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Title: Oral History Interview with Robert Cole, May 10, 1981. Interview H-0311. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Cole, Robert, interviewee
Interview conducted by Hall, Jacquelyn
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.
2007-06-21, Jennifer Joyner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Robert Cole, May 10, 1981. Interview H-0311. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series H. Piedmont Industrialization. Southern Oral History Program Collection (H-0311)
Author: Jacquelyn Hall
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Robert Cole, May 10, 1981. Interview H-0311. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series H. Piedmont Industrialization. Southern Oral History Program Collection (H-0311)
Author: Robert Cole
Description: 102 Mb
Description: 17 p.
Note: Interview conducted on May 10, 1981, by Jacquelyn Hall; recorded in Elizabethton, Tennessee.
Note: Transcribed by Miriam Alexander.
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.
Editorial practices
An audio file with the interview complements this electronic edition.
The text has been entered using double-keying and verified against the original.
The text has been encoded using the recommendations for Level 4 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines.
Original grammar and spelling have been preserved.
All quotation marks, em dashes and ampersand have been transcribed as entity references.
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Interview with Robert Cole, May 10, 1981.
Interview H-0311. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Cole, Robert, interviewee


Interview Participants

    ROBERT COLE, interviewee
    MRS. COLE, interviewee
    UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER, interviewee
    JACQUELYN HALL, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, tell me a little bit about your growing up days before we get into the strike. When were you born?
ROBERT COLE:
I was born February the 9th, 1900.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And where were you born?
ROBERT COLE:
This county, Carter County.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were you born up on Stoney Creek?
ROBERT COLE:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was your father a farmer?
ROBERT COLE:
No, ma'am, he was a coal miner. He got killed in the coal mines.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Where was he a coal miner?
ROBERT COLE:
Stonegger, Virginia.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So all the time you were growing up, that's what he did for a living? [Interruption]
ROBERT COLE:
[Discussion of picture of bus] It had a door for every seat … and it seated fifty-some, I don't know how many just exactly.
JACQUELYN HALL:
[A discussion of making copies of photographs] Did a lot of the people come into town and live in boarding houses that were working in the plant?
ROBERT COLE:
Lady, there was a few, not very many.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Most people would just … [reference to photograph] Says Johnson City on it.
ROBERT COLE:
I carried the mail to Johnson City. That was Crawford Grove that carried the mail in.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You carried the mail?
MRS. COLE:
What are you doing, telling your life history?
JACQUELYN HALL:
No, I want to know. I'm interested in life histories, too.
ROBERT COLE:
There's nothing wrong about that, being a mail man.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Not too many people lived here, they just stayed up in their homes up in the other communities and came in on buses or taxies?
ROBERT COLE:
Yes. This bus, you see, it run off Stoney Creek, and it didn't haul all the people. There was different taxies and things that hauled the people that worked at the plant.

Page 2
JACQUELYN HALL:
You didn't know a lot of people that lived in boarding houses?
ROBERT COLE:
They was a lot of'em that I didn't know. I don't remember having another picture of that bus. I know that a lady lives up on Stoney Creek, she asked me who all these people was, and at that time I could see to tell her who they was. She wanted to know if she could put it in the paper, give her picture. There ain't nothing wrong about it. I wouldn't care if I get the picture back.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Could I borrow this and have a copy made and bring it back to you?
ROBERT COLE:
Yes. When could I get it back now?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, I was thinking I could get Frank Robertson down at the Elizabethan Star to make a copy of it for me, maybe on Monday.
ROBERT COLE:
As long as you get the picture back. I don't want to separate from it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I know you don't want to separate from it. [further discussion about making a copy of the picture] Is there anyone else involved in the strike that I could talk to?
ROBERT COLE:
Lady, I've got a sister that worked down there, and a brother-in-law. But my brother-in-law, he was against the strike. He was what I call a tight wad.
JACQUELYN HALL:
A tight wad?
ROBERT COLE:
When he got a hold of a nickel, he held on to it. He got back to work—he was out at the time of the strike. But, nevertheless, he got back and stayed until he was 65.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was your sister pretty involved?
ROBERT COLE:
Yes, a right smart ways.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Where does she live?
ROBERT COLE:
She lives up on Stoney Creek.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, I'm going up to Stoney Creek to talk to Bob Moreland and his mother tomorrow. So maybe I could talk to your sister, too. What's her name?
ROBERT COLE:
Flossie Grindstaff. Now I tell you, she's got a telephone. You could call her and ask her if it would be all right for you to come. I'm going to tell you how to get there. [Directions]
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, Mrs. Moreland can point me how to get there. What's her name?

