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 >>

Maintaining her dignity in poor working environments

Using an illustration from her own work experience, Barbee insists that African American women must learn to stand for themselves, refusing to give up their rights even when the white men in authority demand it.

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 all your foremen were men …
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
And white.
BEVERLY JONES:
In the later twenties.
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Yeah, men and white. All of them was white.
BEVERLY JONES:
Well how did they relate to black women working. Basically what I'm trying to get at is how did they treat you.
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Now, that's the thing. Oh they'd treat you nice. But some of our women made it very hard by being so humble.
BEVERLY JONES:
So they would say yes sir or mister.
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Being humble. I had a incident that happened to me and they was fixing to fire me. I went to New York with Dorothy Campbell, you know the Thompsons around here, Gertrude and all—her aunt, Dorothy, Dee and I, her mother is too. Well I went to New York and stayed with her, she and Marie, in the early forties. I was up there during the strike in Harlem. It's been so long, you don't know nothing about that. Buddie Farrington her brother, came over there to take me to Harlem. They were striking over there, I told him I didn't want to go. So I went to New York and stayed two weeks and never did see Harlem. Went up there and stayed. And I told Marie, Marie . I said I'm going to New York. And I told her to tell him I was going. She said he said you can have a week, you can't have two. I said, well look here Marie. I said, I'm not begging nobody to let—tell him to give me my time when go up there. Everybody else'll leave here and stay two weeks and three weeks. "Well Annie, you know." I said,—the job. I told her that she was a little union lady. She said, all right, you go, you'll get fired. I said, well right now I don't care. That's what I told her. Well, I went on. Who called me. I think your momma told them children to call me. Called me up. Said Mr. Vickers or somebody said if I didn't bring my so and so back here he was going to fire my so and so. I was in New York. Okay, I said, thank you. I said, yes I'm coming home, but I got two more days. I stayed. I didn't come home. Came on back and she said, "Annie I'm scared." I said, yeah I'm going up there to face it. I said, nobody, nobody tells me what I can do and what I can't. This ain't no slavery time. I was hot as a forty-five. I said, now I'm going back up there. You better be careful, I ain't being careful, no. So I got ready and went on back to work. I went to Marie, I said I got a call when I was in New York for me to come back to work. And I said I'm up here this morning, I said, I'm up here to be fired so fire me. So I thought that's settle, I said, I don't know what you done. I said, now I told you to tell—I forgot who it must have been, Mr. Vickers or somebody—I'm going to New York. I said, you told 'em and I said, I went and told him myself, he said okay. I said, now what happened while I was gone. I said, now you're the union leader, you better tell me something and tell me now. 'Cause I was mad. She said, "Annie, be careful." I said, I ain't bowing to none of these white people goddamn ass. I told her right there in her face. I said I ain't bowing. I said, no, I'm a single woman and I can get a job. I said, I ain't no old woman, I ain't bowing. I went around there, I said, I didn't come to go to work, I came to see about this firing business. I said, I ain't begging. "Well you're talking so bad he might fire you." So let him fire me, I said, I'm ready. Went on around there. I said to Mr. Vickers, I said, no. He said, "Are you back Annie?" I said, yeah. I said there's been some misunderstanding about when I went to last night. You know as long as I've been here I wouldn't walk off the job. I said, somebody told a lie on me, how who is it. He said, "I don't know." I said, well I got a call … [END OF TAPE 2, SIDE A] [TAPE 2, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 2, SIDE B]
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
'Cause I wouldn't buy it. Coming up there an telling old nasty jokes.
BEVERLY JONES:
Who was that?
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
The foreman, saying old nasty jokes.
BEVERLY JONES:
In front of women?
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
They joined in, I'm telling you now.
BEVERLY JONES:
Black women
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Well, you just don't know. You see, I think some of these women ought to tell the young people how it is. I think it's time for them to tell how it is. Any two time you put yourself on the line and don't demand respect and carry yourself in a way that makes somebody respect you, that's your fault. I don't care if it's the president of the United States, I'm a person and I demand respect. If it costs me something I'll pay it. They didn't do it. They'd laugh and play them old nasty jokes and here they go. And I would never laugh. Someone'd say, you so solemn. I said I'm up here to work, 'cause that's my purpose in this factory, is to work. And I don't tell nasty jokes whether they're black or white, nobody, I don't tell no nasty jokes with nobody. I said, I'm a person. I said well if you're scared you're going to get fired and let them man fumble your behind and say all that …
BEVERLY JONES:
They didn't do that did they? The white foremen would do this to black women?
ANNIE MACK BARBEE:
Who was at fault. They were. If you don't put dignity on you there ain't nobody else who's going to do it. You sit around here and don't put it on you, who else going to put it on you. You're a person. I don't care how low your job is, regardless it's honest work. You're not stealing. You are a person within your own right, and you demand respect from people, don't care a durn who it is and how high it is, you demand it. It'll cost you something but be willing to pay it. No honey, I said I ain't bowing. I said I don't bow to nobody. I don't bow to nobody but god. It'll cost you something, but I don't bow. I know that there is a time for meekness and humbling. I know that. I got sense enough to know that. But this is not the time. See I knew if he had fired me I would a had a hard time finding another—but I was willing to pay the price. Come telling me when to go and telling me I could go and then calling way up to New York and telling me I better bring my so and so back home. I didn't, I came when I got ready. And I think, if I can remember, came when I got ready and stayed my two weeks out. I went to work on a Monday and I came back here on a Thursday. I didn't go up there 'till that Monday. I took just the exact day. He didn't know nothing about it. I never did tell him.