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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 >>

Impact of involvement in the Southern Tenant Farmers Union on East's service station

East discusses how his involvement in the Southern Tenant Farmers Union affected his business, a service station, in Tyronza, Arkansas. East describes how he faced threats to his personal well-being for his work with the union and then explains that he began to lose business from planters and businessmen in the community. Because of the impact on his business, East relocated to Bartlett, Tennessee, around 1933, but still stayed involved with the union, which also relocated its center to Tennessee around that time.

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

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 () 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 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 () 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, 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.