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Title: Oral History Interview with Clay East, September 22, 1973. Interview E-0003. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: East, Clay, interviewee
Interview conducted by Thrasher, Sue
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Jennifer Joyner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2007
Size of electronic edition: 356 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2007.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2007-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2007-02-26, Jennifer Joyner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Clay East, September 22, 1973. Interview E-0003. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series E. Labor. Southern Oral History Program Collection (E-0003)
Author: Sue Thrasher
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Clay East, September 22, 1973. Interview E-0003. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series E. Labor. Southern Oral History Program Collection (E-0003)
Author: Clay East
Description: 410 Mb
Description: 132 p.
Note: Interview conducted on September 22, 1973, by Sue Thrasher; recorded in Oracle, Arizona.
Note: Transcribed by Unknown.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series E. Labor, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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Interview with Clay East, September 22, 1973.
Interview E-0003. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
East, Clay, interviewee


Interview Participants

    CLAY EAST, interviewee
    SUE THRASHER, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
CLAY EAST:
One thing that we talked about in particular last night was organizing the union to begin with when we all went out to the schoolhouse at Sunnyside, right?
SUE THRASHER:
Yes. Tell me again how that meeting came to be. You were telling me that somebody had organized it in a car.
CLAY EAST:
I told you that Mitchell and myself and I know that there were two other guys that was in the car and I think one of them was Ward Rogers, but we was just driving around there at home, and Mitchell had this thing all planned out even before we got in the car. And I was to be the president and Mitchell was to be the secretary. And the balance of that, now, we didn't have E.B. McKinney as vice-president at that time and I wouldn't say for certain whether he was elected that first night or not, I can't remember for certain about that. But anyway, he was vice-president… E.B. McKinney…
SUE THRASHER:
At that first meeting at Sunnyside School did you elect officers?
CLAY EAST:
Well, before we even had that meeting, it was understood. Mitchell had this all set up and planned even before we had that meeting. Now, the way he tells it in his meetings and speeches and so forth, was that this meeting was, uh, we gotthere late an all. That meeting was all planned and we all got out there when we was supposed to. I never was a person… I'm not the type of person to be late and I'm sure that Mitch rode out with me and [unknown] was

Page 2
there and I have forgotten now, we had to have a secretary and I don't know if that was brought up at that meeting or not, but what we decided that night was that we was to have a union and it was to be a mixed union, all one people. However, that wasn't decided until that night and, Mitch tells about some of these other guys getting up and proposing or discussing as to whether we should have a mixed meeting or not and I told him at the time that it was the only way to work it… that we couldn't have a black and a white outfit. All of them was working under the same conditions and they was all got the same kind of [unknown] and there was no occasion for having two… and another thing, we was always having speakers coming there from some-place and they couldn't speak to one group at one spot and another… they'd have to have two different occasions for meetings and generally just like Mary Hillyer when she came in there to [unknown] and we [unclear] to have a mixed meeting, she only had so long to be there, see
SUE THRASHER:
Mary Hillyer was from the Socialist party in New York?
CLAY EAST:
Yes, she was on her way to New Orleans and stopped off in Memphis. Now I don't know what the occasion was for her stopping. At that time Norman Thomas was very active and, uh … in fact when Mitch sent Brookins and this other guy down into Crittenden County

Page 3
while I was gone, which I would have been against. If I'd been there, I would have told them not to do it. But Mitch in my opinion, didn't have much feeling for the other guy. He didn't care what they got into, see, long as they got something started. So, he sent those guys off there down into Crittenden County… it was bad.
SUE THRASHER:
What is the county seat of Crittenden County?
CLAY EAST:
Marion. Howard Kurten was the sheriff and they had the roughest, toughest bunch of gangster officers that they could collect. Those guys had a press… uh, not a press… but a commercial appeal. A reporter came out to West Memphis… and that guy's name was Bragg, the big guy down there, and he went up to his house to see him and took his pistol and beat him up. And a man that was a brother to the Governor of Arkansas, it wasn't Futrell, it might have been the lieutenant governor's borther, but they stopped him on this Harahan Viaduct that was going into Memphis. The Harahan Viaduct was put into there and they had a toll on it and when this toll was collected it was supposed to be a free bridge across there, see, but after it was all collected and supposed to be closed up, the local government was in there. In Crittenden County, the officers kept collecting the toll off this thing. And the United States government had to go in there and put signs up that this was a free bridge. Crittenden County was an outlaw outfit, I'm telling you, the law was.

Page 4
They didn't pay attention to the government or anyone. And I was fixing to tell you… they stopped this man on the viaduct. They had a fifteen mile speed limit on this bridge, which was unnecessary. Of course, it was narrow and they put a guy on there in an unmarked car… well, there wasn't anything such as a patrol car then, they was all unmarked. And, I passed one of them on there, just drove fast enough to pass him, he was driving fifteen miles an hour. And they had some sings that was more or less confusing and I passed this guy and he stopped me and gave me a ticket and I was fined twenty-five dollars for speeding and I only drove eighteen miles an hour, just fast enough to get around this deputy. Now that was the condition that Crittenden County was in at that time. And after Mitch sent these guys down into Crittenden County…
SUE THRASHER:
Now, who were the guys that went into Crittenden County, do you remember?
CLAY EAST:
Yes, Brookins was the one…
SUE THRASHER:
A.B. Brookins?
CLAY EAST:
A.B. Brookins was the one that Mitch sent down there. It was the first trouble that we had had and it was the first time that anyone had been sent into Crittenden County.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, is Brookins a black minister?

Page 5
CLAY EAST:
Yes.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, where was he from?
CLAY EAST:
Tyronza. But after…
SUE THRASHER:
And who went with him?
CLAY EAST:
I'm almost certain it was some white man. But they wasn't rough on white men, but they beat Brookins up and put him into jail. They made a practice of that. They made a practice of beating the guys up in jail… theyhad a big leather band, I've been in their jail.
SUE THRASHER:
You've been in their jail in Crittenden?
CLAY EAST:
I've been in jail and seen this big leather strap there… they didn't try to hide it or anything. And you couldn't get a reporter, nor a lawyer out of Memphis to go into Marion. They wouldn't take a case of any kind. You couldn't get them to go in there. They'd say, "Naw, we won't go in there, not to Crittenden County." And Mary Connor Myers, when she was sent down there from Washington, Roosevelt sent her down there when there was so much stirred up over it and that was the report they would never publicize it because it was too hot to report.
SUE THRASHER:
She went into Crittenden County?
CLAY EAST:
Yeah, she went into Marion and Crittenden County and all and she helped to break up the Capone Gang in Chicago and all, so she

Page 6
knew what rough stuff was, and she said that Capone and them boys was sissys beside this bunch down in Arkansas. And that's the report she come out and made in Memphis, see, after she'd been over there. But, the full report was never published. They never made it public after she went back to Washington.
SUE THRASHER:
What happened to Brookins and the other guy that went to Marion? Were they put in jail and beaten?
CLAY EAST:
Brookins was put in jail and beaten, yes. I was in Memphis at the time and when I came home, Mitch told me that they had him up there in jail and we knew that we was going to have to do something to try and get him out of jail. So, we went to Marked Tree. I knew C.T. Carpenter personally, been knowing him for years of course. I might also add that C.T. Carpenter was a Sunday School supertindent. He taught a class in Sunday School and was I think at one time, I think, figuring on being a minister before he became an attorney. And my Dad told me about C.T. Carpenter. He said that in these J.P courts, he wasn't no good. He used words that they didn't even understand and …but anytime he carried it up to a higher court, he beat them every time. And he did, he was a fine lawyer and I don't know whether you knew about it or not, but he wrote a series of articles in a popular magazine at the time. Did you know that?
SUE THRASHER:
No.

Page 7
CLAY EAST:
Yeah, he wrote a whole series at that time about the Southern Tenants Farmers Union.
SUE THRASHER:
Do you remember what the magazine was?
CLAY EAST:
I can't think right now, but Mitch should know that very well, because it was one, it could have been Harper's. But, I wouldn't say positively that it was. But he wrote a whole series of articles. I saw all of those articles. Had the magazines myself. But, I think it was his father that went to school with Robert E. Lee. Yeah, C.T. Carpenter's father. I know one of them went…couldn't have been Carpenter. I know it was his father that went to school with Robert E. Lee. But, we went to see Carpenter and when we asked him about getting these folks out of jail up there and when he come up with eight hundred dollars, he'd take the case and…
SUE THRASHER:
Who came up with the eight hundred dollars?
CLAY EAST:
We did?
SUE THRASHER:
C.T. said you'd have to come up with eight hundred dollars?
CLAY EAST:
Well, he didn't tell us that. He said that's what his fee would be see, and we just asked him. He didn't tell us you'd have to come up with it, but we asked him if he'd take the case and he studied the thing over and inquired into it and said that "Well, his fee would be eight hundred dollars."
SUE THRASHER:
Now, this was the case of who?

Page 8
CLAY EAST:
Brookins. Brookins and…there might have been several other guys in there. Well, this, I'll give credit to Mitch for this. If it'd been left up to me, why I'd have taken Carpenter and gone up there, but Mitch says "Get a whole down load truck of folks and we'll go up there." So, we all went up there and more than that, I had a damn big long six-shooter. I never would carry it out, but on this day I did. And I also had some warrents in my pocket so that even an officer from another county can't take a gun into another county unless he has an occasion for it see. He has to has an excuse like a warrent or something. So if you've got a warrent for some guy and you can say that the last you heard, he was up in Crittenden County and you wanted to see about it, but of course that was never…but I was careful about it, I didn't want to take any chances, because I knew what we was getting into. Well, when I went in and told Carpenter what we'd come up there for, not Carpenter, but Howard Curlin, the sheriff. Of course, I knew Howard damn well, me being an officer in an adjoining county. But I went in there and told him we'd come up there to get those guys out of jail. I think there was more than one, but Brookins was the main one. I think even then we understood that he'd been beat up. But Howard looked at me and he told me, he said, "you're sure playing the wild." And I told him that every man had the right to his own opinion and "I think that maybe you are." Well, you might not know it, but Howard Curlin died on the witness stand.

Page 9
From a heart attack. Internal Revenue was after him. And one after another of those guys… now I had the papers… Bunch, the man that led the group on me at Forrest City, led this mob on me, said "Why that's the guy that started this whole thing," and went ahead and told a whole bunch of lies to these people for to get them all stirred up, and they was stirred up, too. They really took to me right now. And I got them to put me in jail and they didn't know what else to do. I said," If I've done anything, violated any law, which I hadn't, I said put me in jail." I knew I'd better get in jail, with that damn mob. So, they got me into the office of the jail there at Forrest City. And, the whole damn mob, it's a little, uh, maybe twelve by fifteen or something of a small office before they put you into lock-up. They had a whole bunch of guys in there… union men.
SUE THRASHER:
Now this is at Forrest City?
CLAY EAST:
Yes, this is at Forrest City?
SUE THRASHER:
O.K. Let's go on, I wont to get that story straight somewhere else on the tape.
CLAY EAST:
All right.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, what happened that morning when you went to Marion? Other than your run-in with Curlin? Is that where the men acted as if they were crippled? and had all sorts of walking sticks with them? You remember that?
CLAY EAST:
I don't remember anything about an occasion like that.

Page 10
SUE THRASHER:
It might be something else.
CLAY EAST:
It must of been. We had a whole truck load of guys out there anyway. And I guess that Mitch was correct in doing that, but I don't know if it did any good, because I think Carpenter and myself could have gotten those guys out. But anyway, we showed a little strength.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, was Carpenter actually needed to get Brookins out of jail down there?
CLAY EAST:
Yeah, and we was lucky to get him out.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, did Brookins remain active in the union for awhile after that?
CLAY EAST:
So far as I know, yes. He went ahead and did the best he could. But as I remember, he was crippled up.
SUE THRASHER:
Tell me where else the union had locals during that first year it was being organized. And how were those locals organized? Would you send out organizers and people hear about them and come in, or what?
CLAY EAST:
No, we would set up for a meeting at some church house. Generally it was a colored church house or a old school building or something like that and this was all in around Tyronza to begin with. I never did ever tell Mitchell what my ideas were, but I felt that if we would build a strong union in Tyronza and let these other people come into that from outside and go back and organize their own people, it would

Page 11
save these guys…now, that was the first thing that commercial appeal started hollering was…that we was outside agitators. Well, of course, there was a few outside agitators that come in there once in awhile, like this Debbs guy from up in Washington. I know where he was from, but Mitch called him the Arkansas Debbs and he was a stranger. Well, Butler wasn't right there at Tyronza or anything and neither was Kester, see? But the two main guys in this was Mitchell and myself, when we started this.
SUE THRASHER:
How about Alvin Nunally?
CLAY EAST:
Alvin Nunally, yes, he was very active and right in there with Mitch and I.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, was Nunally a sharecropper?
CLAY EAST:
Well, he was a renter, see. But he didn't own his farm. As long as a man owned his own farm, he wasn't eligible to get in the union.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, how soon did Ward Rogers come down?
CLAY EAST:
He came down right at the beginning of this thing.
SUE THRASHER:
And he had a church somewhere in Arkansas at this point?
CLAY EAST:
Well, I'm not positive that he did. Now, Claude Williams did have. I believe he had a church at Paris, Arkansas, as well as I can remember. But, he was put out of his church on account of this.
SUE THRASHER:
But Claude didn't get active in this for awhile, did he? It took him a couple of years, or did he…was he active from the very beginning?

Page 12
CLAY EAST:
Yes, he…well, I wouldn't say…he came in there, I would say when Norman Thomas made his talk, see, and that was before the union. He was a socialist see? And that was the work he was interested in. And after he came in there and got acquainted with the rest of us, well, he followed through with the union members. But, he didnt did have a great deal to do…Now the guys that was actually active in there was Nunally and Butler andMitch and myself. And even Ward Rogers, the biggest thing he did, it looked like to me, was to stir up trouble.
SUE THRASHER:
You never liked Ward Rogers, did you?
CLAY EAST:
I did not.
SUE THRASHER:
Why didn't you like him?
CLAY EAST:
I thought he was a smart aleck and I don't like smart alecks. I thought he was a show-off and I still think so. I think that's what he did at Marked Tree, when he got up and made an assertion there, that was the damndest thing I know of when he got up there and made an assertion that we could go out there…that we could get a bunch and go out there and hang these planters. That's the poorest damn thing I know of a man…well, would you approve of that? Well, you're not on the tape, but you see what I mean? And I could tell you something else. I don't even like to put this on the tape in particular, because I might be wrong, but do you think I should?
SUE THRASHER:
Sure.
CLAY EAST:
It was talked around that Ward fooled with Mitch's wife. and that's another thing that I approved of in a big way, because

Page 13
he was staying at Mitch's.
SUE THRASHER:
Mitch's wife didn't like this union, did she?
CLAY EAST:
She never acted that way around me, of course, I wasn't around her a great deal, unless I go down to the house to she Mitch or see her around or something, but she was a very nice person. And I understood that her people didn't like Mitch and his socialist ideas.
SUE THRASHER:
Let me go back a little bit.
The first time that you ever heard you ever heard of socialism, was it the time you had that conversation with Mitch at the gas station?
CLAY EAST:
That's the first time. Frankly, my brother, Joe, was playing ball around over the country and at that time, he was playing in a league at El Paso Texas. And Joe wrote to me and he…well, after the ball season he was trying to get a job down there and he sat on the Texaco steps out there day after day and he couldn't get anything. And he told me that if this dumb country didn't get into better shape, the whole country was going Communist and I didn't even know what the hell he was talking about.
SUE THRASHER:
Where was he in Texas?
CLAY EAST:
El Paso. Of course, he'd been around quite a lot and picked that up somewhere. And as far as socialism, at that time, I'd never had an occasion to even read anything about socialism. Now I would say this, my daddy, now he was sort of on my type…he was

Page 14
independent and figured to take care of himself. And ordinarily, people who are strong union people, want the union to help them along see? They realize it's hard for an independent…it's people working for the people…I was an individualist, and so was my dad. He was in business for himself and I was always in business for myself, so I wasn't much interested, myself. But, my Dad, he was always hiring some carpenter, he'd hire some old man that couldn't get a job in Memphis and all of them had been good union men. Well, I slept up in the store, the back of the store. To protect the store, that's what I stayed there for. The damn folks out there would break in your store and…
SUE THRASHER:
Now where was this? What store is this?
CLAY EAST:
My Dad's store in Tyronza. So, I had a room back there. They'd built a room on the store for someone to sleep in. These guys would back a wagon up there and haul all your groceries off.
SUE THRASHER:
Was it a grocery store, or a general store merchandise?
CLAY EAST:
Yeah, it was general merchandise, that's what it was, it was a small store and he had the only market in town. So, even the other merchants and all, they had to buy their fresh meat and all from Dad. And my dad had a lot of fancy groceries that the other stores didn't carry, they didn't have any demand for it, but my Dad was one of the best merchants I've ever seen. He had been on the road in Texas for eight or nine years selling groceries and he had picked up all these items and so forth. But, he had an exceptionally nice small store. He handled clothes, shoes, whatever we

Page 15
had a demand for. But ordinarily, these stores there, plantation stores, they'd have a big store and handle everything. My dady, not only did he have a store there, he had several farms down in the country and we handled cattle. We killed most of our beef and in fact, we killed all our beef.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, I think I asked you the other day, but I'm not sure we got in on tape…what your dad thought of you being in the union. What did your parents think?
CLAY EAST:
Well, my mother knew we was right, but naturally, she was worried about me, because it was a dangerous thing.
SUE THRASHER:
How old were you then, in 1932?
CLAY EAST:
I was thirty-two years old. I was born in 1900.
SUE THRASHER:
Were you married then?
CLAY EAST:
Yeah.
SUE THRASHER:
Did you have any children?
CLAY EAST:
One.
SUE THRASHER:
Your wife was a teller at the bank?
CLAY EAST:
Right. And that was one cause of me getting my money caught in the bank when the banks closed…I knew I should go get my money out of there. They was closing all over the country and I knew within reason Ishould go get my money out of that bank, but I thought, no that if I did that, they'd say I had inside information

Page 16
and that I'd start a run on the bank. Of course, it could have been I'd done that, if I gone and got my money out, but I waited too long anyway and got my money caught in there. But I knew better and I wanted to get it out and if my wife hadn't been working there, I would have.
SUE THRASHER:
What did your wife think about your union?
CLAY EAST:
Well, my wife's apt to think about things like I do, if you just want the straight of it.
SUE THRASHER:
You insist on it.
CLAY EAST:
I don't insist, no, I see that they do. But, of course, she'd never had any occasion…in other words, we was with the top bracket of people in town…the Emricks ([unknown])…neighbors, we was closer to the Emricks than any other family by far, see. And all of the parties and all of that stuff.
SUE THRASHER:
You were fairly well respected in the town, because you came from what was considered an old-time Tyronza family.
CLAY EAST:
Right and not only that, after I grew up, I had a hell of a reputation as a boy, I was one of the worst in town, always into something. Even when I was in school, when I'd come home from school…oh, this would sound like I was exaggerating, but I…another boy and myself, his daddy had a store there, his name was

Page 17
Smith, and [unknown] and I was the two worst boys in school and we'd try to get a whipping every day. We'd keep count of them, we'd put them in our tablets, mark down like you do for dominoes, you know, four marks and then a mark across it. And, I beat him, I got one-hundred, fifty three and I don't think he got but one-hundred, fifty one.
SUE THRASHER:
In one year, you got one-hundred, fifty three.
CLAY EAST:
Uh-huh. And the teacher was Miss Overalls, she just whipped us for anything.
SUE THRASHER:
Was that her name, Miss Overalls?
CLAY EAST:
Yeah, she was a beautiful gal and she finally married a man there who had a store named Perkins. But when I would go to town, the first things the guys there would ask me was "How many whippings did you get today?"
SUE THRASHER:
How old were you then?
CLAY EAST:
Oh, I must have been around thirteen or fourteen. And I'd think up all sort of things. One time, Ihad heard a clown do this, but anyway, I put up my hand and Miss Overalls said, "What do you want Clay?" and I said, "Miss Overalls, I got to go home." She said, "Are you sick?" I told her, "No, ma 'am, my little brother's got an itch and I got to go scratch him." Well, she give me a whipping for that.
SUE THRASHER:
I don't blame her.

