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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Jean Cole Hatcher, June 13, 1980. Interview H-0165. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

African American workers and skilled labor in the Cole Manufacturing Company

In this excerpt, Hatcher describes the nature of skilled work in the Cole Manufacturing Company and the presence of African American workers. According to Hatcher, since its establishment in 1900, the Cole Manufacturing Company had employed African Americans in equal numbers to white workers; however, they rarely held skilled positions. Instead, most African American workers served as assistants to white skilled workers.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Jean Cole Hatcher, June 13, 1980. Interview H-0165. 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:
Well, what about the notice you have, that photograph of Black foundry workers? How early were there Blacks working in the company?
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
From the beginning.
ALLEN TULLOS:
What were their jobs, as compared to the white workers? Were they different?
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
They were all over the plant-no. No. There was a preponderance, of course, of Black labor in the foundry. And the old, old system in foundries was that you had a molder, who was a skilled molder. And the man has to be skilled, and he's got to know about his metal heat, and how to pour, and all that sort of thing. How to make his molds. And he had a Negro, who was called a "helper." So each molder had a helper. If we had fifty molders down there, we had fifty helpers. Those helpers were invariably-almost always-Black. And as time went on, and as attrition was the main thing, those helpers became skilled. When attrition, health, or age would cause one of our skilled molders to retire, leave his job, we'd very frequently, as early as the nineteen-/[Interruption]: commentary on the traffic lights./ We would promote that skilled helper-who had learned his skills by helping the molder-into a molder's position. Then, we've had a high percentage of Black labor all through the plant, all through the years.
ALLEN TULLOS:
The molders' jobs were the highest skilled of all the jobs. /About the machinery/ That'd be the conveyor, going . . .
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
[Pause] No. [Pause] The most skilled job in the whole place were our pattern makers. And then we make our own dyes, for the different steel-cutting machinery, and the steel-farming machinery. And we make our own dyes. So those two jobs are very skilled, extremely skilled. Then . . . our chief assembly men are considered equally as skilled, I would say, as the foundrymen. Probably not as specialized as foundrymen. Therefore, according to your way of thinking, probably you would say that a molder was amongst the most skilled. But we've also got to have skilled machinists who, in their field, are equally as skilled. So we've never made a distinction about which was the most skilled.