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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 >>

A difficult work environment at Liggett and Myers

Working at the tobacco factory was hard, Miller recalls. As she puts it, "You didn't perspire; you sweated." Stemmers worked particularly hard, but in the unair-conditioned factory, everyone got hot. Liggett and Myers provided water fountains, but were not particularly sympathetic employers: Miller remembers that there were no towels in the bathroom, and workers arriving late in the mornings could expect to find a locked door.

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:
You worked on the fourth floor at Liggett and Myers. Did you have to take the stairs to get up there?
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
You had to take the stairs early years, but later years, they allowed you to ride the elevator. But early years, you wasn't allowed to put your feet on the elevator unless you fell out and fainted.
BEVERLY JONES:
Describe the bathroom facilities you had in between the floors?
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
The bathrooms was fair, as well as you could expect at that time.
BEVERLY JONES:
I was talking with Margaret Turner, and she was telling me—this was at another tobacco, American—she was hired as a cleaner woman to clean up the bathrooms. Did you have a cleaning woman in the factory?
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
Yeah, we always had a cleaning woman.
BEVERLY JONES:
Was she black or white?
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
Black. No white women worked over there.
BEVERLY JONES:
That was her responsibility?
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
That was her responsibility, to clean the bathrooms.
BEVERLY JONES:
In working in the factory in the 20's and 30's, were there any type of central air conditioning?
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
No, no. You didn't perspire, you sweated.
BEVERLY JONES:
Describe the room that you worked in?
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
Just great big huge rooms. When I first went down on the fourth floor, we didn't have sky lights, but they later put sky lights. It opened them up because they was quite a lot of steam was on that floor. That where they ordered tobacco at was on that floor. It was quite a lot of steam, and the later years, they put some sky lights which let that steam out through the roof. On the third floor, I seen women come out there at lunch time and have to pull off their clothes and change clothes, they'd be so wet. That's why they deserved more money, cause that was a hard job, feeding them stemming machines. Be wet to the bottom of their dress.
BEVERLY JONES:
Would that be considered a hard job?
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
That was the hardest job, it was - very hard job.
BEVERLY JONES:
Compared with the other jobs that black women were doing, were those who worked on the stemming machine making more?
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
Yeah, they made more after they started the raises in '34. They got more; they got a ten cent raise on the first raise. From then on, they still got more money. They always got more money.
BEVERLY JONES:
Someone was telling me that there was located on the floor a type of salt dispenser?
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
Yeah, they had a salt dispenser.
BEVERLY JONES:
Do you recall ever using it?
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
I never perspired that bad until I got old.
BEVERLY JONES:
Do you recall women using it?
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
Yes, quite a few people used it. I have used it, but just occasionally.
BEVERLY JONES:
What about water fountains? Did you have water fountains for women?
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
Yes, we had water fountains. Had black and white to begin with. When segregation came about, now everybody drank anywhere.
BEVERLY JONES:
Were those fountains on the immediate floor?
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
On the immediate floor, yeah. When I first went there, they didn't even have no sinks in the bathroom. They had a great long sink out on the floor. Everybody had to come out there and wash their hands. Didn't furnish no towels or nothing. But the later years, they put sinks in the bathroom and had paper towels and roller towels also for you to wash your hands with soap.
BEVERLY JONES:
What about women that did have children? Do you know how those children were taken care of while they were working?
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
They left them with people. That's the best way they could to get to work. There weren't no day care centers.
BEVERLY JONES:
How far did you live from the factory?
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
I lived over in North Durham; I walked - it wasn't far.
BEVERLY JONES:
What about those days when it was snowing and raining?
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
It didn't rain or snow, we waded right on. Weren't no bus to ride. People walked from right down in here; it was called Pearson Town. They walked from down here to Liggett and Myers.
BEVERLY JONES:
Someone was telling me also that if you were not there on time, they would turn you around.
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
Turn you around and send you back home. That's true.
BEVERLY JONES:
Did that ever happen to you?
DORA SCOTT MILLER:
No, I've never been a person to be sent back because I'm a person who always got up. If I know I had to go to work, I got up, and if I know what snow was on the ground, I got up earlier in order to get there. I turned myself around one time, and that was 1927. We had a big, deep snow in '27 in April. I went out and the snow came up so far on me till the line came up to here on me. That snow was so deep, I dropped my lunch, and I turned around and went back in the house. My husband working at the American Tobacco Company, he kept going to work, and I went back in the house.