Page 3
ROBERT COLE:
Grindstaff, Flossie Grindstaff.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Do you know how to spell Stonegger?
ROBERT COLE:
No, lady, I don't.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And it was Macvay, Kentucky, where you worked?
ROBERT COLE:
Macvay.
JACQUELYN HALL:
The Hunter baseball team.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER:
(something about the strike)
ROBERT COLE:
Ain't nothing bad about the strike.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You were a baby?
ROBERT COLE:
Uh-huh.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Do you remember people talking about the strike? Mr. Cole, were you on the negotiating committee? Did you ever meet with the owners of the mill when you were trying to settle the strike?
ROBERT COLE:
No.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were you an officer in the union?
ROBERT COLE:
No. (more discussion about photographs)
JACQUELYN HALL:
What do you remember about how this strike got started?
ROBERT COLE:
Well, they just organized a union, lady.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When did you first hear about this union being organized?
ROBERT COLE:
Well, I had heard of it a few days before, and they's talking and they're all looking at it. I knew what was going on but I didn't have nothing to say either way. The reeling department was the department that done the striking to start with, and I had worked in the reeling department. I got transferred over to this other job, you see. So I had two brothers and a sister working in there at that time. I pretty well knowed what was going on.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And it was the reeling department that first went out on strike?
ROBERT COLE:
They went over in the final inspection and got a lot of them out. They had it pretty rough that day.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What happened?

Page 4
ROBERT COLE:
A pretty rough time that day. There was a little bit of fighting done. I had a table and a chair that I sat in, and I was advised to stay there. To see what went on, you see, that was through the company. And I did; I sat right there in that chair, watched what was going on. I seen a whole lot of it, too.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What all happened that day?
ROBERT COLE:
They worked one another a little bit with pipes, lead pipes, you see. Little bit of fighting. And the ([unknown]) were having it pretty tough. They were in there, the guards was. I didn't have anything to do with it any way that first day. I just stayed on my job.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why did the people in the reeling department go out on strike?
ROBERT COLE:
They wasn't making no money. Eleven dollars a week and I'd say the biggest part of 'em paid car fare, taxi fare. Up on Stoney Creek where I live it was costing them two-and-a-half or three dollars a week to get back and forth to work.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was there actually a local union already set up?
ROBERT COLE:
They had a union set up.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Who organized the union?
ROBERT COLE:
I don't remember their names.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were they people who worked here in the plant?
ROBERT COLE:
They didn't work in the plant. Course, I did a lot of talking, you know. Passed back and forth through the plant. The started of it didn't work in the plant at all.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Have you heard of a man named John Penix?
ROBERT COLE:
Yes, I knowed him.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Some of the articles I've read say he was one of the organizers?
ROBERT COLE:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Is he still alive?
ROBERT COLE:
No, he's dead.
JACQUELYN HALL:
He was a carpenter here in town, or something, wasn't he?
ROBERT COLE:
Well, I never seen him work a lick in my life. I don't know what he done. And then they got a big fleshy fellow come in from North Carolina.