Page 18
CLAY EAST:
Of course, all the kids in the school was a hollering and laughing and she was trying to straighten them out. I could think of more things to do. Well, was pretty good, he was right up with me, but he had a brother named LePrell ([unknown]) and we'd get outside and they had an opening in the stove where the air was pulled through it, they had a coal stove…I can't remember just what the room was, but we get up this thing and listen to it. We'd get up there and LePrell got a whipping and she give him three hundred and twelve licks. He was switched, of course, the switch wore out when she got through. Well, done something there one day and …
SUE THRASHER:
Let's go back to the union. That's what I need to get. Tell me, besides Brookins…we were talking earlier about having meetings at Negro churches in the area. Now how did you organize those things, by using black ministers in the area, or did you just make contacts with black sharecroppers, and going to meetings, or did…?
CLAY EAST:
No, we'd just get word out. Word gets around that country fast…you'd wonder. Dr. Amberson and all of us went down on Oscar Johnson's plantation and we'd drive five miles down through the farm and when we'd get there, they'd have a house and a desk in there with a guy sitting in there with a tablet to get all the information down. And Dr. Amberson would ask how they knew we

Page 19
was coming down here and I told him, "Man, they got a telegraph deal here somehow, I don't know how word gets around, but…"
SUE THRASHER:
Now was this when you were working on the report with Dr. Amberson?
CLAY EAST:
Yeah, on the survey. We made the survey see, on that.
SUE THRASHER:
Were you making the survey at the same time you were organizing the union? Is that the way you organized the union?
CLAY EAST:
No, the unionists had already started and we was getting this information to try and get some relief for these people in there.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, tell me about the meetings, if you can remember. What happened, and how did you get them started?
CLAY EAST:
Now, I can't even remember who set this meeting up, but there was a little old building they used for a church, they called it the Dead Timber ([unknown]) church and it was about three miles from Tyronza. And I was to hold a meeting there on this certain night at a certain time, seven or eight o'clock, whatever it was…probably seven. And that was the time that the mayor of Tyronza, who was a close friend of mine, …anyway, he made a trip over to Tennessee, I was in Tennessee, and had a station over in Bartlett, Tennessee at that time. And, he made a trip over there and told me that those guys were laying for me. He didn't tell me then that they was laying for me, but I learned later that they stayed down there five

Page 20
nights setting there with the gun…there was five of them.
SUE THRASHER:
When did you move to Bartlett from Tyronza?
CLAY EAST:
Well, after we started this union… 'course, most of my customers were the planter boys and big business. Well, the first guy after we got it started, Jim Prestige ([unknown]) the big farmer… and had a bad reputation, he's from Mississippi and they said he killed several people in Mississippi, but Jim Prestige liked me and traded with me. Practically all the business done was on the credit, see, but he come in and paid off…he had plenty of money. And, he come in and paid off once a week or whenever he took a notion or anytime he wanted. But, he come in and told me, "I want to pay up my account. I'm quitting you." Well, he didn't like the other two stations, but he had to go trade with them. He was the first one, then his son-in-law, Cecil Justice who was a school teacher there, he came in and quit me and ask me why in the world, he said, "Why have you gone against your own class of people?" Well, I told him, I said, "Well, Cecil, this is America, I didn't think we had classes. I thought this was a classless society over here." This made him mad, that's all, and those guys quit me one after another. I noticed that they didn't come in and tell me they was quitting, just quit. And I could see that my business…I had to have business to operate. Of course,

Page 21
I owned my own home and I had really good business in that station. So, I saw that I was going to have to get out of there. And, I believe that Mitchell and the rest of the boys had already gone.
SUE THRASHER:
To Memphis?
CLAY EAST:
Yeah.
SUE THRASHER:
Do you remember exactly when the union moved to Memphis? Was it quite early, Thirty-three or Thirty-four?
CLAY EAST:
Well, I'd say it was sometime, yes, I think it was sometime in Thirty-three and it could have been the early part of Thirty-four.
SUE THRASHER:
So, you really never had a headquarters in Tyronza, other than your and Mitchell's little places of business? And then, when you actually set up an office, it was in Memphis?
CLAY EAST:
We didn't actually have an office there. That hall that we had in Marked Tree…
SUE THRASHER:
The Odd Fellows Hall?
CLAY EAST:
It wasn't the Odd Fellows, that was in Tyronza. That was the Socialist Party that had that. But the hall that the union had in Marked Tree was the only building that the union ever had there, and I don't know if you could actually call it an office. Mitch's place was used as an office. He kept up the books, he was the secretary, see, and he kept the books and everything on it. And, of course, they did Mitch just like they did me, only they did him first. And, he wasn't well liked in town to begin with and boy they cut out that dry cleaning.

Page 22
SUE THRASHER:
Was there another dry cleaner in Tyronza?
CLAY EAST:
There didn't have to be. They had a cleaner come out there from Memphis, see, and there was also a cleaner at Marked Tree, four and a half miles away, probably more than one. So, they had no trouble getting their clothes cleaned, so they just dropped Mitch and not let him have them. Mitch wasn't actually too hot on the cleaning anyway. His clothes…you could tell that they had been to a cleaner when you got them, 'cause the fumes would let you know. I'm just telling you this, it's a fact. Now, Mitch studied that stuff and he knew how to spot clothes and he bought quite a bit of equipment. All he had to begin with was this presser, but a great part of his work was done out behind his building. He had a…I remember kind of a little bench of an outfit and he'd lay this stuff down and scrub it with this cleaning fluid and it was pretty hard to get all that out of there. Of course, he had a dryer and all that stuff, but well…things at that time, people weren't as frank as they would be today about their dry cleaning and so forth.
SUE THRASHER:
You were telling me about when you were living in Bartlett and you were going to a meeting and you heard about five men who were waylaying to meet you.
CLAY EAST:
Oh yeah. Well, I know…the mayor, Bob Fraser, who was a friend of mine, come over there and told me, says, "Clay, if you

Page 23
don't come back over there, they're going to kill you.
SUE THRASHER:
He was the mayor of what town?
CLAY EAST:
Tyronza.
SUE THRASHER:
Tyronza?
CLAY EAST:
Yeah. And he told me, said "I don't know what they'd do to me if they found out I'd come over here and told you about this, but I just couldn't set there…I'd felt like I had my blood on your hands if I'd set there and not told you. But they're fixing to get you." And I told him, "Well, Bob, I sure appreciate your coming over here and there's one thing you can rest assurred about, no one will ever be told by me that you was over here and told me. Of course, he's passed away now, so I don't have to worry about him, about them getting him yet. But, that night, I got in my car and drove over there and where I was going to hold this meeting and I turned off before I got to Tyronza…two miles before I got to Tyronza, at Beasley Spur they called it. And, it was only a mile or mile and a half to this schoolhouse. In other words, Tyronza was up here, and Beasly was down here about two miles and this little old school was over here. Well there was a road that run around this way from Tyronza and this road here went out from Beasly. Well, I went over there and I was the only one there. I held the meeting and I never held a meeting that I didn't get a whole bunch of members signed up. I'm not bragging or anything

Page 24
but I got the first members who ever signed a card in the union. I was the man who made a talk and told them that if you come out here to farm…
SUE THRASHER:
Now where was that?
CLAY EAST:
That was at the little Sunnyside Schoolhouse at Tyronza where we had our first meeting. That's where the union first started.
SUE THRASHER:
How many people signed up for the union that night, do you remember?
CLAY EAST:
I would say, maybe say it was thirteen or fourteen, around fifteen. I think that everyone there, there wasn't a big crowd there.
Now, I might mention another thing in here. We had an old man by the name of Payne, and he was an Englishman from England and he was a sharecropper and his wife died when hisdaughter wa young. He had a daughter and she was about grown this time, Georgie, and she was…and everyone in the country knew old man Payne. He talked like the English. I couldn't tell a little dirty joke on him here, could I?
SUE THRASHER:
Feel free.
CLAY EAST:
Well, it isn't too bad. Ritter and Emerson had the big store up there, see, and they had a clerk in there, George Wier ([unknown]) and old man Payne went up to Ritter and Emerson and said, "George, give me another box of those cathartic pills, I broke wind last night and it smelled awful." Well, they told that all over Tyronza.
SUE THRASHER:
This was Mr. Payne. Now was he a member of the union.

Page 25
CLAY EAST:
He was a strong member and a good talker and he was really worked up over the way sharecroppers…and all…well, he had been in a union in England and he had a lot of experience there. In the mines, as I understand it. And, he was a real union man and he took an active part in that. He made all the meetings. I was thinking that he was set up as some kind of an official in the union. I can't remember what it could have been. I have never heard Mitch mention payne at all. He talks about Nunally, but well, of course he was active…Nunally, Mitch and myself were the most active in the union by far…until Butler came in, and Butler was a real strong man and a good talker.
SUE THRASHER:
Do you remember when Butler came down, how long you'd been working on the union?
CLAY EAST:
Not very long, in fact he had to come before, because he was the man who went and got the papers over in his county. So, he was actually interested…most of these guys from the outside came in on account of the Socialist Party. See the papers were full of this stuff about these Socialists over in Tyronza. So, we had folks coming in there from all over the country. And, even these speakers, even this girl from New York, uh, Norman Thomas …was very active at that time and he told about all these things and I think he actually more interested after he came over and saw what was going on. And, we took him around and showed him conditions and so forth, and he got up and went out to Norcross's plantation

Page 26
and he went in there and Norcross had this barn with concrete floors and running water for his hogs. And then he goes out to these sharecropper houses and there was no screens on the doors and no screendoors and there was flies and holes in the floor and roof and everything. And, when he got up to make this talk at the schoolhouse and told about that they was treating the animals so much better…the cows and all too, he had concrete…
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
SUE THRASHER:
Clay, I'd like to go back and get some more about you and I'd like for you to tellme about your early life and where you were growing up. Did you grow up in Tyronza.
CLAY EAST:
No, I was born in Tyronza and we left Tyronza when I was about three or four years old and we moved to Greenville, Texas. My Dad went there to work for his uncle in his wholesale grocery business. And, we lived in Greenville until either 1910 or 1911 and we moved back to Tyronza. My Dad built a store and went into business there at the time and up until the time I left, I lived

Page 27
in Tyronza.
SUE THRASHER:
How many brothers and sisters did you have?
CLAY EAST:
Well, I had three sisters and four brothers.
SUE THRASHER:
And your father was a farmer or a merchant?
CLAY EAST:
Both. He had nice grocery store and then he farmed on the side when he first began. He had the only butcher shop in town. We killed our own beef, so of course, he bought a lot of cattle, and on Sunday, we'd get out and a bunch of us on horseback and buy up cattle. Many…quite a lot of the time, he'd buy a cow out there, never had seen it. Just ask them about it, what kind of shape it was in, what it would weigh. And when they told him, he'd say, well, I'll give you so much for it, and he'd buy it sight unseen. Then on Sunday, we'd get out and horseback and round these cattle up he'd bought and take them down and put them on the pasture on the farm, see, a woodlot he called it, it was all in timber…it hadn't been cleared up. Then, generally, over the weekend, we'd send the butcher and myself out and we'd kill the beef. That would generally be on Friday and that give the beef time to cool off. We'd have to kill them late at night to keep the flies off them, see. So, we'd go out and kill the beef. At that time I was only about fourteen years old.
SUE THRASHER:
Did you have refrigeration or electricity?
CLAY EAST:
Ice.
SUE THRASHER:
Ice. How about electricity?

Page 28
CLAY EAST:
No, we had gaslights and that was furnished by gasoline that was underpressure…a hollow-wire ([unknown]) system. Now, in our home, we had carbide lights and had a big machine out back that put fifty pounds of carbide in at a time and lasted three or four months. Electricity, we didn't have any electricity in there yet, no one had electricity. The first electric light lamps that came into that country there, as I've told you, my cousin, Eli East put in the first, that was the Delco light plant, was just a small affair, was storage batteries and they'd run in there and build the storage batteries up and even then, they didn't use their electricity for anything except lights. All the rest of it was done byhand, such as separaters, a lot of the big farmers had separaters to separate the cream from out of the milk.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, you would kill the beef on when, Sunday night?
CLAY EAST:
On Friday. that would give it a chance…we would get it in and put it under refrigeration. And now, that ice was shipped in there by rail, see, by or in three hundred pound cakes. And they'd have an ice plant. At that time, they had an ice plant at Harvard, which was about two miles from Marion, which was about twenty some odd miles from home. But they used that ice for cooling and I'd say along about 1912 or something…that country was called swamp country and it was.
SUE THRASHER:
It was part of the Delta?

Page 29
CLAY EAST:
It was Delta country, but they called it swamp country and they called the Arkies that lived there in that country" "swamp angels" and these guys come over there from Tennessee and around, they called them hillbillies. So, in the wintertime, they had no roads, they were impassable in the wintertime. They had mules until they run a dredge ditch in there through Dead Timber Lake, which had sunken when Real Foot had had an earthquake in that country and Real Foot Lake sunk and Dead Timber lake sunk. That's where it received its name, all these trees had sunk, there was a lot of big walnut trees in there and those stumps. They got out and cut this timber from boats. They'd get in boats, see, and water was around this big timber, so they'd get in boats and cut this timber and float these logs, drag them out …well, the sawmills, that was what opened up the timber country. Sawmills had what they called tram roads, which runned manybe five or six miles down through the woods. That's all that was in there and theyd drag these logs up to where they could get them loaded on to the carts which was iron-wheeled carts. And the rails on these tram roads were just wooden timbers and of course, those were flange-wheeled carts that they put on there and they was first drawn with oxen.

Page 30
SUE THRASHER:
What's a flange wheel?
CLAY EAST:
Well, a flange wheel is like what a railroad has, has a flange on the side to keep it on the rail and they had the same type of wheel on those carts. They was drug in there, and these places they would drag them with those oxen, mules and all couldn't stand up, they'd just bog down. They couldn't use mules in there until that country was drained some…but where they'd drag these logs through, there'd be a rounded out place and they called those lizard roads. And they was all over that country, even up in 1914 or 1915, there was still traces of these lizard roads in the woods up there, where they had drug those logs out.
SUE THRASHER:
What was the town of Tyronza like then, did it have paved streets or anything like that?
CLAY EAST:
No, that was just before we came back from Texas, a mule bogged down there on main street and they couldn't get him out and he died in there. And that is approximately where the post office was built when my Dad had his last store there which was during the time he had it, which was when the union was in operation.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, how big was Tyronza? About how many people lived around there then? In 1930.
CLAY EAST:
I'd say around 500.

Page 31
SUE THRASHER:
Around 500 families? Oh, it was a little community.
CLAY EAST:
Yeah, small.
SUE THRASHER:
And were there other groceries beside your Dad's store?
CLAY EAST:
Oh yeah. Ritter and Emerson was the largest store there, but it had been there for quite a long time and it was a big enough that old man Jim Chandler, who was the bad man in Tyronza, most of the stores back there, had a real bad man and Jim was the bad man in Tyronza. He'd get drunk and ride into town on his horse and he'd ride in through the door and buy his tobacco and stuff and they was afraid to say anything to him. On Sunday, everyone would meet the train on Sunday morning. They would get a paper from the train and they went up…no much other place to go… and they was always a big crowd at the depot on Sunday morning. In fact, there was generally a bunch of people that would meet the train, which ran twice a day. But old man Jim…
SUE THRASHER:
And get a paper? They weren't necessarily meeting somebody who was coming in?
CLAY EAST:
Oh no, no. They went up to see the train come in, just to meet it. Oh, there'd be maybe a couple of hundred people up there, just to see the train going through.
SUE THRASHER:
And they'd buy a paper from the train?

