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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Eula McGill, February 3, 1976. Interview G-0040-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Decision to join the labor movement during the Great Depression

In this excerpt, McGill discusses her move from working in the Dwight textile mill in Gadsen, Alabama, to Selma Manufacturing in Birmingham, Alabama. McGill took this job in 1930, just as the Great Depression was beginning. According to McGill, working conditions and wages were worse at Selma Manufacturing than they had been at the Dwight mills, but she does not attribute this to the economic hardship of the depression so much as she says it was the result of poor management. Nevertheless, McGill describes her own boss as a man who was generally very kind and reasonable. It was at this time that McGill became actively involved in the labor movement, helping to organize a local union for the textile mill workers. McGill explains that her boss was relatively supportive of her involvement because activism was targeted at the mill owners, rather than managers, but she notes that he did scoff at the union's intention to include African American workers.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Eula McGill, February 3, 1976. Interview G-0040-1. 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

JACQUELYN HALL:
What did you do there? What was your job?
EULA MCGILL:
I was spinning, because they made the sugar bags. I had to still do that; that was the only thing I knew to do. And I had to still do that because you had to tell them you were experienced to get a job, and I didn't have a chance to do anything else.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What about your wages?
EULA MCGILL:
You know, I can't remember what I made when I first went there. It must have been about four or five dollars a week. I remember there a time right after I went to work there in the winter, they didn't pay us all in money. As I remember it I was making six dollars a week, and they gave me three dollars and three dollars in script to spend at the A&P store, because they couldn't pay us all-just in the height of the Depression there, just before Roosevelt was elected. Then later, though, I was making $5.10 a week, because Joe came over to me one night and he had some black work running. I don't know, it was an experiment or something, but they had some black, and you couldn't hardly see it at night. He couldn't get nobody to stay over there; he told me if I'd go over there and run that black work that he'd help me out and he'd give me two dollars a week more. So when payday came I still had $5.10, and I was working sixty hours a week. So I went to him and said, "Where's my two dollar raise?" And he said, "What?" And I said, "You promised me two dollars if I'd stay over there on that black work." And he said, "Did I?" I said, "You know you did." "Well, I don't know how I'm going to fix it." I said, "Well, I'm expecting it." So I got two dollars a week more for that; and I was making $7.10 a week for sixty hours when the first minimum wage law came in under the NRA-twelve dollars a week for forty hours.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did your wages go up when the minimum wage law came in?
EULA MCGILL:
Twelve dollars a week for forty hours. So I worked the second shift then, and they put on a third shift, see.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What were working conditions like there in comparison to your first job at Dwight Mills?
EULA MCGILL:
Terrible!
JACQUELYN HALL:
Worse?
EULA MCGILL:
Yes, because the company wasn't as good a company. They didn't keep their places clean. But so far as supervisors, I have had no trouble with supervision. I have to say that, I just didn't have any trouble per se with any personal clashes with the bosses, with my immediate supervisors.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Your supervisor there was . . . very helpful to you.
EULA MCGILL:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why was that?
EULA MCGILL:
I don't know, he just took a liking to me some way or another. I never missed any time from work, and I was never late. I couldn't miss no time. Some people did lay out; how they did it I don't know, but I never lost a day from work. I had to be there because I needed to work; if you didn't work you didn't get paid, so I had to be there. I needed the money, what little I got.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did he treat you better than he did the other women?
EULA MCGILL:
Well, he was a pretty nice fellow to everybody, but I would say that he did, by the fact of giving me the two dollars a week more-which he had to finagle and fix some way or another, because they never would have allowed it. I would say yes. I know when we started organizing he came down and said, "I understand that they're trying to organize a union." And I said, "Yes." And he said, "I understand you're on the organizing committee." I said, "That's right." And he said, "Well, I just want to know why. Haven't I always been good to you?" I said, "Well, you've done all for me that you can. My Dad always told me if I wanted a drink of water go to the head of the spring. I want to get to the man over you." He just laughed and walked off, you know. So in our department he never tried to interfere; that's all he ever said to me about my union activity. Except he came back one day (and there were a couple of black women that worked there-and they made less than we did; they paid them less).
JACQUELYN HALL:
They did the same work?
EULA MCGILL:
He laughed one day at me and said, "Hey, you going to get Rosa into the union?" And I said, "Yes, if she'll join." (She was one of the black women.) He said, "You going to call her sister?" I said, "Sure I'm going to call her sister; I work here with her, don't I?" And he just went on; that's the only thing he ever said to me.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you think of him as a friend of yours? Or was it that kind of. . .?
EULA MCGILL:
Well, not really friend; but I'd say this, that he seemed to have a little more respect for me than he did the other people, and he'd come down and chat with me.