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Title: Oral History Interview with Thomas Burt, February 6, 1979. Interview H-0194-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Burt, Thomas, interviewee
Interview conducted by Hinson, Glenn
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Jennifer Joyner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2007
Size of electronic edition: 100 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2007.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2007-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2007-05-15, Jennifer Joyner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Thomas Burt, February 6, 1979. Interview H-0194-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series H. Piedmont Industrialization. Southern Oral History Program Collection (H-0194-2)
Author: Glenn Hinson
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Thomas Burt, February 6, 1979. Interview H-0194-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series H. Piedmont Industrialization. Southern Oral History Program Collection (H-0194-2)
Author: Thomas Burt
Description: 148 Mb
Description: 32 p.
Note: Interview conducted on February 6, 1979, by Glenn Hinson; recorded in Creedmoor, North Carolina.
Note: Transcribed by Sharon King.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series H. Piedmont Industrialization, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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Interview with Thomas Burt, February 6, 1979.
Interview H-0194-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Burt, Thomas, interviewee


Interview Participants

    BURT THOMAS, interviewee
    GLENN HINSON, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
THOMAS BURT:
After I come twenty-one, I went to Durham. I stayed in Durham some before then. But I went back to the country on the farm and stayed on the farm till I come twenty-one. I messed around, quit the farming and went off to Durham.
The first job I got after I got in Durham, I went to work at the Bull factory. I worked at the Bull factory, I reckon, six or eight months. When I first went there and start to work, they put me down in the shipping room where they put labels on the packs of cigarettes. I worked down in there for a while. Then they wanted me to come up and help sweep the floor every evening an hour or hour and a half before quittin' time—sweep the floor so the floor would be clean the next morning. I done that for a while, and it give me the worst cold. I just got to coughin'. They all told me, if they'd me, they'd quit cause that's dangerous goin' into TB. I quit and walked around town and messed around town three or four weeks before I found another job. I was standing on the street one morning, and Eulis Holloway—colored fellow I knowed there—he come up from down where he was roomin' and come out there to catch his way out to the brick yard. He asked me, "Boy, what you doin'standin' here?" I said, "Well, I'm just standin' around. Maybe I might luck up on a job." He says, "I believe I can get you a job." I said, "Well, if you can, good." He said, "I believe I can get you a job out there on the brick yard where I work." I said, "Well, if you do, look out for me." He said, "I'll tell you,

Page 2
I'll find out today, and we'll get together tonight, and if I find out, you get ready and go on out there and go to work in the morning." That was Thursday or Friday morning. He say, "Or either you can work till Monday morning to come in." He went on out there and asked old man Cheeks about if he want another hand. He told him, yeah, he could use another hand. He say, "Well, he wanted to know could he wait and come in Monday, or any morning anytime." He say, "Well, that's just up to him. I'll keep the job open for him if he'll come Monday morning." That Monday morning, I got up and met him up there and we caught the truck. I went on out there and went to work. Out there diggin' up clay. Had a clay hole. You dig the clay and carry it on up where they made the bricks. I worked out there two years till they went out of business.
The next job I got was drivin' wagons—old Squat's junk shop, haulin' iron. I drove for them two years. The man where was runnin' the shop was a police. Luther Byrd was his name. Everybody call him "Police Byrd." He had a butler boy stayed round the house all the time; he raised hogs out there where he lived, and had some horses. This boy just stayed out there to keep the stables all clean. When we'd go in every evenin', he be done fed and had water out there. We didn't have to do nothin' but take them out. This boy what done that, home was in Winston-Salem. He take sick and went home. Old man Luther then jumped at me to take his job. I didn't want the job to start with, but they just worried me so bad till I

Page 3
went on there and went to work. I stayed there six months around the house. I'd milk the cow and feed the hogs, and chickens. He stayed at the edge of town; he's buried up in town. I stayed around there for about six months, then I quit and come on back to the country. I helped my daddy on the farm for about two years. They cut a sewage line out here from Durham to Neuse River. I got a job on that. I worked on that until it got up to the edge of Durham. That job went to the bad. I went back to Durham and worked on the streetcar line—used to be a streetcar line here in Durham. I worked on that for a while. I didn't like that; I worked on that about three or four months before I quit.
I went up in Lebanon township and went to work sawmillin' with Will Markham and his brother Walter Markham—two brothers run the sawmill up there. I went up there and went to work with them. I went to turnin' logs. I stayed with them, I reckon, a year and a half or more. They went busted and quit millin', so I come back home again and worked a year or two on the farm with my daddy. Then I strayed off and went to workin' with old man Will Connally. I worked with him three or four years—sawmill. Finally, I quit him and went to old man Justin Keason. I worked with him till he got all messed up, and they sold him out. He just got so far in debt with the company down in Durham furnishing him horsefeed and someplace that he was gettin' all his equipment for the framing mill. He just got so deep in debt till they just busted him down.
I walked around a month or two, hangin' around Durham,

