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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Carlee Drye, April 2, 1980. Interview H-0005. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Changing racial policies and job classification in an aluminum plant

Drye explains how changing racial policies in the Alcoa aluminum plant was a primary goal during his tenure as president of the local Steel Workers union in Badin, North Carolina. In the 1950s, Alcoa was in the process of re-classing its job descriptions. One component of this involved allowing African Americans to hold positions they had been previously denied because of race. Drye describes how, as the local president of the union, he worked to convince both Alcoa management and white workers that changing racial policies worked in the best interest of all the workers.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Carlee Drye, April 2, 1980. Interview H-0005. 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

ROSEMARIE HESTER:
Tell me about what was involved during your administration in the union.
CARLEE DRYE:
The first big thing that hit me right square in the head was the integration issue. In fact [Laughter] , it was one of the most nerve-wracking periods, I guess. I had to have a hard head and a thick hide to put up with it, because I was castigated not only by the rank and file-they were 100 percent membership then and still are-but by management and everybody except my wife, and she was the one person that kind of summed it up for me, conversation all night long. "But if you can't live with yourself, I can't live with you." And that happened on October 28, 1953, when we got the first application from a black for an active craneman, which was a so-called white job. I was in the process then of changing the lines of progression, although for all intents and purposes, under federal law at that point they were null and void anyway. You had to eliminate all that, and it was just restructuring the whole line of progression under your contract and your wage structure. And I went to battle for those boys, and boy, it was a rough time. I had more than one meeting with people in the plant. One time I walked in after they called for a meeting in the pot room department, and there was thirty-eight people, and that was about all that were off. And at fifteen minutes till eight that night, there was one man left and me.
ROSEMARIE HESTER:
And these were . . .
CARLEE DRYE:
These were whites, every single one of them.
ROSEMARIE HESTER:
Whites who were encouraging you not to do this.
CARLEE DRYE:
Threatening to pull out and withdraw from the union. And maybe I outlasted them, or maybe I'm too hard-headed to give in to them, but I didn't. Because I still believe that the Steel Workers' philosophy, and it went before 1953 here. . . . And I stuck to my guns. Although the Steel Workers sent a man down here, and he just lived with Joe Kirk for about seven weeks out there. Because that was just before; if it had blown, why, they'd have set up an administrator. They had the right under the constitution.
ROSEMARIE HESTER:
So the Steel Workers knew that you were having this problem here, and they sent down a . . .
CARLEE DRYE:
They knew it, and they didn't know whether I was capable of handling it, because I hadn't been president but about a year, and I was learning. I burned a lot of midnight oil in studying and getting an education myself. I didn't have that kind of education, to stand and argue with a lawyer over here across the bargaining table. And I did a lot of studying. I got an education that you couldn't get anywhere else. There's no school and university in this state that you give you the education I got. Of course, I went to school [unclear] taking extension courses, and then I went to summer institutes about four years in a row.
ROSEMARIE HESTER:
How did you finally encourage the people in the union not to quit, that it would be all right once blacks were in skilled positions?
CARLEE DRYE:
You know, I've wished many a time I had had a tape recorder going for what I actually told those people. You had to butt heads. "This is what's best for the local union. If you tear yourself, we're going to have to go back and start off again. You are the one it's going to hurt, when the final analysis comes. They're working with you. What's so unfair about them getting the same benefits you're getting?" Under the wage structure, there were comparative-rate jobs, but there was no way you could get into them without going through certain other. . . . The laborer and the lesser skilled jobs, the dirty jobs. It was just selling the people on what we believed in, really. And that old "fair day's work for a fair day's pay" is still pretty good for the Steel Workers.