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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Clay East, September 22, 1973. Interview E-0003. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

First brush with socialism and family work ethic

East discusses his first brush with socialist politics during the early twentieth century. East's brother, a ball player, had become interested in radical politics during his travels and had talked to East about his views. East explains that at that time, he was not aware of socialism or communism, but stresses that his family background, particularly his father's independence and work ethic as a farmer and store owner, had established a foundation for advocacy of working people.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Clay East, September 22, 1973. Interview E-0003. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

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 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 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.