Page 4
playin' guitar, me and Minnis Cates. Finally I come out of Durham and went to workin' for old man J. T. Holman, sawmillin' with him. I stayed with him for four or five years till he died. The boys give up the sawmill—he had two boys—they run the mill a while after the old man died, and they just finally sold out quit.
Finally, I come back home again and took over the farm. My daddy, he went out and worked about two years on the sawmill. I done the farmin' there at home. After he come back in and took over the farmin', I sold out to the railroad, got me a job on the railroad. I worked railroad work seven years straight. The first year I worked over at Gorman with that man. I left him and come on over here at Wilton and worked six years up there on that section. I quit that and went to Richmond. Got a job at the bridge on the railroad; I worked on the bridge eighteen months, probably longer than that. I put that down and got tired of that. That was too hard a work and dangerous too, workin' on the trestle, puttin' new seals under it. I got kind of scared of that job; it's kind of dangerous work. You're liable to slip and fall or somethin' and hurt yourself. My mother kept on beggin' me, say, "I'd quit that. That's dangerous." I thought about it and it was right dangerous, so I give up that job.
From that, I got married then, settled down and commenced farmin'. I farmed for about fourteen years. My first wife, she died, then I worked on the farm for

Page 5
wages for six years. Finally, me and Pauline married, and I kept on farmin'. I farmed on up till I retired and quit. That's the way I started all that workin'.
GLENN HINSON:
Did you at one point live in Durham with Pauline?
THOMAS BURT:
Me and Pauline, we went to Durham in 1945. Didn't stay in Durham but one year. We stayed at my brother's one year, then we left there and went to Mr. Roy Keith and stayed with him one year. He build him a new home over yonder and went in it. Then I went down to Mr. Wyatt Fuller's and farmed. I stayed down there four years. I come in and been here ever since; this year makes fifteen years I been here.
GLENN HINSON:
Why did you go to Durham in the first place?
THOMAS BURT:
I had some kinpeople over there. I went over there to stay with them; I just got tired of the country for a while and decided I'd go to Durham. I stayed over there with them. That's where I stayed all the time I's workin'.
GLENN HINSON:
All the time you were workin' in Durham, you stayed with your kinpeople?
THOMAS BURT:
Yeah, I stayed with my kinpeople when I stayed in Durham. They stayed right down below—you know where the coal shute was in Durham?—the coal shute weren't too far from the Regal Theater. I stayed right across the street from the coal shute. It wasn't nowhere from there out to East Durham where the brickyard was.
GLENN HINSON:
Were you stayin' in a house or was it apartments?
THOMAS BURT:
They had a house with about five or six rooms. I roomed there with them.

Page 6
GLENN HINSON:
What was their name?
THOMAS BURT:
Her name was Kizzie Cheeks, Uncle Paul Cheeks' wife. Uncle Paul Cheeks married my aunt the first time. She died, then he married this woman next. I wasn't no relation to him or her; I was just relation to the children. His oldest children, my mother's sister was they mother, so that throwed us first cousins. I stayed down in the house with them. After Uncle Paul died, the widow kept on keepin' house. Didn't break up or nothin', so that's where I stayed.
GLENN HINSON:
That's when you were twenty-one years old?
THOMAS BURT:
I was about twenty-one, -two years old.
GLENN HINSON:
Were you in Durham during the war?
THOMAS BURT:
Yeah. World War I.
GLENN HINSON:
When the war started, where were you working?
THOMAS BURT:
When the war started, I was out here in the country. I hadn't been to Durham when the war started. I went to Durham the time the war was goin' on. I registered out here in the country up at Gorman's store. Then I went to Durham. It was so long before they called me to be examined, I done even forgot about I'd registered. Finally, they called me. I went and was examined three different times. The first two times, they turned me down. Then they called me back again to be examined the third time. I went up there and was examined Sunday morning at 10:00. There was a soldier doctor there that examined me that time. They got two of them, a soldier doctor and another doctor that'd been there all the time—civilian doctor. They run

Page 7
me all over that courthouse! Up and down that great long hall, I run all down yonder and run back. They slapped that thing on me and those things [unknown] After a while, that old soldier doctor told me, "Well, I'm gonna hurt your feelings, I reckon. I'll tell you, boy, the only thing between you and France is water." [Laughter] He said, "Just listen out any time. Just look out for your call any time." He said, "They need mens over there. You just listen out." So I quit work, and just walked up and down the streets and out here in the country and out home. I say, "Well, I'm-a quit and come and go in the army now." I walked up and down the streets in Durham, all over Durham playin' guitar, drinkin', kickin' up and havin' fun. I'll never forget it. Friday mornin' about 9:30 or 10:00, I ain't never heard so many horns, car horns, all the factory horns, bells, and everything. I didn't know what the devil had happened. Come to find out the army had signed. You know I was a happy boy! Folks were runnin' and jumpin' in Durham. What in the world was the matter with these folks, Lord, if that place weren't in the works! There was many a poor woman's son went over there and didn't come back—got killed. I'd got to the place where I didn't care. So many of the boys I knowed had gone, and I just got to the place where I didn't care—I wanted to go too. To tell you the truth, I just worried and worried till I got to the place where I didn't care if I did go, but I was glad to hear them whistles that morning—Yes I was. Them folks celebrated in Durham. All night Friday night, Saturday, they was a-hoopin' and a-hollerin'. Big old factory horns

