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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Murphy Yomen Sigmon, July 27, 1979. Interview H-0142. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Coping with the Great Depression

Forced to quit his job at a shoelace factory because he was under sixteen years of age, Sigmon found work at a cotton mill, Ivey Weavers. Sigmon worked in a variety of positions there, and he describes some of his duties, including sweeping and machine operation. When the Great Depression hit, Sigmon and his family stayed out of abject poverty due to free rent and credit extensions from the mill owners, government programs, and by growing their own livestock and produce.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Murphy Yomen Sigmon, July 27, 1979. Interview H-0142. 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

But my brother was working over at the cotton mill, Ivey Weavers.
PATTY DILLEY:
Which brother was this?
MURPHY YOMEN SIGMON:
That was Frank. I've got two brothers living yet. He'll be seventy-seven in October. And he got me on over there a-sweeping. They had two sweepers sweeping the spinning room, and they started me in at eight cents an hour. [laughter] That was a big drop from $14.40 a week, to eight cents an hour.
PATTY DILLEY:
Really.
MURPHY YOMEN SIGMON:
But I went on and went to work, working eleven hours a day, five hours on Saturday. And I learned to make bands. That was what pulled the spindle; the thread went around. I learned to make bands on the band machine, and they raised me to ten cents an hour.
PATTY DILLEY:
How did you learn how to do that?
MURPHY YOMEN SIGMON:
They had time, you know. I'd sweep the spinning room every hour, two of us, and it wouldn't take us but about ten minutes to run up and down the alleys with brooms, two brooms, and keep the corners of the sparehold() clean. And the boy that was making bands, he showed me how he done it, and I learned it that way. And when he quit or got stepped up to something else, they put me on the band machine and raised me to ten cents an hour. That was in about '29. Then I learned to run the quiller machine.
PATTY DILLEY:
Can you tell me about that?
MURPHY YOMEN SIGMON:
The weave shop left a little thread on the back of the bobbin, and it would skin that thread off. You had to put it down in a slot, and it had two things, and it would just catch the top of the bobbin and pull it out, and it would skin that thread off. And I got on up to where I got on the quiller machine; I think it paid fifteen cents an hour. That was about 1930. And then I learned to doff a little. And they had a twister there that made the selvage yarn for the cloth, and I learned to run it and doff. I guess when I got on that, that was about 1934. Of course, we had a depression in '29, '30, and '31, and the mill didn't run too much then. It would just run in the wintertime. And it would shut down anywhere from three to six months in the summer.
PATTY DILLEY:
What did you do during that time?
MURPHY YOMEN SIGMON:
Fished. [laughter] Me and my daddy would fish. He was back from Florida then.
PATTY DILLEY:
Were you living at home all during this time?
MURPHY YOMEN SIGMON:
Yes, we was living on the mill village down there. They had a village for the mill. And we didn't have to pay no rent when the mill shut down. Just only when it run. And N. W. Phelps, he run a grocery store down there, and he'd take care of the people. He would give them credit till they'd go back to work. When the Depression hit, we got on what they called the doogeling or doogeloo. The government sponsored it. You'd go down and work on projects. My daddy went down and signed up, and I told him I'd work the card. That was back in '33-'34.
PATTY DILLEY:
Work the card?
MURPHY YOMEN SIGMON:
Yes. We had to sign up, and we had to have a card. And I could work his card; it was all in the family. And I told him if he'd go down and sign up, I'd work the card, and the pay was ten cents an hour. Worked nine hours a day, three days a week. Didn't get no money; we just got groceries. And we got enough about to live on, all but a few things such as bread and stuff like that, milk. We'd get meat, fatback, pinto beans, Irish potatoes, just rough food like that.
PATTY DILLEY:
Did you have a garden?
MURPHY YOMEN SIGMON:
Yes, in the summertime we'd have a garden. We had a place where we could have a garden. And raise the hogs. We could, down at the end of the mill down there where the transformers and everything is now, Duke Power. You know where that is. That's where we had our hog pens then.
PATTY DILLEY:
Did different people in the mill village have their hogs penned up there?
MURPHY YOMEN SIGMON:
Yes. I guess there was fifteen or twenty a-raising hogs down there, and each one had a pen. And all that could, raised their meat. We'd carry the eats for the hogs from the house down there, every evening and morning. When we'd go to work, we'd take a load full of slop down and feed the hog, going to work. And every evening we'd feed him.