M. H. Ross, interviewed by Jane Ross Davis, 1986-11-09

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

DAVIS: We're still on your birthday.

ROSS: Okay.

DAVIS: I wanted to ask a question that relates both to this conference and the school in Asheville, the School for Southern Workers. It's sort of, maybe an obvious question to someone who's not part of that generation, didn't know anything about the subtleties of it, but I keep wondering, because there've been so many accusations about people on the left all being Communists, and who sponsors things and who pays for them -- and the question of ownership and ties. In other words, to what extent was the school a "Communist front," the charge that I would expect to be leveled at it. How did you at the time see that and what is it in retrospect? And the Southern Conference as well.

ROSS: Well they both could have been, would have been, labeled by many people, 1:00Communist. The Southern Conference for Human Welfare certainly --

DAVIS: I'm just going to push this closer to your voice.

ROSS: -- certainly was in the South. Remember it was held in the Deep South and was unsegregated to this extent. They tried to desegregate it and the police came in and Mrs. Roosevelt --

DAVIS: They tried to segregate it?

ROSS: Mrs. -- yeah, the police came in to segregate. And Mrs. Roosevelt -- there still was some desegregation, but they had attempted to do it by formal announcement, moving all around, sitting where you wanted to. Mrs. Roosevelt, when they resegregated it, so to speak, with some exceptions that the police chose to ignore -- Congressman Patrick sat down on the black side, you know, people just ignored certain things. You didn't fool with Bill Mitch, the head of 2:00the United Mine Workers, you know -- it was like, could occur in a church meeting or anything. They chose to treat them as errors or something. Mrs. Roosevelt, to show her disdain for the whole thing simply sat in the middle. She refused to sit anywhere else except in the middle aisle. And they didn't dare do anything about that. That alone was enough, in the eyes of the whole establishment, to do it. But you're speaking more of what -- you know, what was there visible, what was there --

DAVIS: Were the Communists putting money in the school or were they putting their organizers in it?

ROSS: My guess is that the traditions of the Southern School for Workers -- were YWCA Industrial clubs and a women's school for industrial workers. And that 3:00gradually, that kind of movement was influenced by people on the left who were both Communist, Socialist and non-Communist people on the left. The fact that -- the faculty is probably the clearest sign of the move in a somewhat ideological direction. The fact that Leo Huberman, never easily marked out as a member -- not a member of the Communist party, never easily marked out as one but always -- later the editor of Monthly Review, a very prominent Marxist journal that was never acceptable to the Communist Party, gave you an indication that it was over on the left, you follow me? Some of the faculty. Louise McClaren, in her very person, in her behavior and her conduct and everything, was always clearly a prim, you know, YWCA person, not only like acting the role but very unlikely to 4:00form alliances, other than very arms' length, with anybody for anything. But you had to, in the New York scene that she headquartered in for most of the year -- where there were offices to get ready for these sessions -- raise her money. And later when I became -- she would use several former students for that purpose -- bring them up there. It was clear to me that the New York scene was -- a lot of the money was over on the left-influenced business and professional people who had simply been very influenced by the Communist Party or by some of its organizations, so that they were very happy to hear whatever was the progress was being made in the South to get the working class organized. But she had to 5:00raise large amounts of money -- checks for $100, $500 apiece. Cocktail parties at which she would get some wealthy person. And she would let them flow out, you follow me? Some might flow out in a very Socialist direction, some might flow out in a more Communist direction, some might flow out in a pure Liberal Democratic party direction. The lines got sharper after '39, everything got sharper after that summer of '39. Her troubles in '40, and after that, leading finally to the ending of the school -- would be an indication of how much more difficult it got to be if you were not an official CIO school. Nobody wanted anything to do with you. Miles Horton had similar problems with Highlander Folk School even though he clearly never was a Communist or a Communist sympathizer.

DAVIS: General support for worker organizations wasn't very great after that?


ROSS: Workers' education was almost suspect, you know. "The Communists wanted to get workers to do what? Take over the world?" It was like -- it wasn't exactly an attractive area. That's not answering the question of ideology that you are raising. It certainly was a place in which I encountered people on the left, in which I was exposed to left ideas, not that you hadn't been. That Current Events club -- currently it had, maybe Mike Owens and a number of other people -- might have been close to the Communist party, but the debates would there indicate the different positions. But then I was very close to the Socialist Party. I think I told you that in the part on Dallas. George Edwards, the head of the Socialist party, was my mentor during that period, but I was not ideologically committed 7:00to a firm position for the destruction of Communist influence (unintelligible). There were Socialists who had -- who were Socialists because they were in rebellion against some experience they had with Communists, you see? I was more attracted to the whole attractiveness of George Edwards and the Socialist Party that I met in Dallas. I found them extremely attractive people. And I think I told you about this earlier. So that, you know, these were experiences that I had. Then the early CIO, you've got to remember, in the South was more strikingly under attack, constantly -- rather than accepted as a coming thing. If you were in the UWA, maybe in Detroit, you would have immediately come under the Socialist influence of Walter Reuther. You would have immediately come under this or that influence of the Democratic Party accepting the thing. Yeah, you had the enemy totally surrounding and it constantly made for radicalization of 8:00some of the left people, you see. Take my own experience to be mobbed to be Ku Kluxed, to be beaten, to, you know, these were experiences --

DAVIS: This is later you're talking about?

ROSS: Yeah, but they're molding experiences. You don't stay in love you don't become like some labor leaders -- well, the more they get a little older and the more they get a little more mature, they become conservative. It's very difficult to follow that pattern when that isn't what's happening to you. You're not being accepted, because you're now bargaining a contract. You're faced with a smashing of the union.

DAVIS: This woman who ran the school that raised the money?

ROSS: Louise McClaren.

DAVIS: Okay, Louise McClaren. You're saying that she came out of the Y tradition, right?

ROSS: Yeah, the YWCA.

DAVIS: How would you explain somebody like that? Is it the Depression that did this to her? How did she get involved?

ROSS: The Y had industrial girls clubs. And that sounds funny to you as a 9:00feminist, the very name. The whole idea was that the Y had been accused of you know, "What is its purpose? Is it to serve upper-class people?" So then, mill town -- I remember Roanoke had a very active industrial girls club. I can't think of that woman's name that was the executive secretary of the Y in Roanoke, at the moment, but she brought her girls every year, several of them to these things. Several others -- Brookes Creedy at Durham. Remember, Durham is a very industrial town. They were guarding over these women's interests, their recreational interests, their social interests --

DAVIS: So it was a logical extension for them to become interested in their general education.

ROSS: And to be interested in the trade union movement as one of the devices for improvingtheir conditions.

DAVIS: But here she was, this sort of prim --

ROSS: She was prim in style. The others were more lively and younger, but they all, in many ways, had a standoffish thing from the politicalization [sic]. I 10:00don't remember any of them being politicalized, you follow me, to such an extent that they resigned from the Y and moved over to becoming a public Communist or a public Socialist.

DAVIS: But they were interested in general education. That was their purpose?

ROSS: Yeah, I think, or of the good of their people, you know, and this was an activity -- Louise McClaren had apparently been attracted to the Danish, Norwegian and other northern European models of workers' education. That was a very important influence on all those people. Miles Horton, you know, all of them had been influenced --

DAVIS: Don --

ROSS: Don -- several of her board members were influenced by all that. To feel that they had seen real folk schools in which there was dedication to the ordinary working people. They had seen real labor schools.

DAVIS: They were more idealistic than ideological in nature.

ROSS: Yeah. Usually. You know, it's important that workers understand 11:00parliamentary procedures so they're not tricked by it. People can't jump up and table a motion that they make and they then can't vote for what they want. They've got to know all that. So they go through the intricacies of that till they're good at it. They have to be able to write a leaflet. They have to be able to publish a leaflet. They have to be able to write a news bulletin. They have to be able to see through a newspaper story. I mean, there were teachers that just went over this. The dramatics part was very sharply -- they would take their experience -- it was beautiful only later, looking back on it, I realize how educational it was.

DAVIS: Yeah, I always got that idea.

ROSS: They would let them tell the stories of their strikes. Tell the stories of things. And, then, get up and do it. It would be unbelievable. A person would just get up and suddenly it was happening. Then they'd make another one, (unintelligible) stolid old guy like that, you know. "Now you be the boss," and he'd get down and be the meanest boss you ever saw: "I'll give you nothing. When 12:00I say nothing, I mean nothing." (unintelligible)

DAVIS: Well, I'm getting a little clearer idea now. How about this Southern Conference?