Page 8
blowin', car horns, bells ringin', fire wagons and all runnin' up and down the street. Back in them days, they had horses pull the fire wagons. It had drove all over town. It was a time in Durham! I don't reckon there's never been a time in Durham like that before and since. Yes, I was a glad boy I didn't have to go.
Here's what happened. What made it so bad, I made South Carolina before I was twenty-one. I run away from home by the time I was sixteen, seventeen years old. I got up and run away from home and went to South Carolina. I had never given no tax or nothin'. Wasn't old enough—you didn't have to give your taxes till twenty-one years old. I got down there and them folks made me give them a tax. I told them, "I ain't old enough to give any tax." That man told me, "Yes you is. You got a grown man's face on you. You gonna have to give me the tax." That boy made me give him my tax down there. I was only about sixteen or seventeen years old. I hung around South Carolina for a while, and I said, "This is the wrong place." Soon as I got where I could get back this-away, I left that place. Them folks down there are crap! I ain't even work a lick while I was down there. I come away from down there.
GLENN HINSON:
Whereabouts were you in South Carolina?
THOMAS BURT:
Charleston. Those were the most curious talkin' folks! I don't know what I went that-a-way for noway I just went the wrong direction. I got with a girl down there. Her home was in Winston-Salem. She asked me what in the world I wanted to come South for. She said she was leavin' there and goin' home just as soon as she could get away from there.

Page 9
She was workin' in service down there. She told me she weren't makin' but $3 a week—that's all he was payin'. Three dollars a week! That gal went on away from there as soon as she got money enough to go away from there, and I did too.
GLENN HINSON:
Did you have your guitar with you then?
THOMAS BURT:
No, I didn't have my guitar with me. I left my guitar at home. I just got up there one night and run away. Old man looked like he tried to work me to death, and it looked like to me that I couldn't do nothin' to suit him. I just got it in my head and slipped out the window one night; got a few clothes and ran away from there. I wished I'd stayed on there. I didn't like South Carolina. Them folks down there in South Carolina was rough! Kickin' folks and beatin' them around, makin' them work for nothin'. They weren't payin' them nothin' at that time. Wages was cheap along then anyhow. They workin' them folks down there for nothin'. I ain't been to South Carolina no more, nor aim to go no more [Laughter].
I had a pretty rough time gettin' up about twenty-five, thirty years old. I done some hard, hard work. I tell the old lady lots of times, I'm lucky to walk. I walked four miles for about eighteen months; eight miles a day I walked and sawmilled, workin' then ten hours a day. Me and a second cousin of mine, we'd get up in the mornin' and walk some four miles, work all day, and walk 'em back at night. I bet you can't guess what we'd get in a day.
GLENN HINSON:
How much?
THOMAS BURT:
Started at 75¢. I worked at 75¢ a day, then they

Page 10
give us a raise to a dollar. I worked many a day at the sawmill for 75¢ a day, and board with myself. When he commenced givin' us a dollar, five days - five dollars—a dollar a day We thought we had somethin'. It look like I got along with that $5 as good as I do here now. What you got didn't cost you nothin' much. Pack of cigarettes didn't cost but 10¢; sugar 2¢ and 3¢ a pound. I bought many a pair of overhauls 75¢ a pair; now they're $11, $12, $15 a pair. When I sit down and study about it, it ain't too much difference. After they went on up to $1.50, $2.00 a day I believe you made more clear money than you make right now. The very best grade of every day shoes, $2.50; a nice shirt 75¢, about a dollar for Sunday shirts. You weren't spendin' that much. Now a shirt costs you $4 and $5 a piece, overhauls anywhere from $11, $12, $15 a piece, shoes $25 and $30 a pair. So if you turn around and look at it, I believe it was a better time then. You get a good suit now, it'll cost you $20, $25. I get to thinkin' about it sometime, I just naturally believe just to think about how it is now and how it was then, it was better times then.
GLENN HINSON:
When you first moved out to Durham, were you lookin' to try and get more money than you were doin' out in the country.
THOMAS BURT:
No. I wasn't especially lookin' for no more money. You couldn't get no more in town than you could in the country. I just got it in my head to go to Durham and stay. I didn't make a bit more money there than I did out in the country.

Page 11
GLENN HINSON:
How did you end up doin' any work at the Bull factory? Is there any reason you worked at that factory?
THOMAS BURT:
There was an openin' there. You got to get on a job where there's an openin' for you. A man quit or lay out or somethin' and they let him go, if they see you and you be lucky enough, you could get that man's job. So that's just the way I got on. Paul Horton got me on down there. He'd been workin' there for several years. I knowed him.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
THOMAS BURT:
Me and him run together a whole lot out here in the country before I went to Durham. I got with him one Saturday night over there in North Durham. He asked me where I been workin'. I told him I'd just been pickin' up three or four hours work a day around there helpin' somebody with a yard or somethin' like that. I said, "I ain't got no regular job." He said, "Boy, I'll tell you somethin'. I believe I can get you on down there where I work." I said, "All right, if you can, get me on." He said, "I'll let you know somethin' in a day or two. I'll see what I can do." A few days after that, he come by the house one night. The factory weren't far from where I was roomin'. He said, "Boy, I believe I got you a job. The man said to come in and he'd try you out. You ever worked in a factory?" "No, man, I ain't never worked in no factory." He said, "The man said to tell you to come in. He believed he could use you if you could catch on to the work." I went on down there to the gate when he come in. The gate didn't open till exactly 7:00. The whistle blow, and that gate was opened. It stayed open