Page 5
JACQUELYN HALL:
Alfred Hoffman?
ROBERT COLE:
That's right. So he took over. I was with him some backwards and forwards, and they kidnapped him at the Lynnwood Hotel and took him to North Carolina and told him not to come back. And I went after him, me and some more people, and we got him and brought him back to Elizabethton.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did you know he'd been kidnapped or where he was?
ROBERT COLE:
Well, he called us and let us know they rook him to the North Carolina line, and let him out and told him not to come back. I don't know what they said to him, I wasn't there and I couldn't say. But he come back and we met him at the North Carolina line. We brought him on in and I stayed with him pretty regular.
JACQUELYN HALL:
To protect him?
ROBERT COLE:
Yes, I was what they called a bodyguard.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did you get that job?
ROBERT COLE:
how did I get it?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Uh-huh. why were you doing that?
ROBERT COLE:
To protect him.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What was he like?
ROBERT COLE:
He was a great big fleshy fellow, weighed about 300 pounds or more.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Really?
ROBERT COLE:
Yeah, he was a big man. He didn't go back to his hotel, he went to another place over there. I don't know the man's name now. Anyhow, he run a restaurant and had good rooms upstairs. He got him a room and I got one alongside of it. They paid for the room.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did people like him?
ROBERT COLE:
Oh, yes. They liked him fine. Then he left from here and went to Marion, North Carolina, and had a strike up there at Marion. And I was in on that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
No let's go back a little ways. The first date the people in the—oh, just one other question about John Penix. Was he just a local man?
ROBERT COLE:
Yes, he was. He lived down there.

Page 6
JACQUELYN HALL:
Do you know anything about his background or why he was organizing the union?
ROBERT COLE:
No.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Do you know anybody that might know about him, that I might be able to talk to?
ROBERT COLE:
No, I don't.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So, what happened there after that first day? Inspection and reeling department went out and then what happened?
ROBERT COLE:
They was out for a few days, I don't remember just how long, nevertheless they got a bunch of troops in here and had some arrested. A bunch of troops in here, and there was a man that run a store here in Elizabethton that was over them named Bob Johnson. They did a little bit of shooting on the highway one time.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Who shot who?
ROBERT COLE:
Nobody didn't get shot, tires got shot at trying to stop them from coming to work. One man got on the witness stand at the trial and showed his bullets that was shot through his tire and didn't puncture the inner-tube. The bullet had battered against the wheel on the inside. Now he swore something that wasn't so.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did you first get involved? Did you join the union?
ROBERT COLE:
Yes, I did.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When did you join?
ROBERT COLE:
I didn't join the union until a day or two after the strike.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What made you decide to join up?
ROBERT COLE:
Well, I just thought we were all due more pay money. They wasn't paying us enough. They was working us for nothing. Now you think about working fifty-six hours for eleven dollars. That's what they were paying them down there then in the reeling department. I was making $29.40 so I just felt like they did. I worked a day after they come in. The boss man got a little smart with me.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What did the boss man say to you?
ROBERT COLE:
I was a little late getting in. You see, they had a picket line, and I had a little trouble getting through. Finally I got through, went on in, and he told me he wouldn't stand for that. I

Page 7
told him he would stand for more than that. I got a little warm and I quieted him down and that was the end of it. I didn't go back into work the next day at all, but they wanted me to come back to work.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Where was the union headquarters?
ROBERT COLE:
It was on East Street as well as I can remember, between the drug store and the railroad.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So you didn't come back into work after the first day?
ROBERT COLE:
No, I didn't go back—I don't remember just how long.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So tell me what went on, then. Were there big meetings in the tabernacle?
ROBERT COLE:
Oh, yeah, there were big crowds. Lady, I was mistaken. It was right after you come off the river bridge on the left hand side coming towards the monument, and we had a place upstairs.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Where was the tabernacle? Wasn't it called the tabernacle where the big meetings were held? Never heard of it? It was at the foot of Lynn Mountain.
ROBERT COLE:
This is Lynn Mountain right here.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Where were big rallies and meetings held?
ROBERT COLE:
That was right where I was just telling you—upstairs between the bridge and the monument.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Wasn't there some place where they had big meetings?
ROBERT COLE:
Big meetings?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Uh-huh.
ROBERT COLE:
At the place I was telling you.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, I have read that there was a place built for revivals and they used it to have big meetings where several thousand people would come and listen to the union organizers speak. You don't remember anything like that?
ROBERT COLE:
Now, there were several of the union people. I always called them big men. There was Hoffman, and the president of the Union, Green. They was different ones. They just stayed at the hotel.