Page 32
CLAY EAST:
Well, they'd buy a paper, yeah there was a guy who would get off the train with an armfull of newspapers, see.
SUE THRASHER:
Where were they from?
CLAY EAST:
Memphis.
SUE THRASHER:
Was the train going north?
CLAY EAST:
Well, the train was going to Kansas City…that was the Crystal Railroad ([unknown]) and it was called the Kansas City and Florida Special…the Cannonball that run through there. But, old man Jim, he'd take a mean streak every once in awhile. He lived just down across from the railroad, the dump there was up fifteen or twenty feet high on account of water coming in, the overflow and there was water all over that country at that time. When the train would go through, there was so much water and timber all over, you could here those things roar down through the woods there for a mile or two. But anyway, old manJim would get drunk and get on his horse and he had a kind of a squeaky voice and he'd get his pistol out and start hollering up there, "Stay out of there, you sons of bitches." And they would too, they all dig out and run. He never did shoot anybody, but they didn't know whether he would or not. And he get up there and ride down the track, he lived just down below the depot and shoot at the damn kids under there. They'd run under the house. Most of the houses then were built off

Page 33
the ground, because the water would come up see, and they had to build them up pretty high. At that time, Marked Tree, all those buildings up there at Market Tree…it was four miles from Tyronza…those things were built up ten or twelve feel up on well, you'd call them stilts more or less. The timber they'd set up there and the whole thing would be covered up with water in the wintertime.
SUE THRASHER:
From the Mississippi River"
CLAY EAST:
No, there was two rivers there. The St. Francis and the Little River. These rivers would all get filled up and it seemed at that time that they had more rain than they do now.
SUE THRASHER:
Now what county was Tyronza in?
CLAY EAST:
Poinsett County.
SUE THRASHER:
And what was the county seat.
CLAY EAST:
Harrisburg.
SUE THRASHER:
How far was that from Tyronza?
CLAY EAST:
Thirty miles.
SUE THRASHER:
And Marked Tree was in the same county?
CLAY EAST:
Yes.
SUE THRASHER:
And it was how far fromTyronza?
CLAY EAST:
Four miles.

Page 34
SUE THRASHER:
Four miles. And was Marked Tree larger than Tyronza?
CLAY EAST:
Yes, it was about three times as large as Tyronza, maybe more.
SUE THRASHER:
And you ran a gas station?
CLAY EAST:
Right.
SUE THRASHER:
And how many other service stations were there?
CLAY EAST:
There were two other stations there. A brother-in-law of mine had one and the Fair brothers had the other one.
SUE THRASHER:
And then there was Mitch's dry cleaning plant.
CLAY EAST:
Mitch's dry cleaning plant.
SUE THRASHER:
And a couple of other stores? and a cotton gin?
CLAY EAST:
Right.
SUE THRASHER:
Was that about it?
CLAY EAST:
No, there was a drug store. And Dr. Mc Daniel had a little office there. There was also an Odd Fellows Hall. The town at one time was built, all of it, right along the railroad track, facing the railroad track with a road between the buildings and the railroad track. And that's the way most times back there were built at that time…built right up to the railroad track because all their supplies came in by rail and they wanted to be as near to that as they could, because they had to haul all that stuff by wagon.
SUE THRASHER:
Supplies were what? Tractors, farm equipment?

Page 35
CLAY EAST:
Oh no. Groceries, flour, lard, sugar and everything that you'd sell out of a store.
SUE THRASHER:
Was cotton shipped out by rail, too, after it waspicked?
CLAY EAST:
Yes. It was ginned and baled there and it was shipped out into the compress and the compress would take a 500 pound bale of cotton and put it under this high pressure and when they got through with it…a bale of cotton at that time was about five, maybe, yeah about five or six feet long and it was three feet one way and about four feet the other and was baled with these steel straps, which they still use. They'd send it to this compress and then compress down into a round package that would be about one-fifth the size that it was when they received it.
SUE THRASHER:
Where was the compress? In Memphis?
CLAY EAST:
Well, yes, they was in Memphis at that time. Later on, they built a compress in West Memphis after it opened up …well, that was the time the union was going on.
SUE THRASHER:
You said there were 500 families in Tyronza.
CLAY EAST:
No, I didn't say that.
SUE THRASHER:
500 people?
CLAY EAST:
Well, I said there was between 500 and a thousand.
SUE THRASHER:
And around Tyronza, out in the rural areas, there were a lot of large plantations, there were a lot of sharecroppers and

Page 36
farmers?
CLAY EAST:
In the beginning, these farmers, such as my grandfather, who came from Tennessee over there, they'd purchase this land that had been cut over by the timber companies …lumber companies. And I suppose there was some in there that was homesteaded. But, the most of it was purchased from the lumber companies.
SUE THRASHER:
Your grandfather purchased his from a lumber company?
CLAY EAST:
I'm not absolutely positive, but I would say that's where he purchased it.
SUE THRASHER:
And where did your grandfather move from?
CLAY EAST:
Savannah, Tennessee. And he came there in a wagon and he made many trips backwards and forwards.
SUE THRASHER:
Is that your father's father?
CLAY EAST:
Yeah. He made many trips backwards and forwards in the wagon. They'd know people all along the road and they'd stop and spend the night with them…maybe stay a day or two. People would visit then and enjoyed themselves a little more than they do now, I think.
SUE THRASHER:
Why did he move from Savannah to Tyronza? To become a planter?

Page 37
CLAY EAST:
Oh no. He was never what you'd consider a planter. He was just a big farmer. They didn't have planters in there at that time. Most of them were men who owned small farms. Maybe, ordinarily, anywhere from fifty to a couple hundred acres of land. And they worked this land themselves and had some hired help. And as the sawmills played out in there, it left…the sawmills used mostly colored labor, a big lot of it. The white guys was mostly bosses. The sawmills used mostly colored labor…there was a lot of the timber cutters, now, that were white guys… One thing that I wanted to bring out as we go along here, is in those days they had a world of bank failures and the bank was set up to take care of the big boys. If a bank was closed up…
SUE THRASHER:
This was along about 1929?
CLAY EAST:
Yes, along in there and even before that. There was always banks going broke, see? And when a bank went broke, they'd have an associate bank from whom they borrowed money and so forth. Well, if a bank went broke, all themoney…all of their assets would revert to the associate bank until that indebtedness was satisfied and then if any was left, then the little folks got it, the depositors, see? And that was the case when Roosevelt closed the banks and they changed them up. So, there's a lot of those things that people don't understand now about that bank deal. It was an odd thing. Canada had different set up and they didn't have bank failures and I guess China had the best system of all. When

Page 38
a bank went broke there, why they took the leaders in that bank and beheaded them, so they didn't have any banks fail.
SUE THRASHER:
O.K. Tell me more now about your grandfather moving from Hardin County. Tell me something about your grandfather.
CLAY EAST:
Well, he was a soldier in the Confederate army. He was wounded in, I believe it was his right arm here. He showed me the scar and of course, he's told me. Then, he was taken prisoner and spent a year or so in Rock Island Prison and at the time that he was in there, he said that a dog or a rat didn't dare come around there, because those guys were starving. The Northern people was really starving them out, see? As I understand, Yankee soldiers in the South weren't treated much better, but the Southerners didn't have the damn stuff to feed 'em with. So, the Yankees got it back on them by not feeding them. They had the stuff to do it, but they wouldn't feed them. They had an epidemic of yellow fever while my granddad was in prison and he missed it. He was just a small man, just 140 or 145 pounds, but he said that he was considered one of the strongest men in the Rock Island Prison.
SUE THRASHER:
Had he joined the Confederate army or was he drafted?
CLAY EAST:
Oh, he joined it.
SUE THRASHER:
Did he live in Hardin County at the time he joined it?
CLAY EAST:
Yes.

Page 39
SUE THRASHER:
His family was from Hardin County?
CLAY EAST:
Yes, and I don't know whether he was on a furlough or what, but he was home one time, and my grandma used to tell me about it. Said he was working down in the field or something and she saw a bunch of Yankee soldiers coming up on horseback, and she yelled at him. His name was Harstons, was what she always called him, or Hossy. And she hollered, "Harston, the Yanks are coming!" And they saw him or something. Anyway, he was always bragging about it, said he outran those damn horses and got away from them. They was chasing him horseback and he was running afoot.
SUE THRASHER:
How do you spell his name?
CLAY EAST:
H-A-R-S-T-O-N. John Harston.
SUE THRASHER:
Do you remember about what year he moved over to Poinsett County?
CLAY EAST:
I wouldn't know, but it had to be back before 1900, because I was born in 1900 and they lived there then and I know they must have been living there for some time. Because, my Dad built a home with my grandad. It was a store and half-house and was a good house.
SUE THRASHER:
Do you know how old your Dad was when he moved?
CLAY EAST:
Well, I'm not so sure about that. But, if I was born in 1900 and my mother was eighteen, and when my dad and her married, he was in Tyronza then, so he'd had to been there several years.

Page 40
He'd also put out an orchard for my grandad, so I guess that then he must have been in there at least four years before 1900, which would put it in 1896 or along in that section.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, when did you first leave home? You went away to school somewhere?
CLAY EAST:
Well, I, yes, I had dropped out of school. In fact, I had dropped out to work in the store. My dad was looking after the farms more at that time and I dropped out and I didn't go to school the last half of that year. And a teacher from Blue Mountain, Mississippi came by and I don't know why he ever came to Tyronza, but he came by and talked to my dad. My dad always wanted we kids to get an education, so anyway, he signed up for me to go to school in Blue Mountain, Mississippi and after that there was …old man John Emrick sent his boy, John and his brother Joe, they went to Blue Mountain after I was down there. But, I went to Blue Mountain one year and the following year I went to Gulfcoast Military Academy.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, is that the same Blue Mountain that is now a women's college?
CLAY EAST:
Yes. It was then, but Mississippi Heights Academy was a boys school and it was owned and operated by J.E. Brown, the principal there. Blue Mountain College was a Baptist college

Page 41
and a girls college. Blue Mountain college had about 150 students, which made it pretty nice, because they had 500 girls over at Blue Mountain College, five to six hundred, so we didn't have any trouble getting girl friends, see?
SUE THRASHER:
And you were at Blue Mountain. What was the name of the school again?
CLAY EAST:
Mississippi Heights Academy.
SUE THRASHER:
Was it a military academy?
CLAY EAST:
No.
SUE THRASHER:
Private.
CLAY EAST:
Private, yeah. Well, the war broke out…
SUE THRASHER:
World War I.
CLAY EAST:
Yes…while I was there. I know Professor Brown, he was an Irishman and proud of it and looked the part. He used to brag, said he'd had all his limbs broked and some of his ribs and he'd been shot through and through, I think three times. And when he was teaching school…of course, he had a deputy's card, which anyone could get back in that country. And he had a pistol in his pocket at all times. Carried a little old pistol in his right-hand hip pocket. And he had his finger off, right here on his left hand. I know, he reached up and grabbed me by the hair

Page 42
one time and I couldn't get my hair to comb down for two or three days. He was fixing to hit me and I shoved him, it's a wonder I really didn't get into it.
SUE THRASHER:
What did you study at Blue Mountain?
CLAY EAST:
Well, I was taking eight studies and I studied physical geography, plane geometry, grammar, …he put me back to take grammar A, because I couldn't remember how far I had been in grammar…and rhetoric and Brown was strong on the health problem and I took physiology under him. The book that we used in the physiology class was Martin on The Human Body and that was the first book that a doctor studied when he enrolled for an intern. And he went strong on that.
SUE THRASHER:
And the next year…how old were you when you went to Blue Mountain? Seventeen?
CLAY EAST:
Seventeen?
SUE THRASHER:
And then, the next year when you were eighteen, you went to Gulfcoast Military Academy?
CLAY EAST:
Yeah.
SUE THRASHER:
Why did you go down there?
CLAY EAST:
Well, the reason I went down there. I roomed with Enid Kennedy, a boy from Chevril ([unknown]) Mississippi and his daddy was a doctor and we got a hold of a pretty slick paged catelogue

Page 43
from Gulfcoast Military Academy and it showed all these pretty pictures in there and these boys in uniform and I was very anxious to get into the service, I wanted to get into the army. The reason I wanted to get in there, I wanted to show off my uniform and travel some and get to go to these other countries. And my dad, he had much better judgement. But I was going to mention one little thing that Brown brought out there…he said there. We talked about these Negroes going into the service and all and he said yes, they'd draft them in there and they're just going to use them for labor over there, said "Hell, they ain't going to do any fighting," which was pretty close to right. But I know that one of the students that had been a student at Blue Mountain the year before, they did have a Negro officer and he cut this guy out and they had him out about to court martial him and Brown got a bunch of signatures for this boy…and he was a damn no-good, but Brown after that, why he went in to this boy and he sure thought a lot more of him that he had before he had bucked up to this colored officer. So, I know that Brown was in reality a racist, but in Blue Mountain, I don't know if I ever saw a colored person in Blue Mountain, Mississippi. They was mostly in the Delta country.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, let's go back to when you went to the Gulfcoast Military Academy. You got in there the next year because you wanted to be in a military academy.

Page 44
CLAY EAST:
Yeah. Well, that's one reason my dad let me go down there. He wanted to keep me out of the service. So, I went to Gulfcoast and well, the freshmen were referred to as rats for the first year.
SUE THRASHER:
Were you a freshman?
CLAY EAST:
I was a freshman. And these older men, they did what they called "ratted" these boys. In other words, you was in there and it was pretty cold down there and the company I was in, they had us in what they called the armory. And it was just a big wooden, open-frame building with cots down each side of it. And it was pretty cold in there and of course the older men would tell one of these "rats" to go in there and "warm that toilet seat up for me." Make him go in there and set on the toilet seat, didn't want to set on it while it was cold, see? And…
SUE THRASHER:
What did you study down there? Same kind of things you'd studied at Blue Mountain?
CLAY EAST:
Yeah.
SUE THRASHER:
Did you pick up any of what you'd call "radical" ideas at either of these two schools?
CLAY EAST:
None whatsoever.
SUE THRASHER:
You were still totally nonpolitical?
CLAY EAST:
Well, I was strictly independent and I didn't take any "ratting" see, so I dropped out at the end of the year and one

Page 45
of these guys tell me to go warm that seat, I tell them, "Yeah, I'll go down there and warm it for you, but I tell you one thing. You're going to have to come out of this school someday, and I'm going to beat the hell out of you when I can catch you out on the street." He said, "That's all right, I'll send old so-and-so." So, this other boy Kennedy and me, Kennedy was worse than the damned old men. These boys would come down there and this armory had all the older tough boys in it. And they had a big red flag up on one end there with a skull and cross bones on it and down on it it had "Beware of the Armory". And they wasn't joking too much, they'd get these "rats" in there and whip them around and so forth and old Kennedy, some of these new guys that would come in and he'd start in cussing them, telling them "Goddamned Rats so-and-so." He was a rat himself, see, but Kennedy and I thought we was both good men and we just didn't take any ratting.
SUE THRASHER:
How long did you stay at Gulfcoast?
CLAY EAST:
Up until Christmas time.
SUE THRASHER:
So you weren't there but about three or four months?
CLAY EAST:
Whatever it is from the time we started in, I guess it was in September or something like that.
SUE THRASHER:
And you didn't like it there?
CLAY EAST:
I didn't like it there and there wasn't but one decent man

Page 46
in there. And after we got down there, they had two of the men that was supposed to own the school, Hardy and McGee was great big six-foot, two hundred and fifty pound men and they was classed as colonels. Now they had a Colonel Palmer there who was retired United States Colonel. And he was in charge of the military and while I was down there, the war ended, see, but before it ended, this man was allowed to appoint, I think it was eighty, boys out of this school. I was eligible for the draft then, see. In fact, I had a notice to appear at the draft board in Arkansas. But, at that time, this colonel was allowed to appoint eighty boys out of this school and there was twenty-eight of us that passed. I was in the twenty-eight. It was a rigid deal that you had to go through. Physical, recommendations from home and I know that I was sworn in at Gulfport, Mississippi and we was to leave for Freemont, California for an officer's training camp on the fifteenth and the armistice was signed on the eleventh. So, all of us guys that had received this appointment, and we had a letter from the government that said to await further notice. And, that's the last I've ever heard of it.
SUE THRASHER:
Did you go back to Tyronza then?
CLAY EAST:
Yes.
SUE THRASHER:
And what happened when you went back? Did you go back to work in your Dad's store?