ROSS: Well, that was -- Virginia Durr was there obviously --

DAVIS: Who called it and stuff? Who called it together?

ROSS: There was a call, I don't really know. There were charges in the -- remember, the House

Un-American Committee is functioning all during this period and is making charges of Communism against the Roosevelt administration. Any of these movements are all condemned, the CIO -- (unintelligible)

DAVIS: Well that's where my question is coming from. You heard these charges.

ROSS: Yeah, well, these charges were made all during that period. And the effort therefore was to undercut any support that could be revealed. That didn't just mean the South, but nationally: The UAW was full of Communists. Everything was full of Communists. Keep it up. Hammer away at this guy. Hammer away at that 13:00guy. I'd say later they got more sophisticated and did pick off more left-wing people. In the beginning it was so broad-sided it was absolutely ridiculous. I mean, the biggest UAW people that were known anti-communists were called Communists. It was a farce. But, the charges were made against, the whole hearing (unintelligible). But, remember, what a shock this was. This was the South. If ever this could be made progressive, it would be the best region of the nation. If ever there could be a base for Roosevelt. I mean he would be in office forever. And they had to do something about this.

DAVIS: They didn't realize it was going to become high tech.

ROSS: Hey listen, I still have dreams. I still have dreams that this whole things is -- this is the best area of the nation as far as I'm concerned. This is the area where the blacks are absolutely at home. They're not immigrants, 14:00migrants. I'm more worried about the northerners who come here and accept, you know within a three month time, they're buying their house "now we understand why they didn't let them vote, they smell, they do this" -- repeating garbage. And the white workers who've lived here have gotten rid of. They carry this baggage, they're picking up these phrases, some of them. They're bad hombres, they don't bring a tradition. You know very few of them bring a tradition of pride, being Quakers, or being something different, Norwegian, you know, Socialist, something. They don't bring -- they seldom bring -- the ethnics especially are scared, they've got Italian in them and they quickly sound like --

DAVIS: Well I told you how they try to out-- with Joe, some of them (inaudible crosstalk) they want to prove how they can out-racist -- they figure Joe's a 15:00racist, because he's Southern, and they try to say something to let him know they're a good old boy, and I really wang them right then, right in the old -- (laughs)

ROSS: Well that's important.

DAVIS: And he supports me in that, he never says anything about me letting them have it right then. But um, back to the Southern Conference.

ROSS: Once you wing them, remember, you're doing a service. They seldom do it again. Never know who the next person is. Our cabdriver, I was thinking that way too, they're trying it out, and they get away with it fifty times but one winging, he shuts his goddamn mouth, he'll lose his tips and lose everything else on the next person.

DAVIS: What I tell them is that the South's not like when I grew up here and I'm proud of it.

ROSS: That's right. (unintelligible crosstalk)

DAVIS: We used to think that way down here, but we don't think that way anymore. That's out (laughs).

ROSS: You're repeating old-time garbage. Only ignoramuses think like that. Just 16:00let them know that the ignoramuses think like that down here, the intelligent people don't.

DAVIS: It is a class issue, to some extent.

ROSS: Well it is, yeah, it is in a sense that the more educated -- (crosstalk)

DAVIS: I don't take it from the pilots because they're not lower class, and they make a lot of money. It's offensive. Back to the Southern Conference now. So, you're not sure who called it but here we are in Birmingham.

ROSS: No, and it was, you know, no -- Luther Patrick was the Congressman. Mrs. Roosevelt was there. It was --

DAVIS: He was the local Congressman?

ROSS: There are -- I've heard Margie Gelders say that her father, Joe Gelders, who was a left-winger, was one of those instrumental in reaching White House people to hold such a conference. He certainly was on the left. But that would have meant tremendous persuasion, of very anti-Communist and very non-Communist. And that was going on all during the New Deal period. Joseph Gelders was one of the most persuasive people. He would have been like a lot of people on the left.


DAVIS: When you say "on the left" you don't necessarily mean Communist?

ROSS: No, he might have been a Communist, he might have been a Communist sympathizer. But somebody very close in that area. And he was a professor at the University of Alabama. Very distinguished. He was beaten up badly for trying to get Bart [Logan, Ross's brother-in-law] out of prison when he had TB and a number of other Communists that were in prison, Communist organizers.

DAVIS: Bart had TB in prison?

ROSS: In prison, yeah.

DAVIS: When was he in prison?

ROSS: In Alabama, where they just jailed Communists.

DAVIS: Under state law?

ROSS: Yeah, the red squad. Just jailed them every time they could seize them. Belle's been arrested too. Belle can tell you about that.

DAVIS: That would have been before High Point days, right?

ROSS: Oh, yeah, before she came there. She found Greensboro peaceful, I'm sure. That was terrible. Back in the thirties. That's when Dee Dee is so bitter. And you know Nat is full of shit, Nat was a big shot even then. It was Bart that was 18:00in prison with TB, you know, somehow knew how to stay in New York headquarters. You know, he gets the credit for what he calls the Camp Hill thing (unintelligible).

DAVIS: Some people are just very good at going around getting credit for everything.

ROSS: They are, right. I don't know why (unintelligible crosstalk).

DAVIS: So what was this conference all about?

ROSS: Well, it passed resolutions, it had stirring speeches, it was a bringing together of people that just startled you with their variety, just in that carload, think of Ernie Jones.

DAVIS: Would Virginia Durr's husband have been there?

ROSS: No, I think her husband would have stayed in Washington and she would have come. That would have been the story on that kind of thing. Inside of that 19:00family. After all Mrs. Roosevelt though was quite a cover. So they were --

DAVIS: Would Harry Hopkins have been there?

ROSS: I don't know. But it's worth your looking at, whatever you can find. Go to a library and see if they have the proceedings or if they have a good -- there's a book on it, which I've never gotten. And that book might be making a case for the Communist influence in the thing. You'll have to be able to read through it.

DAVIS: Well, that's why I want your opinion on the important issues.

ROSS: Well, that's 1938. In 1940 was the Chattanooga Second Conference -- Southern Conference. Nineteen-forty, in Chattanooga.

DAVIS: You didn't go to that one?

ROSS: Yeah, I was there. That's when the League of Young Southerners was formed and I was elected -- whatever I was elected. There's pictures around here.

DAVIS: Well maybe we'll get to that later.

ROSS: Junie [Junius Scales] is in the picture. He was in, obviously, UNC prominent student. Jim Jackson, later to become a Communist black leader, he's in the picture. He's the father of the girl you went to school with. And then 20:00there's Dutch McConnell, there's two YMCA secretaries. I mean, it's a broad range of people that were attracted to these things.

DAVIS: So it was an educational thing. It was just inspiring?

ROSS: Yeah, well, Frank Graham, the president of the University of North Carolina was the leading figure at Chattanooga. I don't remember that there was a leading figure with Mrs. Roosevelt so prominent.

DAVIS: She would have been the leading figure.

ROSS: In a sense, yeah. She was on the elevator with me.

DAVIS: Did you meet her?

ROSS: Yeah. Buddie and I met her again in Chattanooga.

DAVIS: Yeah, I thought Mother went to one of those.

ROSS: Yeah, she got into the elevator with us. Said hello. We were just very proud.

DAVIS: Do you want me to ask questions more?

ROSS: Sure.

DAVIS: Okay. I want to go on to -- because I'm afraid I'm not going to get to it. Get to, uh, the winter when Mother's Father's sick and you go back to Dallas and get the connection between things. I always get real fuzzy about that.

ROSS: Well, you mean why I would have left? I left -- to work. I'm not even sure whether I was scared of getting married. You know I mean, was I going to, was it going to lead to --

DAVIS: You liked Mama a lot.


ROSS: I liked her a lot and I repeatedly said to her, which she took with a grain of salt, that I would get married after I traveled the world probably three or four times. Bart had been on shipboard, I was going to try to see what things were all about before getting married and settled down. And she had her own way -- she never argued. And in the letters -- I began writing her a lot of letters.

DAVIS: From Dallas?

ROSS: Yeah. She was dating. She was dating this cotton mill guy's son.

DAVIS: Back in Kennesaw, you're talking about.

ROSS: In Kennesaw, yeah. She had gone home because her father was more gravely ill. And then he died in the spring of '39. We were in touch a lot by -- and I was working in the plant there.

DAVIS: What did her father die of?

ROSS: I think they speak of it as an enlarged heart. I think it -- it's not clear if you remember


that there's no, there's no, clear death certificate. If there is it doesn't amount to a hill of beans because there was really -- they didn't afford medical care. They didn't have anyone. But maybe a doctor was called in once, I don't know. And then Lemma, the sister who died in '34, around then, after Marie was born, '35. She died, to me, rather mysteriously. What did she die of? See what I mean? It's --

DAVIS: I had thought she had died in a fire, but she didn't.