Page 12
exactly ten minutes. If you weren't in when that ten minutes wore out, that gate closed automatically. I was standin' there when Paul walked up. Me and him stood there when the whistle blowed five minutes before seven. That gives folks time to get in there by 7:00. It blowed five minutes before seven and it blowed again exactly seven. It blowed the next time—five more minutes, if you weren't in there, you didn't get in. So I went on in there. Paul went and found the bossman. He come up and ask me, "Boy, are you the man lookin' a job?" I told him, "Yes sir. If you have one open, I'd love to get the job." He say, "Come on. I believe I can put you to work." Me and him went over yonder the factory, went on down the steps, and down in another room. He told the man down there, "Here's a man I brought you. You been sayin' you want another man." He said, "Boy, have you ever worked in factory." I told him, "No. It's the first time I even been in." He said, "Well, maybe you can catch on to it."
They put me down in the shippin' room. That's where I started off at packin' up cigarettes. Them cigarettes come down, some of them long as that chair. They had a machine. Them cigarettes go up there and that knife cut them. That thing raised up and clip them. They'd go on down and some folks puttin' them in the packs. They'd go up yonder, turn and come back, and men was puttin' labels on them. My job was to have a place long as across this house—little shelves—I had to put them cigarettes where they belonged, different packs. They'd pack them up, and a man standin' there cartonin' them up, so many to a

Page 13
carton. I caught onto that right quick; that was easy.
They put me to sweepin'. I told the man I'd have to quit that cause I had a cold. This Paul, he run the elevator for three stories, four with the basement. He put me up there with Paul. He say, "You work here with Paul." We had to carry different stuff from the first floor to the second one on up. Sometimes we had to go up to the top floor. One Friday morning, I felt funny. I felt curious all night that night. I couldn't half sleep. I told Miss Kizzie, "I ain't half slept last night. I'm feelin' kind of funny. I coughin'." She said, "Yes, I noticed you coughed all night. You better do something for that cough." I said, "I'll tell you what I'm goin' do, I'm goin' to quit that factory." She said, "Are you still sweepin'?" I said, "No. They put me on the elevator." She said, "That's dangerous ain't it?" I said, "I don't know. Paul been runnin' it for four or five years. Ain't nothin' ever happened to him." Went on down there that mornin', went up to the third floor three times that mornin' carryin' stuff up there. The next time I had to go up, I had somethin' for the second floor and the third floor. Got up there to the second floor and took that off, packed it on the truck. He said, "Thomas, tell you what you do. You truck this on back yonder and put it where it belongs and I'll go on up to the third floor and unload this and put it where it belong. We'll kill two birds with one shot." So I took the truck and went all round there to where it supposed to go. After a

Page 14
while, I heard that thing break a-loose, and I heard him hollerin', "Help me! Help me!" That thing come down right on down in the basement. I had to go down them winding steps to go down. Everybody were runnin' down there. I got down there and they had him wrapped up. I don't believe there was a bone in the boy that weren't broken. The elevator broke a-loose and fell. I didn't think about myself for an hour or more. I said, "Ain't that somethin'. I could have been on there with him, and we both would have been dead." It just come to me like that. I sit there and got so scared, I didn't know what to do. I made it to that Saturday. I walked up there that Saturday. I punched that clock Friday night and punched it Saturday morning and worked through dinner. I got my little pay and I walked out there and I ain't been back no more since, cause that's when I went to the brickyard and started workin'. It tore him all to pieces. He just broke all to pieces. He's just as limp, just like jelly. Went to pick the boy up and they had to roll him over in a oil cloth to pick him up. Tore that elevator all to pieces. Me and him had been a-ridin' that thing, laughin' and goin' on, talkin' like we was out on the grounds. I don't know what in the world happened to that thing that mornin' comin' apart. Nobody did never know what happened. He couldn't tell what happened, cause he was tore all to pieces. I ain't never did figure it out why it could fall. It was just time for it to do that, I guess.
GLENN HINSON:
You were right smart lucky.

Page 15
THOMAS BURT:
Yes sir. If I hadn't got off at the second floor, I'd been on there. I'd gone on up to the top with him like I been doin'. I don't know why he speak. He said, "Thomas, you carry this on yonder and unload it while I go up and take this off up yonder up on the second floor." I said, "All right." I went on round there, and just about time I got about half of that stuff off of that truck, I heard that thing when it started. Whoom! It scared me so bad. I run down the step; I seed it. It wasn't closed in like the elevators is now. It was just a open place. I seed that thing pass and it was just like a bullet goin' down. He was hollerin', "Help me! Help me!" I heard him say it twice before it hit down there. "Help me!" he said, "Help me!" He couldn't get off it the way it was goin'. Lordy, Lord, I hate that thing so bad, I didn't know what in the world to do.
I went on out there to the brickyard and seed another man get killed. We had a scaffold where we load these things and push them. The scaffold didn't go right straight up; it went kind of curved until you got up there where you dump that mud over in that hopper. I was goin' on up there, three boys in front of me. Goin' along up there, the front boy pushin' that thing. I don't know what happened. When I looked, all I seed was his heels. He turned that thing up sideways—they had a lever on the side—pulled that lever up, take one hand and turn the body over. I don't know what happened to the boy. I looked and seed his heels fly up in the air, and he went over in that hopper with all that