Page 47
CLAY EAST:
NO, I went back and started running the farm.
SUE THRASHER:
Your Dad's farm?
CLAY EAST:
Yeah.
SUE THRASHER:
And how long did you do that?
CLAY EAST:
Up until I was…well in 1919 and I might have been there part of '20, but I doubt it, I was 19 and I left and wnet to California. That was the first time I'd left home. My Dad went over to Corinth, Mississippi to boy a carload of lumber. He was going to build a barn down on the farm and while he was gone, well, I got me enough money together to go to California. And, well, I caught the passenger train out of Tyronza and went to Kansas City…well, I went to Jonesboro and caught the fast train to Kansas City. And went I bought a ticket at Jonesboro for Kansas City, that guy shortchanged me five dollars. I didn't have enough to buy me a ticket for Los Angeles, or Long Beach was where I was heading. I had a cousin out there and so, I told …the train was due right then for the West Coast and I told the guy, "I said, just give me twenty-five dollars worth of ticket for out west." So he gave me a ticket to La Hana ([unknown]) Colorado and I got on the train and I got acquainted on the train and there was a bunch of Jews on there. There was fourteen in the family, with

Page 48
kids and all and I know they said that the tickets cost them fifteen hundred dollars. And this was when they was running two trains there together. They were running as Pullman train and a passenger car train and I was on the passenger train and I got acquainted with these folks and got towatching them and one of these old carpenters that used to stay up there in the store with me, we used to sleep up there at nights. And, I know now that some of those guys had some Socialist ideas…nearly everyone of them that my dad hired…andmy dad did too.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, who were the people that your dad would hire?
CLAY EAST:
These old carpenters that used to sleep up in the store with me. He was always building houses on the farms and first one place and then the other and he'd hire these old guys, see and they ate down at the house with the rest of us and they'd always stay up in the store with me.
SUE THRASHER:
And that was the first time you'd ever heard any Socialist ideas.
CLAY EAST:
Well, they didn't call socialism, but I know now from the things they said and the suggestions they made…and most all of those guys, I really couldn't understand that, they was more or less soured on the world and after I got into the Movement, I could kind of understand why. The thing looked so simple and

Page 49
made so much sense, yet people didn't have judgement enough to even look into it and I know that's what soured those guys on the whole damn set-up.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, how long you stay in California, that first time?
CLAY EAST:
Well, I was going to tell you about getting to California. It was a little rough, but it wouldn't hurt. One of these guys that stayed up in there, he had a little old small book in his …and he had a whole bunch of hatchecks in this thing that they used in the trains at that time to stick in your hat and it points to where you're going to see, you get on there and give them your ticket and he's got a certain point and a certain color hatcheck and all for the town you're going to. Well, I picked that up from one of these old guys and he said hell, he'd get on there and buy a ticket from Tyronza to Marked Tree if he wanted to go to Jonesboro and he'd get on there and he'd find out someone that's going to Jonesboro and he'd look through his book and get a hatcheck like the one that they was using for Jonesboro and stick it in his hat and ride on free. So, I picked that idea up from him and I found out that these Jews was going to the West Coast, so each time the conductor would come through and say that hell, he couldn't separate those things, so he'd give all these fourteen hatchecks to one guy and he'd distribute them out…and they was strung

Page 50
out all up and down the car and I stood up after we left Kansas City, I stood up there for one or two days, I don't know and the train was running eight hours slow, when I got off. I finally, well, I rode through two or three divisions on hatchecks and they pulled a car I was in, I was in the tail end and I'd swapped the hatcheck and I didn't want them picking up on me, so I'd gone way down at the back end of the train and this chaircar train had held them back, because they was having to stop and let people on andoff and it was slowing the whole thing down. So, they put one of these coaches off and put it on the Pullman and I was on that coach and that knocked me out, I didn't have anyone to get hatchecks from. So, I made me one out of a ticket…I plugged up the whole, I bit the corner off and chewed it up and waded it in this other hole over here and then I cut another one on this side and I knew that would carry me to the end of the division. I knew what I needed, but I couldn't find one, so the conductor come through. Well, I had a six-shooter, had it in my shirt, or under my coat. And, there'd been a guy in the penitentiary escape, I think it was in Utah and they was looking for him on all these trains and well, anyway, the conductor come through and I had stuck this thing way down in my cap there and he reached up to get it,

Page 51
and I thought, "Oh Lordy, he's gonna…" But, he couldn't see it, that was all. He didn't recognize that I'd messed it up. Well, it like to scared me out of my wits and I was going to put that gun on him and make him stop the train and let me off, because I'd talked to another guy on the train and he'd told me that if they caught me doing that, they'd put me in the lock-up. But, when we got to I think it was Alberguergue, I got that far. I got off at night and I know that there was lights up on the train and I got off though, and expressed my suitcase into Long Beach and I got on top on this passenger train…they had electric lights up over that train then, or gas lights one, I don't know which, but it wasawfully lit up and I sure was scared to get up there. Anyway, we pulled out of there and this was just before Thanksgiving and we got up in those mountains and that thing rocked around in those mountains and I'd heard about these guys freezing to death on those damn trips and so forth and I had on a, I think, two wool shirts and a wool coat over that and I was well wrapped up with a fur cap and so forth. But, I was getting pretty cold and had a big pair of leather gloves and some cavass gloves inside of them but, anyway, I got scared about that thing and I thought this ain't gonna do and I looked down

Page 52
in there and they hadn't snapped this flap that holds the door closed…it was sticking up. And I saw that thing raised up so I come down between those cars and I was rocking around in the mountains up there, I could have fell off there pretty easy. But, I come down between those two cars and I swung around on the side and come up through that flap and I snapped it down and turned around and looked and there was the conductor looking at me. And, I didn't know it at the time, but there was this damn coal smoke blowing back over that thing and I was nearly black, my face and all. Well, he said, "Where you going?" and I told him, "I caught on the side back there, I was late for the train and I just now got in." I didn't know where I was so I couldn't tell him where I was going, so I said I was going to this next little town down there. I had a timetable and all but I didn't know how far I'd come or anything…and anyway, I said, "How much is it?" He was looking at me real hard. And he got a little book out and said "Four Dollars." Well, I knew he was pulling my leg and I had a two dollar bill in my pocket and I pulled it out and said that all I had was two dollars and I just handed him that and turned around and went into the rest room and that's when I found out that my face was coal black…but, I got to California anyway and I didn't stay

Page 53
out there too long, about three or four months.
SUE THRASHER:
And then, you went back to Tyronza?
And how old were you, about twenty?
CLAY EAST:
I was twenty or twenty-one… I was possibly twenty-one.
SUE THRASHER:
And what did you do when you went back to Tyronza?
CLAY EAST:
I bought me a… no, after I went back, I got me a job in Helena, Arkansas and at Upshaw Motor Company, a Ford dealer up there. A cousin of mine knew them, and he got me a job as a parts man.
SUE THRASHER:
But, by 1930, you were running a service station?
CLAY EAST:
Right.
SUE THRASHER:
How long had you been running it? When did you start the station?
CLAY EAST:
To begin with, my brother-in-law, Vaughn Planten ([unknown]) built a new station. He was a bridge contractor, Vaughn liked me and built a new station in Tyronza with the understanding that he told me, "Now I'll build this station and I'm putting up the money." And, he didn't know anything about running the station or cars either to amount to anything. He was a bridge man and his daddy was in front of him…
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]

Page 54
SUE THRASHER:
Now, you were talking about the beginning of your going into the service station business.
CLAY EAST:
Well, this man, at the time I took over the management of this station, as I told you, he was a bridge contractor and he had a contract to build a bridge across Indian Creek in Savannah, Tennessee. They had pictures of that bridge, and all and I'm satisfied that it's probably still there. But, I went ahead and worked for him for three years and then little things came up, first one thing and another and I got out of there, well, I did make a trip to California and worked in a station there with a cousin of mine. I was going to buy in with him, but he told me I'd better work awhile, and I didn't like the people in particular out there…their method…so I went back home and that's when I went into the station up on the corner. And I guess I had been up there, possibly…well, it must have been around '27 or '28 and I stayed in there then until the guys started boycotting me and I sold out. I didn't have any trouble selling it. The boy that I sold to had worked

Page 55
under me in Vaughn's station…that's the one I managed down there.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, when did Mitch…when you moved into this station, was Mitch's dry cleaner next door to you?
CLAY EAST:
No.
SUE THRASHER:
When did Mitch first come?
CLAY EAST:
After that. His daddy had the barber shop and Mitch came in there…I couldn't say definitely, but I would think I would possibly have been in that station a couple of years when I first knew Mitch, when he first come in there and started that dry cleaning outfit.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, tellme about how you got to know Mitch.
CLAY EAST:
Well, he…traded with me and I looked after his cars and as I remember, I think I helped him by two cars. The last time I bought a car for him, was a Moon, I went to Memphis, I think I paid one hundred and twenty-five dollars for it and I've had some letters from him. Butler says he never did have much confidence in it, but he never did have any trouble with it and he told me it was one of the best cars he ever owned. And I know it was, he got good milage from it and he said he just often wondered just how many miles he drove that car.
SUE THRASHER:
What kind of car is a Moon?

Page 56
CLAY EAST:
It's just a Moon, that's all I can tell you and it had a little new moon as the emblem on the radiator.
SUE THRASHER:
Was it made by one of the big companies?
CLAY EAST:
No, that's all they made, just the Moon. No, I'll take that back, they did make a Diana Straight Eight. You remember the Diana…well, I didn't think you would and the emblem on that was a pretty new gal up on the emblem all stretched out, see.
SUE THRASHER:
But you kind of got to know Mitch working with him on cars?
CLAY EAST:
Well, Mitch he didn't have much to do with other people. No one in town that I know of…possibly, I don't know… Roy Howell, who was operating the post office for his brother-in-law, his brother-in-law had nothing to do with it, Roy run that, and Roy always liked Mitch for some cause and Roy was a kind of an odd ball, but he always liked Mitch and he liked Mitch's mother. He had a lot of admiration for them, on account of after Mitch's Daddy pulled out and left the whole family and Mitch stayed with them and Roy knew what a tough time they was having. My mother also though a lot of Mitch on account of that…but as far as me talking to him about politics or anything, I never had any conversations with him at all until I got to talking to him, I got to setting around over there doing nothing and figured me out a system I thought we should be operating under and when I

Page 57
went over and talked to Mitchell, he said, "Why, you're a socialist." And of course, I was kind of smart-alecky and I told him, "Hell, My hair's not long enough." Of course, about the only thing I at that time knew about socialism was calling them Bolsheviks, some people said Bolshevikii and we'd see cartoons in the paper about Russians and my grandad always called them Roosians. But, that's about enough as I knew about them. That's when Mitch told me that he'd bring down a book for me to read. And I told him then that if it was about socialism, he needn't bring it down to me. So, Mitch said that "You don't have to be so damn narrow minded, you can read it and if it's no good, forget about it." So then, I guess maybe that day or the next day, he come by there andpitched me out a little paper book there, Letters to Jud by Upton Sinclair. Well, I never had heard of Upton Sinclair, I didn't know anything about him. And I started in reading that thing and the more I read, the more sense it made. After that, I knew there was something wrong and everyone else did.
SUE THRASHER:
What were the times like around there then?
CLAY EAST:
They were so bad that people over at one of those small towns over there stopped a bread truck…Stuttgart, that's over in the rice fields. They stopped the bread truck and took the bread off the damn thing…a bunch of these damn working people out there. Couldn't get nothing to eat. And, that happened over quite a bit of the country.

Page 58
SUE THRASHER:
Was Hoover still president then? When did Roosevelt come in, 1932?
CLAY EAST:
Yeah. No, Hoover was in there. He's of course, back in that country, they only ate rabbits in the wintertime, see, after frost had falled and so forth. But, they used to make a remark back then that Hoover was the guy that made rabbits good to eat the year 'round. But, the thing was serious…
SUE THRASHER:
Was your filling station business suffering then?
CLAY EAST:
No.
SUE THRASHER:
Why?
CLAY EAST:
I really cut in on these other boys. I was…I don't mean to be egotistical or anything, but hell, I was…you read a letter that I had from that doctor. I was one of the best service station operators in the country, if not the best. I don't think there was a man anywhere that knew more about automobiles than I did. I'd followed them all my life and had a lot of experience and I just took the business from these other guys. Not only that, I was a good mixer and I trusted people and I was straight. People didn't have to watch me and come in there and wonder if their account had been padded, or something, which a lot of stores at that time did…put something on there that you didn't even get. Mess the figures up on it. Stations and

Page 59
stores…there was a world of credit done at that time. Nearly everything was done on credit and now, even in…the small farmers back at that time, but I don't want to get off on that too much. They all had to borrow money every year to make a profit. So, if they had a bad crop year, a lot of them, that's the way they lost their farms. The bad times back there, was 1920 and you just can't imagine the number of people then that was big men the year before who had lost everything they had.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, how about the big planters. What were they doing then?
CLAY EAST:
Well, naturally…this country was made upoof these small farms to begin with…people who had come in there and bought small farms for themselves. So, when these cotton factors in Memphis furnished them money to make their crop on and when something happened, well, Ritter and Emerick furnished a world of people. They had the largest store there by far and had the gin and everything. Well, when a man went broke and lost his farm, well, they got it. So, first thing you know, there's a few people who was getting ahold of all the land.
SUE THRASHER:
Who besides Mr. Emerick? Do you remember other people who were doing it?
CLAY EAST:
Chapman, Dewey and Martry was a big deal, see. And they was

Page 60
…they had this big lumber company. It was a million dollar concern which was big money in those days. Ritter and Emerick were the largest. Now, Howard and Young had a big store there and had several farms and so forth. Lost it all in one year. An old man, John Pinkston came over there from Corinth, Mississippi and they took him out and showed him around the house and it had belong to Howard and Young and now belonged to somebody else. He said that everytime they showed him a place, it turned out to have belonged to somebody else a year or two back. Said he couldn't understand until he'd been there a year or two, then he said he could see why those guys lost out. They had no control whatsoever over what they sold their cotton for. They were paid what the cotton buyer wanted to pay them. The supply and demand deal didn't work out so much. In a way it did, but if they had a big supply and the demand for cotten went down, then the price of cotten went down. I've seen cotton sell for 4¢ a pound.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, what would people do when they lost their farms? Would they start sharecropping?
CLAY EAST:
Probably would. Now that's an odd thing, It was Howard and Young that had this big store. Rand Young was a cousin of mine. He did the book-keeping and Mac Howard …you could

Page 61
believe it or not, but one way that Mac Howard made his money, when they run these dredge ditches through that country to begin with, they netted the fish out of there and they shipped fish out of there every day by the barrel, see, they was all iced up and finally Howard and Young put in an ice house, because they handled so much ice themselves. You'd put a whole carload of ice in this icehouse…
SUE THRASHER:
In Tyronza?
CLAY EAST:
In Tyronza, yeah, that was in back of there store. But, just to give you an idea…you asked what people did after they lost their farm. Well, Howard and Young, of course, they was renting their farms out or sharecropping it or something. I think mostly they rented them, but they lost their store, farms and everything in one year. Fair Brothers was another merchant there that brought Dad's first store out and they lost everything they had. And, in fact, Mr. Alec at the…a cousin of mine that had Fairview Farms, Norcross Plantation…he lost all his in just one year, just like that.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, what happened to the people, would they start sharecropping or what?
CLAY EAST:
Well, generally, see, it got to where these farms, most of them was belonging to big businessmen, the small farmer was

Page 62
practically all lost their farms. As I just got through telling you, they …Howard and Young down there had five or six hundred acres of land and before they got hold of it, maybe they'd furnish these people and the guy would get way in debt to them and maybe he'd give them so much to pay off the balance of the farm or something, I don't know what would happen to them, maybe they'd start out and try to go in and buy another small farm someplace. But, not very many of those guys that actually owned those farms, very few of them ever started in sharecropping. Sharecropping was generally taken up by guys that started out working as hands, see by the month. Maybe just working by the day, mixing their jobs up. The sawmills had practically played out and even by 1910 or 1912, they had cut all this land over and the sawdust piles there…a mile and a half from Tyronza, there was a little old place called Dewey's Mill and they'd had two big sawmills there at one time and they had a sawdust pile that was probably fifty or sixty to seventy five feet high that would cover ten or fifteen acres of land. Well, that thing caught afire down there and it burned for years and years. I expect five years.
SUE THRASHER:
So, the people who were doing sharecropping on these big farms then were not people who had owned their farms before?

Page 63
CLAY EAST:
Very seldom.
SUE THRASHER:
They were people who had worked for money.
CLAY EAST:
Yeah, probably people who had worked as farm hands.
SUE THRASHER:
Does that include black sharecroppers also?
CLAY EAST:
Same deal with them. Most of those black that came in there had come to work in sawmills, see, as sawmill hands. Now, I understand that there was quite a few black people around Tyronza that owned their own farms and they just happened to be better managers and most of the time, a black man that owned his own farm was respected and was ordinarily a good businessman.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, Mitch gave you this book, Letters to Jud and that was the first one you read?
CLAY EAST:
That was the first one that I read. Then, I was so interestedin that thing that I ordered some of them…had a slip on the back where you could order them, and I ordered ten at a time.
SUE THRASHER:
Where did you order them from?
CLAY EAST:
From some publishing outfit, but now, the little bluebooks that Mitch tells about…now, I never had a little bluebook with anything in it about socialism, it was strictly a Ingersoll and a group of those guys that were anti-religious.

Page 64
SUE THRASHER:
Were you religious at the time? Did you go to church?
CLAY EAST:
Hell, no.
SUE THRASHER:
Had you ever been religious?
CLAY EAST:
No. When I was a kid, my mother saw that I went to Sunday School ever Sunday, but after I got up old enough to think any, I didn't go for it.
SUE THRASHER:
So, what did…
CLAY EAST:
Oh, I used to go to church once in awhile to take the girls. I know that when I was just about eleven years old, there was a girl that visited a cousin of mine. Her name was Johnson and they lived in Jonesboro and she visited down there. I was a sharp dresser when I was a kid, that's one thing…I'd make up my mind that I wanted a suit of clothes and I wouldn't have anything else until I got that suit of clothes. Same way with a certain kind of patten leather button shoe or something. I had to have it. Well, anyway, I had a date with this girl and I was about eleven years old and I had her by the arm and took her to church on Sunday night. All the people was just staring at me, a little kid eleven years old coming there with a gal. She might have been just a little older than me…Annie Johnson. But as far as the religious part of it, I didn't have any.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, do you remember any of the other books that you read?

