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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Lacy Wright, March 10, 1975. Interview E-0017. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Working for Cone Mills during the Great Depression

Wright discusses what it was like working for Cone Mills during the Great Depression. According to Wright, Cone took measures in order to lay off as few people as possible. One tactic was to only have their mills running a few days each week so that more people could continue working. Overall, Wright argues that because of these kinds of strategies, most people were able to make ends meet. As for his own personal experience, Wright was laid off from his job at the Revolution plant in 1935 because newly installed machines removed the need for his labor. Within a matter of days he found a position at the White Oak plant. When the Revolution plant wanted him back, Wright chose to stay with the White Oak plant, stressing the importance of job security during economically tumultuous times.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Lacy Wright, March 10, 1975. Interview E-0017. 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

LACY WRIGHT:
You know, that was an outstanding thing here in Greensboro, when I began to think back about it. The mills was running, three or four days a week, every week.
CHIP HUGHES:
Even during the Depression?
LACY WRIGHT:
Yes.
CHIP HUGHES:
Yes, all the time.
LACY WRIGHT:
You see, they were running three or four days a week in place of shutting down and laying off like a lot of mills did. They managed some way or another. Now I give the company credit for it. They've got a big bunch of warehouses over there, and they made a lot of cloth and stored it in that warehouse that they didn't have no sales for, you see. I give them credit for that. And they kept operating three days a week. In other words, you could eat. Back in them days—I don't know whether you ever saw any of them or not—they had pink beans. They were a little different from what we have, pinto beans now. If you could get a piece of fatback, some pinto beans and a little corn meal or flour, you could make it.
MRS. WRIGHT:
You were OK, eh?
LACY WRIGHT:
You could eat. And, of course, we all grew a garden. Most every house had a garden. They laid me off at Revolution.
WILLIAM FINGER:
When was that? '35, you said?
LACY WRIGHT:
'35. They laid me off in '35, the spring of '35. Now incidently, in the fifty years from the time I went to work until I retired, there were six days that I was out of a job, in that period of time. And that was when they laid me off at Revolution. So I came home. My dad was still living in the mill village at White Oak, and he let me have half of his house when I had to leave the Post Office—he had a six room house, and there wasn't nobody but him and Mom in it—three rooms of it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you have some kids by then? Did you have some children yourself?
LACY WRIGHT:
Yes, we had two children at that time. That's all I got now. So Dad let me have half the house, and I lived there while I worked for Revolution, most of the time. So when they laid me off at Revolution the old man that was my supervisor when I first went to work had got to be mill superintendent at White Oak. So I went to see him (he was named Mr. Armfield). I said: "Mr. Armfield, I need a job." He said: "What've you been doing, Lacy?" I said: "Well, I've been working down at Revolution." I said: "They laid me off down there when they tore those speeders out." He said: "Yes, I know about that." He told me, he said: "Well, I don't know of anything. I'll tell you what you can do, though. You can go down there and see Mr. Gibson, the card room supervisor; if he can put you to work, it's all right by me. I know your work." So I went to see Gibson. He said no, he didn't have nothing; they had more men than they knowd what to do with. So I went on back and I waited 'til they were running four days a week. I went on back to the house, and I laid around there 'til Thursday morning, the last day they was going to run that week. And my dad started to work that morning (when the work then was only eight hours a day, they worked at seven o'clock). I said: "Dad, I believe I'll just walk down yonder and see Mr. Armfield again." He said: "Well, it won't hurt none." I walked on down there with him and I went up to the main office. I saw Mr. Armfield. He told me, he said: "You go on see Mr. Beal. Wait here and see Mr. Beal when he comes out to go to breakfast." would go in there and then come out and go to breakfast at seven o'clock. He said: "You wait and see Mr. Beal." He said: "I understand he's got a job in there he'll be needing somebody for, and you tell him that I told you to tell him that if he needed a man on that job to put you on. I know your work." So Mr. Beal come out; I told him what Mr. Armfield said. He said: "Yes, I've got a job." He said: "What have you been doing?" And I told him I'd been working Revolution. He said: "Well, let me give you a slip. You have to have a slip to go back down there and go through the employment office, see, when you got a job." They told me at Revolution, they said: "Now if you can get a job at one of the other plants within a week, why, we won't take your name off the payroll." So I told Mr. Beal that, and he said: "Well," he said, "maybe you better go back down to the payroll office and take this paper and ask them about it, to be sure, because I want you to go to work Monday evening." I said: "All right." So I went on down the street down there, and I got about halfway down to the payroll office and I met a man coming from Revolution. I worked for a man by the name … oh, I guess old man Leonard was overseer in the carding room at Revolution, and I'd been a working under him. So he sent a man after me. And I met the man about halfway down there, and he said: "Mr. Leonard wants you to come back to work." I said: "Well, Mr. Armfield just gave me a job a few minutes ago with Mr. Beal." And I said: "I don't know what to do about it." "Well, I'll tell you," he said. "Why don't you go talk to Mr. Leonard about it." Well, Leonard lived just a few doors from where he was talking to me. I went by there and talked to old man Leonard. He said: "Well, I want you to come back and work for us." I'd run this new slubber some for them, you see.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Let me be sure I understand. You're saying you didn't have any job, and now you had two jobs.
LACY WRIGHT:
That's right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
OK.
LACY WRIGHT:
That's exactly right. In other words, already I had one job and the offer of another going back.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So what happened? Did you end up taking them both?
LACY WRIGHT:
No [laughter] . I went on back down and talked to Mr. Leonard. Now what he wanted me to do then was to help him install these slubbers, see, as a help hand; not a mechanic, but a help hand. And I asked him, I said: "How long a job was this, Leonard?" He said: "Well, I don't think it'd be more than six months. But," he said, "at the end of that six months I might be able to place you back in the mill." I said: "Well, Mr. Leonard, I tell you. The way times is I don't want to take that risk. I've already got a job, I know I've got a job. And I don't want to take that risk of being out of work again in six months."