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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Icy Norman, April 6 and 30, 1979. Interview H-0036. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Moving from job to job before settling into a fifty-year stretch at a textile mill

Here, Norman remembers her first paying job. She stumbled into it while visiting her aunt at a factory. Her aunt's boss hired her on the spot, and soon, over her mother's objections, she was earning $2.25 a day. Norman eventually left the shoe factory for a cotton mill, then another shoe factory, and finally, she came to the textile mills of Burlington, North Carolina, where she spent fifty years.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Icy Norman, April 6 and 30, 1979. Interview H-0036. 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

MARY MURPHY:
So when did you get your first paying job?
ICY NORMAN:
When I first went to work? That was at Elkin. They have a shoe factory there. My aunt, my daddy's sister, worked in the shoe factory. She'd always come over there on Sunday night and my brother would take her to Elkin. She stayed down with my cousin all week. Dewey would get her and bring her and then she'd go on home. Sunday night she told mama, "I want to take Icy down with me and let her see the shoe factory. It'd be a curiosity to her." I wasn't but thirteen years old. Mama says, "We got a big day. Got a big washing to do, I don't care if she goes if she gets back and gets this washing out." So I went on down there. Aunt Leotta carried me all over the shoe factory. Fred Knees was over. We was looking at different things, the cutting room. We started from where they started the shoe and ended up where the shoe was ready for you to wear, to be sold. Fred Knees come up and he says, "Miss Carter, who is this little lady you got?" Aunt Leotta says, "That's my niece." He says, "Does she want a job?" I looked at him and thought my goodness, he's crazy. Aunt Leotta laughed and said, "Yeah, she wants a job." Aunt Leotta was full of life, you know. He says, "Well, take her on up there with you and learn, show her how." I looked at her and says, "I didn't come down here after no job." Aunt Leotta says, "You come on here." Well, I went on. She told Dewey that Fred give me a job and he went home. Boy, mama had a fit. That young one down there, she ain't old enough to work. I went in there and learnt to make shoes.
MARY MURPHY:
What was that like?
ICY NORMAN:
It was electric sewing machines. They had a cutting room. They had sizes and would cut so many shoes out, vamps, and then they would cut the heel part. Then they would send it to the sewing room. Well, you take it there. They had it stamped. You put it on that brandisher, back part of the shoe to the vamp and you sewed. You'd go up this side and back down, make two little stitches along there. When you got that done, they'd take you along to the one that made the linings. The linings was made just like the shoe. And they'd make that and stack it and send it on in to where they put the soles on. Then they'd send it. Then put the heel on. It was interesting. I worked there then until it went bankrupt. Fred Knees then went into the woolen mill. My daddy died in February. He come up there and he told mama. See, my daddy owned this farm. He told mama, "Now, I can give Icy a job in the inspecting room." Mama says, "Can you give Barney and Dewey a job?" He says, "No, I can't put them on right now. I ain't got no opening. But I can put Icy to work. I got an opening in the inspecting room." That's inspecting them blankets. I know you seen them Chatham blankets. Mama says, "No she's not going to go to work unless you give Barney and Dewey a job. If she goes to work they'll have to take her down there and go get her, bring her back. That's too much running. I don't want her staying away from home all week."
MARY MURPHY:
How far was the farm?
ICY NORMAN:
About nine miles. He says, "Let Icy go to work and maybe in a few days I can have an opening for Barney and Dewey." Mama says, "No, if you can't put them all three to work, she ain't going to work."
MARY MURPHY:
Your mother sounds like a tough bargainer.
ICY NORMAN:
Mama knowed how to manage and she knowed how to make a living. Naturally she didn't want me away from home, me nothing but a young one. I wasn't but thirteen years old. Well, I was fourteen then, I just worked at the shoe factory a year 'till it went busted. So, it would cause Barney and Dewey to make a lot of trips. Mama couldn't see no point in that. Then we went to Linksburg and I got a job in the cotton mill there filling batteries. I worked there a long time. And Dooley Carter, the fixer that was in the shoe factory, he found out that he run into Barney and Dewey. He was a boss man then. I know you seen the Craddock Terry shoes. He come over there on Sunday evening. He says, "Icy, I want you to go to work for me over in the Craddock Terry shoe factory." Talking about a shoe factory. That thing was three stories high. Boy, you walk in that mill you thought you was walking on a piece of glass. Everything was clean as a pin. You didn't see nothing out of place. I says, "Dooley, how much will I make?" He says, "I'll start you off at two dollars and a quarter a day." That was more than I was making in the cotton mill. I says, "Allright, when do you want me to come in? I'll have to tell Mr. Sneed and work my notice." He says, "You work this week's notice and then you be over there next week." I went over there and I worked. Then work got bad. We'd work a week and stand two weeks. That's when we come to Burlington. See, I was working and making money. I come to Burlington and went into the Burlington Mills with nothing.
MARY MURPHY:
When you were learning to sew on the shoes and then in the cotton mill, did they pay you while you were learning?
ICY NORMAN:
Yeah. They started me right off. I made five dollars a week in the shoe factory. No, five dollars and a half because we worked five days and a half. Dooley, he started me off at two dollars and a quarter a day.
MARY MURPHY:
Did you like the work in the shoe factory?
ICY NORMAN:
I just loved the shoe factory. I enjoyed it and I hated to quit. Barney and Dewey didn't get no work period. I was the only one that was a working. Then I'd work a week and be out two weeks. And so mama said she thought it was better for us to go see if we could get a job where all could work. So we took off and we come to Burlington and have been in Burlington ever since.
MARY MURPHY:
What year was that, that you came to Burlington?
ICY NORMAN:
Twenty-nine. Been fifty years.