Page 65
CLAY EAST:
Yes, I read Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy and I read some of Sinclair's larger books and I don't remember particularly reading of his books at that time, but Jack London was also a great…
SUE THRASHER:
How about Oscar Ameringer?
CLAY EAST:
He was a Dutchmen and I was a Minuteman and it was listed in the American Guardian ever week and I was one of the top Minutemen and they listed you in there by the number of new subscribers you got.
SUE THRASHER:
How did you get new subscribers?
CLAY EAST:
Well, I used different methods…whatever it took. I was a rough salesman then.
SUE THRASHER:
Did you become a confirmed Socialist right away.
CLAY EAST:
Yes, right away, after I read Letters to Jud. That convinced me right then that what…well, it justmade sense, that's all.
SUE THRASHER:
So then, you started reading all these other books?
CLAY EAST:
Well, not only that, at that time, we could order books from the Socialist Party in New York. Pamphlets, they put out all kinds of pamphlets and I ordered many of those and distributed them.
SUE THRASHER:
You didn't have any hesitation about showing them to

Page 66
people or talking to people about them?
CLAY EAST:
Not after I was convinced myself, no.
SUE THRASHER:
And how did people respond to that?
CLAY EAST:
Well, it was a funny thing. I didn't care who it was nor how big a folks it was. Mrs. Wood and I…Wood and Warren, they had the Ritter and Emerick store see, and they was the biggest merchants in Tyronza by far, and they owned the buildings that Mitch and I were using there. Mitch's building and mine, they rented them out to us. Mine might of gone through the oil company or it might have gone to me…but I sold Mrs. Wood Letters to Jud. I'd question them about it and ask them about it and her husband was one of the worst men I ever saw about being against socialism. When Norman Thomas came in there and they carried him into the store, he turned white as a sheet. I could just walk up and say "Socialism" to him and he'd get furious, so choked up he couldn't hardly talk, he'd get so mad.
SUE THRASHER:
But you sold his wife a book?
CLAY EAST:
Oh yeah. Now, understand I went to their house all the time and Mr. Wood was a strictly religious man and I was going with a school teacher down there and we'd get in there and dance I guess they must have had a player piano…well, I sold radios

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out of that station up there, sold more than anybody in that country. But, we'd go up there and dance and Mrs. Wood would say, "Well, it's about time for Dad to come." She didn't care, see, she was more liberal, more or less and she'd say "You'll have to cut out the dancing." She was talking to the young folks there.
SUE THRASHER:
What other kinds of responses would you get when you'd show or sell these books to people?
CLAY EAST:
Well, now, you asked me that. We went to a socialist meeting in Memphis one time.
SUE THRASHER:
You and who?
CLAY EAST:
Mitchell.
SUE THRASHER:
Just the two of you?
CLAY EAST:
I think just the two of us went over.
SUE THRASHER:
Do you remember when that was?
CLAY EAST:
That was even before the union or anything.
SUE THRASHER:
So, it was 1931?
CLAY EAST:
It was…see, the Socialist Party was what we started first.
But you hadn't started the Socialist Party when you went to Memphis?
SUE THRASHER:
Yes, yes. Hell, we had that party out there and we went to

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this man, he was the top socialist in Memphis and I guess Tennessee. His name was Brown, but I think it was spelled similar to Heywood Broun's name, as I remember. But, we went to his home and he had hair about like Mitch has now and I know that this was down…Mitch says that this was down in the red light district more or less…but he had a brick home, nice brick home and he'd been in there before that thing ever started, before they started the red light district down in there. I think I understood Mitch to say that he married one of these madams, but the old man was a strict socialist and …
SUE THRASHER:
What did he do?
CLAY EAST:
I don't know what else he did besides that.
SUE THRASHER:
But, he was head of the Tennessee Socialist Party?
CLAY EAST:
Yeah. But when we went to this thing, I started right in selling subscriptions to the American Guardian.
SUE THRASHER:
Where?
CLAY EAST:
In Memphis.
SUE THRASHER:
On the street?
CLAY EAST:
No, at this meeting, this Socialist meeting. Mitch thought that…said, "the old man won't like that a damn, you come over here selling literature and all to his members." It didn't make

Page 69
any difference to me. I'd sell them to anyone that'd come along. They damn near had to listen.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, when you went to see Broun and went to this meeting in Memphis, had you already organized the Socialist Party in Arkansas?
CLAY EAST:
Yes.
SUE THRASHER:
When did you have the first organized meeting of the Socialist Party?
CLAY EAST:
Well, the only thing that I could tell you about that, now, Mitch and Joe and Nunally, he had about twelve or fourteen that went in when they organized that and sent away and got a state charter. They had the first Socialist charter issued in Arkansas.
SUE THRASHER:
And what year was that?
CLAY EAST:
Well, it was, must of been in 1931, that's what I would guess.
SUE THRASHER:
But you weren't in on that…
CLAY EAST:
I wasn't in on that because I was running for constable at the time they first organized the party and got the charter and all, but as soon as the elction was over, then I joined the party and got a card, see.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, you think that was about 1931?

Page 70
CLAY EAST:
Yeah.
SUE THRASHER:
And then you started having regular meetings of the Socialist Party?
CLAY EAST:
Well, you see, at that time, we was instructed about how to hold meetings. They said to get a group together at home or something, see and discuss these things and talk them over and I guess at the time, then, theymight have met at my house. I wouldn't say for certain. After we got this going, we got the Odd Fellows Hall and had regular meetings in there. And that quite a long time before the union, see, and when we was in there, that was when Thomas…that had to be in the early part of 1932, and Thomas was campaigning. I don't know whether you know it or not, but he was traveling over the country to give an account of the way he was campaigning at the time. He and his wife was driving in an old Buick from city to city and so forth.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, at some point you had a state meeting of the Socialist Party in Tyronza, didn't you?
CLAY EAST:
Yes.
SUE THRASHER:
When was that, do you remember?
CLAY EAST:
Well, that was…it had to be along at that time. We moved pretty fast after we started moving. We didn't fool around.

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Well, it was when Thomas was there. I don't know whether you'd call that a state meeting or not, but we had this meeting, we had Thomas in there to speak and there was people from all over the state. They was there from Little Rock and Hot Springs and all over the state.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, Thomas spoke in Tyronza? And you arranged for him to have the schoolhouse?
CLAY EAST:
That's right.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, did he offer to stay? Did you take him around the state for a couple of days.
CLAY EAST:
No I took him around Tyronza for one day. But, he was back in there after that several times.
SUE THRASHER:
That first time, he only came when he was campaigning for president?
CLAY EAST:
Right.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, at the Socialist Party convention …that was the first state-wide meeting of the Socialist Party in Arkansas?
CLAY EAST:
On that state-wide meeting, I can't actually place that.
SUE THRASHER:
The reason I'm asking, is that J.R. me that he went to a state-wide meeting in Tyronza, and that's where he first met you and Mitch and heard rumors about the union. It may have been later.

Page 72
CLAY EAST:
No, that would have had to been before, I think…no, it might have been after Thomas was there. I suppose it must have been, I can't remember. But, Dr. William R. Amberson from the University of Tennessee, he was our most active participant. He attended more meetings over there at our socialist "locals" and so forth, more than any one person. That is…and make talks and all. He was over there quite often.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, did you organize an Unemployed League? Did the Socialist Party organize an Unemployed League about that same time?
CLAY EAST:
I don't know, we worked on that, but I can't remember anything called an Unemployment League. I don't believe that could have been done, because I was right there and very active in the socialist movement all the way through.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, what kind of things…did you have regular meetings at the Odd Fellows Hall every week?
CLAY EAST:
Yes.
SUE THRASHER:
And about how many people would come to those meetings?
CLAY EAST:
Anywhere from fifty, I'd say, to a hundred, hundred and fifty maybe.
SUE THRASHER:
From right around Tyronza?
CLAY EAST:
Yes. Oh, quite often we'd have people from some other surrounding town or something, but the most of them were local people.

Page 73
SUE THRASHER:
And what kind of meetings did you have? Did you have speakers and discuss issues?
CLAY EAST:
Yes.
SUE THRASHER:
Did you talk about what was happening in the country?
CLAY EAST:
Well, I guess I made about as many talks…
SUE THRASHER:
What would you talk about?
CLAY EAST:
Socialism.
SUE THRASHER:
Well, would you read one of the little books and talk about that?
CLAY EAST:
I'd just talk off the cuff. I had studied enough and I'd have what I was going to talk about pretty well lined out before I got up, see, and I knew what I was going to do and so forth. What I always made a practice of doing was to get up and tell stories that showed a comparison between socialism and capitalism and I'd always make fun and show how stupid and silly the capitalist system was and how much more sensible the socialist movement was. Production for use instead of profit and I was always getting enough of pamphlets and reading all the time that I never had any trouble getting up and finding something to talk about.
SUE THRASHER:
But you don't remember any Unemployed League or anything like that?
CLAY EAST:
No.

Page 74
SUE THRASHER:
Did the Socialist Party try to put for any programs or organize anything?
CLAY EAST:
Well at that time, they had the WPA, which was put out by the government, see. And, we always had suggestions or criticism about the way it was operated and there was plenty of room for it. But, I think mostly that what helped…for what we got for the unemployed, was through that. But, if we hadn't been setting back there, ready to critisize certain things that they did, I think that it would have made it much harder on people that were independent, see. In other words, they'd not have anything for them to do, not have a job or anything, have an excuse of somekind, but they didn't hardly dare do that on account of us boys keeping a close check on them.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, who were some of the strong members of the party? Was the Socialist Party…did it have black members? Were [unknown], Mr. Brookins, were they members of the party?
CLAY EAST:
I absolutely don't know and I can't remember now. Mitch tells about these things, but I can't remember any black people attending a socialist meeting. See, they didn't…uh, that was not started. Mixed meetings wasn't held back there until we started up with the union. So this was before the union and I just don't remember any black people being in there at all. I

Page 75
don't think there was, because at that time, it wasn't a practice. They didn't have colored people going to the white church or anything else. The only time, and that was one thing that I brought up… when they'd have a meeting of these farmers and so forth, farm workers and all, and they'd have a government man in there to explain this cotton acreage program. Of course, they'd have a certain section for the colored, but they had the colored in there and the white too. That was all right, that was the government, but they couldn't send a government man in there. And that was one of the things I brought out when I told them that we couldn't have two separate unions. Of course, I had that in mind and I even brought it up later saying that, "By God, you have mixed meetings when the government man comes in here, he can't go in here and have to talk to a bunch of white guys and then go down here to another set of them and talk to the black farmers." As I told you, there was quite a few black farmers around there, renters and so forth and they had to know what was going on in order to carry out this program.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, how many people came to hear Norman Thomas?
CLAY EAST:
All they could get in the school house auditorium and some standing. My estimate on it, and this is just rough, but I'd say five hundred people.

Page 76
SUE THRASHER:
What kind of response did you have? Did people like what he had to say?
CLAY EAST:
Which people are you talking about?
SUE THRASHER:
Well, the people who came to hear him.
CLAY EAST:
Hell, no. The planters and all was in there, see and the Emricks, Margaret Emrick, she was old man Emrick's oldest daughter and she married one of the Ritters. Ritter and Martry was another big outfit, they owned no telling how much land…millionaire class. But, anyway, Margaret Emrick married one of the Ritter boys…of course, it didn't work out so good, he took their kids out and drowned them and killed himself and he was one of the boys that sat in the car down by the railroad tracks for five nights, waiting for me to drive in there. He was one of the boys that was going to kill me… but…
SUE THRASHER:
So a lot of planters came to that meeting.
CLAY EAST:
Oh yeah.
SUE THRASHER:
Did they boo him or what?
CLAY EAST:
Oh no, they didn't do that, because I might have throwed them out of there. I was the law, see.
SUE THRASHER:
You were constable at that time. When did you get elected constable?
CLAY EAST:
At the election of 1932.

Page 77
SUE THRASHER:
Do you remember J.R. Butler running for governor of Arkansas? He ran on the Socialist Party ticket at about that time?
CLAY EAST:
Why sure. He was to run for governor and I run for sheriff. in Pointsett County and Mitchell was running for state representative.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, where was all this decided? Was that decided at some kind of socialist meeting that you had in Tyronza?
CLAY EAST:
No. It was decided by an old socialist over in Truman, Arkansas was the guy and I knew at the time…now Mitch has brought out this old law that they drug up. Well, they might have drug that up too, but there was some other things. We boys actually wasn't eligible for an office over there, and I told them even when they wanted me to come out for sheriff. I can't remember that old man's name and he was a strong socialist, an old man.
SUE THRASHER:
From Truman, Arkansas.
CLAY EAST:
Yeah. I'm ashamed, I've been to his house time and time again. The first time that I got a book from him, he let me have The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine. Not only that, he was a Mason. And he told me, said, "I am going to tell you what the distress signal for the Masons is. If a mob ever gets ahold of you…" He told me what to say and said that if there "was any Masons in

Page 78
the bunch, they're supposed to come in and help you." Doesn't make a damn what it was. He told me that he thought more of me than he did his lodge or anything else. So, he gave me that secret, see, all that was oral, they don't write this down, anyplace. But that old man gave me that thing.
SUE THRASHER:
Is the Odd Fellows Hall and Masonic hall or something different?
CLAY EAST:
No, no. The Odd Fellows is a different lodge, see, that's all. But, he was a Mason and you know what the Masonic lodge is, especially in the South, it's strong down there. And in fact, at that time, two-thirds of the damn policeman in Memphis belonged to the Masonic lodge.
SUE THRASHER:
Well, do you remember what kind of campaigns did the candidates carry on then?
CLAY EAST:
Yes. I had a card…
SUE THRASHER:
Now, this is the election of '32, but you hadn't started the union at that point.
CLAY EAST:
No. We were thinking of it. But, this, I guess was in '34. In fact, I know it was. See, they have a state election there every two years. General election was when I was elected constable.
SUE THRASHER:
In 1934?
CLAY EAST:
'32.

Page 79
SUE THRASHER:
1932.
CLAY EAST:
But I run for sheriff in '34.
SUE THRASHER:
Oh, I see. But now when did Butler run.
CLAY EAST:
Same time.
SUE THRASHER:
'34.
CLAY EAST:
Yeah.
SUE THRASHER:
So, this was right before you started your union.
CLAY EAST:
Yeah. Well, I had some red cards printed with my name and all on this and it said to "See What the Democratic Party Has Done for You" is, I believe, the way it was worded, "See the Other Side of this Card." It was a great big card, see and it was red. And when you turned the card over to look, there wasn't anything on it. And I went to Harrisburg, which was the county seat. And at this time, I was living in Memphis and I knew then that we didn't have a chance and I wasn't for coming out for sheriff.
SUE THRASHER:
You'd already moved to Memphis at that time?
CLAY EAST:
Yes.
SUE THRASHER:
From Bartlett?
CLAY EAST:
Yes. And so had Mitch.
SUE THRASHER:
So, you must have had a union office in Memphis, right?
CLAY EAST:
Mitch and them had a farm leased out there that a friend

Page 80
of mine over there who was on the conservative side had told him about. I took them to him and I had a station at Barlett, Tennesse, or just out from Bartlett, it was on the main highway and I see a word used in this Reader's Digest… this'll bring this up… about how I had big sign up on the side of it, had my name on three sides of it with big letters that you could see for half a mile. But, I had a sign under that, "We Don't Gyp Tourists" and a lot of people from back east and the north would get out and take pictures of that sign. They didn't even know what "gyp" means. I see in Reader's Digest it tells you how to keep from getting gyped and the damn service stations. So, I don't know if I started that or not.
SUE THRASHER:
But, I'm confused about the timing. This was '34. You actually had started the union.
CLAY EAST:
Oh, yes. Yes. We had been run out.
SUE THRASHER:
O.K. Let's go back and pick up the beginning of the union.
[END OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[TAPE 2, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE B]
SUE THRASHER:
O.K., I want you to go back and tell me exactly the way

Page 81
you remember the union getting started.
CLAY EAST:
Well, the way I remember the union getting started, Norman Thomas was over and I introduced him at the meeting out at the schoolhouse and I guess that we had…well, in the South, we call twelve o'clock "dinner"…when we had dinner at my home and I don't know why Mitchell didn't remember it, he was there. Of course, the town was full of people from all over the South. The just came in there…
SUE THRASHER:
To hear Norman Thomas?
CLAY EAST:
To hear Norman Thomas, yes. But, during the meal, Norman was the first one that planted that idea in our heads. He told me at that meeting, said "What you need here is a union." In other words, the Socialist Party wasn't going to be any help to these tenant farmers. This was after we had taken him out, see and shown him the conditions in the country and all. But, it was before he made his talk.
SUE THRASHER:
This was the one day that he spoke in Tyronza?
CLAY EAST:
That's right.
SUE THRASHER:
And you took him out around the countryside and showed him the farming?
CLAY EAST:
Yeah. We took him to these different farmers. There was one man in particular, we took him to his home…Boston. And

Page 82
that man was living there and working on a levee job forty miles away over on the Mississippi and driving forwards and backwards in an old piece of car every day. That's all the work he could get and they took pictures, there was a reporter from the press in Memphis and he covered Thomas while he was there. He was with us on this whole trip around. And he took pictures of Thomas and this Boston guy, he was at work but his family and all was there. Took pictures of his family and the house. They was having a real rough time, but he was a sharecropper and of course this wasn't crop season. He wasn't working in the crops at the time and he was working out. Most of those guys did when they could find a job. But, anyway, Thomas said that what we needed was a union in there. And that is where the idea originated, when Thomas told us that. So, after he left and we talked the thing over, Mitchell was actually the big planner in this deal. There was Mitch and myself and two other guys, I think probably Ward Rogers and possibly Nunnally. And we just driving around town and…
SUE THRASHER:
Do you remember the date when Norman Thomas spoke?
CLAY EAST:
If you want to cut this for a minute, I'll get it for you.
SUE THRASHER:
No, let's just go ahead and we'll get it later.
CLAY EAST:
I couldn't remember the date, but I have it. Well, anyway, Mitch had this thing even before we took that drive that night.

