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(transcript) Oral History Interview with James Pharis, 1977 July 24. Interview H-38. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
(series) Series H. Piedmont Industrialization. Southern Oral History Program Collection (H-4007)
Chapel Hill, N. C.
Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Interview conducted on July 24, 1977, by Cliff Kuhn; recorded in Burlington, N. C.
Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series H. Piedmont Industrialization, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Original transcript on deposit at The Southern Historical Collection Louis Round Wilson Library.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-CH
digitization project, Documenting the American South.
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[Interview conducted] by
Original transcript on deposit at
The Southern Historical Collection
Louis Round Wilson Library
Cliff Kuhn: Why don't we start by talking a little bit about your family and your ancestors and so forth. Can you talk a little bit about your grandparents--who they were, where they came from, what they did?
James Pharis: No, my grandmother was the only one I knew of my grandparents. My mother's parents died way before I was born. In fact, I was born in Henry County, Virginia. Then we moved to Rockingham County, what they called Spray then. And that's where I grew up. I worked for Marshall Field Company. I was with the company when Marshall Field bought it out from Spray Land and Water Power.
C. K.: When was that?
Pharis: That was back in . . . I left there in thirty-three and I was raised up to work there until thirty-three.
C. K.: Where did your parents come from?
Pharis: They was raised, born in Henry County, Virginia. All of them that I knew of came from Henry County, Virginia.
C. K.: And your father's name was what?
Pharis: Tate Pharis.
C. K.: And your mother's?
Pharis: Fannie Pharis, Fannie Sheldon Pharis.
C. K.: And how many brothers and sisters did you have?
Pharis: I had one brother and, let's see, one, two . . .
Mrs. Pharis: Four sisters.
Pharis: Four sisters and one brother.
C. K.: You were in the middle?
Pharis: I was the baby. All of them gone now except me.
C. K.: Were they farmers, your parents?
Pharis: My daddy was.
C. K.: What kind of farmer?
Pharis: Just an ordinary farmer. He farmed practically all of his life. After we moved to town, he farmed after we moved to Spray. He farmed in and around town and all the kids worked . . .
Mrs. Pharis: They call it Eden now. It was Spray then.
Pharis: All the kids worked in the mill, the textile plant.
C. K.: Why did he move to Spray?
Pharis: Well, with the five kids, six kids with me but I was too little when we came there, he just felt it was an opportunity to go to work in a textile plant. On the farm the kids were all growing up pretty well and they could all work except me. When we moved to town, they felt like you could make some money. [laughter] And they did make it. Lord have mercy, how they did make it. I worked . . . /interruption/
When I got old enough to go to work, I went to work. Working eleven hours a day, six days a week for twenty-five cents a day.
C. K.: How old were you then?
Pharis: I was about twelve or thirteen years old when I first went to work.
C. K.: What year was that?
Pharis: It must have been 1898, somewhere along there.
C. K.: Which would put you around eighty years old now?
C. K.: Eight-five. You went to work. Where was the first place you went to work in the mill?
Pharis: Old Leaksville Cotton Mill they called it.
C. K.: In Spray?
Pharis: In Spray.
C. K.: And then what kind of work did you do there?
Pharis: My first job was in the spinning room. And then I was transferred into what they called the quilling room where you run the pieces of yarn off of one bobbin on another until you got it full.
C. K.: Who taught you how to do your work?
Pharis: Well . . . back in them days, you just had to learn more or less yourself. You didn't have [unclear] much system in textile plants. So you just had to put you in there and you just had to learn it.
C. K.: Were you working in the same division, same department, as your brothers and sisters?
Pharis: No. I was working . . . They was all of them in the weave room.
C. K.: Did you want to stay in school or did you want to go to work at that time?
Pharis: Well, I don't know. It was more or less a case of have to.
C. K.: And your mother also worked in the mill?
Pharis: No. She never did work in the mill. She was getting pretty well along in years when we even came there.
C. K.: Then how long did you work at the Leaksville Cotton Plant?
Pharis: Oh I worked there . . . let's see, in the Leaksville Cotton Mill I left there when I was about fifteen or sixteen years old and I went to work in what was known as the Rhode Island mill over there. Owned by the same company.
C. K.: Do you know what company that was?
Pharis: That was Marshall Field. In fact I was working with Spray Land Water Power when Marshall Field bought it. I was at the sale.
C. K.: Does Spray Land and Water Power . . .
Pharis: Spray Land and Water Power sold out to Marshall Field.
C. K.: All the mills or just one or . . .?
Pharis: All of them. Everything they had. Houses and everything else concerning the textiles. Then in later years, Fieldcrest bought it from Marshall Field.
C. K.: At that point, did you ever think you might become a supervisor yourself?
Pharis: Well, I always wanted to but I never did think I'd make it. I didn't have much education. The biggest part of education I got is through night school. My first supervisor job was in Burlington Mills. They hired me as a supervisor. I was fixing looms for Fieldcrest and they hired me as a supervisor in Reidsville, North Carolina.
C. K.: When was that? Do you remember?
Pharis: That was in thirty-three.
C. K.: Thirty-three. So what happened between working at the other place owned by Marshall Field--you were working you said first as a . . .
Pharis: A loom fixer.
C. K.: Well, didn't you say you were working in the quilling room before?
Pharis: Oh I worked there. That was when I was a kid. In later years I learned to weave there in the same place. I finally got transferred to the weave room and then I learned to weave there. When I went to Rhode Island Mill I was still weaving. In later years, they learned me to fix looms up there and I fixed looms there for a good many years. I don't know just how many.
C. K.: How can somebody get a transfer, say to the weave room?
Pharis: Well, they just . . . through getting somebody to help you and that's about the way it happens.
C. K.: How did you get these different jobs at the Rhode Island Mill? Or how were you able to get these jobs?
Pharis: Well, I just go to the supervisor and apply for it.
C. K.: Did you know the supervisor?
Pharis: Yes, I knew the supervisor at the Rhode Island Mill.
C. K.: How did you get to know him?
Pharis: Well . . . I was raised up there. We was raised up together. He got promoted to that job and I knew him from back when he was a kid. He was a little older than I was.
C. K.: Of all those jobs--working in the quill room, or the weave room, or loom fixer--which one of those jobs did you like the most?
Pharis: I'd like supervisor better than anything I ever had. Always wanted something I could move about on (wasn't confined to one section of the plant) and when I got to be supervisor I could cover the whole plant.
