Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Frank Durham, September 10 and 17, 1979. Interview H-0067. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Working culture inside the textile mill

Employees responsible for some machines were able to take longer breaks than others, and Durham explains why and what they did with their extra free time.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Frank Durham, September 10 and 17, 1979. Interview H-0067. 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

DOUGLAS DENATALE:
How about back when you started work? What did people do then?
FRANK DURHAM:
Oh, they went on outside. Just smoked, that was all. We didn't have no drinks nor nothing. There weren't nothing down there except water. And if you smoked, why, you'd catch up long enough to go out and smoke. [Laughter] a lot of them younger boys, you'd have to go after them, you know, but then it got to where everybody didn't hire nobody under sixteen, you know, and then they moved it up to eighteen. And got away from that young'un stuff all right coming along. Well, I'll tell you,used to say, accused cotton mill folks of going to the mill with a big family, and the old man quitting work. [Laughter] And it really was true, you know; children worked. It's pitiful for the child working attwelve years old. Wake up every morning at five o'clock, go to work at 6:20. Get up and eat a good breakfast and get waked up, then it's time to go to work. And you worked eleven hours a day.
DOUGLAS DENATALE:
Were there families here in Bynum who did that, where the father didn't work?
FRANK DURHAM:
Not too many here. They had a good bunch that worked here, ever since I come over there. I don't remember no real sorry folks that would do that much, but it wasn't that big. But around these big mills, they said they was bad about that, and there probably was some here, too. I'm sure there was. But as a young'un I didn't pay much attention to it. And by the time I began to get grown, they were getting away from a lot of it. They done pretty good.
DOUGLAS DENATALE:
Some people have told me that during their breaks they used to go down fishing or go to Pittsboro.
FRANK DURHAM:
Well, they used to, them doffers, sometimes.
DOUGLAS DENATALE:
Could they do that?
FRANK DURHAM:
Yes, but now you didn't give them any break; they earned it, but sometimes they'd overdo it, and you'd have to lay them off for a day or two at a time or something like that. They didn't do much of that, and if they did you could break it up by. . . . Say a fellow makes a round. He's doffing twenty frames, say, . Well, he knows this first frame will run four hours. Well, it gets around in three hours, and he's got an hour there he ain't got nothing to do. And they didn't even want him in the mill. They wanted him out. And a whole lot of time [Laughter] , and they'd get out. And some of them would have a car there Pittsboro and overstay sometime. And they'd come back with a big tale that something happened, and sometime it did and sometime they'd just stay too long. But the fellow that was looking after that, why, he'd look in and maybe he'd send them home the rest of the day or do any way to punish them a little bit for not do it no more, you know. Now some maybe didn't do nothing. Just according to the excuse. If he had car trouble or something. Sometimes that would happen, but they'd take a chance sometime and go over there when really they shouldn't have went at all, that far. Because . But this mill down here was very lenient. It really was good. That's what kept good help and good satisfied help. Because if you had to get after a fellow much, you wouldn't stay with him but you could get help. Good gracious, you could get help.you were through with him, you'd get somebody else.
DOUGLAS DENATALE:
Do you have any idea why the mill in Bynum was more lenient than other mills?
FRANK DURHAM:
Yes, much more, they were, but they got along with them real good. None better.