ROSS: No, no. You're thinking of the one that Gammy talks about. A sister of Gammy's died in a fire. Burned to death.

DAVIS: But what -- you don't know what Lemma died of?

ROSS: Lemma died of an illness. But it's never clear. You see, when you don't have money -- where you don't have money for anything -- typhoid is more likely to be a guess diagnosis by Lillie or someone. They would be telling you that. These -- Probably some doctor was called in at some point. Maybe not at death 23:00and said that he had an enlarged heart. But you know, how much --

DAVIS: Well, Belle said it was pellagra, but I had always heard TB from Mother.

ROSS: Pellagra? I never heard TB, but I heard an enlarged heart. And I thought Buddie said --

DAVIS: He was sick, what, from November -- maybe, till March?

ROSS: Oh, he'd been -- he wasn't even well when she left. And when I met him -- oh, wait aminute, I forgot. As I go to Texas I stopped to see Mother. And I -- oh yeah, when I was driving back to Texas. I let that Grace Call go.

DAVIS: Well from Birmingham that means you would have to drive back to Georgia.

ROSS: I went through Georgia. I stopped to see Mother. I visited your mother.

DAVIS: On your way where?

ROSS: I stayed in Kennesaw, with the family. That's when Rudy "allowanced" me the first time.

DAVIS: Oh, I didn't realize that. Okay, that happened when?

ROSS: That happened early December '38. See this was a November conference, then I went back --

DAVIS: Back to Greensboro?


ROSS: Yeah, right. Part of it was a commitment to Rowena. There was no question that she wanted me in Dallas if she was going to be in Wichita Falls. In some way, she was trying to restructure the family.

DAVIS: She hadn't gotten separated from Grandpa?

ROSS: She was an unhappy -- it was the first separation. And I think she had some dreamboat idea that I could be the keystone of her arch. You know? And I didn't intend to be, but in some way I reached a compromise, an agreement that I would go back to Texas. I think she was very fearful maybe, without knowing, with the wisdom of a mother, that maybe I was falling in love or something. And maybe I didn't give her any indication of it. And that she would lose me.

DAVIS: She thought she was losing you.

ROSS: Yeah. She tried to save Al. And then, of course, she became convinced that she had to separate from Harry when she returned and found Al staying with Harry with some guy coughing or something. She thought it was TB. You know, she had -- 25:00but it was no doubt -- it was connected with a promise to my mother that I would go back. So I worked in Dallas.Weekends I drove the car up. There's some pictures around here of her.

DAVIS: Up to Wichita. Yeah, I know those pictures.

ROSS: Some pictures of Wichita Falls, out on the prairie or something.

DAVIS: There are pictures of Mother like that too and I was trying to place those. Mother and [Nan?] in the same picture. But they might be different years.

ROSS: Those would be more in east Kentucky or something, along the roadside. Harlan County Kentucky. One of the most dangerous assignments I ever took with the mine workers. To go into Harlan County, Kentucky, imagine. You've got to be an idiot. I mean, their own goons wouldn't go in there.

DAVIS: They saw you coming in the door, right?

ROSS: Well, you got to admit. A guy that'll bring his mother, he knows how to set the thing up. They must have known that I had some instinctive ways of surviving -- I was a survivor, you know.


DAVIS: Okay, we're up to March of '39 -- Mother's Dad dies. What happened then?

ROSS: Well, nothing until I start telling her I wanted her to go to the school with me, I guess.

DAVIS: You wrote her about that?

ROSS: Yeah, and I must have written the school. They wanted me back as a faculty assistant andthey were going to pay me in '39. I know I got her --

DAVIS: Are you supposed to recruit students?

ROSS: First of all, I haven't told you that. So I stop -- when I go back after the Southern Conference for Human Welfare, and within a few weeks, I leave North Carolina and drive back and stop in Kennesaw. And I stay with the Wests. Her father's coughing, I remember that. He sleeps in a room by himself and he coughs. He can't always come, he seldom comes to the table. They bring him some food in there. He's not a well man. He's coughing. It could be the fact that he's in a room by himself and coughing would tell you something of what you're saying. Maybe it was TB.

DAVIS: Probably both.


ROSS: Yeah. He's not well. He's really -- I meet him -- I meet everybody.

DAVIS: Had you met him before or was is the first time you'd met him?

ROSS: No, I'd never met them before. This was 1938. I'm meeting them for the first time.

DAVIS: What did you think about everybody?

ROSS: Well, I was very impressed with them. With -- Rudy was quite an imp. Marie was like a younger sister at the table that Lillie had taken to raise after her mother died. And her father was sort of a drifter, John. And Rudy was, he was just a perfect imp.

DAVIS: What did you say about her father?

ROSS: He was thirteen years old -- Rudy was thirteen years old when her father died in the spring. And he took over the plow and he took over making the crop.

DAVIS: What did you say her father was like? You said he was what?

ROSS: Her father was sort of a drifter, yeah. He took off. I mean he couldn't 28:00take the -- I don't think the burden of raising a child. He couldn't face up to having lost his wife and raise Marie.

DAVIS: Oh, you mean Marie?

ROSS: Yeah, so that Lillie took Marie into her home.

DAVIS: You're talking about John Dunn.

ROSS: John Dunn, yeah, Marie's father. Sure.

DAVIS: I meant Mother's father. What was he like?

ROSS: No, I'm saying he was a small man. And he didn't have much to say. And, mostly, I suppose my knowledge of him is through the lengthy, lengthy interviews with Lillie.

DAVIS: Which one of the brothers did he remind you the most of, if any?

ROSS: Well his face I guess, in a lot of ways, reminded me of Rudy, more than any of them, of the male faces. Yeah. Not Don. Not that long, stately head. Charlie had a very broad face. More of a -- Rudy, if you looked at him, was a 29:00small-faced man. And the father was. You've seen the pictures of him, I'm sure. Very handsome (unintelligible) mustache.

DAVIS: I think -- my brother might.

ROSS: Yeah right. Small head. Michael has a small head.

DAVIS: He was short, right?

ROSS: Oh he was short, he was short, yeah. Shorter than I am.

DAVIS: Where does the height come from? I'm trying to figure out who was tall. Because Gammy's brother Gus wasn't tall. Just curious.

ROSS: He wasn't short either. He was middling height.

DAVIS: None were real giants, like Don and Rudy. You know I always thought they were giants. Of course, just over six feet isn't giant.

ROSS: Yeah, no. Michael's in that order. I don't remember which of her brothers that I met -- Lillie's brothers -- are tall in height. Or thinking of his 30:00family. I just haven't isolated height out as a single dimension.

DAVIS: Okay, March we're up to.

ROSS: Well, we're not up to March. I'm not there. I'm not there. I'm writing to her. I'm holdinga job down and I'm, I'm visiting my mother in Wichita Falls. She's trying to persuade me this and that.

DAVIS: What does she want you to do?

ROSS: Well, it isn't very clear. I guess if she had her druthers, it would be make a home, take a job up there in Wichita Falls, and then send for Harry.

DAVIS: Was Jerry in Wichita Falls?

ROSS: Yeah, well, he was in Chickasha. But this was another plant and she was at it.

DAVIS: It was a way to kind of --

ROSS: It was a way to have her way, you know what I mean. Harry won't be able to be out in public here and take a job, maybe can be a night watchman.

DAVIS: She was going to try to bring him out?

ROSS: I think, at that point, it looked to me like she was. But there would be stability. It was the Depression. It would be a job. She would be able to bring 31:00her family -- I think she was trying to put her family back together. And using me as tremendous leverage. And I really rebelled.

DAVIS: You were going to be like the mainstay.

ROSS: I gave in. The compromise was to return to Texas. That was the compromise.

DAVIS: You weren't going to live with her and you weren't going to --

ROSS: I wouldn't go beyond that.

DAVIS: Put everybody together. Did she want you to go get your Dad? Was that the idea?

ROSS: No, she never asked me for anything. It was more trying to just always size up whether we could put it together in one place. And I said there's just no way, Mama. I'm going to make my way in the world.

DAVIS: You wanted to live in a different town.

ROSS: I wanted to be in another place and out from under her. I knew that. (break in audio) -- undo it, unless you were a weakling. And I just had to follow through.

DAVIS: You're writing to mother now about the school. You're going to the school. You see this as a way for her to become part of your life too, I guess.