Page 8
JACQUELYN HALL:
They didn't give speeches to big crowds of people?
ROBERT COLE:
No, they didn't turn just everybody in. Where we was sitting—we didn't turn nobody in, only them that had joined the union. Course, we turned the bog shots in, but we didn't turn this, that or the other in.
JACQUELYN HALL:
About how many people joined the local?
ROBERT COLE:
Lady, I couldn't tell you.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you go out on the picket line every day?
ROBERT COLE:
No, I didn't go every day. I wasn't on the picket line none, hardly. Now my brother was on it every day and every night. He was on the picket line. And he was the first one over the fence when it come up that they broke in on them down there. He was the first one over the fence.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were your sisters working at the plant?
ROBERT COLE:
I had one sister working there, yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did she get involved?
ROBERT COLE:
Well, she joined the union. I never remember her being on picket duty.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why didn't you go out on picket duty?
ROBERT COLE:
I was with this fellow they called Hoffman. And that time that this happened, that they went over the fence, they had one warrant after the other for me. I had eighteen cases in court. I was in Johnson City to meet President Green when they went over the fence. Out of eighteen cases they only fined me on one case. The judge offered me a new hearing on that one without my lawyer asking him. One swore I'd done the shooting down there. One swore I had an automatic gun, another swore I had an old Russian-looking gun. This lady got up on the witness stand and swore I had a bright pistol. And she swore the truth. I had a .38 Special. It was nickel plated. She told the truth about it but the other two fellows lied.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What else did you have a warrant for?
ROBERT COLE:
Lady, I don't know what all they did have warrants for me for. Just for carrying the gun is all they ever did fine me for at all. And they offered me a new hearing on that and the man said no, said we'll just pay it off. It didn't cost me anything.

Page 9
JACQUELYN HALL:
The union paid it?
ROBERT COLE:
Uh-huh.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you get arrested?
ROBERT COLE:
Well, no.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What was that about?
ROBERT COLE:
That was the last shooting.
JACQUELYN HALL:
For shooting the ties? Were you tried for that? What happened?
ROBERT COLE:
They convicted me.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How come?
ROBERT COLE:
They didn't have the right kind of evidence. I never did take the witness stand, that was the problem. Ben Allen was Attorney General. He said he was going to send me to the penitentiary, and I told him he wasn't sending me nowhere. And he didn't. I knowed to tell the truth to the law, lady. Now at the time of this strike they had a tag day in Asheville, North Carolina, and I was sent up there. Hoffman, he was up there in the hospital, sick or something. I was in charge of that tag day up there, we're talking 1300 and something dollars.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What did you do to raise money?
ROBERT COLE:
We had a tag day there, you see. Bunch of girls out on the street passing the cup. I had met with all their locals up there, they had different locals—carpenters, pipe fitters, and so on and so forth. Brick Masons. I was up there two weeks before we had the tag day. And having the tag day we took up 1300 dollars in one day.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Had you had any experience with unions before, like when you were working in a coal mine?
ROBERT COLE:
I had joined a union in the coal mines, but I had never been out on a strike. They had a strike, and I left the coal mine to come home. When it was over with I went back.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was that in Virginia or Kentucky?
ROBERT COLE:
That was in Kentucky.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I know people went up and blocked the roads into Gap Creek.

