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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 >>

Racism worsened working conditions

The overall environment of the tobacco factories harmed the women's health, but Barbee describes how segregation and racism worsened conditions even further. After the end of this passage, she walks Jones through the factory's floor plan.

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

You mentioned that it was so hot that women would come out just perspiring and their clothes would be wet. Was it healthy working in the factory at that time?
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
I've often—now I'm glad you brought that up, I'm so glad. I've often wondered about that, because of the fact that the working conditions wasn't all that pleasant. I'm glad you brought that up. And the dust, there was a lot of dust. They had something to kind of keep the dust down, but naturally regardless of how cautious they were you couldn't—they couldn't have something to accumulate all that dust so that it wouldn't get to the workers. I'm quite sure. I and everybody else inhaled some of it.
BEVERLY JONES:
Were there any women that became very sickly because …
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Yeah.
BEVERLY JONES:
What, do you recall what were some of the complaints, coughing, whatever?
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Some of 'em became sickly, some of 'em would get too hot and fall out. Oh yeah I'm glad you brought—they had salt tablets in a dispenser on the wall. When you get too hot you go there and get a—I distinctly remember that—they had salt tablets, you could go there and get a salt. I never did bother because I just never lose that much water. But you can go there and get your salt tablets. They say that would help. And they had a little—what you call it—a dispenser, hospital up there, on our part. But, I want you to get this, they had a small one on ours, but the largest one was on the other side.
BEVERLY JONES:
So they completely—that was a form of racism.
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Yeah. Beyond a reasonable doubt. It was on the other side. But they had one on our side though, they had one. A small one, you could go over there and get first aid treatments, the nurse would examine you. And you'd go home, and then—they had a factory doctor. Dr. Roberts. I got a splinter in my finger, some kind of way, it wouldn't come out. I told them that I got it up there in some tobacco, I don't know whether I did or not. But you know how I had to go to the factory doctor. He treated it and I waited as long as he say go, you know. Yeah they had a—Dr. Roberts was the factory doctor. The company had employed a doctor, you know, he just worked for the company only. How I found out, they told me to go to him for the splinter in my finger. And I went. And they asked me, did you get it up in here. I said yes. I forgot, I might not have gotten it up there. But anyway, he treated it. Anybody get sick, and so sick for her—this lady, Mrs. Susie Cress, she was one of the nurses. Carolina Dunn was another one. I think she retired from there some kind of way.
BEVERLY JONES:
Were there black nurses?
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Yeah.
BEVERLY JONES:
Oh, okay.
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Carolina Dunn is the only one that had her certificate though. Them others, I'm not quite sure about that. But Miss Carolina Dunn, I'm quite sure she was a R.N., a registered nurse. She worked up there for I don't know how many—and I think Junior Amey's wife worked up in the latter part of the years, I think. I'm not for sure, I have to—I've forgotten. Now maybe she did, in the latter years, worked up there in that, you know, that part of the hospital where the employees could go.
BEVERLY JONES:
Do you recall any woman at that time that became sick and was hospitalized, you know, taken to a hospital, because of maybe being drained physically because of the work of just being dehydrated, or any instances in reference to a woman who might've been taken out or taken to the hospital because of conditions.
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
No, I don't believe I have. I know there were some sickness up there but the cause, I don't know. They would get sick, yeah, they would get sick. Some of 'em would get sick and stay out a long time.