Page 83
He had these plans all figured out in his head and then he now tells that all this came up out at the meeting, which is wrong. Mitch had himself down as secretary and he had me down as president. And, I don't think at the time that he had any other officers or anything else in mind. Of course, that was a two-man deal anyway. And then, we had that meeting…we arranged to have this meeting out at this schoolhouse. We wasn't late, we all got out there. Of course, we was kind of slow getting started probably, but first one got up and make a talk and then another.
Nunally got up and made a talk, I remember and then I…
SUE THRASHER:
Was this the meeting at Fairview School?
CLAY EAST:
That's right.
SUE THRASHER:
Fairview Plantation?
CLAY EAST:
Yeah. But that school was across from the Fairview Plantation. That little plot of land, I don't know exactly who it belonged to, but it had been a school building, see. Then, after they had consolidated the schools, it was just setting there…land at that time didn't amount to much. They'd given it to someone, but I couldn't tell youwho that little block of land in there actually belonged to. But, it must have belonged to the county, that's what I think, because they operated the schools, see.

Page 84
SUE THRASHER:
Did you have to get permission from anybody to use the school?
CLAY EAST:
No. It was just an empty building and it was possible, in fact, I think that they did have some services of some kind there on Sunday mornings. I don't know whether it was colored or white people or what.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, how did you put the word out about that meeting?
CLAY EAST:
Oh, we just passed it around…see folks in town and so forth. We said we was going to have a meeting out at Sunnyside school.
SUE THRASHER:
To talk about what? Did you say you were going to talk about forming a union?
CLAY EAST:
Probably did, yes. In fact, I'm sure that's the word we would put out, because that's what the meeting was for. Of course, at that time, we had no further plans other than that Mitch would set the thing up for me to be the president and he was to be the secretary. And I told him at that time, I said, "Now, Mitch, I will go into this for one year, and that's all…" because I, well I don't know if I told him or not, but I had no intentions, I told them that, "I just don't want to be fighting allmy life." I said "Now, after one year, I'm going to get out and if one man getting out

Page 85
breaks up your union, well then, you don't have any organization anyways." Mitch has never mentioned that and there's been a number of people ask why I was out or what, but I got out because that's what I intended to do. But, after I got out, I was just as active in the union as I was before.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, go back and tell me some more about the meeting that night. What happened at the meeting?
CLAY EAST:
Well, first one and another got up and made a talk. There was probably half a dozen of us and a lot of times, we'd just get into a discussion. And one thing in particular that I remember, there was an old Englishman there, everybody called him Mr. Payne and he was originally from England and had worked in the coal mines in England and been in unions in England. And, I am almost certain that he was given some kind of duties to perform in the union. Almost certain that he was, but…and I can't remember definitedly about E.B. McKinney.
SUE THRASHER:
Was E.B. McKinney at that meeting?
CLAY EAST:
I don't even know if he was there or not, but I would think that he was. But, anyway, he wound up as vice-president…the main thing that we did at that meeting was we decided to have a union and we also decided and I don't care what Mitch says or anything, I was the one that got up and made the talk at the last

Page 86
and told them that all the sharecroppers and farmers, tenant farmers were working under the same conditions, the all ate the same kind of food, got the same kind of furniture and everything and their interests was the same, so there was no point…and I also brought out that we had had the meeting at the schoolhouse on that first acreage reduction deal, and it was amixed meeting. Of course, they had a section that they let the colored people set in and a section that they let the white people set in, but…
SUE THRASHER:
Now, this was a meeting that had been held prior to the meeting to organize the union?
CLAY EAST:
That's right. It was about the acreage reduction program.
SUE THRASHER:
Where people were told to plow up their cotton?
CLAY EAST:
Yes. They had to have an understanding about that. All of that was very much in favor of…now in that contract, it called the man that owned the land the producer, didn't make a damn whether he did any work or not, the government contract also stated that the way this was divided up should be decided between the producer and the tenants. And the check went to the producer, so he's sitting now with the check in his hand, well he can say, "You guys didn't have to pick this cotton. All you did was to plow it up, so you're not entitled to half of it." And a lot of them never did get anything. Well, since I was what in

Page 87
that section they called the law, that was a fair description of my position in there, because I was the only officer in that section. These people would come to me.
SUE THRASHER:
For you to get them their share of themoney?
CLAY EAST:
They'd come to me and tell me their troubles, see. Tell me that Mr. So-and-so got the check and he hadn't give me anything. The way that I saw it, they started out on the shares, and after this farmer had agreed to plow up this cotton, well, I figured that the sharecropper had carried out his part of the contract and I thought that he was entitled to half of it. And a good many of the farmers did, all of them didn't have trouble. Mostly the bigger ones and the most crooked ones and some of them would only give them a third, and as I said, a lot of them never did get anything out of it. I don't know just what the sharecropper could do. The man is setting there with the check and the money and he can go down and cash it. This guy doesn't have to sign it or anything, he goes down and cashes it and he's got the money in his hand. That was the way the government contract read, that this tenant has to make a deal with the producer.
SUE THRASHER:
Well, now, was that one of the things that was discussed that night at the union meeting?
CLAY EAST:
No, I don't think that was brought up at the union meeting.

Page 88
The only thing that we talked about particularly there was the union and of course, it came up before we went out there. We hadn't given it much thought whether it was going to be two unions or mixed or what…at least I hadn't and I don't think the others had. So, that was one of the discussions that came up.
SUE THRASHER:
Now when you said that it would be difficult to have two unions because of meetings and so forth, did you understand or know that there would be a lot of trouble?
CLAY EAST:
Oh, postively. Yes, I knew that, but I had already been more or less in trouble as the law. Because I respected every man no matter what color he was and I would serve a warrent or have a man arrested for abusing or doing something to a colored man just as quick as if he'd done it to a white man. I was a different kind of law. They hadn't ever had that experience in there before and when Joe and I was boys, growing up, we used to talk about the way that Mac Howard, who was the constable then, and then they had an old lawyer there, Aaron MacMullen, about the way they treated the colored people, see. They just treated them anyway. They had a lot of advantages in some ways over white people. If a colored guy killed another colored guy, they never would do anything to him hardly. And if he was a pretty good worker… I know of one instance in particular, that was a colored guy that

Page 89
worked on the section gang, he was from Deckerville and he had a woman and he caught another guy in bed with her and he killed both of them, he shot, I can't remember whether he shot the man or the woman, but then he broke the stock off the gun and beat the other one to death, though. And they did, they sent him to the penitentary and the boss man needed him on the farm…he worked on the farm when he wasn't working on the section, he was a good worker. So, he went and got him out, they never did have any trouble getting a man out, a black man, because they didn't want them in the penitentary anyway…if he killed another black man. So, they had a lot of advantages over the whites…
SUE THRASHER:
Well, what was the…do you remember very much of the discussion that night as to whether it should be a black or white union? Do you remember this guy Ike Shaw being at the meeting?
CLAY EAST:
No.
SUE THRASHER:
Do you remember anybody raising the situation in Elaine, Arkansas?
CLAY EAST:
Oh yes, I remember that. The reason I remember that so well, I worked for a year before this down at Helena.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, at the meeting, did anybody raise this?
CLAY EAST:
That's what I'm telling you. When I worked at Helena, it's only thirty miles from Elaine, see and I heard all the stories about

Page 90
Elaine which had just happened when I was working in Helena, one or two years before. I worked down there, so naturally I remember that well. Of course, I heard altogether a different version at Helena. And I will say this, those people at Helena was really scared of the black folks. They're still scared of them. Now, if you want this information, I could give it to you right quick.
SUE THRASHER:
What?
CLAY EAST:
About Elaine.
SUE THRASHER:
I want to know, first what was said at the meeting about Elaine?
CLAY EAST:
Well, this guy that said he was at Elaine at the time and got out of that thing…that was the biggest thing he said and of course, the rest of the people at that time…
SUE THRASHER:
Was that Ike Shaw?
CLAY EAST:
I am poor at remembering names, unless it was someone that had a really active part and so forth, so I wouldn't say what his name was. But, I remember the colored man getting up and telling about Elaine, that he was down there when this happened and so forth.
SUE THRASHER:
About how long did that meeting go on that night?
CLAY EAST:
Oh, I'd say it went on…I would think that we started in around seven and I don't believe that we got out of there until sometime after nine o'clock.

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SUE THRASHER:
Was there any opposition from inside for forming a union? Did people understand what a union was…had they worked in any kind of union before?
CLAY EAST:
Yes, well…no, as I told you, that colored guy and old man Payne and a number of guys had been in unions and had experiences like that, see and that was the type of people that we had down there. And, most of these things that come up, not particularly about a union and so forth, but the importance of organization, particularly at socialist meetings, see. Any man that belonged to the socialist party and most of those white tenant farmers and so forth that was at that meeting, I would say that all of them…I can't remember just how many there was, but as I remember it, it was about fifty-fifty About half white and half black. But, there wasn't any particularly strong dissent against even the mixed union. They didn't…they just hadn't given it much thought and when I got up there and explained this thing to them, and our position and all, and one thing that I helped to convince them was that I pointed out was that we'd have speakers in there and we couldn't have two separate organizations, because…for instance, Mary Hillyard, she came in there and we'd have had to have a place for black meeting and a place for white meeting and it just wouldn't work out. And, we

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had to have an understanding among the union members, and you couldn't have much understanding if you had two separate unions. So, we didn't have any complications to amount to anything about that. I got up and I was pretty hot by that time and it was, as I said, getting up pretty late and I told them we'd come down here to decide what or whether we was going to have a union or not and if we was going to have one, well, let's make up our mind and get some members in here. So, I took in the first members. They started signing some cards, we had some cards and all there and these guys joined up.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, when you left the meeting that night at nine o'clock, you'd made the decision to have a union, had you named it the Southern Tenant Farmers Union?
CLAY EAST:
I don't know for certain whether we did or not and I think that Mitchell was the one that brought up the idea of Southern Tenant Farmers Union. And it could possibly have been Butler, but I think Mitchell brought it up.
SUE THRASHER:
And at the end of that meeting, had you made decisions to go out and try to organize other people in the area or what? What happened next?
CLAY EAST:
Well, as I remember, I doubt if we at that meeting if we made any plans ahead. By that time, these people were coming in

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to see Mitchell and myself, see, we was right there together and they'd come in and talk it over with us and we'd ask them, "Well, can you get the folks together out in you section?" So, I think that the first meeting that we had after that…see, we had to, Butler had to go in and get the corporation papers and all for this thing to be legal. And, frankly, I wasn't the least bit familiar with things like that, I'd never experienced anything like that and it took someone that did have some idea and Butler was pretty smart along that line. And, of course, he had been a school teacher in his section back over there and he was a good square guy. So, he went over there and he must have been fairly influential, because he…they didn't have any sharecropper situation over there, so it didn't make any difference to them if …if we'd a tried that through our county seat or something, they'd blocked it right now. Just like they did when we came up for election there, on the party.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, did word immediately spread about that meeting and the fact that there had been a union organized?
CLAY EAST:
Well, I don't think so. Where it spread from there…the first meeting that I can recount was held over north of town. Now, this was three miles south of Tyronza.

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SUE THRASHER:
The Fairview one?
CLAY EAST:
Yes. We went over in a different section to a Negro church and Butler was there and Mitch was there and myself and possibly another speaker or so, I don't know. But, at those meetings and that one over there…when we had a good turnout possibly a hundred to a hundred and fifty tenant people in there. And just before we got the meeting started, here come one of the big planters from over there, Mr. Sloan. Kester's ([unknown]) got him down in his book by some other name and hell, his name's Sloan and I wrote to Mitch and they've called him by some other name all the way through Kester's book, he's got it wrong. Because, I knew the man, hell, I've sold him gasoline and I knew his managers and all over there.
SUE THRASHER:
Why did Sloan come to the meeting?
CLAY EAST:
He came in with a couple of big deputies see, with their pistols buckled on them and he just come marching in there. He wanted to see what was going on. Well, you don't know how a lot of those colored people felt back there when the boss man comes in and sees them at a union meeting. They was a little bit shaky, but I'll say this, that the colored guys back there, if anything, were more solid than the whites. They'd go ahead and sacrifice and

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get killed or beat up or anything else before they'd give up.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, did Sloan just sit in the back of the meeting?
CLAY EAST:
Oh no. He walked in and Mitch ordered him out. He wanted…I got up and made a talk to kind of quieten these folks down. They was kind of excited about these law and all this stuff walking in there and I told them, "Now, if you're worried about Mr. Sloan and his men being in here…", I had a big six-shooter on and a pretty bad reputation if I do say it, not bad reputation, but they knew that I wouldn't do to fool with. So, I got up and told them that "If you folks are going to be scared because your boss has walked in here and so forth, just quieten down, now this thing is perfectly legal. We've got corporation papers and we got our constitution…" Well, he wanted a copy of this, Mr. Sloan did. So, Mitch, I wouldn't even have done that, but he says, "Well, if you've got ten cents, you can have one," see, so he sold him a copy of the constitution or something. And then Mitch proceeded to tell him, said, "Well, you folks are not eligible for membership in this, so we'll ask you to leave." And, I have often wondered what he would have done if Sloan had refused. But, at the time, he got up and walked out. He and his men went trudging out of there with his six-shooters and all, see.

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SUE THRASHER:
And you signed up the people in that meeting?
CLAY EAST:
Oh man, we got a raft of them in that thing. I would say that we signed up…I'd generally make the closing talk and when I got through, I was a good salesman. But, you didn't need much. Those folks were in a bind and they was being mistreated and when you got up and pointed these things out to them, why youdidn't have much trouble signing them up. Practically all the people that came to meetings signed up.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, that was the second meeting that you remember?
CLAY EAST:
I'm almost certain that that was the second meeting. In fact, it was the firstbig meeting that was held.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, you went to that meeting with Mitch. Was Nunnally at that meeting? and Butler?
CLAY EAST:
Oh yeah, I know Butler was there and I'm quite sure that Nunnally was there. Nunnally and Butler and myself, anytime we was meeting, we always made the main talks. I made the best talk. Of course, Nunnally was one of the guys and Butler was a good talker and a sincere man and he the people's interest at heart. That's what he was in it for.
SUE THRASHER:
After that, how did the union spread. I heard that there would be different meetings in different little towns throughout the area and that also locals would send names into the office when they'd hear about these unions.

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CLAY EAST:
Well, frankly, Mitch was secretary, so all of that was handled by him.
SUE THRASHER:
Did he begin by working almost full time for the union, right away?
CLAY EAST:
Well, no…
SUE THRASHER:
Or did he still try to run his try to run his office…
CLAY EAST:
He was running his dry cleaning outfit and doing this work in between there in the dry cleaning plant, see.
SUE THRASHER:
We you all still having Socialist Party meetings at the Odd Fellows Hall?
CLAY EAST:
I can't remember for certain. After we got this union started, no, I think we dropped that all together, because we realized that Thomas was right. That was the reason that the old man at Truman, he was the one that wanted me in particular to come out for sheriff. And, of course, by that time…this thing moved fast.
SUE THRASHER:
Well, tell me some more about how it moved. Would you hear of meetings being held?
CLAY EAST:
No, they was more or less arranged. Mitch, I imagine…and people would write in and ask for a meeting.
SUE THRASHER:
Were you going to meetings several nights a week?

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CLAY EAST:
Ordinarily not. We didn't hardly ever, as far as I can remember, have over one meeting a week.
SUE THRASHER:
But those were in different places.
CLAY EAST:
Different places, different locations. We had a meeting then at another…we generally had them at churches, little country church buildings, see and they was generally colored churches.
SUE THRASHER:
Were most of the union members black? Would you say more of them were black than white?
CLAY EAST:
I would think so. Far as that's concerned, I'm confident that the majority of the sharecroppers there were black. In fact, I know that when I was a boy, I just looked around for no particular reason, but I figured that the majority of people therewere black. I'd say sixty percent.
SUE THRASHER:
When did the people in Missouri and Oklahoma first get into the union? Or when did you first hear from others…?
CLAY EAST:
I never was in…I wasn't in the union at that time. Now, we had an odd thing happen. Up in Missouri, just across the line from Arkansas, there was two men and they had one of the gins, there were two gins in Tyronza, and they had one of the gins in Tyronza and they were trying to spread out, they traded from me, they was customers of mine, see. And, they were…I don't know

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what section of the country they was from, but anyway, they went up in there and bought a gin…and I'm trying to think of the name of the life insurance outfit that owned practically all that land up in there. They had cotton, all of it, just all of it. So, these …they wouldn't allow their farmers, sharecroppers, tenants…they wouldn't allow them to gin any where except at their gin, see. So, these two men that owned the gin at Tyronza had bought the gin up there. And they asked me to have us boys come up there and organize that damn country. Organize these farmers up there, so they could gin where they damn please. And Mitch and Imade a trip up there. That's some big gin guys up there…can't think of there names.
SUE THRASHER:
Why would they have been interested in you organizing a union?
CLAY EAST:
So that the men could have a little freedom of choice of where they wanted to gin. They was organized, a lot of them wanted to gin with them, but the insurance company said that you were going to gin over here, see. And they could give them maybe better rates and maybe a better deal and maybe give them more for their cottonseed. There was a lot of things that could deal in there. REbate was a…that's what you got paid for your cottonseed when you gin a bale of cotton…why from maybe 1500 pounds of

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cotton, you get maybe a 500 pound bale of cotton, see, and the rest of it was cottonseed. And you sell it and it goes to the cotton mill, see and so forth, that is if it did happen to be seed cotton. That rebate was a pretty big deal, especially as they got cash for that. Well, the cotton was held until the last, it was sold to a cotton buyer. But, when you gin, you get a ticket for the seed and, a rebate ticket, so youcan go cash that in then. So, it was a pretty big item and where one outfit owned all the gins, why they paid what they wanted to for this cottonseed. But, I had almost forgotten that, I think one of those guys names was Dickson. Now, Mitch should remember those things, of course, he's been in that thing so long and done so many different things, there's a lot of it thatslips his mind.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, tell me about other things though that would happen? Try back to remember, you know, when other people would write you. Where you would hear about the locals being formed, or what else happened during that first year you were the president.
CLAY EAST:
Well, I absolutely couldn't tell you, because I didn't do any of this unless it was something out of the ordinary that Mitch wanted to show me and he wasn't too good about that. Mitch was damn near as secretive as Nixon.
SUE THRASHER:
You mean that he would be going to meetings and organizing and you would…

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CLAY EAST:
Oh hell, no. No, I never did no of him organizing a meeting and he was a damn poor talker and wasn't a convention talker, but at the same time, the members depended on him, he done a lot of writing. He was writing all the time and he'd answer letters and so forth. Folks would write in and he'd see that they got an answer and something done about it.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, were you beginning to get contributions from the Socialist Party people in New York, or was anything like that coming into the union at that point?
CLAY EAST:
Well, Mitchell also attended to all of that. I never did know. I knew that Norman Thomas was raising money for the union up there but it was all sent in to Mitchell.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, when did you move to Bartlett? About how long after you helped start the union?
CLAY EAST:
Well, I would…that union hadn't been started too long when these guys, they saw that we meant business in there and goddamn, they was going to break that thing up. And, they started in right then to do it and of course, that what after that I had moved to Memphis that they shot up Carpenter's house. A whole bunch of cars out there and Carpenter went to the door and had a six-shooter in his hand.

