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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 >>

Avoiding conflict with union opposition

East describes one instance of how he avoided conflict with opposition to unionization of tenant farmers during the early 1930s. Warned of impending violence by his friend and the Tyronza mayor, East changed the location of the union meeting and managed to still successfully get new members to join.

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:
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 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 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.