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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Robert Cole, May 10, 1981. Interview H-0311. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Legal implications of union participation

Cole explains that he did not join the picket line during the textile mill strike because there were warrants out for his arrest. He eventually was fined for carrying a pistol, but the union paid it for him. He also remembers raising money for the union through tag sales.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Robert Cole, May 10, 1981. Interview H-0311. 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

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.
JACQUELYN HALL:
The union paid it?
ROBERT COLE:
Uh-huh. (Side one ends; side two begins)
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.