I was transferred from Reidsville (after I went to work for Burlington Mills), I was transferred to Covington, Virginia. I stayed up there four years and was promoted to the first shift supervisor job up there. I went up there on second shift and I was transferred, I mean promoted, to first shift. I stayed up there four years.
C. K.: Did you have to go fight in WWI?
Pharis: No, I was 4-F in WWI. Had a crippled hand.
C. K.: So you never served. When did the two of you become married?
Pharis: We were married . . . What year, do you remember?
Mrs. Pharis: Nineteen and sixteen. We've been married sixty-five years.
C. K.: How did you meet?
Pharis: [laughter] We both worked in the same plant.
C. K.: How long had you been working with Mrs. Pharis?
Pharis: You asking me?
C. K.: No, your wife. How long had you been working there.
Mrs. Pharis: I'd been working there since I was nine years old. I was married when I was eighteen.
C. K.: Your family had also moved into Spray?
Mrs. Pharis: Yes, they moved there.
C. K.: From the farm too?
Mrs. Pharis: Yes, they was farmers.
C. K.: Why did they move there?
Mrs. Pharis: We didn't live far from the town. We moved there so my father quit farming.
C. K.: He quit also for the same reason then?
Mrs. Pharis: That's right.
C. K.: And then, what were you doing in the mill down there?
Mrs. Pharis: Working in the spinning room.
C. K.: Did people from different departments get to know people from other departments.
Mrs. Pharis: Oh yes.
Pharis: Oh they were closer then than they are now.
C. K.: How's that?
Pharis: Because there wasn't nothing for people to do but congregate with each other. I think that was one of the greatest reasons--more socializing then than there is now--because there wasn't nothing else to do. We didn't even have electric lights in our house for a good many years . . .
Mrs. Pharis: We married in nineteen and eleven.
Pharis: Yeah, I believe nineteen and eleven.
C. K.: That would make sense because it's 1977 now. So people congregated around more, did more things with each other in those days?
Pharis: Yes, there was quite a difference then. The only entertainment people had up there in the summer time is a mineral spring about a mile from town. The road would get to be thick with people going to the mineral spring, trying to spend a bigger part of their Sunday's, with nothing to do but just drink water and talk. That's all.
C. K.: You continued to work at Spray? For how long?
Pharis: Until nineteen and thirty-three.
C. K.: How did you become a loom fixer?
Pharis: They put me first, promoted me first from weaving to what they call a smash hand. And then, with an opportunity to learn to fix looms. And in all the spare time I had on the smashing job, I'd be with some fixer learning to fix looms. Finally, I got a section of my own and I kept it for a good many years.
C. K.: Did you like doing that kind of work--loom fixing?
Pharis: No, I didn't particularly like loom fixing. I liked it for the first few years but then it got boring to me some way or another and I took all the training that I could in supervising. At that time, they had what they called Carolina Council which was composed of all supervisors from management down to prospect supervisors. If anybody was a prospect supervisor, they'd invite them to join the Council. Well, they invited me to join the Council and I joined and they give us, paid for, several courses in supervising and I taken them all.
C. K.: When was that--in the twenties?
C. K.: What did this Carolina Council do?
Pharis: They'd have a meeting once a month and talk over business of the plant which all of it was interesting--what each plant was doing and how they were doing and so forth. That was about . . . and they'd have picnics in the summer and banquets at Christmas time.
C. K.: Was that all over the state?
Pharis: No, that was just in Spray. Just for Marshall Field mills and Spray.
C. K.: How many people were in the Carolina Council?
Pharis: I suppose it was about 200.
C. K.: And it ranged all the way from the owners down to . . .
Pharis: All the way from the top to the bottom.
C. K.: What kind of courses did you take?
Pharis: I taken one course in handling men, handling personnel.
C. K.: What kind of things would they teach in that course?
Pharis: Well, they teach you how to get along with people and how to make a success as a supervisor. And, how to handle people as a supervisor. That done me more good in later years than anything I ever taken in my life.
C. K.: How's that?
Pharis: Well, in learning me how to study people and how to treat them. I remember it even helped me up until the last days. I still remember things I learned in there in getting along with people and how to treat people, to be fair and square, firm. I know it done me more good in South America than anything I ever taken when I went over there they a system that the supervisor--in fact [laughter] the supervisor, he was just in there. The administrator of the plant was what you called 'boss.'
And he was a Puerto Rican. He had what you call a vigilante system, in the plant. You see, he couldn't be there all the time. In the vigilante system, somebody he'd pick--which was a secret to the rest of them, they didn't know that they was doing this--and every little thing that they'd see the employees doing, why they'd go and report it to the administrator of the plant. They could treat them like dogs over there and get by with it.
Then he'd get them in and give them a working over. I had a contract when I went over there that nobody else was to have anything to do with the weaving. You see, they never had done nothing over there. Efficiency had been in the fifties and sixties. They had two kind of looms over there: the Draper and the Crompton-Knowles. They had never done never done anything. Efficiency had never been over fifty on the [unclear] and in the sixties on the drapers.
Well, when I went there I had a contract that nobody was to have anything to do with that weaving except me. I had full charge of it. Well, I didn't do anything. I just checked for about two or three weeks to find out which was the best way to handle those people. After about three weeks, I told the administrator of the plant, I asked him if he'd ever read my contract. He said, "Yes." I says Monday, I'm taking charge and I don't want you to have a thing in the world to do with anything, anybody in that weave room. If one of those employees in the weave room come to you for anything, I want you to send them to me." And he said, "Mr. Pharis, how are you going to run this place?" I said, "Well the first thing, I'm going to try to teach these people everything I know and I'm going to be as good to them as I possibly can to get them to do the work." And I says, "I'm doing away
with the vigilante system." I says, "What I don't see myself, I don't want to know anything about without somebody's trying to destroy something or property." He said, "Why Mr. Pharis, you'll never run this job over here like that. You might run one in the United States like that but not here. You've got to treat these people like dogs over here. You've got to keep them under feet, under foot." He says, "You've got to keep them under foot all the time because if they ever one time get the upper hand, you've lost control. You've got to keep them down there and keep grinding on them to keep them down there." I says, "I won't run it that way. If I don't run it my way, if that ain't satisfactory, you give me a thirty days notice and I'll be ready to go. But, I'm running it my way." He says, "Well, I'll tell you you'll never get by with it."
