come down to it, a lot of people would be afraid to walk. You understand what I’m saying? For that loss, once in a while it worked out where we said we organized a union now the first to get fired, we all go walk out. They had a sense of brotherhood, but somewhere along the line people didn’t -- it didn’t ever work because people would get scared. It sounds good. And we said it ourselves, we’re going to stick together now. And if one gets fired, we’ll all walk out. But the company has a way of doing these things without actually saying -- they ain’t going to call you up and say, “I’m firing you for 54:00joining the union.” Even if they hadn’t outlawed, I don’t think they’d do that because they would be condemned for it. I don’t think they’d actually come out and say it since 19 -- since the early 1930s. Not before that, they weren’t that shy if you read labor history. They’d say, “Look, we ain’t got nothing to do with that union. You get out of here,” you know, “You talk union you’re gone.” But since the early ‘30s, they’re more subtle about it as my way of thinking. They use some other excuse. And you’re there in that company, that boss can find something to fire you about any time he takes a notion if he lays his cards right. I remember one time --

HELFAND: Have you -- have you been able to change any of that?

MCGILL: I don’t know. If you don’t know it happened, you don’t know. I know one case. The poor lady called me up one night and I was working on a shop 55:00and it never has gotten unionized even to this day. This man was very active and she was a nice lady -- for a lady. And he was open. The company worked about 1,400 people, Sewell Manufacturing Company, I don’t mind telling you they made suits and they were in Georgia. And she called me up one night and she said -- told me -- she said, “I know -- she said, “I’d wish you tell him to be a little careful because I heard the boss talking the other day and said they’re going to find something to fire him about.” And I went down and told it and of what I heard. And he said, “Well I don’t care,” he said, “if they do fire me.” But he didn’t really mean it. But he -- what 56:00did happen, he was driving the truck between the factories and taking work. He had been a presser. And then I heard they put him back on the press. They took him off the truck instead of firing him. They put him on a press and took him off the truck. So I went down -- I keep thinking his name is [Damon Rose?]. They both work at the plant. And I went down there and he said, “Well Eula, they didn’t fire me, but they put me back on a press.” They had heard him say if they ever put him back on a press he’d quit. So they put him back on a press thinking he’d quit. The old man just didn’t have really guts enough to fire him outright I don’t think. And he said, “I’m so mad at myself. I ought to quit, but my boy’s in college and I need a job.” And if he ain’t retired, he’s still on that press. Now that’s a case that I know. I know that one. Others are hard to prove because they can do it so subtle. 57:00Now we had a poor lady in Spartanburg, South Carolina out of [Mable?] --