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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Dora Scott Miller, June 6, 1979. Interview H-0211. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Racism diminishes the benefits of unions for black workers

The wage differential between white and black workers was shocking, Miller remembers, but black workers lacked the strength to strike, and when they did seek to meet to set their agenda, they were hampered by segregation. They were forced to wait until integration offered them chances at more gainful employment.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Dora Scott Miller, June 6, 1979. Interview H-0211. 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:
And blacks never got together for any type of changes?
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
The strike didn't affect us. The only thing was, we had to be out because the trucks didn't run. We didn't strike, but if the trucks didn't run to bring the tobacco into us, we couldn't work.
BEVERLY JONES:
Were the conditions better working in the factory in '34?
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
Yes, the conditions were better.
BEVERLY JONES:
They were better now?
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
Yeah.
BEVERLY JONES:
Why? Because the union was there?
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
Well, the union was established and also when Roosevelt came in. We got President Roosevelt in, everything brightened up. The conditions began to get better then.
BEVERLY JONES:
So you sensed some of the results of the strike? They did take place…
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
We had some effect from it, I mean some benefits. Those white girls drew so much more than we did. We'd go down to Belk's store to cash checks. They had a place in the basement, and we'd go down there and cash checks. You'd see they check, and it'd make your heart stop beating almost.
BEVERLY JONES:
Wouldn't that be a reason to strike, if you weren't making anything?
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
Well, you weren't strong enough to get up there, just weren't strong enough. It takes strength. It takes some strength to get up. That didn't come about—I tell you we worked for a long time—that didn't come about till integration. It didn't change until integration. When the integration came about, then the black women with high seniority—my sister was the first black woman they put on one of them high paying jobs. They tried to blackmail her every way they could. They worked her just like a dog. She had all them white people under her, and she had to supervise over them. They just couldn't hardly stand for a black woman being over them. She was working in the cigarette department. She retired out of there.
BEVERLY JONES:
You mentioned that the black union did not strike because you weren't strong enough. What does it take for a union to be strong?
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
Our people didn't stick close enough together. One thing, they would pay the money, then we just didn't have the strength. You have to have a whole lot of strength to get up there to strike.
BEVERLY JONES:
You mean you've got to have people that are willing?
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
Willing, yeah, to go out. They got to vote to go out. You have to vote to go out on strike. That's what's strength. You have to vote to go out. So many of them, some few had started to buying homes. "I'm buying a home. I can't strike. I ain't going to strike. I ain't going to do this." That's where it takes strength. You have to sacrifice anything you get or do.
BEVERLY JONES:
Blacks at that time weren't really…
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
They weren't strong enough.
BEVERLY JONES:
In regard to the black women that were working there, would you say that many of them have large families?
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
Yes, some of them had quite large families.
BEVERLY JONES:
So therefore, the job was a necessity.
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
It was a very necessity for them.
BEVERLY JONES:
As a union leader, I'm quite sure you became a very respectable and outstanding black woman.
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
Well, I was. I went everywhere. I went to conventions everywhere. I went to Rochester to the international convention, went to Louisville, Kentucky to the international convention, went to all the state conventions in Petersburg, Virginia, Richmond, Virginia. One time we went to Petersburg, Virginia to a convention, and we was supposed to meet at a union hall—white and black was going to meet together—and they wouldn't let us meet together—said the blacks couldn't meet there; that's what the police said. They got to put us out, and snow was on the ground.
BEVERLY JONES:
About what year was this?
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
That was about '41 or '42. We had to leave there and went to the "Y", and they let us meet there. Virginia was very segregated, much worse than it was here, and we couldn't meet together. They'd come here and all of us'd meet together. But we go there, we had to meet at a certain place; they wouldn't let us meet in the union hall. Went to the "Y" and met there.