Page 16
mud. It tore him all to pieces. That was somethin' in this world. Up there switchin' and goin' on, if he'd been knowin' his business like he ought to done, he wouldn't have went over in there. That thing like a steam shovel; it reached over there and dig in the mud—had to dig it up. That thing had a little scoop on it half full, then it'd dump it over in them trucks where we had to push. It wasn't hard to push that cause of the slant goin' up there; it rode easy. I don't know what in the world happened to the boy. Carelessness! That's all it was. Time they could get round there and cut the engine down, that boy was tore all to pieces. His brother come runnin' up. It was Jim Jones. His brother come runnin' up there like a fool, had to catch him. He gonna jump over there to get him and couldn't even see him. The thing went over and over just like that. He couldn't even see him; he was all tangled up and messed up in that mud, and he gonna jump in there to get him. They had to hold him; he just had a fit. You could hear him, I reckon, a half a mile, hollerin' and cryin'. That wasn't worth five cents; the boy was gone. How was he goin' jump in over there and get him?
GLENN HINSON:
Could you explain a little more about what you were doin' in the factory when you first started there? About how you were takin' up the cigarettes?
THOMAS BURT:
The cigarettes come up here just like this at a little old trough about this wide.
GLENN HINSON:
About six inches wide.
THOMAS BURT:
They used that machine come right on up there. They had another machine settin' up there. Them cigarettes

Page 17
went right under there and went in somethin' like that. They went up against somethin' that marked the right length, and that thing cut them off just like that. It followed that trough on around a machine up there packin' them.
GLENN HINSON:
Was it a machine that was packing them?
THOMAS BURT:
Yeah, a machine puttin' them in the packs. Then somebody put the label on and seal them up. They'd go up there and turn right around and come on back down to a great big table—big old wide table. They'd fall on that table, then you took them up. They had little shelves just wide enough to put a cigarette pack in. You just keep puttin' them in there, different ones.
GLENN HINSON:
Was there different types of packages coming down?
THOMAS BURT:
There used to be a cigarette they called "Solomon" cigarettes, "PV" cigarettes. I done forgot the name of all them different cigarettes. They'd put them in different packs with different labels on them. You just pack them up in different places.
GLENN HINSON:
So you would pack
THOMAS BURT:
All I had to do was sort them out and start a rack of one kind and keep that rack goin', start a rack of another one… I reckon it was about three and one-half foot long. All them fell on the floor, you'd get all you wanted. You'd pick them up, they wouldn't say a word to you. You had a lunch bucket, you could fill that box full and they wouldn't say a word. The rest of them, they'd sweep them

Page 18
up in a pile and carry them back over there and run them over again. I used to go to the house and have a whole lunch box full of cigarettes—some of them that long (indicating the full length of his hand). Some of them that long where that machine would miss-cut—great long cigarettes, a whole lunch box full. They'd give you a quart of rum every night to drink.
GLENN HINSON:
Who would?
THOMAS BURT:
The bossman. They put that rum in the chewin' tobacco, and he had it there in barrels. It was good to drink! They'd give you a whole quart of it every night, to them that drinked. It didn't cost nary a dime. You'd go by there and if the man had some, they'd give you a quart. It drank near about as good as wine! They put that in tobacco and cigars. I come home and told my mother, "Momma, let me tell you what's so. If you could see what they do when they make snuff, you wouldn't never dip no more stuff. They hark and spit in that mess, walk all in it with their feet. You would never dip another dip." [Laughter] There was a great big pile of dust out there flyin' from them cigarettes, that tobacco where they make cigars out of. Sometimes there was a pile of dust there half big as this house; that's what they made snuff out of. Yeah, that's right! That machine grindin' up that tobacco and that dust fallin' out there on the floor. They had it on a pasteboard or carpet or somethin' or other out there. Good God a-mighty, they'd walk around there, hark and spit right over in that pile of stuff. I've seen them do it

Page 19
more times than a little. Walk all in it, then they'd take that up and flavor it and make snuff out of it. Sure they done it! They'd grind up the tobacco stems; they'd grind them up and make snuff.
GLENN HINSON:
I didn't know that.
THOMAS BURT:
Yeah, they take the stems out of the tobacco—that tobacco was stemmed. They'd make cigarettes and chewing tobacco out of the leaves, and they had a machine over there to grind that up and make snuff. Yeah, I'm tellin' you the truth. They'd make sweet snuff—liquid, some of it would be sweet snuff. That strong snuff, they had some different kind of liquids to put in that. It was all the same dust, but they just put the different flavors in it. [Laughter] That's right! That's the reason I say, cigarettes about all the same, just different labels on it. It's all the same tobacco; they put a little different flavor in it. I don't know what they call that mess. They put that in tobacco when they grind tobacco for cigarettes. You see them put a little of that stuff in there all along—that flavor in the cigarettes. But it's all the same tobacco. That's right, there ain't a bit of difference. It was someting to see.
Pauline used to work in the factory. She could tell you about it. Pauline worked in a factory at Oxford a long time. It's some sort of work goin' in a tobacco factory.
GLENN HINSON:
When you first started off there how much money were you making?