Page 10
ROBERT COLE:
That's right, that's what they call a picket line.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were any women involved in that?
ROBERT COLE:
Lady, I wasn't out there at that time, and I don't know if there was any women in it or not.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were there women that got arrested for these various—
ROBERT COLE:
Not that I know of. It looked like they had it in for me more than anybody else. Now, my brother was guilty of half I was tried for. They just got the names mixed up. They tried me for several things, you see. Now, I'll tell it to you like this, lady. I knew what was coming in, and I knew what my brother had been into. I wasn't out there with him, but we had our ([unknown]) together. We went into trial. I had two lawyers from Johnson City, Paul E. Devire and Dave Quinn. I told them just exactly what happened, and they told me I was in trouble. I said, "No, I ain't." We was setting at a table eating dinner. "If you going to let me down, say so, I'll get me a lawyer." They said no, they weren't going to let me down. I said, "I'll furnish the truth, and if you do what I tell you there's not going to be nothing to it. Now, we're not ready for a trial." I said, "Just put up a fight for a trial. I'll let them try me for that." The stuff I was guilty of we'll out it to them, and they done just what I had planned. Just for carrying that gun all they ever convicted me for. And the judge offered me a new jury on that.
MRS. COLE:
Where are you getting this information for?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, I'm writing an article about the strike.
MRS. COLE:
I just wanted to know.
JACQUELYN HALL:
It's not going to be anything around here, not in the newspapers or anything like that.
ROBERT COLE:
I was in ever bit of that strike, ([unknown]) tell the truth about it. But I was never out on picket duty. I come home one time and they had the bus stopped on Stoney Creek, they even took one for me for that. Said I kicked a fellow and I didn't do it. My brother-in-law was the one that done the kicking.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why was there so much fighting during the strike?
ROBERT COLE:
I don't know, just cross up somewhere I reckon. I wasn't in none of the fights.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did your mother feel about all of you being involved in the strike?

Page 11
ROBERT COLE:
She was for the strike, too.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What about your neighbors and friends?
ROBERT COLE:
They was for it, too. There was a few up there that was against it. Everybody knowed they was working us for nothing.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What about the merchants in town? Were they for it or against it?
ROBERT COLE:
Lady, there was some for it and some against it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Would you say that the people most active in the strike were people that lived in a certain place, like people from Stoney Creek?
ROBERT COLE:
They was from Stoney Creek, Gap Creek, Rone Mountain. They was from everywhere. There was people that came from Bristol, but they stopped that bus.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did the strike finally come to an end?
ROBERT COLE:
Well, they got less hours, and they got a little raise. Course, there were people that went in there that took our jobs, a lot of them. I didn't go back to work, and I know several that didn't go back to work. I had a first cousin go in and take my job. He done the work that two of us was doing. (discussion with child)
ROBERT COLE:
Lady, I'm practically blind. I had cataracts on my eyes and I had them removed, and then they hemorrhaged in the eye afterward.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I think this is a picture of you working on the roof of the plant.
ROBERT COLE:
Yes, that's it. I was foreman; I was assistant foreman. This fellow with the white shirt on was the foreman.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Do you have any other pictures of the strike or anything? Were you in favor of ending the strike and going back to work?
ROBERT COLE:
No. If they would give us what we asked, yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
They didn't give you what you asked?
ROBERT COLE:
No, they went against that, you see. I didn't go back at all.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was there a meeting where you had a vote and decided you would go back to work?
ROBERT COLE:
Yes, we had a hall. I'd say that there was some of us there practically every night.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was there a meeting that you said, yes, we will go back to work?

Page 12
ROBERT COLE:
I wasn't there. I wasn't in the meetings as much as the rest of them. I was with Hoffman practically everywhere he went. He had a nice automobile.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What kind of automobile did he have?
ROBERT COLE:
It was a Buick Coupe. It had that little extra seat, you see, in the back. It was a nice automobile. (to child about photograph)
JACQUELYN HALL:
What kinds of things did Alfred Hoffman do to get people interested in the union?
ROBERT COLE:
He just talked to us is all I know.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Would he go to their houses?
ROBERT COLE:
No, he generally talked to them at the union hall. There was times when just anybody could get in when they wasn't having a meeting. They could go anywhere upstairs.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did other people go around and try to get more people to join the union?
ROBERT COLE:
Yes, and some went around and tried to get them to lay out the union. They was some that worked one side and some the other.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What kind of people were against the union, and why were they against it?
ROBERT COLE:
Lady, I just can't understand that as to why people didn't want them to have a union and get paid for their work. I never did have to pay no union dues until I went back this last time to the mill to work, and then I had to pay so much a week.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What kinds of things did they say against the union?
ROBERT COLE:
Some said that the workers didn't want to work, some would say one thing, some another. I think they blowed up the water line that came in Elizabethton during that strike.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did the strikers blow up the water main?
ROBERT COLE:
Yes, I'd say it was the strikers that done it. I wasn't there, but I'd say it was the strikers.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why did they do it?
ROBERT COLE:
To cut the water off.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What did they think would happen? Why did they think that would help?
ROBERT COLE:
Well, I don't know what they thought about it. They cut the water off in Elizabethton and that would stop them all.