That was long about August, about the first of August. Things were coming together better. I explained it. I had an interpreter who stayed with me all the time and I explained it. I'd get the groups together and talk with them with my interpreter and tell them what all I was doing by doing away with the vigilante system. That just tickled them to death. The people got to working with me over there and I've never seen anybody work with anybody better than they worked with me. They'd do anything in the world I asked them to do without any fuss at all. I remember one time we started a third shift over there. You know there was a little trouble in them days getting people to go from another shift to first shift. We weren't planning on hiring anybody. We were just planning on taking employees. (We had too many anyway). And start a third shift.
Well, I was coming to worry about what was going to happen--if I was going to get into trouble--when I tried to get somebody to go to
the third shift. Well I got them all together and had a talk with them, explained it to them. I asked for volunteers and one of the leaders of groups over there said, "Mr. Pharis, you don't have to ask for volunteers. You say who you want to go on the third shift and they'll go on the third shift." So I started the third shift without any trouble at all. That's just the way they worked with me the whole time. The efficiency went from the fifties and sixties and I worked with them people like that and get them to work with you and the efficiency advanced from fifties and sixties into the nineties. It was ninety-eight when I left over there on the Draper and the Crompton-Knowles looms was ninety-two. Now that was the difference in working somebody and having somebody work with you.
C. K.: And that was all things that you learned . . .
Pharis: All things that I learned through this . . . learning how to handle people.
C. K.: What other kinds of things did they teach you?
Pharis: You mean in this course?
C. K.: Yeah.
Pharis: It was just a general course, most of it was just like that. And then they sponsored night school. I attended night school when I was at the Council and got the biggest part of my education right there.
C. K.: What kind of things were you taking in night school?
Pharis: More or less mathematics and mill calculation.
C. K.: So you took courses in mathematics, mill calculation, handling people, handling personnel? Any other courses that you took?
Pharis: No, I believe that's about all I can recall right now.
C. K.: Were there a lot of people who wanted to be supervisors? Were there just a few people who took these courses?
Pharis: It was just a few, yes.
C. K.: Why do you think that is was just a few who took these courses?
Pharis: Well, back in them days people weren't cocky like they are now, you know. With the education left to looking out for theirselves everybody was just drifting more or less. Back in them days, the supervisor [laughter] told you you didn't have to think about nothing and they told you about what to do in the plant while you were working so you just didn't have to worry. You just went ahead and worked and you didn't plan for no future. Very few people did plan for a future.
C. K.: Why do you think you were different from the rest?
Pharis: I don't know why. Just . . . one reason is that I always wanted to be supervisor.
C. K.: Did any of your brothers and sisters become . . .
Pharis: Well, my brother--he done pretty well. He first went to work with General Fire Extinguisher Company in Charlotte. He worked for them probably fifteen, twenty years and then he went into business for hisself doing the same type work only doing his own contracting.
C. K.: Do you think that this was something that ran in your family--this ambition?
Pharis: I don't know. Back in them days, people didn't have the ambition they got today. They just, more or less, just drifted. They worked the hours they had to work and saved the little money they had, what they made. And they was all happy with it. Everybody was much happier than, I think, they are today.
C. K.: Why do you think they were much happier?
Pharis: Well, because they didn't know no better. That's the only answer I can give you. [laughter] Sometime I think people would be better off if they didn't know too much. There's more worrying today than there ever has been in the country. You'll agree with me on that won't you? People living better today than they ever lived in their life. I often think about how some of these people raise up and cause all of this trouble. These terrorists and so forth when they're living better than they ever lived before in their life. I can't understand it.
C. K.: Well, getting back to your life . . . you knew that as supervisor you'd have extra responsibilities. What did you think about taking on all of these responsibilities?
Pharis: I wanted it. I wanted responsibilities.
C. K.: Had you had a family by this time?
Pharis: My first kid was born in 1913.
C. K.: Then how many more . . .
Pharis: Two more-- a boy and a girl. The first was a boy and the next two was girls.
C. K.: Where were they born?
Pharis: They were all born in Eden, in Spray.
C. K.: When?
Pharis: Our first was born in thirteen and our next one in . . .
Mrs. Pharis: Fifteen and the other nineteen.
C. K.: Did that have anything to do with you wanting to be a supervisor?
Pharis: It did. Yes that played a big part in it.
C. K.: What were your wages as supervisor?
Pharis: When I started out as a supervisor I got twenty dollars a week, I believe it was.
C. K.: How much had you been making as a loom fixer?
Pharis: About twenty, something like that.
C. K.: So your first job was over here in Reidsville, you said, as a supervisor?
Pharis: The first job was supervisor in Reidsville.
C. K.: And that was with Burlington Industries?
Pharis: Burlington Industries. I never will forget it. When I went to work with them, the job was right on the bottom. Terrible. I'd work one week and when I went in on the following Monday after I'd work one week, and when I drove up (I'd drive in from Spray over there) all the employees stayed in the little old drink stand across from the mill. When they'd see me coming in, I went over and stayed with them until it was time to go into the mill. They said, "What you doing over here?" I says, "I got to work. Why?" They says, "Well, they done fired everyone of you all. Didn't you know that?" I said, "No, I hadn't heard anything about that." Well, I was thinking to myself, "Well now what?" So I didn't go into the mill. I went to the superintendents office and there was a new superintendent. I told him, "They told me everybody's fired except me. If I'm fired I don't want to walk up there and have to get my coat on and walk out. Just tell me now and I won't go in there." And he says, "No you're all right. Just go ahead." And they came around about an hour or two later and told me I was getting a raise.
C. K.: This is the first week?
Pharis: The second week. Told me they was giving me a raise. I was thinking to myself, "By golly, I must be all right [laughter] Fired everybody but me and give me a raise.
C. K.: Did they hire all these new supervisors . . .
Pharis: All new supervisors come in.
C. K.: All at one time?
Pharis: All except me. I was there one week. Maybe it was two weeks, either one or two weeks.
C. K.: Do you have any idea why they did that?
Pharis: Well, one reason was the job was in such a bad shape. They just wanted to try a new crowd, a new bunch in there.
C. K.: Now what do you mean, "It was in such a bad shape?"
Pharis: Seconds about fifty percent seconds. About half of the products come out of there were seconds. And they just wanted to make a change and they made it totally all except me.