Page 20
THOMAS BURT:
$1.25 a day, ten hours, paid off every two weeks.
GLENN HINSON:
How many days did you work?
THOMAS BURT:
Work everyday but the payday. Worked from Monday morning till Saturday night, this week. Next week, pay week, you work from Monday morning till Saturday at 12:00—pay off Saturday at dinner. Then if you wanted to work, you could work on till 4:00 and knock off at 4:00. A whole lot of the boys would get paid off and work straight on till 4:00, but that was on the next payday. That was what you say extra. You didn't get paid for that that same Saturday, but you get it on your next pay check. There weren't no jobs then paying off every Friday and Saturday like they do now. You be paid off every two weeks about everywhere you worked. Some places weren't payin' you but once a month—sawmill.
GLENN HINSON:
What about when you got transferred to Were you making the same amount of money?
THOMAS BURT:
Yeah, I was makin' the same amount of money. That's what they started me off at—$1.25. When I left, that's all they payin'. They might have been payin' some of them men that was operatin' them machines a little more. But ordinary worker, that's all everybody was gettin'—$1.25 a day.
GLENN HINSON:
When you were sweepin' floors, what floor were you workin' on then?
THOMAS BURT:
I was workin' on the first floor. That's where all the action was, down there on the bottom floor. That's where they doin' all this stemmin' tobacco, and shakin' tobacco. You had to shake that tobacco down there on the

Page 21
bottom floor.
GLENN HINSON:
When did you shake it?
THOMAS BURT:
They kept somebody shakin' it all the time. That was some of the jobs went on all the time. They had women doin' nothin' but stemmin' tobacco.
GLENN HINSON:
Would you shake it before you stemmed it?
THOMAS BURT:
Yeah. That tobacco was in good order when it come in. They would come in there and they'd hang it and put in some place up there. It'd come out, they'd take it off the sticks, stem it, it went on up to the trough and it went on up yonder. You see that tobacco goin' on up there after they done stemmed it. Next time you see it, it was in a cigarette or chewin' tobacco or whatever they's gonna make out of it. It go on up yonder and come down in a great big hopper. That thing was goin' around all the time grindin' that tobacco up. It siftin' out there, and they'd—I can't hardly tell you how that thing worked. I never had time to see it work much, puttin' that tobacco in that paper. That paper was layin' open, spread it out in the place. They'd put that tobacco in that paper. Some of them'd be as long as that door yonder go by. When they get so many, then they'd put it in a trough. It was a thing kind of like that, and it would run right up against that thing. That machine was right busy clippin' it. Sometimes some of it would go by. That's what made them long ones. You'd clip them and some of them were that long. They'd fall on the floor, and that's what we'd pick up when we

Page 22
got ready to quit work. About three or four minutes more work time, we'd go in there and fill up our lunch box full. I had cigarettes enough to fill a croker sack one time, just givin' them away. A whole lot of them sold them. When we stayed in Durham there's a fellow—there's no tellin' how much money he made sellin' cigarettes. Them boys sold more cigarettes around there! I didn't never sell none. I brought a gang of them out here home out to the country and give them to them boys what smoked them—kept them in cigarettes near about. Whole lot of them boys, no tellin' the money they didn't make, sellin' them by the hundred. Me and Pauline stayed in Durham, there's a fellow—I used to buy some from him—I don't know what factory he's workin' at; he's workin' at Liggett and Meyers or Imperial or whatever. He'd sell more cigarettes up and down Hazel Street. I used to buy them from him when I stayed in Durham there at my sister's. I forgot now what I used to pay forthem a hundred. I believe 50¢ or 75¢ a hundred. That boy makin' money! Whole lot of them boys get some cigarettes like that and sell them.
GLENN HINSON:
When you talked about the first floor in the factory, you said before they did any pulling off sticks and the hanging, it was in good order. Would the tobacco come in in
THOMAS BURT:
No, it come in in baskets. The tobacco come from the warehouse, it's in baskets. Then they hung it on sticks after it got to the factory.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
GLENN HINSON:
It was bundled up?
THOMAS BURT:
Yeah, tied up in bundles. It come to the factory just like it left the warehouse. They'd bring it in there in big truckloads. There's a place out there where they'd unload them trucks and baskets. It come from the warehouse when it come to the factory. They had folks back there hangin' tobacco after they bring it in there. I never could understand that. They had to hang it to put it in that dry kiln, or whatever they call it. It was somethin' to see.
GLENN HINSON:
After it was dry somebody untied them all?
THOMAS BURT:
Yeah, cut them heads loose. Big trough there, you'd take it and dump it over there, and somebody clippin' the heads loose. Then they'd shake it out, somebody'd stem it, pull the whole stem out. Had a place to put the stems in one place over there in a pile. The leaves, they'd pack that in a big, deep trough. They were right busy goin' up. Left the bottom floor and went on up to the second floor where the machines was—all but this one that was down there clippin' the cigarettes. That great big hopper, it was down next to the bottom floor. The shippin' room was down in the basement, but you could see that big hopper right back there in the corner. They had a trough comin' out, and that tobacco's right busy runnin' out somewhere. I don't know where it went. The next time you see it, it'd rolled up. I don't know how it rolled it. It'd rolled up and them

