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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Howard Kester, July 22, 1974. Interview B-0007-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Organizing Aid Day to help workers in Wilder, Tennessee

Kester discusses how he and his wife, Alice Harris Kester, organized "Aid Day" in order to help coal miners who were on strike in Wilder, Tennessee, during the early 1930s. Kester describes how he earned the trust of the workers and emphasizes that the purpose of Aid Day was to assuage the suffering that had resulted from low wages and the strike. According to Kester, the effort to furnish the workers with clothing and food received support from the religious community.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Howard Kester, July 22, 1974. Interview B-0007-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACQUELYN HALL:
Tell me a little bit about Wilder, Tennessee.
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, Wilder was one of, I think I could find you an article . . . have you read the article written by the Nashville Tennesseean by . . . I forget the girl's first name.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Recently?
HOWARD KESTER:
No, written back in 1933 or 1934, somewhere along in there. I'll get you a copy of it. I can find my copy upstairs. Well, there were three coal mines. Wilder, was the chief coal mine, and Davidson and Tipton, and Tipton was up at the top of the mountain and Wilder was down at the bottom. And Alice and I organized what we called Aid Day, and when we first went in there, we simply knew that they were in trouble, and wages had been cut and cut and cut. You worked 16 hours a day, and the maximum pay was $2, and by the time the rent was taken out, the electricity was taken, out bath house, what are you going to live on? So we went up, at first they know whether we were on the level or whether we were really representing the company. And I could understand their attitude.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You didn't know anyone when you first went there?
HOWARD KESTER:
Not a soul.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You just knew the conditions?
HOWARD KESTER:
I knew the conditions.
WILLIAM FINGER:
How did you know about the conditions?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, I had friends who lived in Allendt which was just a short ways from Wilder, and through the grapevine. I think Albert Barnett first told me a good bit about Wilder and he was instrumental in getting me to go up there, and offer our help.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Is Albert Barnett alive?
HOWARD KESTER:
No, Alva died several years ago. I think he changed a little bit in his attitudes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When he got older?
HOWARD KESTER:
I think he became more conservative after he went to Emory. Well anyway, they accepted us and at the first meeting, it was a Sunday afternoon, Barney Graham, the President of the union intorduced me, he told the story about Lafayette coming to this country to help us, and here was another Lafayette coming to help them.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You were another Lafayette?
HOWARD KESTER:
(Laughing)
WILLIAM FINGER:
What did you think you could do for the mines? You weren't working for a union or . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
No. We could feed them. We usually went up on a Friday and we would get students from Vanderbilt, or Scarritt. Those Scarritt girls were always willing to go, and we were going to have Aid Day, and my wife kept a strict record of everything, second-hand clothes, almost anything that you could name, we had, and canned goods for desperate families.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You took those things with you?
HOWARD KESTER:
Sure. Canned goods, even the Rabbi at the Jewish Temple there in Nashville just opened the room where they kept all the canned goods and said, "Take what you want."