Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Annie Mack Barbee, May 28, 1979. Interview H-0190. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Unions and racism

During the mid-twentieth century, the tobacco workers' unions made various demands. Barbee reflects on what they did and did not accomplish as well as exploring how race affected what workers wanted the union to attempt.

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:
Now I was told in the forties there was a strike. Do you know anything about Local 308 and Local 194?
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Seem like that 194 ring a bell. 'Cause I was in the union, I forgot. I think that 194 might have been the black—they were separated, now they tell me they're incorporated.
BEVERLY JONES:
Right. I was told that the 194 was for the stemmery and women were basically in that …
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
That's it—194.
BEVERLY JONES:
Okay. So there was a strike in the forties.
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
There was a strike in the forties. I'm trying to think. The strike in the forties might have been before they got established good, you know, got it up off the ground you'd call it. Just before they got it up off the ground. But I have worked under that union, you know, take out union dues. And it was a thing that wasn't compulsory, you could join if you wanted to. But it would have been better that everybody join it because you see, if it became known to the other employees you weren't in it, they could kind of make it hard for you, you know. The work conditions—bad for the work with somebody. When you're working, there's got to be some harmony there to make the work easier for you. But if you divided a group of people over here belong to the union and a group over there don't, there's going to be a conflict, in there. I don't mean they would just, you know, come out and fight you. But they can do so many other things that make your working conditions very unpleasant. And so, I don't know, I was in the union, joined it. They'd tell you not to join in and I said, well it'd be better to join it than to be outside it—they'd worry you so much, they'd worry you to death. And I worked under it to see what good it would do. 'Cause Miss Dora Jones, she lived down here—you know her don't you?
BEVERLY JONES:
Right.
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Lois used to live with her. A incident happened there …
BEVERLY JONES:
She worked at the factory?
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Oh yeah, she was one of the leaders in the union thing the last year.
BEVERLY JONES:
Oh she was.
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Yeah, she'd take the complaints and things. She was a hard worker in that union. Very hard worker. A incident happened one day, with this young boy. The foreman was another young boy. So he told the boy, he said, "Boy, move these trucks out of the way." The boy acted like he didn't hear him. And he said, "I'm talking to you boy." He said, "Are you talking to me?" He said, "Yeah, I'm talking to you." "No you're not." He said, "I have a name 'cause it's on the payroll, and you carry it." Kept on, "I mean move these trucks." I mean, it kept on. I told that child, I said, look we're going to have some excitement directly. He went up to the boy and pointed his fingers in his face. He said, "Boy I mean for you to move these trucks." He said, "You still talking to me. Okay, so I'll move 'em." I won't say the cuss word. He took that man by the seat of his pants. We was four floors up. He said, "When I get you to this window you going to be four floors down." And Dora went running up there, she said he was laid on the floor. He had him. Was going to drag him to the window and pitch him out. And Dora came up there and somebody told her and when Dora got to 'em, this boy had him. Carried him to the window. And he had to pass right by us where we were working near the window—it faces the main street. And honey, when Dora went up there it was all she could do to make that black boy turn that boy loose. We was four floors up and he said in a few minutes you going to be four floors down 'cause I'm carrying you to the window right now. Oh, she had to call for some of those men to come and get that black boy off of that boy. Had him by the seat of his pants, was going to pitch him down four floors. I never will forget that. Here's what happened. She told the boy, she said. And he said, "Lady." He cursed again. "Don't you come here with your so and so mess about the so and so union. I've walked in here a free man, I'm going to walk out a free man. 'Cause I do my work. I don't need nobody to tell me what to do unless either I got a name. When I walked in this plant my name was on the payroll. And anybody, you or anybody else, better call me by my name." He said, "I just walked in here. I ain't been here but two weeks and if I stay here, you ain't seen nothing yet." So she talked to him and talked to him, she carried on. She went to the office, came back with one of the head men. And when she came back, I said, Oh—o-. And he said you go get that so and so and bring him out here. He said all I want him to do is hand me my time. He said, "I ain't taking back none of it. Now he come out here and he ain't right, I'm gonna whup him." So they went and got him, came on back and took the white boy. Each floor has a office, a little, you know, office. Took the white boy and carried him in the office, him and the head man, and then they'd taken him on out. I ain't seen that boy no more. Black boy went on back to work, hustling trucks. So it must have helped some. It either helped or they couldn't get nobody to work and had to treat him right. I'll put it like that.
BEVERLY JONES:
Okay, that's like in the forties. What were the demands, what were the grievances. Do you recall?
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
More money and better working conditions if I can recall. More money and better working conditions.
BEVERLY JONES:
And what type of strategy did you use. You just boycotted Liggett and Myers or you just didn't go to work at all.
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
I think the strategy they used is oneness, you see. Because of the fact, over there where the white people worked and over where the black people worked, somehow or another they got together. But you know, I'm going to tell it like it is. The black people had no choice. When the white people closed down on there side, you see—see how much pull they got. When they closed down there where they actually made the cigarettes, automatically the company had no choice but to close down where we were at. So they really had the ace card over there. So the company just closed down. I don't say the black people did it, 'cause they didn't have no voice no how. The white people did, over where they actually make the cigarettes. All of them got together, and said we won't go to work. Well the company just closed down over there where we were. And that was oneness. But they did it. I've said as poor as black folks is, you know they won't stay home, no, that was their bread, you know. The white people did. They got together and say, if they won't do it, we'll just close down. They did it.
BEVERLY JONES:
And you got what you wanted?
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
I guess they got what they wanted. I know that the salaries began to increase. So that was one of the demands, the salary.