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SUE THRASHER:
Now, Carpenter was in your union?
CLAY EAST:
Yeah, he was the attorney.
SUE THRASHER:
From Marked Tree?
CLAY EAST:
Yes.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, when had you first hired Carpenter to be your lawyer?
CLAY EAST:
He was the first lawyer that we hired when Brookins was beaten up in the Marion jail and we got him to go up there and get Brookins and maybe a few other guys, but Brookins was the main one that went up there. And after Carpenter took that case and they shot up his house and they shot up E.B. McKinney's house and I think they shot one of his boys…
SUE THRASHER:
McKinney lived in Marked Tree?
CLAY EAST:
He lived just out of Marked Tree.
SUE THRASHER:
And Carpenter lived in Marked Tree.
CLAY EAST:
Carpenter was an old resident of Marked Tree and was Sunday School supertindent and a strong church man.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, his name was C.T. Carpenter?
CLAY EAST:
C.T. Carpenter, yeah. And after they shot up his house, he figured they would be back and I was living in Tennessee and he knew that I hunted a lot and I had a Browning automatic shotgun so he and his son, Knight, made a trip from Marked Tree over to my station at Bartlett to borrow that gun and some buckshot. So, I

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let them have my gun, my Browning automatic and one of them slept up in the front of the house, in the front room…they intended to shoot anybody that come up there after that first night. And, well, they kept my damn gun so long and I didn't want those guys to come over to Tennesse and get us anyway, and so I made a trip over to Marked Tree. And, of course, Marked Tree was thirty-five miles out of Memphis and I lived ten miles the other side of Memphis so I had to drive about fifty miles over there to get my shotgun. But, I went through Tyronza, this was after I'd closed the station in Memphis, and I went through Tyronza and went by and got my mother just to be with her and take her for a ride. I still wasn't scared, because I figured that I was better than those guys and I always had a gun or two with me. Most of the time, two pistols. And I wasn't against violence myself, I was against violence for the union and I wrote Howard Curlin, the sheriff there, about that…but I always figured I'd beat those guys to it. I didn't care much.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, you went to Marked Tree to see Carpenter.
CLAY EAST:
I went to see him to get my gun and I…when I knocked on the door, man he cut that porch light on and I had to tell him who I was because he was standing there with a gun when he opened it. And he said, "My God, you mean you drove up here to Marked Tree. If they find you up here, they'll kill you for sure." And I told

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him, "Maybe they won't find me." He said, "Old man Hazel up here, he's watching this house and all to see who comes here to see me. He's looking for somebody. Man, you're taking a terrible chance." Still never did scare me, but I…Carpenter, boy, he was frantic, I'm telling you.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, was Carpenter a socialist?
CLAY EAST:
No. He was a just man and he saw an injustice that was being done to the farm people in that country. I don't think he was ever too particular about a black man. I never even discussed it with him and he never brought it up and I wouldn't say he was a racist or anything. But, he was the man…his father, now that all appeared in these articles in this magazine…and I think, possibly that was Harper's, but I know there was at least three of those articles in there and they must have contained ten or fifteen pages each one of them…about the conditions there in Arkansas.
SUE THRASHER:
Do you remember when Carpenter wrote those articles/
CLAY EAST:
Yes…
SUE THRASHER:
Did it come later?
CLAY EAST:
It came when I was in Memphis and it had to come about 1935, I would say.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, do you remember when Ward Rogers was arrested in

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Marked Tree? Did that happen while you were still working with the union?
CLAY EAST:
Yes, that was right at the first of it.
SUE THRASHER:
Had a delegation already been sent to Washington?
CLAY EAST:
No.
SUE THRASHER:
What happened in Marked Tree, then?
CLAY EAST:
I wasn't there.
SUE THRASHER:
Well, do you remember what happened?
CLAY EAST:
Yes, I know. They had a talk…now, Ward, naturally, was considered an outsider and he was of course, a strong socialist, and I guess he, I don't know what his ideas were and so forth, but I know that he got up at that meeting and…he was a rabble-rouser. He liked to stir up trouble, it seemed to me and I just didn't go along for that stuff. I, at the time, I felt like that thing could be worked out peacefully, but that was before they started shooting up the meetings and so forth. However, I realized from the very beginning that we was going to have a lot of trouble with these rough guys…element. These managers for these farms and they had a way in that country, just like old man Sloan, he's a big politican, so he can go over there and tell Harve Landers, "I want a deputy card for so-and-so", and that was all they was to it…"Why sure, Mr. Sloan, here you are." And they'd go in and

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make it out and hand it to him. That's all they had to do, just go in there and ask for it.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, why was Rogers arrested?
CLAY EAST:
He got up and made this statement that he could get a group of these union members here and go out and hang a bunch of these planters right now. Got up and made that statement at a meeting up there and a bunch of these folks…and the prosecuting attorney Stafford, was there and he was one of the worst in the country, and had a secretary there, taking all this down and Ward get up and make a statement like that. That was stupid.
SUE THRASHER:
He made this statement at a meeting of the union?
CLAY EAST:
It wasn't at the union, it was out on the street as I remember it. They had a square out in the center of town, and that's where I understand where it was.
SUE THRASHER:
Was it some kind of rally or meeting?
CLAY EAST:
Well, more or less. They didn't have any trouble getting there. Any time at night, they'd just say there was a speaker there and well, they'd tell one or two union members and they'd get word around to the rest of them before you'dknow it.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, Mitch recalls that there was a delegation just returning from Washington, who came to that square then.
[END OF TAPE 2, SIDE B]

[TAPE 2, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 3, SIDE A]

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CLAY EAST:
I do not remember, even while I was in there, about the delegation being sent from Washington. And I think that was quite a long time after that, after we had even moved out of Tyronza. I think we was in Memphis when Mitch got that bunch together and went to Washington. But, I wasn't there and I wasn't implicated in any way and I don't think I was back there at that time. I think I was possibly in Arizona.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, was there a strike during that first year, when you were working with the union?
CLAY EAST:
I wasn't in the union when that strike was called, but I was still working with the union and after…at the time they had that strike, they picked up a bunch of the union members and they picked up one boy that came down from Washington. He'd only been there one day, drove down. And he was with Workers Alliance, affiliated with them. And they had him in jail.
SUE THRASHER:
Do you remember his name?
CLAY EAST:
I can't think of it. You'd have to ask Mitch what his name is, he knows him. But, anyway, he was the boy…they had him and a bunch

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of colored folks and they put them in jail over at Marion.
SUE THRASHER:
That was not the same time that Brookins was put in jail?
CLAY EAST:
No, no. This was…no, not at Marion, but at Forrest City.
SUE THRASHER:
At Forrest City.
CLAY EAST:
Yeah, that was in Cross County, see.
SUE THRASHER:
About what time was this? After you were living in Memphis?
CLAY EAST:
Yes. Now, I was living in Memphis and I had been to Arizona and had come back to Memphis and had got another station there. I had come to Arizona and I took a job that a boy was to have when he returned from some schooling that he was taking and when he come back, well, that let me out, so I come back to Memphis and got another station.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, this man from the Workers Alliance and two or three black people were in jail at Forrest City?
CLAY EAST:
It was ten or fifteen.
SUE THRASHER:
Why had they been put in jail?
CLAY EAST:
For exciting to riot and they put this boy in for no driver's license. He had a Washington driver's license, but he didn't have an Arkansas driver's license, see. They had a bunch of trumped up charges against him. And, we couldn't get a lawyer in Memphis to take the case and I don't Mitchell ever contacted this attorney and I cannot even remember his name. But I was the man that went over to

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Little Rock and picked this man up. I had a fast automobile and I still wasn't scared to go into Arkansas. Most of those guys…when a union man went into Arkansas, he was taking a good chance of getting killed or at least beat up. And I went and got this lawyer from Little Rock and…
SUE THRASHER:
What was the lawyer's name?
CLAY EAST:
I don't know, but his father…his father was the, one of the attorneys…he's a judge in New York now, but he was one of the attorneys that defended the Scottsboro boys.
SUE THRASHER:
His father is a judge in New York.
CLAY EAST:
His father was on t.v. about two or three years ago and was on t.v., but he's retired. But he was a judge in New York. At that time he was an attorney in Alabama and he took the Scottsboro boys case.
SUE THRASHER:
That was not Carpenter?
CLAY EAST:
Oh no. No.
SUE THRASHER:
Was his name Moody?
CLAY EAST:
It possibly could have been, I couldn't say for certain. Because he didn't get the men out, they mobbed him and I think beat him up some and they took the state rangers…
SUE THRASHER:
Do you remember the date of this? Was it in '36?
CLAY EAST:
No, I think it was…it's possibly '36. '35 or '36. I know

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I was driving a '35 Terplane ([unknown]) at the time and they came out with a headline at the time, big top, all the way across the Press about Memphis merchant or something like that, drives from Forrest City, Arkansas into Memphis at ninety-five miles an hour and that's what I was doing. And they had the state rangers in, one was riding with me and they had two behind and I shoved Camel …he was the man who got these guys…they come into jail and got me and this mob just took me anyway.
SUE THRASHER:
When you went into Forrest City, the lawyer went into the courthouse and tried to get themen…he went to the jail or the courthous?
CLAY EAST:
He went to the courthouse and the men came up for trial and this boy that was on trial, he told this attorney, said "Don't make any plea for me. They gone get all of us. Don't put up a plea, don't make any argument for me." And he was a nice big strong-looking guy. The guy didn't and it was so tense, I was setting in the back of the courtroom myself and an old colored guy passed by and there was this old cripple man setting there with a damn walking cane and he hit at him just as hard as he could and man that thing was so tense that you could just feel it in the air. I knew it was bad.
SUE THRASHER:
This was the trial, then?
CLAY EAST:
Yeah, this was at the trial. And that lawyer, he didn't…

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this guy told him, this boy from the Workers Alliance told him, said "Don't do a damn thing for me, this thing is just too bad." He realized that, but he had been in jail down there several days.
SUE THRASHER:
Was this lawyer's name Brodski?
CLAY EAST:
That attorney?
SUE THRASHER:
Leobowitz or Brodski?
CLAY EAST:
Brodski sounds more like it. Yeah, yeah. But, well, when I went out of the courthouse. When this attorney left, there was a damn mob following them, a bunch that was in a group, see. And they followed him down to my car which was parked down there. And this lawyer went right down to it and I was talking to you about being brave, well, when I started to walk down there…I knew I was going to have to go, but they went all through my car after that. They took the seat cushions and went all through it and that thing… and when this mob, I started down there and this guy took off and the mob turned on me.
SUE THRASHER:
The lawyer took off.
CLAY EAST:
He took off, said he went down to a cafe to get something to eat and the guys went and took him out of that damn cafe and I understood, beat him up andput him on a bus and told him, "Don't you ever come back into Forrest City, or we'll kill you." Well, this mob, Bunch, he led this mob on me, telling them all I had done.

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He said I had been off with my best friend's wife and there was this boy that sent me this clipping there about Bunch getting killed, Benton Moore? He's a good friend of mine. Well, it was his wife and she was at Midland, Texas and hell, I was in Miami, seven or eight hundred miles from there. I never saw her and knew nothing about her. Mildred and I was just good friends, Benton and the whole works of us. But this Bunch, he had that mob ready…well, they was backing me up, they was on me and they was hollering, "Kill the son of a bitch" and all this kind of stuff. And I was backing up, and I backed into a kind of ditch and I fell on my back and when I fell, I had my head up against a hedge and these guys was trying to get a hold of me and I was just laying on my hips and I'd wheel and kick one and every time one would get close to me, I'd kick the hell out of him. I was kicking them and them and they couldn't get up. And some big guy, never did know who he was, he got right straddle of me and told these guys, said, "Get the hell off of him. Leave him alone." Well, I got up and they was hollering "Kill him!" and all that kind of damn stuff and I told them, "Now, listen. If I've violated any kind of law or done anything, then put me in jail." I could see that they didn't have much of a leader and the jail was just right up there behind the courthouse, it was all adjoining.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, were the sharecroppers and the Workers Alliance man

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still in the jail?
CLAY EAST:
Yeah, they was in the jail. So, they was in there when I got there and that Workers Alliance man said, "Goddamn." Said, "I've been in here seventy-two hours, but I won't be in here seventy-two more." He knew what the set-up was. Well, they got them into this office and Sheriff Campbell had gone off to eat or something, but he walked in about that time and I squared off and these guys was still trying to get to me and I squared off in the corner and the sheriff come in and opened the damn jail door, now Mitch said to beat me up, but that was all a damned lie, but then, he's always exaggerating stuff like that, but they put me in that jail and then there's a door that come in the frontand another one in the side, just a little-bitty old office, wasn't but about as half big as that thing there, hardly. And these guys, they was just marching through there and saying, "Godddamn, we'll hang you tonight. We'll break your neck.", and all this kind of stuff. And, some of the damn students from the schools, some gals come in there and I could see they thought "Why, that's a damn shame to hang that nice looking boy like that." And an old boy that I went to school with down in Blue Mountain, was a bookeeper for someone up there and he come in and…he never did speak to me and I didn't say anything to him and I could see him shaking his head to think,

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"By God, old Clay's one of the top boys at school and to think he's in something like this." And they was calling me "nigger-lover" and all that stuff.
SUE THRASHER:
Do you remember why these people had been put in jail?
CLAY EAST:
Sure, for this strike.
SUE THRASHER:
Exciting to riot.
CLAY EAST:
Exactly. They just picked them up for anything, but this Workers Alliance guy, they had all kind of charges against him.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, was the Workers Alliance guy name Dave Benson?
CLAY EAST:
I think so, yes.
SUE THRASHER:
And was the lawyer's name Moody?
CLAY EAST:
I didn't thinkit was Moody. I think it was a Jewish name.
SUE THRASHER:
Was it Brodski?
CLAY EAST:
I think so. In fact, I'm quite certain it was. If it had been Moody, I think I would have remembered it.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, your in jail at this point.
CLAY EAST:
Yes, I'm in jail.
SUE THRASHER:
Are you able to talk to Benson and the others?
CLAY EAST:
Hell, they wasn't in the mood for talking. The black men had all backed off in the damn corner and old Benson was sick, he was flat sick, because he knew they was going to get all of us when they

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brought me in. He knew he had gone too. They wasn't any question in his mind. Well, Sheriff Campbell come in there and asked me, said …of course, he knew I was the deputy sheriff over in Pointsett County and so forth…knew I was a good family and all and he didn't want this damn thing. He was afraid he might be getting in a little trouble about that. If I'd been a flat stranger, he just might have made a different story and that's one way I always had it figured. I could do better by myself than I could with someone with me. He come in there and asked me, said "East, would you like to get out of here?" And I told him, "Why sure, I haven't done a damn thing. I haven't violated any law. They got no right to put me in jail." So, he said, "Well, we're gonna take the state rangers and take you out." I told him, "Well, o.k." Well, that's when this boy spoke up and said, "Clay, you're a damn fool if you go out of here. They're just laying a trap for you. If you go out of here, they'll get you just sure as a whirl." And I told him, "Well, I'll take a chance on that. I'm going out." He sure didn't feel good, I'm telling you. Well, there were three of these guys. There was a captain and two other guys, all in uniform. Well, when we started out of there, this guy caught me in the belt with his hand, this way, see. And I guess that…we'll they started out…he told me that afterwards. We

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started out to the car. And when we got to the car, these damn guys had my cushions all out of there. They sat on pegs and all in there and I straightened them out and those damn rangers didn't feel too good and they said, "Get the hell in that damn car. Don't be fooling with it." And, they had a Plymouth and it was parked right in behind me. I still wasn't scared, I didn't believe that any damn guys would get me, somehow. So, that's what I'm telling you, that ain't bravery, you've got nothing to be brave about. The only time that I was afraid, was when I walked down there with that damn lawyer. Man, I really hated to go down there with that lawyer, because I knew these guys was fixing to nail me. And, I had sat in that courtroom when I could feel that tension. You've never been in anything like that, I don't imagine. It was terrible. Everybody in there was so damn tight. Well, anyway, we got in the car and started out and one of these deputies walked out there…he lived in West Memphis, and I can't think…Bragg, no, he lived at Bragg…well, anyway, this deputy walked out and said, "What's going on here?" And I started to kind of slow down and this damn ranger said, "Step on that gas. I'll run over you if you don't get out of the way." So, he got out of theway and we started out.
SUE THRASHER:
The rangers were state troopers?

