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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Eula McGill, September 5, 1976. Interview G-0040-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Run-in between labor activists and community officials

Here, McGill describes an event in Bruceton, Tennessee, in 1947. McGill was working in the area with Mary Morgan to organize unions for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union. They had helped to organize a strike in the neighboring town of Dixon when they were confronted by a mob that sought to run them out of Bruceton. Town officials tried to spin the story to their advantage, printing stories that company bosses had successfully ran the female union organizers out of town. McGill explains that the event, in actuality, was much less violent than it was made to seem. After standing their ground, the women received the backing of local railroad workers and she said they didn't have any more public confrontations. Her comments demonstrate one way in which tension over labor activism within small communities could surface and be tempered.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Eula McGill, September 5, 1976. Interview G-0040-2. 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:
I saw that at the '48 convention in the proceedings there's a little exchange where it had been rumored that you and Mary Morgan had been run out of town, and you correct that misimpression.
EULA MCGILL:
Well what happened, that morning before we were out of bed-in fact it was real early, I guess it was around seven o'clock-we were living in the home of a Methodist minister, and he came in there and told me some men was outside and wanted to talk with me. So we got up and went to the door. And the spokesman for them was Hillsman Taylor, who was atown marshall or constable or something. And Hillsman said the people wanted to talk with us. I guess there was a hundred and fifty men out there all trampling the minister's yard. So I said, "Well, couldn't one or two of you come up here to tell us that, and not have everybody out there trampling Mrs. Melton's yard and her flowers?" And that kind of set them back, because I said, "They are residents here." Then Hillsman and one of the newspaper men came inside. And we sat down at the dining room table, and I asked him, "How did you get here so quick from Memphis?" And he said, "Oh, I got a call this morning at two o'clock." So they wanted the publicity of it, I believe; it was a newspaper man that told me. And he wanted to make a picture of us. . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
Who had wanted the publicity?
EULA MCGILL:
. . . the mob-because that's all you could term it, a mob. I said, "How did you get out here so quick from Memphis?" And he said, "I got a call this morning at two o'clock." So evidently they just telephoned him and headed him out there. He kept insisting that he make a picture of Mary and I with our suitcases. And I said, "Well, I'm not going anywhere." He kept insisting. And I said, "No, I'm not going to do it." We went to eat breakfast at a little restaurant up town, and when we came out he made a picture of us coming out of the restaurant. Then later when the paper came out he had already written it as if we had been run out of town; so that's why he wanted the picture with a suitcase, to back up his story. He had already actually written the story, evidently, because when the Commercial Appeal came out on the street (we got it that afternoon) the story was written that they had run us out of town. So that's why I wanted everybody to know that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well did Hillsman say to you, "Get out of town."
EULA MCGILL:
No, no.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did they actually threaten you?
EULA MCGILL:
No, he just come up and said that these men wanted to talk to us, and that they wanted us to leave town--now, because he'd been pretending to be quite friendly with us before, Hillsman Taylor had; and after that, why. . . . Well, I guess he was pretending, according to the newspaper man, pretending to see that everything would be peaceful. So actually I can't remember the man's name that did the biggest talking; (I can look back through the records or find out) later the company hired him as their guard up at the plant. He was from the next county too, and he wasn't very well respected by the people in Bruceton. I cannot remember the fellow's name; his nickname was "Rabbit" [laughter]. I guess that sticks in my mind more than his real name. But he told me he wanted us to get out of town. And I answered him; that's when I said to him, "Now look, couldn't one or two of you have come up here and told us that instead of bringing out a mob on the lady's yard and trampling her flowers?"
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you have any more trouble with threats after that incident? Did they just disperse?
EULA MCGILL:
Well, after the railroad men. . . . They called a meeting on a Sunday, and all the railroad men came. And they said they didn't intend to have that in the town. They called upon, they talked to Hillsman Taylor and the mayor of the town, and let it be known that they wasn't going to tolerate anything like that in the town; that we had been behaving ourselves and not breaking the laws, and that we had a right to be there. I think that had the effect of keeping them from doing anything actually to us openly.