Page 13
JACQUELYN HALL:
And that did what?
ROBERT COLE:
Would stop them all. The water came from up here in Hampton.
JACQUELYN HALL:
That would stop the plants from running?
ROBERT COLE:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did anyone talk about blowing up the plants themselves?
ROBERT COLE:
Not that I know of. There was one man that got his house blowed up, but I don't know who did that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was he a striker or a non-striker?
ROBERT COLE:
He was with the strikers, but he wasn't working at the plant.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You don't know who blew up his house?
ROBERT COLE:
No.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You were married at the time, weren't you?
ROBERT COLE:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was your wife working at the plant?
ROBERT COLE:
No.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, what did she think about you being Hoffman's bodyguard and getting arrested?
ROBERT COLE:
She didn't have anything at all to say. Now I've been married twice, and that was my first wife. My wife here, she didn't know anything at all about it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Your first wife?
ROBERT COLE:
My first wife. WE was living down here in Elizabethton in Black Bottom when it happened.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Where is Black Bottom?
ROBERT COLE:
that's in-between the highway and the river going towards Johnson City.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why is it called Black Bottom?
ROBERT COLE:
I don't know, lady, why they ever called it Black Bottom. Now, there ain't no colored people that lives down there. That was just the name they had for it, Black Bottom. They had different names for the streets. I lived on Mulberry Street.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So your wife didn't say anything about this?

Page 14
ROBERT COLE:
No, she didn't have nothing to say in any way.
JACQUELYN HALL:
She wasn't scared that you were going to get hurt or in trouble?
ROBERT COLE:
No. She knowed I went prepared all the time.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did a lot of people carry guns?
ROBERT COLE:
Yes, a lot of them carried guns.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did people usually carry guns, even when nothing was going on?
ROBERT COLE:
No.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you just buy the gun after the strike broke out?
ROBERT COLE:
Just during the strike, just about everybody—not just about everybody, but there was a lot of 'em.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you know about this group called the "Loyal Workers" that was against the strike?
ROBERT COLE:
No.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER:
(some mumbling about guns)
JACQUELYN HALL:
Is this you at the time of the strike, do you think? You've got a gun?
ROBERT COLE:
No, that wasn't at the time of the strike. Now these two boys here, one of them is a second cousin of mine and the other is a boyfriend that he rode around with all the time. That was took at a church. Now see that pair of steps there? That was took at the church house. Wasn't made at the time of the strike, though. I think I was deputy sheriff when that was taken.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You became deputy sheriff? When was that?
ROBERT COLE:
That was right shortly after the strike. I became a deputy under Moreland. After he went out of office—he was out two years, maybe longer, I don't just remember how long he was out—a fellow by the name of Tom Nave was elected sheriff, and I was under him four years.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Sheriff Moreland was pretty much for the strike wasn't he?
ROBERT COLE:
Yes, he was. He was a whole lot for it. He was in sympathy. He come down on the highway when the shooting took place. He searched me twice, and never did find my gun. I had one. And they had this militia down there, you see, of soldier boys. And a man pointed me out and said, "That's the man who got the gun." That's why he searched me a second time. And I

