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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Annie Mack Barbee, May 28, 1979. Interview H-0190. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Various jobs open to African American women in the tobacco factories

When she was a young woman, Barbee went to work in the Liggett & Myers tobacco factories. She describes various jobs in the factory that were open to African American women.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Annie Mack Barbee, May 28, 1979. Interview H-0190. 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

BEVERLY JONES:
Okay, so Liggett and Myers. Do you recall when you began working there?
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
I'd say '28 or '29.
BEVERLY JONES:
And what type of job?
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
What I was doing—mostly sweeping. I couldn't stem the tobacco, I just couldn't do it. But they had women stemming, but I never was a stemmer.
BEVERLY JONES:
Were the women that were stemming, were they all black or were they white women?
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Oh, on that side, I'm going to tell it like it is now. On that side where we were working, black women did all the hard and nasty work, that's what I say. On the cigarette side, where they wore those white uniforms and made sure no blacks worked over there.
BEVERLY JONES:
So what type of hard and nasty jobs did black women have to perform?
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Okay, I'm going to describe it for you. Okay, you know, they had a season of year—they'd send tobacco in sheets from Georgia. It'd come in sheets, full of sand, full of everything. It was their job to take this tobacco out of the sheets and put it on a machine. You could just lift it out—you didn't have to—just as much as you want, and feed it in this belt that ran down to a large machine. And then the next job when the green season was over for Georgia leaves from Georgia, you'd work in the fall and take in this tobacco off a large thing called a hartege. It was already tied up and dried out and you'd take it off and feed it in a machine. The same thing, same type of work, wasn't nasty and dirty because it had been seasoned out. And you'd work up there, it was so hot the sweat would be—I never did perspire much, you know. Sweat would be—you'd see the women coming out there, you couldn't find a dry place on 'em. For water. I'm telling you 'cause I was up there. But I never did sweat much, I don't know why. Some boys teased me once, they said, you're higher brown. I said, maybe I am. But I worked with that, you know, condition.
BEVERLY JONES:
There was no ventilation.
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Yeah, the windows were open but the building was so large. No air conditioning.
BEVERLY JONES:
So the women—now you did sweeping, so that meant that you swept up all the …
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Yeah, swept the floors, sweep around the harteges, and just had a broom sweeping and getting up the waste tobacco that didn't get in the machine.
BEVERLY JONES:
How much did you get paid?
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Well I can remember when I worked, that was for twenty cent a hour. Twenty cents per hour.
BEVERLY JONES:
Do you know the women that were doing the stemming, did they get more?
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Well, you see in stemming you could make as much as you want. They gave you so much per pound. That's where you had it on the others. If you could stem a lot, you got a lot of money because they were paying you per pound to stem. There was a lot of money in that for stemming. Oh I couldn't stem, I never was a stemmer. You take that tobacco out and you pile it on a sheet and they weigh it. The man write it down. If you have a hundred pounds and three hundred or four hundred or what have you. But the stemmers made good money because—but you had to really stem the count because—in other words, you was mostly your own boss, depending on how much you could stem. That's they way that worked.