ROSS: Oh yeah. I was going to spend the summer there. So I stopped. Well, first, it's the fall now. We're back in the fall of '38. I take Mama, and her Mama, 32:00Lillie West, up to Acworth.

DAVIS: In the same trip?

ROSS: Up to Cartersville. To the farm that Don is on, and meet Don in '38.

DAVIS: Is this where you get named "Wobbly, the Plowboy"?

ROSS: Yeah, Wobbly the Plowboy, right. Wobbly the Plowboy, and uh -- because I don't put the harness on right.

DAVIS: I thought it was because you couldn't keep the plow in the furrow.

ROSS: Oh no. That was Rudy's nickname for me. And Don -- I forget what he called me. "Cowboy" or something because I didn't get the harness on right. Anyway, Don is very impressive. Always was, I guess, more impressive to me than to Mother. 33:00And then uh -- these ants tend to eat the internal contents of the (inaudible)

DAVIS: The ants are taking over the world, as Uncle Ben predicted.

ROSS: Yeah, but don't worry. Anyway, so I get to meet everybody, including that fall, by the time I left somebody else came along. But I remember sitting in the car -- took mother somewhere and then I sat in the car for a long time. I remember me telling her I was at least going to travel around the world twice, what I was going to do before I ever married anybody. And how, later, when I asked her to marry me --

DAVIS: I remember her version of that story. "Yeah, that's just great, I think that's fine," she says.

ROSS: Yeah, right, she handled it just beautifully. That set me off.

DAVIS: She had things on her mind, what she was going to do too.

ROSS: Right. At any rate, and I left and I went to work in Texas. It didn't take me long, I got


a job. I stayed with Mrs. Oliver again, up above the --

DAVIS: What were you doing this time?

ROSS: Well, I started in, helping her out with the chickens. I always did that, a little bit. But Ididn't give her the time. I just helped her out enough on Saturdays. I think I killed seventy-five chickens every Saturday morning. Probably didn't help her except now and then, to haul in sacks.

DAVIS: You killed them like this?

ROSS: Wrung their necks, generally. Or laid them on a block and chopped them off. The thing about them, you had to be able to catch them as they bled so that they didn't injure their wings and turn them blue -- banging them on fences and so forth. If you tried the other, wringing the neck, then you had to be ready. That's the quick, bloody way to do it, but you got to grab them before -- the stores don't want them with blue on them. And she'd take them around and sell them to markets. They weren't packaged, pre-packaged like they are today. At any rate, I got this job at Southwest Tablet. While it was an assembly line 35:00production of tablets, the kind of pads of all kinds and sizes, so it was a printing, a lining operation. Printing, not printing anything but covers and things like that. But it also had glue operations, cardboard operations, assembly operations, pressing and cutting. But I soon ended up in the darkroom. There too was a strange story. Little did I know that the guy who was going to teach me machine development -- the reason we had a darkroom was that every tablet had on it a coupon return. If you sent fifteen cents and this coupon, and any photograph or negative, we would enlarge it to whatever, five by seven or 36:00something, and return it to you. And so it was like -- you've seen those offers. I went in and he taught me this. So really, it was machine techniques, although he knew much more about it. But he soon taught me the fixed distance from the enlarging camera to the things. If they were negatives that they sent in, then he just printed them -- you know, I mean, enlarged them in the enlarger. But if we had to copy it first, you had to copy it at a fixed distance so that the focus was uniform. Little did I know, at that point in time that the guy was (unintelligible).

DAVIS: It was something illegal?

ROSS: Something was going on there illegal. I didn't have any idea. He was obviously attracted and making jokes like you do when you're working together 37:00with a guy, what a cute piece of ass, (unintelligible).

DAVIS: About the pictures?

ROSS: They'd send in these idiot things. Pictures of themselves posing in front of cameras.

DAVIS: I know.

ROSS: And they don't give a damn on a coupon thing.

DAVIS: The phone's ringing, should I get it?

ROSS: Yeah, you'd better.

DAVIS: Okay, so we'll leave the tablet factory for just a minute.

ROSS: You want to leave the tablet factory?

DAVIS: And go on to the school --

ROSS: You're not even interested in the illegality, okay.

DAVIS: Yeah, I'll go back to that. That sounds interesting, but I think we have to touch on --

ROSS: Well, at any rate, I had written her about going to the school. Meanwhile the school had written me and I was becoming a sort of correspondent, advising them, you know, where I might pick up. So they were letting me have a little bit of leeway, if I knew any farm people that could come under the classification of farm workers they might consider them even without union experience for scholarships.

DAVIS: Oh, they told you this before?

ROSS: Yeah, I had to work it out, you know. I was thinking of a few of them because I didn't want to make it just Buddie. So when I got to Kennesaw to see 38:00Buddie and to pick her up, she was going to travel with me now back to Greensboro.

DAVIS: What month is this now?

ROSS: This must be whenever I left -- June, or so. July. I don't remember. Thirty-nine, but I'm going to join the staff now and assist them. Serve as an assistant. And that doesn't mean any specific duties. I don't remember I had any specific duties, except to help some of the people with their homework or stuff like that -- encourage them. Assist Bill Wolf when he's doing the dramatics, assist (unintelligible) with this or that. Nothing was ever laid out with specific duties. She's agreed to go, she's agreed to go back with me. So our affair is going to pick up, I can see. I don't know why I'm so confident. That I 39:00can lay things out. At any rate, when I get there I go to see some of her cousins, and find Festus. I can't think of his last name. It's one of her, somebody, maybe not, might be a second cousin. I don't remember. It must be a woman who married a man who's not a West or a Mulkey. I remember his father's a great big guy and Festus is a very slight guy. Festus doesn't know much, but he plainly is pure country. And he's not going to be any great shakes as a student. He's a foil. Obviously, just a, one of the dummies coming along --

DAVIS: So it wouldn't look like Mother's the only one you recruited. (laughter)

ROSS: That's all there is to it. At any rate, Festus is picked up by me as possibly capable of some development.

DAVIS: You always had political instincts.

ROSS: Right. He's never going to be any ally of mine or anything. I mean he's 40:00never going to amount to a hill of beans. He comes along. But I don't mean he comes with me. But he's going to hitchhike up there. He's going to get to Asheville. He can go to school. He never heard of going to school. Okay? Since he dropped out -- by then he says it's "laying by" time. See the crops are laying by -- he can take the time off. (unintelligible) "Free room and board you say? Okay." It's the Depression still, '39. Anyway --

DAVIS: I wonder if he's in any of those pictures.

ROSS: And I'm already a man giving away scholarships. You can see. I'm already moving into a position of power.

DAVIS: You're moving up in the world.

ROSS: I'm way up in power but without any pay yet. I don't know how to get a payroll job (laughing). And I don't know how to get out of the factory yet. But I'm moving around in circles that are way beyond me. Now, let's take a situation. And remember too, don't let me squash them. They won't squash. These are all hard hickory nuts. There's nothing harder than a hickory nut. I have a 41:00pocketful of them here. They won't squash, don't worry about it. Okay, I got to put them in that thing I was showing you, I thought I'd done the other -- this is the other --

DAVIS: Why don't you give them to me --

ROSS: That's the other forty. (crosstalk) Now, I take Mama back to Belle's. We're not there long until I take her up to the school. I don't think she's that happy with the summer. But it's an important one for my development. I get to know the faculty on a better basis.

DAVIS: And she didn't like it that well?

ROSS: I don't think -- she tolerates a lot of things because of me. It's not one that -- she learns. She needs some help with some of the things are not always, you know, it's not as if she came out of a local union or something, you know where they're using examples. (inaudible) That kind of thing. That's easy, she catches on to that.


DAVIS: She only had secretarial training, right?

ROSS: That's right. And working on the farm. And listening to Bart and Belle. She was turned off a little bit by the political stuff. It got a little too political, as long as it was friendly she was fine. But she catches on fast, and Festus though of course, I'm not worried about. He's just there for the room and board. There's a few others there just for the room and board. There's a few others there that other people have brung in too I guess. In fact, the quality of their student body is never as high as the '38 class, of which I'm a part. The first one. And by '40 I would say it's definitely on the --

DAVIS: Are you being objective or are you just --

ROSS: I don't know that I am. I don't know that I am. I'm trying to think of who was in that'39 class. The high point of the '39 class is that --

DAVIS: Wasn't Ida Lawrence in one of these classes?

ROSS: Of '38. I told you that already. That's been on the recording. Yeah, she's a hell raiser.

DAVIS: Wasn't there a fire?

ROSS: Yeah, there was a fire.


DAVIS: Didn't Mother save your life?