Page 15
talked hateful to that soldier, told him he was so smart, he had stuff on his hip, to get up and use it. He never got up.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I should say.
ROBERT COLE:
They brought some soldiers to the court house. Had one on each side of the door with their guns crossed over. When I went up to the door they wasn't going to let me in. I pushed them back and went on in. I said this is a county, public building. You've got no business standing here. And I went on in. when they got in there they wasn't going to let them out. I came back out and they never said yep to me, nary a one of them.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you feel that Judge Ben Allen was pretty fair in these trials?
ROBERT COLE:
Judge Ben Allen? He was the attorney general.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So he was prosecuting?
ROBERT COLE:
Yes, he was prosecuting. He made it as hard on us as he could. He came to be a judge later on.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Who was judge at the time?
ROBERT COLE:
Vines.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What kind of treatment did he give you?
ROBERT COLE:
He was a fair man.
JACQUELYN HALL:
He was a fine man?
ROBERT COLE:
Yes, he was. He was a fine man and a fair man.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You thought he was pretty fair?
ROBERT COLE:
Yes, I did.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you know of any Pinkerton Detectives around? Detectives that the company hired?
ROBERT COLE:
There was one fellow here, they called him "slick" all the time. I always figured him as a spy. He took Hoffman's car and went off with it one day. I was in charge of Hoffman's car. He was in the hospital, and he told me to keep his car. I parked the car and he got in it, went off. I found out where it was at, and I went out and took the car. And he shot two shots, but he didn't shoot the car or me, neither one. I got out, went back and took his pistol, and gave

Page 16
him word to leave town. And I never see that man no more. I give him orders to get out of town. I ain't never seen him anymore. I figured he was a spy. (Referring to child) What's he showing you this time?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Let's see. What do you think this is? Which one is your grandfather? I don't know what that is.
ROBERT COLE:
I ain't in that picture. that's just a picture of boyfriends that hung around.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you know of a woman named Trixie Perry?
ROBERT COLE:
I don't remember Trixie Perry. I knowed some Perrys during that, and Trixie is familiar.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I've heard she was a local girl and she was real involved in the strike. I think her father maybe was a butcher, or had a store.
ROBERT COLE:
I don't know lady, but Trixie Perry. Since you mention it, I hadn't thought of her in years and years. But that name is familiar. I know that I know Trixie Perry. Now, she lived on Gap Creek. She had a brother, Bob, and a brother, John. John was in on the strike. And Bob was ([unknown]) Trixie Perry, they lived out on Gap Creek. I never was at their home.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, do you think that most of the bombings and car burnings and things like that—was that done by the strikers or the non-union people?
ROBERT COLE:
What?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did some of the strikers get their houses burned or get threatened?
ROBERT COLE:
I don't know of any houses that got burnt. That one that get dynamited and blowed up the only one I know anything about. I don't know nothing about how it happened, but I do know that it blowed all to pieces.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What did you do when you didn't go back to work?
ROBERT COLE:
I was driving the bus.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You were driving the bus.
ROBERT COLE:
I used to drive a bus out of Bristol, over here to Elizabethton and then up to Stoney Creek.
JACQUELYN HALL:
(referring to picture) Is this your bus?

Page 17
ROBERT COLE:
Yes, that's the bus I drove. it's an old timey, ain't it?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Sure is.
ROBERT COLE:
It had a door for every seat.
JACQUELYN HALL:
This is the bus you drove after that?
ROBERT COLE:
Yes. (more discussion about buses)
JACQUELYN HALL:
Are you in this picture?
ROBERT COLE:
Lady, I'm so blind I can't tell, but I was sitting on the steps right there. I ain't got on nothing but a driver's cap. That picture was took on Stoney Creek and this one, too. But a different company. The Stoney Creek bus company sold out the little bus that was there, but he was the older busman. Down from Bristol to Blue Field and over to Johnson City and over her to Elizabethton. After he sold out for this he raised my wages and put me to driving. You see, I was just going up and down the creek at that time. But when he took over he put me in a more responsible position.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Is this the kind of bus—
ROBERT COLE:
That's the bus, that's the bus they rose, yes. Now, there was a door for every seat.
END OF INTERVIEW