Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Herman Newton Truitt, December 5, 1978. Interview H-0054. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The mill worker's diet

Truitt remembers what mill workers ate. Lunch might include potted meat and a cookie; dinner might consist of beans and potatoes. Poultry was popular on holidays like Christmas. Mill owners had no problem shutting down their mills to let workers enjoy their meals, but as time passed, they became more and more reluctant to do so.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Herman Newton Truitt, December 5, 1978. Interview H-0054. 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

ALLEN TULLOS:
Another kind of thing similar to that would be if people stopped off here to buy something for lunch—again I'm going as far back as you can remember—what sort of things would they get?
HERMAN NEWTON TRUITT:
In buying a lunch they would buy bologna, cheese, and canned pork and beans. Potted meat. Vienna sausage. Peanut butter, crackers, and bread. And probably a cookie.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Things like potted meat and vienna sausage—they've been made as long as you can remember?
HERMAN NEWTON TRUITT:
Yes, and sardines, I left out sardines. As long as I can remember those things have been popular. Speaking of pig feet, pickled pig feet was quite popular. I remember when I was just a youngster I would hang around here on Saturday night. My father would sell, to the people who would come in—they had been off celebrating a little bit—they would come in and want pig feet and crackers. I'd smell those pickled pig feet and I'd think they were the best thing I'd ever smelled. Sometimes he'd give me a broken piece of pig feet and a cracker, and I ate it. And I still like them. I like a pickled pig feet. TAPE 2, SIDE B: January 30, 1979.
HERMAN NEWTON TRUITT:
Well, the workers in the mill, on weekdays, on working days, would eat dried beans which they would cook with a piece of fat back meat, and these would be: pinto beans, pink beans, white beans, black eyed peas would be the main ones. And of course, they'd eat potatoes—Irish potatoes and sweet potatoes—and onions along with these. Then came the weekend—back in those days the weekend meant Saturday noon to Monday morning. Chicken was probably the most popular meat, but they would get pork chops or some beef of some kind, and have that for their Sunday dinner. And then for Sunday they'd probably have a cake or a pie, too, which they didn't eat much of during the week. We didn't have packaged cookies or prepared cakes a great deal. Another thing would be, you would notice when a holiday came, Thanksgiving or Christmas. Then they would go all out. They would buy a lot of things. I remember the times when, in the late thirties in particular, come Christmas, sell a lot of turkeys, sell a lot of hens, a lot of chickens, right much beef, and hams. Of course country ham was eaten some by the mill workers all along. And the people out in the country raised and cured their own meat. They had that that they could eat all along. Back in the late twenties, when we first came out here, when lunch time came the cotton mill would shut down for about half an hour and let the people go home and eat lunch. They would have some beans and corn bread probably ready. They would go home and eat and then come back to the mill in a half an hour and go back to work. The mill owners didn't seem to think they had to keep those machines running every minute of every day back in those days.
ALLEN TULLOS:
In other words, they would actually shut down the whole mill.
HERMAN NEWTON TRUITT:
Yes, they would shut it down.
ALLEN TULLOS:
And they would do that five days a week and then on Saturday they would be through.
HERMAN NEWTON TRUITT:
Yes, on Saturday they'd be off at lunch.
ALLEN TULLOS:
When did that change, when did they quit doing that?
HERMAN NEWTON TRUITT:
I don't remember exactly when it was. They seemed to put more pressure on the help as time went on, they wanted them to work all the time. Then some of them…children would bring lunch to their parents in the mill. They got where they would sell lunches to them in the mill. They had something they called a "dope cart", carried one around that carried ale and sandwiches and things like that. They would sell them something and let them eat. The differences there probably came about because of the time. Back in the early days they worked ten hours a day in the mill. Then they changed to eight hours. They'd maybe allow their help a fifteen minute break to eat a sandwich, something like that at noontime. It kind of evolved, I don't know exactly what time when it was that it changed.