C. K.: How did you manage to get that job in the first place?
Pharis: The supervisor from . . . the first shift supervisor over there, he had worked at a place I had worked at before he got to be supervisor.
C. K.: So he had worked at Spray?
Pharis: He knew me, yes. He come over and asked me if I'd be interested in the second hand job in Reidsville. I told him I'd check with him on it. They hired me.
C. K.: As second hand?
Pharis: As second hand.
C. K.: On which shift?
Pharis: On second shift.
C. K.: Had you worked second shift before?
Pharis: No, I hadn't . . . I was working third shift that time. You see, the place I worked at--Marshall Field--was a blanket mill. They
shut down in 1930. They transferred me to what they called the silk mill of the same company. That's how come we'd be on silk, what they call silk. Then later went to rayon. Then this fellow knew me and he come over. I'd fix looms down at this place--linen mill, they called it--the silk mill. When I told the high officials that I'd been offered a job as supervisor in Burlington Mills after I'd been there all them years and they never had offered me a supervisor's job, the superintendent told me, "You making a big mistake, the biggest mistake of your life. Your leaving here right when you had something coming up for you." I says, "Well, I'm sorry but all the years I been with the company Burlington Mills is the only one's ever offered me anything better than fixing looms." And I said, . . .
Pharis: They started a pioneer plant over in Piedmont Heights. Then I believe they probably started Alta Vista. Reidsville was about the third plant they got. I felt like it was coming concern. It was quite a bit of talk about it and so on. I went to work with them and all they had was the three plants: the pioneer plant, the Alta Vista plant, and the Reidsville.
C. K.: How long had the plant in Reidsville been open when you went to work there?
Pharis: It hadn't been open very long, just a short while.
C. K.: Do most of the supervisors come up the same way you did?
Pharis: Back in them days, yes. Almost everybody come up through the plant. Biggest portion of them. Of course, now and then you'd get one in from outside. Especially if the plant was in pretty good shape, they'd promote from the inside. Of course if it had gotten in real bad shape, they'd try to go out and get new talent.
C. K.: So you worked over at Reidsville for a couple of years?
Pharis: I worked there from thirty-three to thirty-five.
C. K.: And then they transferred you to Covington?
Pharis: They transferred me to Covington.
C. K.: Which mill there?
Pharis: They only have one mill there. They call it Covington Weaving. They later sold it out to somebody else.
C. K.: Why did they transfer you?
Pharis: The new superintendent come in there. He come from Covington (to Reidsville) and he had a man that he wanted with him. Naturally he had to find a place. He told me himself he was obligated to have that man with him and so I think that was the main reason (for the transfer). I know he apologized to me later.
When Covington got on top and he wasn't doing any good in Reidsville with this man, I went down to Reidsville and he told me he wasn't ever obligating himself to anybody else. He also told me, "I know I did wrong. I made a bad mistake. If there's ever anything I can do for you in any way, I want you to feel free to call on me. I'll help you in any way that I possibly can."
C. K.: Now all of this is going on, more or less, during the depression. What were conditions like in each of these places during the depression?
Pharis: I was at Spray during the main part of the depression. I remember one time over there when they had to pay off in scrip. That was when banks all closed. You don't remember back in them days.
C. K.: I know about it though.
Pharis: It was in thirty when they shut down the Rhode Island Mill.
I want to correct one thing. I said Reidsville was the first supervisor job I got. The first supervisor job I got was from Mr. Bonds, manager of the Rhode Island Mill for several years. He bought a mill up in Stewart, Virginia. They were making blankets up there. He come down and he wanted to get me to work up there with him. He didn't say nothing to me. He talked to the superintendent, my overseer. He wanted me to go up there and take the supervisor's job in the weave room. I told him I'd go on trial, if I could make arrangements with the company for a leave of absence to try this job for a reasonable length of time. If I then wanted to keep it, I would then resign from the company.
C. K.: Rhode Island.
Pharis: Yeah. I went up there and stayed eight months. They gave me a leave of absence for eight months, holding my job that long. I stayed up there and I didn't like it. Me and Mr. Bonds didn't get along together too good. He was just a rude man. He didn't like me. I'll never forget the day I was going to leave. I done told him and I'd worked about three or four weeks notice. He hadn't ever gotten no one and look liked he wasn't making no effort to get nobody. So I decided one weekend that I was going to leave at the end of the week. I went to his house to tell him on Saturday morning that I was leaving that day and he was gone. He had a farm in the mountains somewhere and his wife told me more than he'd told me the whole time I was up there. I could have been satisfied. I told her so. She commenced a crying when I told her I was going to leave and I thinks that's unusual. She asked me why I was leaving and I says, "Mrs. Bonds, I can't satisfy Mr. Bonds. Nothing I do seems to satisfy him. We just can't get along together and I'd rather be happy on the job I got down in Spray than to
be supervisor here." She said, "Mr. Pharis, you are badly mistaken about not getting along with him. I know he is a rude man. He never lets nobody know just how he feels. If he feels good toward you, he wouldn't let you know. Mr. Bonds has been happier since you've been here than he's been since he owned this mill here. I want to tell you something else. When things go wrong at the mill, they go wrong at home. Since he's been happier, he's been just like a different man ever since you've been here." I told her, "If Mr. Bonds had talked to me five minutes like you talked to me since I been here, I could stay with him as long as he wanted me. But it's too late now. I made arrangements to go back down there."
I went on back and went to work down at my old job. Two weeks after I went back to work, I got a telegram from him asking me to come back up there and stay with him until he could get somebody. The mill had been shut down ever since I left. He never started up on Monday. He says, "I'm sick now in bed and if you'll come back and run the mill until I can get about and run the mill again, I'd greatly appreciate it." And so, they let me off again. [laughter] I went back up there and stayed about another month. I got him another man. That's the only way I got away from up there. I got a man to take my place.
C. K.: Who you thought was a good man?
Pharis: I felt like he could run it all right.
C. K.: Then you went to Covington?
Pharis: When that mill shut down I went to linen mill.
C. K.: Then to Reidsville.
Pharis: Then to Reidsville.
C. K.: Then to Covington.
Pharis: Then to Covington. Then to Plaid Mill.
C. K.: During that time there were textile unions that tried to start up and there was that strike that took place in 1934. Did that effect any of the places you were at?