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CLAY EAST:
Yeah. So, we started out of there and…toward Memphis, and he said, "Get on that damn gas. You've got good tires, don't you?" I said, "Yeah, but they aren't too damn good." They was pretty slick, but I didn't tell him. So, we started out and he said, "Will this damn thing run?" And I told him, "You're damn right." He said, "Well, get on it." By that time, the captain and this other guy was following us and they already had two or three carloads of guys and they was on the road after us. So, I told this guy, I said, "Now, if those guys catch up with us, they're ain't a damn bit of use of you getting hurt. You either give it to me or give me a chance to get that damn gun of yours and I'll get out and get away from you and you won't get shot." Those guys was really gonna shoot us up. And he said, "They're not getting by the captain back there." He said, "I'm telling you this. We've started out to take you into Memphis and that's where we're going to take you." But, I still figured they'd get us at West Memphis, but they didn't and there wasn't anybody else that showed up. And after we got to the bridge, the guy got out on this end of the bridge and I thanked him for taking me in there and I went right down to the Press Centimeter and told them about what had happened and they come out in the paper that afternoon with big headlines about what had happened over there.

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Well, I went out to the station and I had a colored boy working for me, Alec Carlisle, and he was a mulatto, damn smart as he could be. And, I drove up there and he had already heard about this thing. I think they had broadcast it over the radio and so forth. So, he come in and told me, "Mr. Clay, I got a pump gun and I got a buddy down here and he's got a good pump gun. If you want to go over there and get them folks, we'll go over there tonight. I know we ain't going to get back. But we'll go get them." I told him, "Alec, that's not worth a damn, going off over there and getting killed, so you just forget that kind of stuff." But, this showed how those folks was and he wasn't interested in the sharecropper's union or nothing, just knew how I was.
SUE THRASHER:
How strong would youestimate the union was at this time. About how many members did you have? This is what, late 1935?
CLAY EAST:
At that time, they had a good strong union in Forrest City.
SUE THRASHER:
Were the people who were in jail in Forrest City from that area?
CLAY EAST:
Yes, they was from that county, see. Now, I had a picture of those guys marching out there. It's in that anniversary deal, there. They was striking for a dollar. But, they had a good strong union, but Mitch and a lot of those guys…well, I don't know if

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they would or not…they said that if those…if the union had known that those guys up there were going to turn on us, well, they would have had a bunch of folks up there. Now, whether they would have done it or not, I don't know. The only case I know of is what they told me about the meeting at Marked Tree where those guys lined up in the back.
SUE THRASHER:
Can you remember any other major incidents that happened that year while you were still working with the union?
CLAY EAST:
Now, understand that at that time, I wasn't the president of the union. J.R. Butler was, see.
SUE THRASHER:
So this must have been…
CLAY EAST:
I was just helping out, because I had…and frankly, there just wasn't anyone else to do it. Now then, I might also tell you this. You're going to wonder what ever happened to that boy, how they got him out of jail. They finally contacted a lawyer in Arkansas at Helena.
SUE THRASHER:
You never saw Moody again after that, or rather, Brodski.
CLAY EAST:
That was the last time, that's all. I doubt if he ever went back to Forrest City, because, he run into it rough. Now, when we was at the William Lynn Hotel, as I told you before, I had a 380 Colt automatic and when we went to bed that night, well…

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SUE THRASHER:
This is the night before the trial?
CLAY EAST:
Yeah, before we went to Forrest City. And I can't remember what I did with that, but he told me that if I was going to take a gun over there, he wasn't going with me. Said, "I'm not for that. I don't think it would be fair for you to take a gun over there and get me killed to." So, I had to leave my gun, and I guess it's fortunate that I did.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, what happened to Benson?
CLAY EAST:
They hired this lawyer from Helena, Arkansas. They couldn't get a Memphis lawyer to go over there for nothing. Man, they wouldn't cross that river. Not for the union. But, Mitch, I'm quite certain that it was Mitch, contacted someone and found out about this guy some way and he said that hell yes, he'd take the case. And he took it and went to Forrest City and this damn gang ganged up on him and he told them, "You men are a bunch of fools. I'm attorney, I'm working for a living. I don't care nothing about them niggers and 'croppers in there. All I'm interested in is in the money. I've put in a lot of time in school and been out a lot of expense in order to make a living being an attorney. I don't care nothing about th ese people." And, they let the damn fool go ahead and plead the case and got these guys out.
SUE THRASHER:
Was that the truth or was that just his way of…
CLAY EAST:
That was his way of getting around it and whether it was the

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truth or not, I don't know, but anyway, he put it across. I couldn't swear about when a man's telling the truth and when he's not. But that was the way… he was a smart lawyer, see and that's the way he put it. He put it over.
SUE THRASHER:
Do you want to go back and tell me now about Elaine?
CLAY EAST:
About what?
SUE THRASHER:
Elaine.
CLAY EAST:
Yes. Now, I'm going to tell you… see, I lived in Helena for a year and I know that those people were… this was in 1920. And they called that the Elaine Massacre, and that's probably about what it was. But, I know this one boy there in Helena, he was the only one that I knew of, but they had guys come in there from Maryanna and all around there, just young guys and so forth and they told them that they'd go in there and clean them out. Well, what they claimed happened, in Helena, now this is the way they tell it down there. There was a circus coming to town and these colored folks had it all planned to go in and take the town while these folks were all at the show.
SUE THRASHER:
That's what the people in Helena thought.
CLAY EAST:
That's what they thought and that's what they told. They wouldn't tell me that, this was way after it happened. And one of these… they had these guns hid and in a colored church. And I

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right where the church is, been by there several times. Said they had them in the basement of that church. One of these negroes down there got a little over anxious and he either shot somebody or done something a day or two before this was to take place. And, it was more or less by accident that they found this case of guns in the basement of this damn church. And, that's what was supposed to happen at Helena. Now, that's the way they told it down there.
SUE THRASHER:
Helena, Arkansas.
CLAY EAST:
Yeah.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, what story do the union people tell? What story do the black people tell?
CLAY EAST:
Well, after they caught these folks, see, they just went out there. I don't know why it happened at Elaine, because Elaine was twenty miles from Helena. But, it seems the colored people had some kind of an organization there and they was supposed to move in from down there. That's the way I understood it. So, they went down in there and just killed them. Man, no telling… I don't think anybody knew how many they killed. But, there was one boy there, in Tappen Buick, a boy in there, and he had a bum leg, limped all the time, he was shot himself. So, it wasn't too one sided. I guess there was quite a few whites shot.
SUE THRASHER:
Did you know people from Commonwealth College at all?
CLAY EAST:
No, none of them.
SUE THRASHER:
You've never known any of them?

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CLAY EAST:
No, they was down at Gilmore. I don't think that he… Butler says that he was in Tyronza but I never did meet him or anything. I wrote to Norman Thomas after he had been there and I asked him about… I wanted to go to some kind of school myself. And I asked him about what school he recommend and so forth. And, I had a letter from Thomas. That's when he told me had had written to Mitchell and to Dr. Amberson and that's when he told me I was one of the bravest men he had met in America. Now, I took photostatic copies of those letters back there, and I didn't get one of his and I'm almost certain that Jean Copps ([unknown]) has got my letter, and I saved it all these years, from Norman Thomas. But, anyway, he said, well, he mentioned several schools, but he said that he felt I would learn more through reading and all than I would by going to school.
SUE THRASHER:
How did you come to be on the team that worked with Dr. Amberson on preparing that report on the sharecropper? Can you tell me something about that?
CLAY EAST:
Sure, I was one of the leading guys in that and I had the automobile and I was the one that drove them down there. I knew Mississippi. I had been to school down there.
SUE THRASHER:
Did you only go to Mississippi? You didn't do any reporting…
CLAY EAST:
Oh yes, now, I went out at home alone, lots of times.

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SUE THRASHER:
This was when you were living in Memphis?
CLAY EAST:
No.
SUE THRASHER:
Tell me when the report was written and how it was started and how you started on it.
CLAY EAST:
Well, Dr. Amberson was the one… someone wanted a survey made on these things, see, and we had these cards all made out with all these questions and so forth on there about what we was trying to determine, it was how these acreage reductions… now the following year, they was supposed to not plant every fourth row.
SUE THRASHER:
Not plant, or plow it up.
CLAY EAST:
Not plant them. That was called the acreage reduction program, see. They was cutting down the acreage and they wanted a survey to how this plowing up thing was being carried out. They wanted to know if the planters and all was using… they was supposed to keep the same number of people on their land and have this thing divided up equitably.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, do you remember whose idea it was to do the survey?
CLAY EAST:
Someone asked Amberson for this survey.
SUE THRASHER:
Was that Norman Thomas?
CLAY EAST:
I don't believe it was Norman, I believe that it was possibly some government…
SUE THRASHER:
Do you know if Mitch had anything to do with getting it started?

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CLAY EAST:
I wouldn't think that he did. I don't think that…the first I knew of it was when Amberson brought it up and said that we was going to make this survey and he was the one that had the cards and all printed and we'd take these cards and fill them out. Fill out whose farm the man was on. How many acres he had this year and how many he had last year and also how much money he had made the year before and what his accounts was. It had a whole bunch…it was a questionnaire, see, that we filled out for these people. To give us a record of what was going on down there, particularly about this acreage reduction program and the plowup.
SUE THRASHER:
Do you remember other people who worked on that study with you?
CLAY EAST:
I can't remember …I wasn't even positive whether Butler went. But, I know there was a young socialist, a young guy, Mitch mentioned him somewhere…from Memphis, but I know that he went with us and Dr. Amberson and Mitch and myself and I was actually thinking that there was only four, but it's possible that there was five.
SUE THRASHER:
Do you remember any of these names: Robert O'Brien?
CLAY EAST:
That's the boy that I was talking about in Memphis, yeah.
SUE THRASHER:
He was active in the League for Industrial Democracy in Memphis.
CLAY EAST:
Yeah.
SUE THRASHER:
What about James McWhorter?

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CLAY EAST:
I don't remember him.
SUE THRASHER:
Blaine Tredway?
CLAY EAST:
Oh yeah, I remember Blaine. He was in it.
SUE THRASHER:
In the League for Industrial Democracy?
CLAY EAST:
Yeah.
SUE THRASHER:
And he helped work on the survey?
CLAY EAST:
I'm quite certain that he did, yeah.
SUE THRASHER:
and Cla rk Waldren.
CLAY EAST:
Clark Waldren…that name was just as familiar as if…and I know that I had a lot of contacts with him and I'm trying to place him and I can't remember what he did…
SUE THRASHER:
I think that he was a newspaperman there in Memphis who worked on this report and later moved to St. Louis.
CLAY EAST:
Well, the boy that went out with Thomas and us was promoted and went to Buffalo, New York, I think, shortly after he made that trip and wrote up in Thomas's trip in Arkansas.
SUE THRASHER:
Do you remember any discussion in the Southern Tenant Farmers Union about the sharecropper's union in Alabama.
CLAY EAST:
No.
SUE THRASHER:
YOu never heard of it?
CLAY EAST:
Well, I might have heard a little something, but not enough to…

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SUE THRASHER:
Do you remember any time when the STFU distributed some handbills about the death of Ralph Grey in Alabama, who had been killed by a…
CLAY EAST:
No.
SUE THRASHER:
Do you remember the time when this guy Stultz, W.H. Stultz was his name, I believe…
CLAY EAST:
Yeah.
SUE THRASHER:
Do you remember anything about him? And his trying to bring charges against Mitch and the Union?
CLAY EAST:
No, I wasn't there at that time.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, was Buck Kester active in the union, that first year, when you were, or was that later?
CLAY EAST:
Buck…no, he was…I only knew Buck you might say as a socialist…he, of course, now he was in Memphis and when I took Mary Hillyard over to Marked Tree, because she and Mitch rode down to the Grand Central Station with me…uh, Union Station. And I put them out down there, I told them "I won't go over there with you guys." I said, "I'll take her over there, but not with you guys." Of course, I knew it was going to be a dangerous trip at the time and I didn't want those guys. Mitch was a little on Rogers' type. He had a great dislike if a man was a planter…well, about

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all he knew was to insult him. And, I couldn't see where that was benefitting anyone. Mitch might say anything at any time, just like Rogers getting up and saying what he did. And, of course, I don't think Mitch would have done anything like that, I think he had better judgement than that. But such things as getting up and telling old man Sloan and them, "Now, youre no eligible to join the union, so we'll ask you to get on out of here." He said that pretty bluntly. I'd have put it a little more diplomatic…I could have asked him to have gotten out.
SUE THRASHER:
Do you remember McKinney making a speaking tour for the union in the spring of 1935?
CLAY EAST:
No, I wasn't acquainted with that. But, McKinney was a really strong man, and a good speaker and smart.
SUE THRASHER:
Do you remember John Alden?
CLAY EAST:
No.
SUE THRASHER:
Do you remember Mr. Brookins?
CLAY EAST:
A.B.?
SUE THRASHER:
Yes.
CLAY EAST:
Yeah.
SUE THRASHER:
How about C.H. Smith?
CLAY EAST:
Just a slight recollection of the name. He was still a colored guy.

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SUE THRASHER:
How about Mr. Betten? Did you ever meet him?
CLAY EAST:
I can't remember…Benton?
SUE THRASHER:
Betton. B-E-T-T-O-N.
CLAY EAST:
Well, wait a minute. He was from Forrest City, wasn't he?
SUE THRASHER:
I don't know.
CLAY EAST:
I'm pretty certain that he was.
SUE THRASHER:
He became vice-president of the union after McKinney.
CLAY EAST:
Yeah. He was, I'm quite certain, from Forrest City.
SUE THRASHER:
Are there names of other people who were active in the union at this time that you remember, or remember anything about?
CLAY EAST:
Not that we haven't already mentioned.
SUE THRASHER:
Do you remember…oh, you were going to tell me about the guy from the National Farmers Union that came down.
CLAY EAST:
Yes. Our principal in the school there at Tyronza, at one time, was Fred Keller and this man was his brother. There was several of those boys from Jonesboro, Arkansas. And, he came down, and I introduced him at the schoolhouse and we had the auditorium again out there. But, it was just a small group.
SUE THRASHER:
Do you remember when this was? This was before you formed the Socialist Party?
CLAY EAST:
No, it had to be after that, see. Because he was an, or from the American Farmers Union and he came down there in the

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interest of that and we already had a union. So, it had to be after our union had organized. But, the American Farmers Union and the Southern Tenant Farmers Union didn't fit in together at all, see. Because we didn't want farmers in there … didn't worker out. Farmers are hiring the tenants. So, small farmers … it didnt make any difference about a man being a small farmer. He was working his own land. Still, there was no occasion to use them, so we didn't … he came down and made that talk and all, but it didn't accomplish anything by it, other than to show that the interests were all together different. on the part of a small farmer and a tenant farmer.
But, that's the first time I had … I don't know why that popped into my mind. We had a pretty good group. Mitch and all of us were out at the schoolhouse and I introduced him andhe got up and made a talk. And, he was a good speaker, but the interests were altogether different. So, that's the last we ever heard of that.
SUE THRASHER:
Do you remember, or did you have cause to work on the newsletter that the STFU put out, called The Sharecroppers Voice?
CLAY EAST:
No. It's possible that they put that out in Memphis … I was trying to remember that girl's name. Mitch and them, they had an office.
SUE THRASHER:
Evelyn Smith?

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CLAY EAST:
Yeah. Evelyn Smith. The little boy got interested in it. That was Mitch's little brother.
SUE THRASHER:
Scotty?
CLAY EAST:
Yeah.
SUE THRASHER:
I just want to ask you one more thing. When did you finally leave and quit working with the union?
CLAY EAST:
I didn't quit working with them as long as I was back there, see.
SUE THRASHER:
Yes, but when did you leave there.
CLAY EAST:
In '35, I guess.
SUE THRASHER:
In '35. Do you remember when in 1935?
CLAY EAST:
No.
SUE THRASHER:
So, you worked with the union from the time it was organized in the early thirties, from the time you were organizing the Socialist Party up until somewhere about 1935?
CLAY EAST:
Yeah.
SUE THRASHER:
And you were very active with Mitch in the beginning?
CLAY EAST:
Yeah.
SUE THRASHER:
And did you maintain any ties with the union people after you came out to the West?
CLAY EAST:
The next time that I contacted them, I wrote to Mitch, I guess

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and…in fact, I more or less presumed that the union had wound up. They had a lot of trouble, see and …
SUE THRASHER:
Internal trouble?
CLAY EAST:
Yes. And, I just figured that it was going to blow up, which it just about did. And the first letter that I had from Mitch was in 1937 and he told me then that he had affiliated with the CIO in Memphis and it was Communist dominated and he knew it at the time, but he figured it would be helpful. Then for the next two years, I guess he said, all he'd had was trouble. I have that letter, a copy of it back there. In that letter, he mentioned that…about one of the men…seems to me that he was in Oklahoma and he went ahead to explain him to me. The different offices he'd held and so forth, I wish I could find that letter. I'll find it later.
SUE THRASHER:
This man was head of one of the locals?
CLAY EAST:
Yeah, he was the head of a local back there. Mitch went ahead to tell me how much I would like this guy if I could see him. And, I figured on seeing him back there sometime, but I never did get around to it. He also sent me Stith's ([unknown]) address and I figured if I could take off time, I'd go by and see him sometime, too.
END OF INTERVIEW