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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James Pharis, July 24, 1977. Interview H-0038. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Joining the workforce as a young teenager

As soon as Pharis was old enough to work, he did so, and a lot. He worked eleven hours a day, six days a week for twenty-five cents per day at a textile mill in Spray, North Carolina. Most of his family worked there, in the Old Leakesville Cotton Mill, and Pharis stayed there until his late teens.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James Pharis, July 24, 1977. Interview H-0038. 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

CLIFF KUHN:
Were they farmers, your parents?
JAMES PHARIS:
My daddy was.
CLIFF KUHN:
What kind of farmer?
JAMES PHARIS:
Just an ordinary farmer. He farmed practically all of his life. After we moved to town, he farmed after we moved to Spray. He farmed in and around town and all the kids worked…
MRS. PHARIS:
They call it Eden now. It was Spray then.
JAMES PHARIS:
All the kids worked in the mill, the textile plant.
CLIFF KUHN:
Why did he move to Spray?
JAMES PHARIS:
Well, with the five kids, six kids with me but I was too little when we came there, he just felt it was an opportunity to go to work in a textile plant. On the farm the kids were all growing up pretty well and they could all work except me. When we moved to town, they felt like you could make some money. [Laughter] And they did make it. Lord have mercy, how they did make it. I worked… [interruption] When I got old enough to go to work, I went to work. Working eleven hours a day, six days a week for twenty-five cents a day.
CLIFF KUHN:
How old were you then?
JAMES PHARIS:
I was about twelve or thirteen years old when I first went to work.
CLIFF KUHN:
What year was that?
JAMES PHARIS:
It must have been 1898, somewhere along there.
CLIFF KUHN:
Which would put you around eightyyears old now?
JAMES PHARIS:
Eighty-five.
CLIFF KUHN:
Eight-five. You went to work. Where was the first place you went to work in the mill?
JAMES PHARIS:
Old Leaksville Cotton Mill they called it.
CLIFF KUHN:
In Spray?
JAMES PHARIS:
In Spray.
CLIFF KUHN:
And then what kind of work did you do there?
JAMES PHARIS:
My first job was in the spinning room. And then I was transferred into what they called the quilling room where you run the pieces of yarn off of one bobbin on another until you got it full.
CLIFF KUHN:
Who taught you how to do your work?
JAMES PHARIS:
Well… back in them days, you just had to learn more or less yourself. You didn't have much system in textile plants. So you just had to put you in there and you just had to learn it.
CLIFF KUHN:
Were you working in the same division, same department, as your brothers and sisters?
JAMES PHARIS:
No. I was working… They was all of them in the weave room.
CLIFF KUHN:
Did you want to stay in school or did you want to go to work at that time?
JAMES PHARIS:
Well, I don't know. It was more or less a case of have to.
CLIFF KUHN:
And your mother also worked in the mill?
JAMES PHARIS:
No. She never did work in the mill. She was getting pretty well along in years when we even came there.
CLIFF KUHN:
Then how long did you work at the Leaksville Cotton Plant?
JAMES PHARIS:
Oh I worked there… let's see, in the Leaksville Cotton Mill I left there when I was about fifteen or sixteen years old and I went to work in what was known as the Rhode Island mill over there. Owned by the same company.