Pharis: No, they never did. People wouldn't hold out then. They organized unions. They organized a loom fixers union when I was with Marshall Field. They had about a hundred percent. They had up in the nineties percent members. I was one of them. I got to be president of the union. But yet, I still was a company man. Because, at that time, I thought the company was treating us well. When anything would come up in the union hall that I knew wasn't true, I'd always fight for the company.
C. K.: Why did you join the union?
Pharis: Because for later years, for later time, when something did happen--they're going to oppress us or something--I stayed in that union.
I know the general manager was a man named Pitcher. The superintendent called me in one day and told me that Mr. Pitcher asked him to talk to me. He asked me why I joined the organization against the company when they been as good as they was. I told him I ain't joined no organization against the company. I says, "I'll fight for the company. I'm in a position to fight for the company's rights by being in the union. I'm fair for the union and I'm fair for the company. I joined the union for the future protection not for what there is now." I know one time they had one of these radical speakers come in the union hall and I introduced him and when he get up there he was running down the supervisor and the white-collar bunch, I just got right up there on the stand. I
told him, I says, "Wait a minute. You're on the wrong track here. You ain't going to make no hit with the people here."
C. K.: Was that someone from outside?
Pharis: Yes, someone from outside.
C. K.: How did you get this fellow to come down?
Pharis: The union sent him down.
C. K.: I see. The national union? Was that the United Textile Workers?
Pharis: Yeah. That union went down and just finally just dissolved itself. They could never give the company any trouble.
I was in the position one time when I was president there that was a radical bunch in one mill. A loom fixer there, he joined the union and he felt like when he joined the union he didn't have to do his job. That's just the way alot of people in the union are. The supervisor told him that if he wasn't doing his job no more, he didn't have no use for him. He fired him. He come right to the union hall and they call to meeting and I was president at that time. They called a meeting and wanted to strike. They wanted all Marshall Field loom fixers to strike to make them take this man back even though he wasn't doing his job. They wanted to strike right then. I told them, "No. Let's investigate this thing and get the facts of it. If he's right, we'll back him up. If he ain't right, we won't back him up." So he pulled out of the union as soon as that happened and then it (the union) commenced going down. It just dissolved itself. I was there the day we took the charter down and sent it in. I says, "From that day on if ever I joined another union, the charter will be nailed to the wall." [laughter]
C. K.: How long did the union last?
Pharis: It didn't last but about a year and a half, two years.
C. K.: Do you remember when that was?
Pharis: That was in the early twenties.
C. K.: Do you remember how it started? What caused it to start in the first place?
Pharis: Just somebody--an organizer--come in there and talked to the people, got them started. They commenced joining and it was like wild fire there for awhile.
C. K.: Why do you suppose it spread so quickly?
Pharis: People just wanted to do something. There's no reason at that time because we wasn't making nothing. Of course, we was happy with what we was making. They was treating us good. We had no reason for a union at that time.
C. K.: Did it spread to other parts of the mill or was it just . . .?
Pharis: No, that particular union didn't go any further.
C. K.: Just the loom fixers.
Pharis: Just the loom fixers.
C. K.: That thirty-four strike never hit any of the places you were at?
Pharis: NO, no. Was that the strike where they had the flying squadron?
C. K.: That's right.
Pharis: I remember that very well.
C. K.: What do you remember about that?
Pharis: I just remember that I'd gone to Reidsville at that time. I was in Reidsville as a supervisor. We was looking for them any time. I had orders from the top that if they come in in any force just to close the mill down and tell all the people to go home. But they never did come in.
C. K.: Had you got any other orders concerning instructions to give to weavers or the people in your division?
Pharis: The strike didn't ever come there.
C. K.: So most people were pretty satisfied?
Pharis: Yeah, they were pretty satisfied but they were excited. You know how anything like that will excite people.
They were pretty careful. One time they tried to organize that plant. At that time, the union knew it wasn't right. They give us orders at the plant not to allow no smoking in the toilets. We tried to prevent it as much as we could but we wasn't too strict on it. We'd let them slip in there and take a draw or two on a cigarette. We'd know that any of them wouldn't go in with a supervisor because if they went in we'd have to do something about it. J.C. Cowen, he was general head of Burlington Industry. He come over there. Mr. Cowen was a kind, good-talking man and if he was trying to find out some news he could pick it out of you. He goes into the toilet and there's three or four in there and they had a regular smokehouse. He spoke to them politely and said, "Oh, you fellas smoking I see." They said, "Yes." He says, "Do they allow you to smoke in here?" And one loud mouth says, "Hell yes. They allow us. They don't give a damn what you do here." He was talking to the main man and he didn't know it.
Cowen goes back to Greensboro and wrote a letter over there and told us to stop the smoking in the toilet or else he'd get somebody in there that would stop it. So it was up to us and we had to fire some of the best help we had on account of that.
Well, the union was trying to organize at the same time. When we fired a good man, if he hadn't already joined the union, he'd go and join then and say that they were fired because they joined the union. So they had a big trial over there.
C. K.: When was this?
Pharis: Must have been in thirty-four, late thirty-four. They had a trial lasted a whole week. At that time, I was on the second hand but the supervisor let me have my way, let me do anything I wanted to do in the weave room. He wouldn't interfere with me. One thing the union couldn't understand, I gave a fella a set of looms he asked for without saying anything to the supervisor about it. So the supervisor was the one responsible in a way. This fella didn't like the set of looms and he just went from bad to worse on it. Finally, they caught him smoking and they had to fire him. He brought it out at the union that Carter, the supervisor, give him a set of looms because he knew they wasn't a good set of looms. He got a chance to fight because he joined the union.
They put me on the stand over there and I told them the supervisor didn't know a thing about it. He didn't because he was interested in patents and working something out for advancements so he let me run the weave room.
This fella had been on his set of looms nearly a whole week and one day he happened to pass there and he noticed it. He came to me and says, "Pharis, what's that hand cock doing down on that set of looms up there near the toilet?" I told him, "I give em to him a week ago." He said, "That's allright if he wanted them." He asked for them, I says. They put me on the stand.
C. K.: Was this in a court room.
Pharis: Yeah, in the court room.
C. K.: So the union sued the company?
Pharis: Yeah, the union was suing the company but they didn't win.
C. K.: What happened in the trial?
Pharis: That was the end of it. They never did organize the plant.