Page 24
things'd be long as I don't know what. It'd come up there and run through them things sittin' up just wide enough for cigarettes to go in there. That trough was about that wide, and that thing would be full. That thing was right busy clippin'. It'd run up there and bump that thing, it'd clip it. Sometimes it'd bump so hard, some of them would pass and get too long. They'd clip it right on off and them would fall on the floor. They'd rake them up over in a corner in a pile; sometimes there'd be a pile there about half big as this house.
GLENN HINSON:
When you were sweeping, you were sweeping on the first floor. You were sweeping where the folks were shaking the tobacco?
THOMAS BURT:
Yeah, I just had a section to sweep. Just three or four sweepin'. I didn't sweep the whole factory. I had a part I swept, and another man a part he swept.
GLENN HINSON:
What did you do … ?
THOMAS BURT:
Run it over. You didn't sweep that outdoors, you just swept it in a pile over there in the corner, and they'd run that stuff over again. Sometimes, it's whole leaves, half of leaves, and tobacco trash. That's all it was. Course there was dirt in it, but I reckon that machine got the dirt out. You just sweep it over in the corner in a great big pile of tobacco. They had a big fork—they kept it piled up out your way—you'd sweep so much and then you take that fork and throw it up. Sometimes that pile'd be as high as this house. That dust! I'd sneeze and cough, your eyes'd burnin'. I had to wear me some of them big

Page 25
goggles. All up your nose, your ears would—get to the house and wash your ears—would look like I don't know what comin' out of your ears, that old dust settlin' on it. I'd be just as dusty at night. I'd go to brush myself, dust just be flyin'.
GLENN HINSON:
Was it that dusty for most of the people working on that floor?
THOMAS BURT:
No. For one thing, after so long a time, they got to sprinklin' that floor. Folks just couldn't stand it. After a while, they'd just go over that whole floor. The section I worked in, the section everybody worked in, they'd sprinkle it a little bit to kind of settle that dust. All of them talkin' about quittin'. If they hadn't done that, I don't think they would have had no floor sweepers if it hadn't stopped.
GLENN HINSON:
How did they sprinkle it?
THOMAS BURT:
With a sprinklin' pot. They'd fill that thing full of water. It had a cap that screwed on the end of it; they'd go along, carry it in their hand. That thing just foggin' water. That's a dusty, dusty, dusty place.
I liked it after I got caught onto down in the shippin' room. That weren't so hard. That was easy work; only thing, you had to keep your mind on what you're doin' or you'd get the cigarettes mixed up. That's kind of a tedious job, but it weren't hard. I'd stack up them things as high as them pictures up yonder (about six feet). I'd start at the bottom and pack up a rack and just keep on packin'. Them folks over on the other side of us, they was the ones puttin' the labels on them, cappin' them up, and packin' them up in

Page 26
cartons.
GLENN HINSON:
In the shipping room, were most of the folks working there black folks?
THOMAS BURT:
About all of them; there was three or four white boys down there. There weren't no womens in that part. Weren't no one down there but men. The women was on the first floor and the second floor. The top floor was the place where they put the stuff that was ordered and shipped in there. All the machines was on the second floor. The top floor was the storage room up there. They had another big storage room out there where they put tobacco. They'd unload that tobacco out yonder in that other big one, and bring it in as they used it. They didn't put a whole load of tobacco in there at one time. They had trucks and runways, and they'd go out there and bring that different tobacco in there.
GLENN HINSON:
On the second floor, you said there was mostly women there?
THOMAS BURT:
Yeah, mostly women on the second floor.
GLENN HINSON:
Was it women running the machines?
THOMAS BURT:
Some of them, yeah. There was two or three women runnin' the machines.
GLENN HINSON:
Were they white or black?
THOMAS BURT:
Some black. There weren't no white women runnin' them machines. In other words, there weren't too many white women in there, nothing but secretaries, bookkeepers, and stuff like that. Most of the folks

Page 27
workin' on them machines, shakin' tobacco and all, they colored.
GLENN HINSON:
What about white men? What did most white men do?
THOMAS BURT:
There's a bunch of white men workin'. Some of them was operatin' them machines. Most of them were operatin' the machines.
GLENN HINSON:
Were they different machines from what the women were operating?
THOMAS BURT:
Yeah, some of them was. They had a machine to fix tobacco for cigarettes, they had a machine to fix tobacco for cigars, and they had one for chewin' tobacco. All the machines where was runnin' operating for cigarettes, that was all the same tobacco; there was no difference in that. All the tobacco come through there was just cigarette tobacco. Them other machines over there was makin' different cigars. Then they had another machine over there to grind up these stems I was tellin' you about for snuff. A whole lot of colored women runnin' them machines; they done been there long enough to know how to operate them machines. I didn't never fool with none of them.
GLENN HINSON:
One thing someone mentioned to me—a woman; she used to work in one of the factories—she said that sometimes the women used to get to singing while they were working.
THOMAS BURT:
Oh yeah, you could hear that all over the factory.
GLENN HINSON:
Could you?
THOMAS BURT:
Man, them women get to workin' up there sometimes,