ROSS: Yeah, that's in the news bulletin. That's in one of the bulletins here. The Southern School for Workers, you know. "Mike -- or somebody set off a fire alarm so that Mike could charge up to Buddie's room and get her out of her room to the girls' dorm to get her out of her room in the middle of the night."

DAVIS: But I thought you were the one who couldn't get out.

ROSS: I probably rang it out you mean.

DAVIS: No, she's the one that came to save you.

ROSS: Or she came to save me! I didn't hear it ringing. I was sleeping so deep. Yeah, maybe that was it. Maybe they were all joking about that.

DAVIS: Yeah.

ROSS: She knows all about it. Anyway, Mama told you all about this story and you got it straight.

DAVIS: That's where that story comes from.

ROSS: Right, now.

DAVIS: The way I got it, there really was a fire, and you slept through the fire alarm.

ROSS: The high point of the '39 thing was actually the strikers at Highland 44:00Cotton Mill in High Point took off for probably a week and came up -- Vergie Lance, Willy Helms. You'll see pictures with Willy and I. I don't think they spent the whole summer -- (break in audio) The Highland Cotton Mill, Local 319 is not, to this day, but for many years, starting in that period, a very progressive local union. It -- Ester Gillis, who's taught in my classes here at the university, is from that local. Buck Anderson was the President. I might have told you this stuff earlier, as asides, from the High Point thing.

DAVIS: No, you didn't.

ROSS: Willy Helms works in the mill.

DAVIS: Now I never knew where you knew her from --

ROSS: Bertha Hendricks works in the mill, okay? Mother and I, in that fall of '38 even, began going to the Saturday night square dances at local 319.

DAVIS: I think you said Bill Robertson might have come to those.

ROSS: Later, students from the university were in coalition with them. It was 45:00always the kind of local that didn't limit itself to its local membership. Its dances were open.

DAVIS: It was CIO?

ROSS: CIO, yeah. This was all part of the CIO movement. The left gave it the broad community orientation that the best left tradition should have. It was a pure dreamboat of what the CIO could have done to revolutionize the south.

DAVIS: How do you explain how it got that way?

ROSS: It's the left influence.

DAVIS: Where did it come from?

ROSS: Well, these rank and filers -- many of them were fired people out of Gastonia. They'd had ten years of seasoning by then. Ten years of seasoning in the mills, they were older, they were not following a Communist party line -- the other

earlier period was a Communist party line. Now they had the broad CIO John L. Lewis --

DAVIS: So they sort of moved down to High Point from Gastonia?

ROSS: No. they didn't move anywhere. They drifted. Gastonia alumni, so to speak. 46:00When you strike a mill with a thousand people in it, Loray, and get them all fired, they scatter and their children scatter, and their wives scatter and they influenced whole movements, whole mills were influenced later. All it takes -- it's yeast. It's yeast. Give me a dozen good progressives that have got some seasoning and I'll give you -- I can take anything and organize it. Give me a dozen people over here and I'll go over and take IBM. Give me a dozen people inside of IBM that have had a good bitter experience somewhere else that has seasoned them, taught them how to move underground, taught them how to shut their mouths -- and know when to do it and when not to be a horse s ass, not be -- like the McGovern students. They'd be like the Democratic Party was this year. United, appealing.

DAVIS: So when they blossom, they blossom all together at one time

ROSS: They blossom out, see, somebody says let's have a square dance. That will draw the people, you know. It's a great idea.


DAVIS: Yeah, it is.

ROSS: Why don't all the unions think like that?

DAVIS: Like a community center. Where would they have these dances?

ROSS: Well, they'd send a committee, all of whom were rank and filers who had learned to talk a little bit. But they sounds --

DAVIS: Did you square dance?

ROSS: Sure, sure, I square danced. Sure. I could call them too. You learn to call them, so you could --

DAVIS: How do you call them?

ROSS: "Birdie in the cage, round, round, round. Circle to the left" I don't know. You just -- tothe square dance music.

DAVIS: Did you have to call?

ROSS: Well sometimes, the caller would ask you to cover for him. While he went to do something, but I wasn't a caller, no.

DAVIS: Not a real one.

ROSS: No, Shorty, Shorty, Nan [Yurik?]'s father was the caller.

DAVIS: Was it fun?

ROSS: Oh it was fun. Buddie and I square danced every Saturday night. Even after we married we'd go over to square dance there wherever we lived, in Greensboro. 48:00This was a great local. Then I remember -- they'd testify. See the city was split on the question of public housing. But, remember it's the New Deal period -- you can get federal funding. You only need to put up four percent of the money in the city. Ninety-six percent will be built. So they built public housing, which Belle moved into later.

DAVIS: So the CIO sponsored that?

ROSS: No, this local went and testified. The rest of the CIO would lay there dead. They were too -- there was a UAW local, but you'd have to go beg them to do anything.

DAVIS: They were like a community group.

ROSS: Yeah. The UAW local for instance built school buses. The school buses for the wholeSouth, many of them -- the bodies are built in High Point, and that was early organized by the UAW. But if the UAW was vibrant in Detroit, it was not vibrant in High Point. It had a dull organizer, would organize, left it in a shape so that you could go to them and you couldn't get them to pass a resolution.

DAVIS: Was it like getting a grant today? I mean would you have to write something up?


ROSS: You sort of half typed something, get some girl to type it and you'd take it to the local and ask them to pass a resolution, but you had to tell them what to do.

DAVIS: No, but I mean. Say, to get the housing?

ROSS: Oh, to get the housing. The city was considering it. So, say, two city councilmen would have gotten outvoted by the other seven. But suppose, at the hearings, you bring down Willy and Ester and a bunch of pure earthy people. "I've lived here all of my life, sir, don't tell me that." I mean they talked back to the people who tried to. "What do you mean? This is federal money. Why shouldn't we have our share of it?" I mean they knew how to talk back, and what to do, see. And that's what sets the place on fire and swings over the neutrals. There's nothing like the salt of the earth people, the common people.

DAVIS: Well, this was like -- this was like, in the OEO days, when they would call it "community action."

ROSS: That's right. This is all community action. We were in action all the 50:00time. I can't think of all the issues. But I remember those for sure. And then I took those tactics to Greensboro.

DAVIS: Well, they had interest, beyond the trade union?

ROSS: I did the testifying in Greensboro. And I found -- it was new for me!

DAVIS: (unintelligible)

ROSS: No, earlier. 1940, a year later when I was working for Labor's Nonpartisan League. We suddenly got one City Councilman to introduce a resolution. I went down and testified, brought along Blanche Kibitt and about three or four rank and filers and suddenly we had Greensboro Public housing. We just began spreading it everywhere. But suppose nobody had pushed it?

DAVIS: All that had to happen is that you said that you wanted it.

ROSS: You wanted it almost and they put up so little money that, what the hell is four percent of the cost of a million dollar project? Forty thousand bucks.

DAVIS: But the federals had to have you put up your four percent.

ROSS: You had to do something. You didn't even have to put it up in a hurry. I mean, you could -- Meanwhile, the people got subsidized housing. It was terrific! And these were all things that couldn't have happened without some kind 51:00of rank and file in motion. Local 319 was a beautiful local union. More than that, it would pass advanced resolutions that were political. Now later that began to divide certain of the officers, like Vergie Lance, who was a cautious, conservative, going along with this program. Vergie Lance objected to, say, Willy being a star. She objected, you know -- she liked to be the star. I always tried to handle Vergie, when I dealt with her, when I represented the Labor's Nonpartisan League, by always going to her. Let her be the leader of anything local.

DAVIS: You said that these people came up to the Asheville school that summer.

ROSS: Yeah, and they were very good because they were describing what the strike was all about. Here was a vibrant strike in action, right then. They came from the picket line to the school. They brought a portion of their picket line up. Willy might have been there as a student.Others might have been there as a student. But here came 20 or 30 of them for a long weekend in which we discussed 52:00the stretch-out. They had gone on strike against the stretch-out -- the stretch-out of the job assignments, they had simply, if they took care of 82 looms, they wanted them to take care of 92 looms, or 102 looms, you see? And they stretched out their work for the same pay. And that's what they were rebelling against, the work assignments. And it was a very good tactical thing. They brought some of their leaflets with them and we practiced what other ways could you have fought this thing, how else could each of you try writing your own leaflet, how would you have attacked this thing? Would you have attacked it? What other issues are there?" You want to ask them more questions, you know? It was like a living example. It was very good. That was the high point of the '39 thing, more than the quality or the variety of the students. They lacked some of the fire the general students did of the trade unionists that had been there in 53:00'38 some of the cotton mill women had had vibrant experiences in '38 in those South Carolina mills. Some of the autoworkers had had -- we didn't have the breadth and variety.

