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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Frank Gilbert, Summer 1977. Interview H-0121. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Remembering an unpredictable boss

Gilbert describes the eccentricities of Mr. Bolick, his former boss at Conover Furniture. Bolick had a habit of firing his employees in fits of temper. Gilbert remembers one black employee who was fired and rehired a number of times, and using baldly racist language, remembers helping Bolick build a house for a black employee in an impulsive act of charity. Despite this kind of impulsiveness, more often motivated by anger than generosity, Gilbert does not remember if Bolick ever fired workers for striking.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Frank Gilbert, Summer 1977. Interview H-0121. 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

PATTY DILLEY:
So Mr. Bolick must have been a pretty easygoing guy, I guess, to get along with.
FRANK GILBERT:
Mr. Bolick was a good man and an honest man and everything, but he fired some people that I thought he oughtn't to have fired, maybe.
PATTY DILLEY:
Why did he fire them?
FRANK GILBERT:
I wouldn't want to say too much [unless] I see it won't go out to the public.
PATTY DILLEY:
You don't have to say their names or anything.
FRANK GILBERT:
He fired one man, and his wife worked in the sewing room. Said, "Go bring your wife along with you. I don't want her anymore either." And so he went and got his wife and then said, "Now that woman what rides with you from Alexander County. Because she wouldn't have no way to get to work, take her along. I don't need her anymore."
PATTY DILLEY:
Well, people are funny. They can be good people to work for, but then they just have a quirk or something.
FRANK GILBERT:
Well, that's the way I always took it. He never said a word to me in his life, not bad. He just fired a lot of people like that. He'd just lose his temper, you know. Had a little old colored boy, I bet he fired him a hundred times, and then he'd go back after him before night.
PATTY DILLEY:
[Laughter] Who was this?
FRANK GILBERT:
That was Rat Rheinhardt. I don't know what his name was; we called him "Rat" all the time.
PATTY DILLEY:
That's funny. Then he'd go right back after him. [Laughter]
FRANK GILBERT:
Yes. [Laughter] He'd go back after him before dark. Rat would make him mad about something. Another time, he had an old colored boy, Walter Smith, worked for him. He was a good worker but just naturally slow. And he worked in the machine room part of the time with me, and then part of the time he filled furniture cushions. And Mr. Bolick come down there one day. I always had him run a drum sander, sand legs and feet. "Well," I said, "you know Walter. He works pretty good. You know how slow he is." "I know he's slow, but," he said, "the durn devil doesn't try sometimes. He won't work. And you tell him he don't need to come back anymore." I said, "Mr. Bolick, he works up in that other place the most. You tell him. Or let the foreman, let Bill Farland tell him." He was the foreman over that place. "No," he says, "you tell him." I said, "Mr. Bolick, I ain't going to do it." He says, You tell him." So that was sometime in the morning. And about three-thirty, when we got off. A little before then he come back, and he said, "What are you going to do this evening after work?" Me and Carol Hawn and Oct Shook—the man that lived right there in this next house; he's dead now—were building houses around in our spare time for Mr. Bolick. He said, "Boys, I know old Walter's slow, but he's a pretty good nigger. You know what I'm going to do? I got some land over across from Niggertown, and I've got a notion to build old Walter a little house over there and let him live in it."
PATTY DILLEY:
This was Mr. Bolick saying this?
FRANK GILBERT:
Yes. [Laughter] He says, "You see Carol Hawn, and if it suits him we'll go over there this evening to lay off a place to start building." And we went to work and never stopped till we got done, for old Walter. [Laughter] It was just a thing like that he would do.
PATTY DILLEY:
He seems like he has two different parts to his personality. He can lose his temper one time, and then the next he can just be as nice…
FRANK GILBERT:
Yes.
PATTY DILLEY:
I would have trouble trying to come to grips with that. [Laughter] Because, you know, you usually think of a person as just straight good or bad.
FRANK GILBERT:
That happened a lot of times, though. He hired Herman Bolick, his nephew, and fired him and made him take his wife along. The best sewing woman he ever had in the sewing room there. I don't think he ever did a thing in his life.
PATTY DILLEY:
You usually don't hear of them firing their own relatives.
FRANK GILBERT:
Yes. [Laughter] It didn't make no difference to him when he got mad.
PATTY DILLEY:
Did he ever fire anybody that was ever trying to make workers strike or any kind of organizing people?
FRANK GILBERT:
We never did have nothing like that, never done nothing like that up there.
PATTY DILLEY:
I just wondered if anybody got fired for even talking about stuff like that.
FRANK GILBERT:
That never was mentioned up there. Of course, all of them knew how he was, how his temper was. A lot of people, he didn't… I always figured that it was just somebody maybe that he didn't like might have said something to him right at the time to make him mad and all that.
PATTY DILLEY:
So I guess you just stayed out of his way and did your work.
FRANK GILBERT:
Yes. I never did… Of course, at times I had pretty much of a temper, too, but I never did hook up with him.