C. K.: That was after the flying squadrons had gone in other places?
Pharis: That was right after the flying squadrons. I know they used to have a personnel office here in Burlington that they would hire people for the Reidsville plant when we'd need any. We were starting a third shift up there and they give me the third shift, promoted me to supervisor. Burlington was supposed to send us employees. There was a gang of them in there.
A fellow comes to me and says. . . I was putting them to work and trying to figure them out the best I could. I was about getting [unclear] fellow there and one fellow comes to me and says, "Mr. Pharis, I don't know whether you know it or not but that fellow over there, he's the leader of that flying squadron." (Burlington had sent him up there.) I just caught it in time. I told that fellow, "We got all we can use tonight. We got all we can use. We can't use you. I'll let you know if we see where we can use you." And I come that nigh to putting him to work.
C. K.: Did you ever have any trouble because you had involved in this loom fixers union?
Pharis: Never did have any reaction about it one way or the other. Luther Hodges, the governor of North Carolina, he was general manager of that plant. then. He'd do anything in the world he could for me. They never did hold it against me. I know he told me after I went to Burlington Mill and I stopped there going from Reidsville to Covington (I'd been down there for some kind of business) and seen Luther Hodges in the yard of the office. I stopped to speak to him and he told me, "Pharis, how about going back with us? I'll see that you get the same position that you got with Burlington Mills but you don't want to go to work right now. You'll want to go to work at our mill that I got charge of and the first opening we got we'll give it to you." I told him that I study on it but I couldn't afford to
do it. I was afraid they'd do me like they did before. Get me back.
I never will forget what an experience I had with the company. You see, I was leader of a band over there in Spray for twenty years and I got pretty well-known. We'd give concerts around all three towns: Leaksville, Spray and Draper. I was pretty well-known in these towns and I was pretty well-liked. When I went to Reidsville, they give me authority, even when I was second hand, to hire anybody that I want when they needed anybody over there. When nobody knew the people over there with Marshall Field, they come to me to ask about a job. If there were good enough (I knew all of them and knew who was good and who wasn't) . . . I hired some of the best help over there--some of the best loom fixers and some of the best help of all types. But I never went to one of them and asked them to come over there. They all come to me. They got to using me then to get a better rating over there in the company and some of them that I'd never seen or even talked to would go to the company and tell them this thing about leaving. (They'd say) I'd talked to them and asked them to go over there to Reidsville, which I hadn't.
Well, Will Carter was general manager of Lilly Mill and Nantucket Mill and Spray. And, he was general manager of the mill I worked at. Emile was a head man out of New York. To show you how big men . . . Will Carter wired Spencer Love and told him he was having labor troubles between Reidsville and Spray. I was hiring all of the help and Spencer Love sent the telegram over to Reidsville. Spencer Love also told the superintendent over there, "Let the Reidsville Mill handle it." He didn't fool with the small things as that.
So England from New York came down from New York and him and Will Carter came over to Reidsville to check into me hiring the help. It happened to be like the office was right here and steps came down from the
weave room and the door from the street come in here. The funniest thing happened that I ever seen. It done me more good than anything that happened. I was coming down the steps and as I was coming into the office, four women come in the front door from Lilly Mill where I had come from. Well they didn't see England and Carter sitting back over here. They couldn't see them. I spoke to them when they come in the door. I says, "Hello! What in the world are you all doing over here?" They says, "We come over here to get a job. That's the biggest mess over there you ever seen in your life. We want you to give us a job." [laughter] And England and Carter sitting down here heard it all.
C. K.: Did you know that they were there?
Pharis: I seen them but they couldn't. That was the best thing that could've happened that way. It done me more good.
I always thought alot of Will Carter and I aim to see him and apologize and tell him the truth of the thing. I did hire help over there but everybody always come to me. I didn't go to nobody else. They accused me of going over there and going to them. But I didn't do it.
C. K.: Did you ever feel bad about say having to fire these hands who would smoke in the toilet?
Pharis: Oh my gracious, yes. At that time, I hated it more than anything else. Some of them was very good friends. They were good people and I thought alot of them but it was just my job to stop it. That's all there was to it and they wouldn't stop. We told them what we was up against. Everybody we caught in there was fired.
C. K.: Did you ever see any of these people again.
Pharis: Oh yeah. Nobody didn't hold it against us. All of us was good friends and some of them worked for me since then.
C. K.: So they didn't feel any hostility?
Pharis: No, at that time they'd pretend to, you know, because they were real hot about the union. They were trying to pack it all on the union, because they joined the union.
C. K.: Then you came over to the Plaid Mill?
Pharis: Yeah, I came to the Plaid Mill from Covington.
C. K.: Was that when Burlington had just got the Plaid Mill?
Pharis: Burlington Mills bought the plant in June and I came here in November.
C. K.: Were you a full supervisor?
Pharis: No, I was second shift supervisor. I told them I'd be satisfied. I wanted to get back to North Carolina and I told them I'd be satisfied with the second shift, if they'd transfer me back down here.
C. K.: But you weren't second hand?
Pharis: No, I wasn't second hand. I had full charge of the second shift.
C. K.: How many people did you look over?
Pharis: It was, I expect, a hundred, a hundred and twenty-five people. When I first came here they were running six and eight looms. When I left there they were running thirty.
C. K.: How did the Plaid Mill differ, how was it similar to the other places where you had been supervisor?
Pharis: Well, when I first come there, they had alot of systems that I wasn't used to and didn't like. At Burlington Mills, I knew Burlington Mills. Whenever they bought a plant, they didn't just fly right in there and turn everything over to their plant. They'd move along and just gradually change until they'd get everything under their
system. They had alot of systems that I didn't like. For instance, they had what they called a docking system when I first came there. The supervisor would choose the weave of the cloth and whatever they thought they should be docked, they would dock them. Fifty, seventy five cents, a dollar, something like that.
Well, I didn't like that worth a nickel and I didn't do very little docking. Later on, they done away with it.
C. K.: What other kinds of things were going on at Plaid Mill that were different?
Pharis: I can't recall right now. It was so long ago that I can't recall the different . . .
C. K.: Do you remember some of the rules and regulations here?
Pharis: They didn't allow smoking anywhere inside the halls. Lots of little silly things like that that didn't amount to anything. When I first went there, the supervisor wasn't even allowed to smoke. They had to go outdoors to go to shop and the headman of weaving . . .