Page 28
it sound like a church. They'd sing, Lord knows! I worked about two weeks down there at night. I worked up until 6:00, go home eat supper, come back and work till 10:00, 11:00 at night. We got some rushin' orders in, and a whole lot of us made a lot of extra time workin' at night. Them women get up there on that second floor, and it sound like a big meetin' revival goin' on! That made the time didn't seem too long at night, all that good singin'. Lord have mercy, yeah, they used to sing.
GLENN HINSON:
Did they sing during the day? Would they sing all the time?
THOMAS BURT:
No, they didn't sing all the time. Sometimes you couldn't hear nobody singin' at all, and then again, it looked like to be everybody singin'. Somebody'd start a song the rest of them knowed, and they singin' all over the factory.
GLENN HINSON:
Was somebody singing some every day?
THOMAS BURT:
Everyday, near about every day, mostly in the evenin'. After 1:00, they'd go back to work. Long over in the evenin' they'd start singin', and they'd sing from then to near about quittin' time, one song after another. The time looked like we just slipped away. It didn't look like it was long, and we makin' ten hours too. It didn't seem long—all that good singin', all that machines goin', different things goin' there. Looked like to me the time just eased right on away, 12:00 come before you know it. Sometimes that bull would open his mouth and bellow—it would scare you! You didn't even know it was 12:00! That big rascal could open his mouth. That was the whistle;

Page 29
looked just like a bull sittin' on top of the factory.
GLENN HINSON:
Where was that at? Was that right on the roof of the factory?
THOMAS BURT:
No, that was down across the railroad track, down where Sears and Roebuck used to be. It used to be right on down there across the railroad. At that time, it weren't many houses back down there in Haiti then like it is now, just a house here and yonder. They had a great big place where that factory was, two or three acres of ground, I reckon, that place covered. Weren't no houses; you'd just see a house here and yonder. It's wooods about like it is out yonder. I know when I bet it weren't a hundred houses in Durham, in places. Near about like the country.
I know when they built the first warehouse in Durham—the first tobacco warehouse built in Durham, I remember.
GLENN HINSON:
Which one was that?
THOMAS BURT:
The Big Four.
GLENN HINSON:
Where was it at?
THOMAS BURT:
Up on the hill—you know where the Roycroft's warehouse is—pass them goin' uptown to the next corner, that block right in there. I believe there's a parkin' lot there now.
GLENN HINSON:
There's a parking lot and there's a tire place.
THOMAS BURT:
That's right. Right there there used to be a warehouse called the Big Four Warehouse. That's the first warehouse that was built in Durham.
GLENN HINSON:
How old were you then, do you remember?

Page 30
THOMAS BURT:
I was about thirteen, fourteen years old.
GLENN HINSON:
Before then, where would they have the auctions at?
THOMAS BURT:
They had a place where they called—down there next to the factory—called the Co-op place where they carried tobacco, sold it.
GLENN HINSON:
When they started building the warehouses, that was a big change.
THOMAS BURT:
Oh yeah. They built that one, and they commenced buildin' till they got what they got there now. Old man Henry Roycroft, he build one down in the bottom. Old man Cozart, he was runnin' that one up there on the corner I was tellin' you about. His caught a-fire and burnt up, then he went down in the bottom and build one right across from in front of Old man Roycroft. Then them others on up the hill there that weren't in the bottom, the Tally boys, they built one up there. Then the Roycroft build another one up there; they called it Little Star. Then they build another one right straight across from this one where got burnt down up there on the corner—one on that side and one on the left hand side goin' up—called that the Banner. Then they commenced buildin' these out here on the outside of town. There was some warehouses out here on Old Oxford Highway.
GLENN HINSON:
You were talking about the factory and the singing, did the men ever join in the singing?
THOMAS BURT:
Oh yeah, some of the men was up there with them.

Page 31
They'd sing with them too—men and women was singin'.
GLENN HINSON:
What about down on the first floor, on the basement?
THOMAS BURT:
You didn't hardly ever hear much singin' down there 'cause weren't too many men down in the basement. On the first floor, you could hear them up there singing' sometimes, and whoopin' and hollerin' and singin'.
GLENN HINSON:
Did they ever sing anyting other than spirituals?
THOMAS BURT:
Oh yeah, some of them were singin' Blues, I mean reels. There weren't no Blues songs come out at that time. Some sort of old reel, they'd sing. Some of them sang good songs, hymns, some of these old-timey reels where folks used to sing way back. There weren't too much singin' goin' on down there. You's too busy down there do much singin'. I tell you, that was a tedious job down there in that shippin' room. You had to keep your mind on what you do in', you don't, you'd mess up somethin' down there. So, you didn't have time to do too much down there but keep your mind on what you doin'.
GLENN HINSON:
What about when you got off for lunch? Did you used to eat lunch together right around there?
THOMAS BURT:
Oh yeah, everybody'd eat right down there in the factory, all them that weren't close enough to go home. A whole lot of people didn't live too far from the factory; they'd go home to lunch. As far as I lived, I always carried mine. Whole lot of them carried their lunch, eat it right there in the factory.
GLENN HINSON:
You had an hour for lunch?

Page 32
THOMAS BURT:
Hour, that's all. One hour.
GLENN HINSON:
Was there ever any singing or carrying on at that time?
THOMAS BURT:
No! You didn't hear much singin' at lunch hour. Folks sittin' round eatin', some of them stretch out and get a little short nap. Some of them be sleep when the whistle blow. No, they just sit around, laugh, and talk, time to go back to work. No, weren't much carryin' on at lunch hour. Everybody's kinda tired and jaded. Some of them, soon as they swallowed, they stretch out on a basket or somewhere and go to sleep.
GLENN HINSON:
How long did you work total in the Bull factory?
THOMAS BURT:
I reckon seventeen, eighteen months in all.
END OF INTERVIEW