DAVIS: You had more of a lackluster group.

ROSS: Yeah, right, for the basic students. It was a good year. But I had the same -- I loved my faculty. I learned from them. They were good. They gave me more advanced training. They brought me into their homes like in the evening. They had cottages that were rented by the school. So Leo had a cottage, Mildred had a cottage, but especially Leo hosted. I loved to have discussions -- (unintelligible).

DAVIS: Did you say his Monthly Review was not very, I mean I remember The Monthly Review --

ROSS: Well, The Monthly Review would not have been highly regarded by the Communist Party, USA. It might have been regarded highly by the Chinese Communist Party very early. Meaning they foresaw certain anti-Soviet or Soviet criticisms 54:00inside The Monthly Review that they --

DAVIS: He would have criticized the Soviets for cutting a deal with Hitler and that sort of thing?

ROSS: I don't know that he didn't make --

DAVIS: Did he not publicly --

ROSS: Peace, I don't know that he did that one as much as he came along later with some criticisms of Marxism that they find intolerable.

DAVIS: Was he publishing that at that point?

ROSS: That Marx is wrong in his theory it's beyond me, his arguments, you follow me? They're theoretical arguments -- "Marx is wrong in his theory of the exploitation of labor in the following way," you follow me? He was a theoretician, an economist, very well trained.

DAVIS: Was he doing his magazine at the time?

ROSS: Oh no, that came later, The Monthly Review. I don't know when it was established. It was established after the war I think.

(unintelligible, inaudible conversation)


DAVIS: I was just trying to figure out what he did for the rest of the year when he wasn't there.

ROSS: I have a notion his wife had money and that he didn't have to do very much, except teach at Columbia's New College. He finally ended up teaching at a very advanced undergraduate division called New College. I think you could do as you damn pleased. You didn't have to take so much science, you didn't have to take so much math, so that you -- it was like a Black Mountain college freedom.

DAVIS: And he just wrote books?

ROSS: And he wrote -- his Man's Worldly Goods is a beautiful study of the economy with a Marxist -- they're worth looking at today. I mean, he tried, in 56:00non-Marxian terms, explain Marxism. His We the People is a history of the USA from a socio-economic political point ofview of some such progressive character. He tried -- he never believed that Marx should be regarded as a theory that people object to. He always felt it was so -- just put it simply. It should always be able to be put in American and plain terms or there's something very wrong with it. You know? So that he very often clashed with Communist theoreticians. You see what I mean? He had disdain for them.

DAVIS: Was there anybody on the faculty the second year that wasn't there the first that was noteworthy?

ROSS: No, not that I remember. They changed some assistants. There were other assistants and Idon't remember who they were.

DAVIS: But Leo Huberman was a constant?

ROSS: These three were constants. They came back. They loved it in '38 and came back in '39.

DAVIS: Who was constant?

ROSS: They were rare. I was very lucky to encounter them. I don't know that I 57:00would have encountered anybody at Highlander --

DAVIS: Who besides him?

ROSS: Miles is no genius (inaudible) --

DAVIS: He was on the faculty, too?

ROSS: Miles was lightweight -- no, no, Miles Horton running Highlander. Miles was lightweight, Don is repetitious. You know, I'm trying to think of who the hell they could have -- the best they could have was a CIO lecturer --

DAVIS: These were the first really good minds you'd run into?

ROSS: These were superb national minds and they were --

DAVIS: Who would you say were the top three?

ROSS: Leo Huberman, Mildred Price, teaching, a very stern English teacher with a very, as I remember a husband was an expert on Mexico an expert journalist and she was some kind of journalist.

DAVIS: She was having you do the writing?

ROSS: That was Mildred Price. And her sister, Mary, I came to know later in North Carolina.

DAVIS: Now who was the third one you think the most of?

ROSS: Oh Bill Wolf taught dramatics. I don't think they were able to get him after those two years, '38 and '39. I don't know what he ever did, I know 58:00nothing about him, before or afterwards like I did the other two.

DAVIS: You don't know if he was a Shakespearean actor?

ROSS: I never knew what became of him afterwards. I didn't keep up with him. I was not a good letter writer.

DAVIS: You did keep up with Leo Huberman.

ROSS: Oh I kept up with Leo Huberman! Yeah, I did. I kept up with Leo Huberman for years.And he was disappointed when I didn't keep up with him in the 50's. I mean I went to West Virginia and I didn't maintain -- like visiting him every time. I did one or two years and I dropped it. I should have kept it going. I guess I felt he was becoming some kind of doctrinaire -- a vested interest person with The Monthly Review that had an axe to grind -- like the only people with any sense are the Chinese.

DAVIS: That was his point of view?

ROSS: I don't know that that was his point of view. I began to feel like he had some such point of view. And I didn't really feel I never understood the Chinese-Russian fights. I didn't -- I began "a plague on both your houses" I began leave things absolutely alone. Unlike Junie, who felt he had to denounce 59:00them, I mean become an active Communist, I just stayed far away from them.

DAVIS: Those debates always bored me very greatly as a child you know when Nat would get in a debate with somebody on the streets. He would meet neighbors on the street and they would get in a big discussion on whether or not the recent statement by some official --

ROSS: Oh Christ, yeah. "Doesn't the Khrushchev statement mean there's been a betrayal of the hypocrisy of the -- " I mean, Jesus Christ! I'd been trained under totally different people. George Edwards, a beautiful, all-American Socialist, you know, in Dallas, a gorgeous -- you know, Leo even, preaching there's something wrong with the Marxist theory that can't be explained in three letter words, you know? These became my bibles, you know? I tolerated Communists because after I looked at the lock-in I had with Bart and Belle -- with Dee Dee 60:00and Nat, I mean, it wasn't war on Mother's family I wanted that was one thing.

DAVIS: When did you do most of the reading?

ROSS: I was not a factionalist. Nat's like a factionalist by nature so he brings factionalism -- as far as I'm concerned the Communist party ought to be aware of people.

DAVIS: Well he gets into factional fights with Belle over having lunch with (inaudible) --

ROSS: I'm saying, he's a normal factionalist, so he suits the worst tendencies of these minority parties who end up just trying to kill each other over on the left. I always felt, in the South, we couldn't stand to fight each other doing anything.

DAVIS: You're probably tired now. I wanted -- I got to the summer of '39, that's what I wanted to get to.

ROSS: Well, Mother and I are at school andand Willy I'm getting very well acquainted with Willy. I had a very long friendship with Willy.

DAVIS: Well Willy was very important to you. I ended up meeting him.

ROSS: Sure. So Willy was around for years and years, as a union organizer. Later we both worked for the United Furniture Workers. Tough organizing campaigns.


DAVIS: For sequence, what happened in the fall?

ROSS: Willy was a perfect example of the others, than Red Hendricks, that came out of those strikes, that became CIO people that learned -- that were taught to read and write by the Communist party. They were grateful all their lives for what the Communist party had done.

DAVIS: During the thirties you mean?

ROSS: In the '29 strike. They took illiterate workers. Many of them were grateful. I'd meet them, many of them in the mills.

DAVIS: During the strike they taught them?

ROSS: Oh, yeah. They brought in teachers from the north. Just to teach them to read and write. The Communist Party was their Mother -- taught them how to read and write. I mean --

DAVIS: You mean he didn't know anything and they taught him how to read and write.

ROSS: I mean, listen to Willy. I mean, he's "salt of the earth" talking. You know, slowly, methodically, the same ritual of '29. "Well, uh," you know, I can 62:00hear Willy to this day, the echoes of his voice. "Well, the working class has to mobilize." I mean they've got to know the words of '29. Just as live and vibrant, "You have to mobilize, and when they've mobilized, they've got to organize and they've got to come together." (unintelligible) and he lays it all out. And he's a CIO organizer, he's picked up more. It's beautiful. And Red was more vibrant, humorous, but Willy was serious, you see? Never so serious that you didn't just love to hear him just go on with this stuff. Because he had some hobbies that were cruel, too. One of them was stealing dogs.

DAVIS: He stole dogs?

ROSS: Yeah. It was cruel to do.

(unintelligible cross talk)

ROSS: But I mean that shocked the hell out of me. There were like little twists 63:00in his nature. If he loved a dog, he would carry a little ground meat with him on long trips you know, and he'd tempt the dog and all of a sudden "Willy, what the hell is a dog doing in the car?" You'd be coming back from Martinsville, Virginia or something (unintelligible)

DAVIS: How many -- did he have a lot of dogs?

