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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with George R. Elmore, March 11, 1976. Interview H-0266. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Racially segregated Cramerton, North Carolina

Elmore describes Cramerton, a North Carolina mill village. There were significant class distinctions between different areas of town, he remembers, and there were differences between different mill towns as well. Although Cramerton was racially segregated, Elmore remembers easy relationships with African Americans, even sharing meals from time to time.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with George R. Elmore, March 11, 1976. Interview H-0266. 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

BRENT GLASS:
What kind of village was Cramerton? How would you describe it at that time? People have called Cramerton a model mill village. What do you think about that?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
It was, in other words especially the newer part. The old part was built around that water tower, you know, back in the river in the creek. Of course when the man was building those he told the carpenter, he said, "Put those planks close enough that the kids' leg won't fall through, and break his leg." That's the way those houses were built; they were sound put together. But when they started up Main Street, up towards where the schoolhouse and the church and everything were, in that area and near a park, there wasn't all houses the same kind; they changed. They shingled some of them and weatherboarded some; they changed the general design somewhat.
BRENT GLASS:
Was the talk around that Cramerton was a better town to work in than McAdenville, let's say, or Lowell?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
Oh, nobody would consider McAdenville. They said in McAdenville there a number of kids never knew who their daddy was.
BRENT GLASS:
Well, so there was a difference from one village to the next?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
That's right. Now, of course the riff-raff lived in the old part of Cramerton later. I don't know how they'd select them, but they did a pretty good job. I took orders and delivered groceries three years in Cramerton. And somebody in personnel could size a man up: "Now shall I give you a decent part of the village or shall you go over in the old part?" They really segregated them. And there were very few people … if the children of or showed anything, why if they were up-and-coming in a way, they let them move into another part of the village. There was a big class distinction in that village there between 1917-18-19-20. Well, I left around in 1919 and went to Rock Hill on a farm for two years, '20 and '21. Then I came back and I worked in the mill eighteen months, then went on back to high school and finished.
BRENT GLASS:
Went back to work in Cramerton?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
Yes.
BRENT GLASS:
Let's talk a little bit more about Cramerton. You say that it was considered a better town than McAdenville. How about some of the other villages around there? How did Cramerton rate?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
Well, it was nicer than the others. They had pretty good people who stayed pretty well. Belmont: there was a lot of mills over there. Lowell: those mills had been pretty well stabilized. I don't think there was too much moving in and out of Lowell mills.
BRENT GLASS:
So that when you say the riff-raff or lower elements, you mean people who didn't stay put in one place and moved around a little bit?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
That's right. Old Dr. Miller—I'll tell you this—he went over to see a family in the old part of the town, and they were milking the cow in the back hall. You'd have to know Miller to appreciate him, but he said, "Get that cow out, and scrub the back and wash your patient; then call me and I'll come back." They were a dirty bunch, I mean some of them. I used to dread sometimes going in some of those houses delivering groceries.
BRENT GLASS:
In McAdenville?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
No, in Cramerton.
BRENT GLASS:
In Cramerton?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
In the old part of town. Some of the people up in the other part, the new part they called it, … [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A] [TAPE 1, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
… were the nicest people you'd ever run into. Those people were people we knew from Lowell, and cousins of ours and people who had come out of the farms. Those farm people that went in there, they never did sink down as low as the people who had been for years in one mill family after the next.
BRENT GLASS:
Were these all white people?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
Yes.
BRENT GLASS:
No blacks?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
They had a small … maybe eight or ten houses at Cramerton for the Negroes, but they were back over on the riveror somewhere between there and McAdenville. And of course we knew most of those fellows; we knew every Negro and anybody else in the community. The Negro churches were just above where I lived: two of them, Methodist and Baptist. And all of them went there on Sundays, and of course we knew every one that passed by the house.
BRENT GLASS:
Did they do any trading at the store or anything like that?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
Yes. We had known them practically … a lot of them we had grown up with: went to the swimming hole together and played ball with them.
BRENT GLASS:
So you did play with these other children?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
Oh yes.
BRENT GLASS:
Did they keep up their houses pretty nicely over in Cramerton?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
Yes. Those Negroes, they … it wasn't like a slum area. And I have eaten in some of their houses, especially when we was out thrashing. If we went to a Negro farm, why they would feed us and we'd have to eat there.
BRENT GLASS:
There weren't as many blacks in that section of the country as there are, let's say, in the eastern part of North Carolina, were there?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
No, I don't think it was Thickly … Well, in the country there, I would say around thirty percent of them were Negroes out on the farm. But in the town there wasn't, in Cramerton there wasn't over five percent.