See I come from first shift there and he felt like they sent me to replace him, I think, because he worked on me just a little bit. And I was very careful not to break no rules. One day, he had to go outdoors to go to the shop and I was going to the shop to see about something and I met him. I was going one way and he was going another. I met him there in the alley of the plant. He know I was going to the shop. He felt sure when I got outdoors, I was going to smoke a cigarette. When I got to the shop (I walked awful fast in them days), I just run right in to him. He was aiming to catch me outdoors but I knew I wasn't going to smoke because it was a violation of the rules. He must have run a long ways because he was plimb out of breath. He thought he was going to catch me you know.
Well, then they started another rule there that he had a board inside his office and every mistake that a supervisor made was put on that board. His name was put on the board with what his mistake was.
C. K.: That was in Mr. Copland's office.
Pharis: No, that was in Gregg's. He'd been pushing me pretty hard there and I was getting tired of it. So I was making notes of everything that was happening. Well, all supervisors make mistakes. So this particular mistake that he put up on the board ... there's another man there in the weave room he'd made a mistake much worse than I'd ever made and never did put his name up there. I never said a word.
So there was a mistake made. I wasn't responsible for it. The filler hauler had put up some wrong filling on a loom down there and when they found it and took it down, they marked it up as a mistake to me not the filler hauler. They marked it up as a mistake to me on that board in the office in red and white chalk.
One day I was in the office and Mr. Gregg is in there and he says, "Pharis, your name up on that board--that's two or three times you've been up there. Do you think it ought to be up there?" I says, "Yes sir, I think it ought to be up there." And I looked him straight in the face and says, "And anything else you can think of by putting it up there, it's alright. Put it up there. It's alright with me. Mr. Gregg, I make notes of what goes on here in this plant and I know what's going on. As many times as you want to put my name on that board, it's perfectly all right. Ain't nobody else up there but me. I'm the only one. You must think I'm dumb but I know everything that's going on here. I know all the mistakes they've made." You know, he never did put my name up there again.
C. K.: Were the decisions they made to hire or fire superintendents made at the plant level or were they made by higher ups?
Pharis: The superintendent was hired out of Greensboro, the main office. But back in them days, the local under the superintendent was handled by the superintendent. He'd get the okays from Greensboro that it was alright to put this whoever it was on.
C. K.: You said that this one man in the weave room resented you because you were sent in by the ...
Pharis: I think that was what was it. I couldn't say positively.
C. K.: Did of the weavers themselves feel any of this ...
Pharis: No, there was ... I got along fine with the help. A lot of people there felt a resentment of certain things. I don't know why. When I come there, each individual or sometimes two or three in a group would want to talk to me and ask me how I felt about certain things. The main thing I'd rather not mention because ...
C. K.: I'm not after any names or anything like that but what kind of things would people talk to you about?
Pharis: At that time when I come to Burlington, they was a friction. If you didn't belong to the Hocutt Memorial Baptist Church over here, you didn't get along too well in the Plaid Mill. But if you belonged to the Hocutt Memorial Baptist ... now I ought not put that on tape.
C. K.: Okay. If you want we can turn it off.
Pharis: And see the management belonged to the Hocutt Memorial Baptist Church and they were letting it interfere with the mill. In other words, if the word would get around--there were two separate departments in the weave room, what they called the upper and the lower end. Well, they worked it out some way or another in a way that they had the biggest part of the Hocutt Memorial members up on the upper end and the 'riff-raff' and the one's that belonged to other churches was on the lower end.
Well, that caused confusion, you know, and then when there was anything good in the way of the work, putting in work, if they got any bad work, they'd put it on the lower end. The good work would go on the upper end.
I remember one time, I had charge of the lower and --that's what the people would talk to me about--three or four cornered me there in the alley one time and they asked me (I had been there but a little bit), "Mr. Pharis, what church you a member of?" I told them I was of the Christian faith. And they says, "You're not a member of the Hocutt Memorial Baptist Church over here?" I says, "No I'm not." And they says, "Well, we've lost again." Just like that you know because I couldn't do nothing for them and that's the way a lot of them felt. Course, they got out of that. They got away from that altogether. When I left plaid Mill, there was no more friction about it.
C. K.: What other kinds of things concerning conditions at work would people go and talk to you about?
Pharis: Well, that docking system--they talked to me quite a bit about that. Outside of that, I don't know.
C. K.: Did people ever petition or were there ever any complaints that a group presented?
C. K.: And during your time were there ever any attempts at unionizing again?
Pharis: Not in the Plaid Mill.
C. K.: It seems that, to a degree, as supervisor you're sort of in the middle--on the one hand you had to deal with the management and also with the workers. How did you feel about being in the middle?
Pharis: Well, sometimes it'd get pretty pinky. For instance, the way Burlington Mills handled things back in them days was . . . a big methods and standard man would come down or somebody would come out of Greensboro down here and we'd have a meeting. Well, they'd have a plan. In that plan was getting more work out of somebody for the same money. Then they'd put it up to the overseers to sell the people and make them happy with more work for the same money. If you didn't do it, then the question would be, "Why couldn't you sell them on it?" That was the only thing that ever worried me at the Plaid Mill. Trying to sell the people and make them happy and, you know, that's one hell of a job.
C. K.: Well, how would you go about doing it?
Pharis: I'd just do the best I could. That's all and had pretty good luck with it but I'd never know when there was going to be a flap about it. We never did have one.
C. K.: What did you feel about that?
Pharis: How did I feel about it? Well, I was working for the company and I'd do everything in the world I possibly could to put that plant over.
C. K.: Outside of the mill itself, who did you associate more with--with people who worked in the weave room, with people in management?
Pharis: No, I didn't never make a practice of associating with the management. I never would forget what the preacher at the Hocutt Memorial Baptist Church told me one time. He come to me and wanted me to come to church, come to Sunday School. I was going to church. He wanted me to come to Sunday School. I says, "Preacher, I could tell you a hundred different things. The reason I don't come to Sunday School is because I don't want to. You know it and I know it. If I wanted to, I'd go. That's the only answer I got." He says, "Well now, how about you joining that
church over there. It'd be to your benefit to join. Now all of your supervisors is a member over there and it would help you alot to join over there." I says, "Now listen, Preacher. If you want to talk church with me, you talking on the wrong line. I don't join nothing because my boss is a member if I don't want to join. If I go to Baptist Church, or join the Baptist Church it's going to be because I want to join the church and not because my boss is a member." He laughed. He never did say anything else to me about it. That was while church was so close to the job.