ROSS: When he saw a dog he wanted he just took it. He had several, yeah. I don't think he sold them or anything. He just saw a dog he wanted and it was like his right -- if the dog wanted him and he wanted the dog and they wanted the meat, he just pet him --

DAVIS: Was he a smart man?

ROSS: Smart, in a limited way, but he learned. He tried to learn. They had to teach him to become a better organizer, to become a negotiator. I've had him in negotiations with me. He'd listen carefully, he'd say the right -- he'd know 64:00when to shut his mouth and when to speak. He had shrewd, native, working class shrewd judgment, which I greatly respect.

DAVIS: Well, now what did you do after the summer? The summer's ended.

ROSS: Then I went to Greensboro.

DAVIS: What did Mother do?

ROSS: Now, Mother went to live with her sister, Belle, where she'd been before.

DAVIS: Not on Carter Street, but on Prescott?

ROSS: Prescott Street, if I remember, in Greensboro.

DAVIS: Carter Street's where Belle lived later on.

ROSS: That's later. That's during the war. Carter Street is High Point during the war.DAVIS: Because Prescott is where she lived.

ROSS: Prescott Street is where I took you once.

DAVIS: Did she go to have a job? Yeah, right.

ROSS: Well, yeah, she went to work for Spencer B. Adams.

DAVIS: The lawyer?

ROSS: The chairman of the Republican Party of North Carolina, and a lawyer. And he paid her seven dollars a week for five days and Saturday morning. And she was 65:00expected, she probably wasn't the greatest typist or the greatest secretary, and receptionist, but she was, you know, that was it. And Spencer B. Adams was a fossilized elderly lawyer with hardly any practice left. And he held this honorary position of a sort. Remember -- this is not the vibrant Republican Party of today, but a shell that nobody really cares to chair.

DAVIS: How many Republicans could there have been in High Point in 1939?

ROSS: No, this is for the state. He was actually for the state.

DAVIS: So there might have been --

ROSS: Well, the point is somebody wants that honor, but usually it's down in a Republican county. They're using a guy in a Democratic county. There were always constant Republican counties in the mountains of the south, you know that don't you? From Union county, Blairsville, Georgia on. Those are all Republican counties.

DAVIS: So then most of their membership --


ROSS: Well, yeah. That's why Broyhill's base, you see, in this latest senatorial --

DAVIS: Okay, so she's gotten this job. And what are you doing?

ROSS: Me. After some days of drifting around, I don't remember who makes the introductions, but very quickly it becomes apparent that my reputation is good. Cole Dannenberg likes me. He's a CIO organizer in Charlotte.

DAVIS: You knew him from before.

ROSS: Yeah. And he's moved up here as I remember, either then or does later. Other people have met me and know me from the Southern School for Workers Conferences that were held, were going to be held in the fall of '39. And the school has given me a very -- I don't know whose connections, whose recommendation it was, but Enoch Price -- they've organized a branch of a thing called "Labor's Non-Partisan League." The Chairman of that nationally is John L. 67:00Lewis. In the South -- in North Carolina, they called it the League -- the North Carolina League for Progressive Democracy. There's no question they're partisan. They're going to function inside the Democratic Party. There's no room for a non-partisan except that they're affiliated with it. See they're showing their sympathy to labor. So they've already appeared before the state CIO convention and gotten its endorsement. Not the AF of L. This is going to be the political action arm of the CIO, which is under John L. Lewis then. Strangely enough, remember this is going to be textile workers and others, not miners in this area. And they affiliate because apparently they get a $500 grant they'll get something from John L. Lewis. He has some money to give them. As I remember it, it was something like $500. Not going to last very long. And they elect sort of 68:00a New Deal coalition. The labor people -- E.L. Sanderford, the CIO director, takes the Vice- Chairmanship, Enoch Price, the editor of the Greensboro Patriot, a weekly in Greensboro -- a very decent human being, I've told you, and Mildred's brother -- well there would be a connection right away, "See my brother Enoch. He has a job and everything." And Enoch lays out the job. He said, "You know, I think we can get $500 in the bank but that's not going to go very far. We don't need to have an office and you can use my office when you need a typewriter and we don't have any, I don't know if we have a salary to pay you. That would eat it up very fast. I don't know how we'd pay you any expenses." So they hire me. He gets the board to hire me. I'm not even sure I appear before the board. I don't remember appearing before the board.


DAVIS: And you're twenty years old?

ROSS: If I did, I appeared, there was E.L. Sanderford, there was some other people present, okay. Pauline Gallaway -- I meet her. She's an Amalgamated Clothing organizer. In fact, Buddie and I stay at her house for a long time, rent-free. That's where I get my first bad illness after we marry. But we're not -- that's coming later. I'm single. So I go to work sometime in September for this outfit.

DAVIS: What's it called again? I got mixed up. It's not the Labor's Non-Partisan League but it's called?

ROSS: North Carolina League for Progressive Democracy. Pretty good name. Okay? That's where it's going to stand. And it's got a platform. There's been a convention, a state convention. There have been resolutions on where they stand with minimum wage.

DAVIS: Were you at all of that?


ROSS: No, none of it. I was at school.

DAVIS: You're just hired to be a functionary.

ROSS: It was an August convention. They decided to get a staffer they decided to elect their officers. They were going to get a staffer. Where were they going to get anybody who'd work for -- with whose payroll? Labor's Non Partisan League payroll? No. If they'll give you some money -- we might have gotten one more $500 grant, you know, from them. I don't know that we did. At any rate, they hired me at $25 a week and --

DAVIS: That was pretty good.

ROSS: Oh, very high pay. That's what was so impressive, very high.

DAVIS: I even know that.

ROSS: Very high, yeah, very high. A year later I went back into the plant and I was only making $14 a week and $11 a week basic pay and 14 with some overtime. But I didn't get it! That was interesting. They paid me when they could. Catch 71:00as catch can. And expenses were hitchhiking. I mean you had to find somebody to spend the night with when you got there.

DAVIS: Did you tell me she was getting $7 per week?

ROSS: Seven. She got 7 dollars a week. Okay? So -- but wait a minute. We're not married. She's just -- I'm going to work, see?

DAVIS: But I mean, you know, I'm talking about -- what do you call it?

ROSS: So that fall I began traveling. See, I'm hitchhiking around the state. I'm starting to know

the state. And in the fall sometime we hold this meeting a rally of some type in Burlington. I remember that. I have to make my first major speech. I told my first jokes. I mean you really have to organize to make an appearance. I remember some of those like to this day. The Burma Shave ads along the road. I used the Burma Shave ads.

DAVIS: For your jokes? That was your joke?

ROSS: That became the theme for my jokes, yeah. I would rewrite the Burma Shave ad. See first I would give a good, two laughable --

DAVIS: What would be an example?

ROSS: Well, I'd give a real Burma Shave one that makes people laugh. I picked 72:00out the two funniest Burma Shave ads I've seen along the road. "Don't stick your elbow out too far, it might go home in another car." Burma Shave, okay. Then they'd all laugh. That was Burma Shave. Then I'd have my slogans, see, and that would be something connected with, you know, why they should vote or why they should do something, be active. I would just make up little rhymes.

DAVIS: Who was your inspiration as a speaker? Who was the one --

ROSS: John L. Lewis. Oh I fell in love with him.

DAVIS: Did he used to tell jokes?

ROSS: Oh, yeah. He could tell jokes, he could --

DAVIS: Because Junius said that you were the best speaker that he'd ever heard.

ROSS: Yeah, a lot of people thought I was the best public speaker that anybody had heard.Many of the students loved me at the university when I would come off shift. Especially later. I was -- this was not -- I got acquainted with them during this job. I got acquainted with Dr. Frank P. Graham. I collected a $5 dollar membership from him when I came to Chapel Hill. We had a Chapel Hill 73:00chapter of professors.

DAVIS: You knew him -- you mean you chatted with him.

ROSS: Oh he came to the meeting of the Orange County chapter and paid his five dollars. I collected five dollars from Professor J. O. Bailey.

DAVIS: Okay, you'd have a meeting here and just different ones that --

ROSS: I would just -- yeah, Enoch would come and do the sort of major -- for a thing like this. The cotton mills towns, I would handle. But something as important as this --

DAVIS: Enoch was high up?

ROSS: Well, you need someone to deal with the professors, like an editor or something.

DAVIS: What was his job?

ROSS: Then I would be called on as organizer. He was the editor and he was like the secretary-treasurer or whatever. He had a title.

DAVIS: Of that weekly paper?

ROSS: No, he was the editor. Remember it wasn't like being editor of a daily paper. It meant he was a good journalist.

