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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Eula and Vernon Durham, November 29, 1978. Interview H-0064. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

New, professional management has rigidified the textile mill environment

Revealing something about the dynamics of mill work, Eula and Vernon Durham remember a former supervisor, Arthur Durham. Durham was a good-tempered person, but would occasionally vent some frustration at some apparently easy targets, "the niggers that worked in the yard." The focus of this passage, however, is the relationship between mill workers and their superiors. New, more professional management has rigidified the work structure with an over-reliance on rules and too little hands-on experience.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Eula and Vernon Durham, November 29, 1978. Interview H-0064. 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

JIM LELOUDIS:
Do you remember any times in particular that he did get mad?
EULA DURHAM:
When he didn't talk, you knowed he was mad. When he didn't have nothing to say you knowed he was mad. But most of the time he was a pretty good old guy.
JIM LELOUDIS:
What would he get mad about?
EULA DURHAM:
Well, work or something or another. He didn't ever get mad at the hands much, it was always the niggers that worked in the yard most of the time or something like that. He would have a spell. But most of the time he was a pretty good old guy.
JIM LELOUDIS:
What type of work rules were there in terms of how much time you had to be in the mill, freedom to leave?
EULA DURHAM:
Well, long about then, they didn't have any rules. At all. Not when I was working there.
VERNON DURHAM:
They didn't have no lunch room then like they do now.
EULA DURHAM:
No, they didn't have no lunch room then.
VERNON DURHAM:
Little joint up here, a piece of walking from the mill, was the only place you could get drinks or things. Didn't have no box or nothing in the mill.
EULA DURHAM:
And when I first was working there you didn't have water in there. We had a cooler, and we'd go up to the well and get a bucket of water and put in that cooler and get us a chunk of ice and put in.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Where was the well located?
EULA DURHAM:
Right there above the mill. Had some good old times down there.
JIM LELOUDIS:
How did people handle—you know, if they had complaints about the work?
VERNON DURHAM:
Well, they'd usually go to the foreman, the one that's ahead of them, in the spinning room or carding—the department they was in. Sometimes if they didn't think they was doing like they should do, they'd go over them and go to the office out there. If he thought his boss man wasn't doing like he ought to, he'd go over him. Go to the head man, and see what he'd do about it.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Did anybody ever do that to you?
VERNON DURHAM:
They have done it, haven't they?
EULA DURHAM:
Yeah.
VERNON DURHAM:
But that's changed now. I don't think they want you to do that much. They told them down there not to do that no more, didn't they? Wade Barton told them not to do that.
EULA DURHAM:
I never did go to my boss man or superintendent or nothing about nothing. Not till this company took over, and we didn't get along at all.
VERNON DURHAM:
That wasn't his name, was it?
EULA DURHAM:
What?
VERNON DURHAM:
Wade.
EULA DURHAM:
Wade—Gardner.
VERNON DURHAM:
Oh, Gardner. I said Barton.
JIM LELOUDIS:
What was wrong that you didn't get along?
EULA DURHAM:
Cause they didn't know nothing. And you couldn't tell them nothing. They learned theirs by books, and I learned mine by self-experience. Down there one time, I was working on second shift, and on the frame they got a traverse chain that pulls the traverse that runs the rack up and down on the frame and fills the frame up. And one of the chains was out. And when it hit that chain it'd just stand there and idle, just like that. Bobbin would get bigger and bigger. And I told them one day, I said, "That there traverse chain is broke is what's causing that." He said, "It ain't so." I said, "Well, I know good and well that it is." So after he went home, I stopped the frame off and went off in the basement and got me a chain and come back and put it on. Started the frame up and the frame run just as pretty as you ever seen. So the next morning the big man from Mount Pleasant came. I was standing up the hall a way from where the frame was, and he told this man—well, the man was down there that morning, telling them to do something—and he was standing there and told this man, "Well, I fixed that frame last night." He said, "Yeah," said, "Looks like it's running pretty good." And I turned around to him and said, "Who fixed it?" He said, "I did." I said, "You know good and well that's a lie." I said, "You said there wasn't nothing the matter with that frame." And, I said, "I fixed it myself." This man turned around me and said, "I knowed you did." I said, "Well, I know damn well I did too." [Laughter] They just didn't know nothing. And they didn't want you to tell them. That's the truth. And you can ask any of them down there, they'll tell you. Don't none of them know nothing. And it's the type of people that don't want you to tell them nothing. I told them I've been down there forty-five years; I know when anything was running right and when it weren't. Cause weren't a frame in that mill I hadn't tore down and put back together. Tore down every one of them. I know exactly what's the matter with them.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Have there been any other changes under this new management?
VERNON DURHAM:
Yeah, they have rules to go by—I believe they still got them, I don't know.
EULA DURHAM:
You got a certain time to go eat, you got a certain time to take a break, you got a certain time to do anything—to smoke. They've got you timed.
VERNON DURHAM:
In the winding room every two hours they have a break, a fifteen or twenty minute break. And they're supposed to clear out of the lunch room when they're… There's so many of them when they all go in at one time. They're supposed to have a break of their own and they fill the lunch room most of the time when they go in. Every two hours they have a break.
EULA DURHAM:
But I'm telling you I took my break when I got ready. I told them I had been working in there and never had to call on nobody to help me. I kept my work up, and I had sense enough to know how long to stand, and how long to stay away from my work, and I'd go when I got ready. And me and him had a fuss about that one day. I said, "Well, when you catch my sides balled up and me a-setting in here then you can come after me. But if my sides ain't balled up, don't you come in here after me." I said, "Cause I've been here a whole lot longer than you have." He never did come after me no more.