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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 reflected in workers' uniforms

In segregated factories, race even determined the color of uniforms the female factory workers wore. In addition, when machines replaced workers, Barbee remembers that mostly black women were dismissed from their jobs.

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:
So when you were doing the job of sweeping the floors you were just working as a full time employee.
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Yeah.
BEVERLY JONES:
And then later on you switched to a seasonal type of work.
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
When the machines came. There was a reason for that though. They put these machines in.
BEVERLY JONES:
About when was that, do you recall?
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Nineteen sixty, early sixties. When they put those machines in, and they didn't need no more black employees. Just a few of 'em go. In the later years they worked a few black women up until, I know Hannah Williams said she went back. I didn't go back, my seniority wasn't long enough. Worked a few black women up until '65 I think. Seasonal work. That's because, whoever they send back for is because of your seniority. So at last they phased all of 'em out. I don't know whether there were any black women working on that side that I worked on or not. I don't know. But you see, here's the hang up Beverly. When they began to pay decent wages, machinery took over, you know what I'm talking about. The machinery came in there and did the work that we were supposed to be doing. You did it by machine. So machinery really put a lot of black women out doors. I don't know how it is on the Duke side. They got a lot of black women over there now, actually helping make the cigarettes on that side I heard. Now I haven't been in communication with the factory in so long I wouldn't know. But I heard there was a lot of black women over there, actually making cigarettes. Or in the cigarette processing, you know, making 'em, wearing white dresses, I heard. But the years I worked up there you didn't see anything but white women coming up. White shoes and white dresses on.
BEVERLY JONES:
Now what did you wear in the earlier part?
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Blue uniforms, white cuffs and collar, and blue hats with a white band on it. Yeah, we wore uniforms.
BEVERLY JONES:
Were these supplied by the company or did you have to buy 'em.
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Seems like to me you had to pay for 'em. That weren't no good either.
BEVERLY JONES:
So this would have to come out of your check.
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Yeah, we had to pay for 'em. I always thought that was—but they were pretty. Along then when Liggett and Myers was in their bloom a lady came from New York—I don't know who that lady was. And we were going downtown one day and she said, "Where do you all work. I came to Durham especially to see Liggett and Myers." I said we worked at Liggett and Myers. She said, "Is everybody uniformed?" I said, yeah, everybody is uniformed. She said, "I'm going to have to get me a picture of this." I said well, you'll have to go to the main office. She said, "Where is the main office?" I told her where to get to the main office. She said, "I've got to have one." And she was standing up there in front of Roses. No, United Auto Store. And she was standing up just looking. Kind of early, you know, her early sixties. She said, "I've never seen nothing like this in all of my life. I've got to have a picture." I said, well you go up there and they'll tell you how to get a picture. Wanted to get a picture of all the employees in all this blue. And they had a lawn over there right where the office is now. And honey, all out there under them trees, if you didn't want to eat in the cafeteria. Seem like to me they did—I'll tell you, in the end they did away, after our part became seasonal, they did away with the cafeteria on our side. And you was allowed to go on the other side and eat, in later years. You see what I'm talking about. I went over there one day to eat, just to go on over there to eat and I found a roach in my salad so I didn't go back. [laughter] There was a nice place on the other side, very nice.