DAVIS: The weekly paper?

ROSS: Yeah. He did everything in the weekly as you could imagine. It wasn't Rudy's weekly, it was --

DAVIS: Did I ever meet him? I remember --

ROSS: No, if you did I don't know it. You were born in '42 -- we were gone 74:00already to Nashville.

DAVIS: I keep thinking of a Mary Price that I thought I met.

ROSS: Mary, you did, his sister, Mary -- Mildred's sister.

DAVIS: Mildred and he had a sister --

ROSS: Mary came to the house a lot in Greensboro. She ran for governor when I ran for Congress in '48.

DAVIS: I remember the name, I don't know if I remember the face. Did she wear her head of hair on top of her head?

ROSS: Yeah, you got her.

DAVIS: Dark hair, on top of her head?

ROSS: Yeah, right, Mildred didn't but she did. That was Mary. And then Branson, you would not have known, but she was in Georgia that year. That was four of the eight kids that I've named right there -- all of those were part of the whole progressive movement.

DAVIS: A bunch of kids like that from one family?

ROSS: Not one of them I know of was marked out as Communist or anything. They were all just independent souls that absolutely dissented from the system.

DAVIS: How would all of them from the same family be influenced that way? Would one of them have gone first?

ROSS: I told you earlier about what a bright family this was. They all were 75:00raised on a farm -- a very bright farm family. They insisted their children all get college educations. The other four, as far as I know, became leading executives. Vice-President of Kaiser Steel, others were professionals.

DAVIS: North Carolina family?

ROSS: Oh sure, from Rockingham county, outside of Greensboro. They were just raised to do a hard day's work raising tobacco, raising com.

DAVIS: That was an interesting family.

ROSS: They were a very fascinating family.

DAVIS: They might have descendants.

ROSS: They all spoke articulate English. They all enunciated well. They were taught, like from a

schoolteacher mother and a father -- who might have been the mother might have been a schoolteacher and the father -- you know, living in the country was just a secondary thing. They never -- it was like the blessings of a great America. It was almost like -- they were not Quakers, but they -- you almost felt like they had a tradition of education, a tradition of pride, a tradition -- I mean, Mildred spoke the Queen's English, at all times.


DAVIS: Just an interesting family. What's that town -- Rockingham?

ROSS: Rockingham County. It's north of Greensboro. They came from north of Greensboro. And he settled in Greensboro. He was the only one, actually, of the eight --

DAVIS: They might have descendants around.

ROSS: He was the only one of the eight that ended up around here.

DAVIS: Oh, really?

ROSS: Yeah. The others scattered nationwide. They scattered.

ROSS: Yeah, Enoch did.

DAVIS: Does he have family here?

ROSS: And he ended up, ultimately, in New York state somewhere -- Like Robert Hall did,editing a paper up there. I mean in his seventies or sixties.

DAVIS: So they may not have children around here?

ROSS: I don't know of anybody in the state left of the Prices -- four of the eight I never heard of being around here. If they did I'm neglecting -- I've forgotten.

DAVIS: That would be an interesting story. Okay, so you're an organizer now.

ROSS: I'm organizing for political action.

DAVIS: And you're working for John L. Lewis?

ROSS: Yeah, there's no question. I'm called into Washington by John L. Lewis.

DAVIS: Well, when you said you were youngest organizer ever hired by John L. 77:00Lewis --

ROSS: I'm treated like a member of the staff. When John L. Lewis calls a staff meeting of Labor's Non-Partisan League, to this day, when I went back to the United Mine Workers' Welfare Fund, they could look me up in their records and find me under the Labor's Non Partisan League. I was treated, even though it was a grant down there, because I was called in --

DAVIS: There's a record of your $25 a week in there.

ROSS: I don't know about that. The grant is there. The important thing is when they called a meeting, I was called in. Another guy that I never kept track of --

DAVIS: When did you go for the meeting?

ROSS:Except once or twice in my life was Jack Fry. He was called in from Texas. He was Labor's Non Partisan League in Texas. A very young guy like me. Not as young as me.

DAVIS: They were all over the country? Were they all over the county?

ROSS: Yeah. These were the outposts. See, they didn't have mining. I mean the heartland would have had hard-nosed old miners in charge of --

DAVIS: Well, he's trying to branch out to non-mining industries, right?


ROSS: He's using Labor's Non Partisan League as the political arm. He's bringing a twenties tradition that you're not very familiar with. Historically, the phrase "Non Partisan League"would immediately be recognizable in the Middle West. This is how the whole progressive movement was dubbed. In other words, the trick in a country where the farmers were Republican was to get them at least to a non-partisan level, so that the whole Progressive movement very often was called in its political action arm -- for a while the Non Partisan Leagues would control politics in several Middle Western states.

DAVIS: You're talking the twenties. Would Wisconsin be a part of that?

ROSS: There would be revolts, yeah, revolts. The Progressive Party to this day is a big party in Wisconsin, where they refuse to accept the old party system, see. When they go into rebellion, they refuse to go over from Republicans to becoming Democrats so they give them an alternative. They signed petitions, they have an old Finnish and Norwegian traditions, five percent of the people sign 79:00the petition and they get a new political party.

DAVIS: This was more of a political job than a trade union job.

ROSS: It was not a trade union job. It was the political action arm of the trade union.

DAVIS: I understand that.

ROSS: That's where I began.

DAVIS: (unintelligible) you didn't mean a trade union job?

ROSS: Oh, but it's treated by the unions very much, it's like working for the funds and then working for the union and then working for the political action arm.

DAVIS: It's like working for a political action arm.

ROSS: You move around. The typical political action person came out of the UMW, out of the unions, out of the CIO. In my case, I simply moved from, at Chickasha, where I had actually brought in the CIO, that's what got Jerry so mad -- and I brought in a CIO organizer and then left. I mean, you know, we couldn't pull it off. There was nothing to do.

DAVIS: That's the one where you were kind of naïve about --


ROSS: Oh yeah, I was naïve as hell yeah, how they could scare everybody half to death and get you fired --

DAVIS: And here you get into a more political role, right?

ROSS: Here I'm in a political role, yeah. You have to register people to vote, you have to get them. You have to go get candidates. I was a terribly active guy. Most people didn't do all the things I did. I had more candidates running. I would coax more goddamn workers to run right out of the mills --

DAVIS: To run on this ticket?

ROSS: Right out of the mills. Simple workers with two three grades of education. to run. "I can't run for anything, I can't hardly -- "

DAVIS: Like State Legislature?

ROSS: Oh yeah. For State legislature, for House, for County Commissioner. Blanche Kibbit, a sewing machine operator --

DAVIS: And they'd run on this ticket?

ROSS: No, they'd run in the Democratic Party. They'd pay their five dollars get their name on the ballot and then we'd start putting out leaflets for them -- they couldn't believe it, their picture on a leaflet, their name on a leaflet.

DAVIS: How soon was all this happening? By November '39?

ROSS: No, the May primary. I was active on the April or May primary.

DAVIS: The '40 election.


ROSS: I was out to get them -- I wanted to get them into motion.

DAVIS: This was set up anticipating the '40 election.

ROSS: Yeah, right. And he's very anti-Roosevelt. You're not realizing that now. John L. Lewis --

DAVIS: They had split.

ROSS: They split in '37. He got insulted by Roosevelt in '37: "He who sups -- it ill behooves one who has supped at labor's table, to curse with equal impunity, those who fight in labor's ranks and those who oppose them." That was his scorn for the aristocrat from New York.

DAVIS: Wasn't it some railroad strike they got into it about?

ROSS: No that's later it's Truman. (unintelligible) yeah he got the railroad brotherhoods he got the miners and they all -- that's why in '48, some of them -- misguided miscalculations of people like myself was -- they were so opposed to Truman and impossible to believe they could heal the breach by him. Anyway, 82:00you know. God, they hated Truman with a vengeance for breaking their strikes. Miner's strikes, it's why Truman got the judges, he sent his whole, Tom Clark, his attorney general. It'd be like expecting the blacks to love Ronald Reagan. You know?

DAVIS: I was going to say, John L. Lewis ended up being kind of against intervention in the war.

ROSS: Oh yeah, yeah he ended up with Lindberg. Then I had a break with him and I left for Mine Mill. It was too much.

DAVIS: But now that was later, so we're not up that far yet.

ROSS: No, that's gotten to be '40 --

DAVIS: Are you getting tired?

ROSS: Forty-one or '42

DAVIS: I think we'll stop.

ROSS: I think, yeah, as it approaches six. It's about 5:35.

DAVIS: We'll stop.