Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with George R. Elmore, March 11, 1976. Interview H-0266. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Preferring textile work to farm work despite the loss of prestige

Elmore offers a look into the internal life of a southern laborer. He remembers preferring a job in a textile mill to farm work, despite the loss of prestige associated with mill work. Elmore left the mill, though, after long days for little pay wore him down, but soon found himself back there when the boll weevil decimated his family's crops.

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:
Did you prefer that to working in the mills?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
Oh yes.
BRENT GLASS:
Why?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
Well, I don't know. Farming is prestige, even though we were tenant farming. People, they had pride, plenty of it, and don't abuse it or you're in trouble. That's the code that's always been with them, and you have to be careful in dealing with people.
BRENT GLASS:
So working in the mill was giving up your pride?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
Somewhat. I always felt like it was, that I wanted something more out of life than that.
BRENT GLASS:
Did you dream of being something when you were growing up?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
I don't know what. I mean, I've looked at that time in that mill for twelve hours, and be so tired. "What was the use of going on a'living? What was there in the future? If I get old I'm going to do something." So we went down there and farmed, and raised that forty cent cotton and sold it for six cents; the market fell in August. We paid sixty dollars a ton for fertilizer. We put our crop in the warehouse and borrowed money to pay our fertilizer, and sold it the next spring. And the money I got then, I took it and paid off the fertilizer. We didn't get anything for us. My dad was working and the garden we had. And I had an acre of sorghum, and I had a man come in there with his mill and make up fifty or a hundred gallon of syrup. Then I took that stuff out to the cotton mill village and sold it for a dollar a gallon, in Rock Hill.
BRENT GLASS:
That's a pretty good price.
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
It was, but it was well worth it. I made more money off that acre of sorghum than I did the whole farm. And of course she had a garden there, and I took some of that stuff in to Rock Hill and sold it. In '21 we planted another big crop and raised twenty-some bales. And the boll weevils were coming into South Carolina; so I went with a bunch of men and drove my uncle's car, the three men (my uncle and two other men) down there. We were gone three or four days, down in below Orangeburg and Fairfax, South Carolina, and saw what the boll weevils had done. I mean, they just eradicated everything. And I came back. My mother was wanting us to buy a hundred acre farm for ten thousand dollars; and I said, "Mother, I can't risk it. Let's go back, and I'll go back in the mill. Because the boll weevil wiped those people out, and I am not going to risk going into debt ten thousand dollars." Ten thousand dollars is an awful lot of money. It was a good farm; the house was about a six room. It wasn't painted, but it was a good substantial house and barn. And I moved them back, and I went back into the mill.