C. K.: So outside of work, who were the type of people you associated with?
Pharis: They was just like me. Just ordinary folks. Some worked down there and some didn't. I never did get out and socialize too much no way.
C. K.: Did you ever have to fire anybody?
Pharis: Very few people. I talked more people into quitting than I ever did fire.
C. K.: What was the difference?
Pharis: I'd just tell them it was the best thing for them or something like that. Wouldn't have no record. I fired some but nothing like the other supervisors.
C. K.: How were you different?
Pharis: The first thing I'd do, when a man was doing something I didn't like I'd always have a talk with him and explain why he was wrong and he couldn't go on. Not let him build up to a place where I'd just have to fire him. Nine times out of ten I could get him to change his own ways.
C. K.: What kind of things . . .
Pharis: Anything. Just violating the rules. His attitude. If a man had the wrong kind of attitude, I'd always try to explain to him it was better for him if he wanted to work for the company to change his attitude and let it be towards the company. Then when he wanted to leave, he'd leave with a good name and could go somewhere else with a good reputation. Instead of tearing down his reputation at the place he was at and eventually leaving and nobody else would want him, that's the way I'd generally talk at him.
C. K.: How did people react to that?
Pharis: I'd say eight-five to ninety percent of them agreed with what I'd say.
C. K.: How did this differ with the way some other superintendents handled it?
Pharis: Well, lots of times, lots of supervisors is like this: "I'm boss and as long as you look up to me and smile and bow your head when I pass around you like I am boss, you're my friend." I was never that way and I talked to supervisors about that. I worked with supervisors that come to me and told me, "Old so and so is getting too cocky. I'm going to tear him down and let him know who's boss." Well, I'd always explain to them, I didn't want nobody to think I was boss. They was helping me hold my job. As long as they done what I wanted them to do and worked with me, they were my friends.
C. K.: Why do you think there was this difference? Why do you think you might have had a slightly different perspective?
Pharis: Than the other people? Well, I don't know. Through my training I suppose. It never pays to be . . . in other words, if you get what you want, that's what you want ain't it? If you can get a man to
work with you (I've always said I'd ten times rather have a bunch of people working with me than for me) if they work with you, they'll help you. Now take for instance, I just want to get on a little something. You ain't got that thing on have you?
C. K.: I could turn it off you want.
Pharis: No, it doesn't make no difference now. Take for instance talk about people working with you. I want to tell you something that happened in South America. The efficiency was down a little bit and them people over there are not like they are over here. There ain't nothing pushy about them. They just work and they like the fiestas. They like to rest and just takes things. They don't push nothing. Well, I wanted to get my production over there up. Everything got to running pretty good, I wanted to get my production up. To show you how they was working with me--I got them all together and had a talk with them and asked them to put a little more push in it and to get one thing in their minds--when the loom was standing, they weren't making no money and the company wasn't making no money. To get it in their mind--one thing is to keep that loom running. If it stopped to get it started quick as they could. That was what I was selling them on. I told them I wanted to get their figures up some. It wasn't where it ought to be.
About two weeks after that, I got a weekly efficiency report with a hundred and ten percent off the Draper looms and about ninety-eight or nine off the [unclear] loom. Well that's impossible you know and I knew it and I went back to see what was the matter. You know what was the matter? We were only running two shifts then. Them people was getting up around three o'clock in the morning and coming to the mill to help me get the production up. Now that's how they were working with me. That's all by treating them nice. I had to stop them coming in.
I got into one of the dangdest jams you ever heard of about it. Greensboro, some way or another, got the report sent out like that and they were writing over there to find out what it was all about. When I come over there on a vacation one summer, I went up to Greensboro. The manager of the foreign plant, he says, "Pharis, there's one damned thing I want you to explain to me and Mr. Love. How in the hell you got one hundred and ten percent on those draper looms over there and nearly a hundred off the [unclear] loom." I explained it to him, how it happened. That's working with you and working for you.
C. K.: Did you ever get to know Mr. Love at all?
Pharis: Yeah, I talked with him. I had an experience with him one time. [laughter] To show you what a big man he was (Spencer Love was a big man. Ain't no doubt about that.)--When I was with the company in Virginia, I had orders not to let anybody (I was on second shift at that time), not stranger in that plant, nobody in that plant at night. They didn't have no fence around that plant and so one night I was standing there at the end of the weave room and I seen somebody come in the door. When they come in the door, they seen me about the same time I seen them. He come down the alley, he was might nigh running. He was just practically trotting. That sort of peeved me a little bit because that some of them smart guys in some of them mills up there was going to get in far as he could through the mill and then if I told him to go out he'd see what he want to see going out. Or try to. I met him and says, "Where you going?" "I'm going down to dope house," he says. I says, "No, you can't go down there." He says, "Why can't I go down there?" I says, "Because it's against the order, against the rules. I got orders not to let nobody in this plant at night." And he
says, "Spencer Love's my name." Just like that. Well see, he knowed and I knowed that if he was Spencer Love or anybody connected with Burlington Mills, he'd have a official card. They also told me that. I never asked him to show it to me. If he didn't show it, I was going to put him out. He says, "Yes, Spencer Love is my name." Well I says, "I've seen Spencer Love twice but you don't look like the Spencer Love that I know." He didn't, the way he was dressed, and he says, "Well, that's who I am." Well, I says, "I'm sorry Mr. Love let's go back down to the office and I'll call the superintendent and see what he says." He says, "No, I've got a card, got one right here in my billfold." But he never attempted to pick it out. When he didn't take it out I says, "Alright, let's go down to the office." Then he pulled out his billfold. and showed me his card. It was Spencer Love and I says, "All right, Mr. Love, I recognize the card. You go ahead where you want to go." And I think to myself, I'll get my walking papers cause now you'll have me fired.
About three days, he wrote a long letter and praised me to the very top. He said that I handled that thing just exactly like I ought to handle it and says if I'd a told him go ahead when he told me he had that card, I'd a heard from him. But he just praised me to the top. Now that showed how big a man he was.
C. K.: I think I'm almost through with my questions. I just want to know what kind of changes you've seen over the years in the textile mills that you've been aware of.
Pharis: Well, since I've got out of textiles, I don't know much about it. But from what I hear, from general talk, if I was a young man, I don't want to be supervisor with things like they are now.
C. K.: Why's that?
Pharis: This segregation. The thing of it is--now I ain't talking against colored people--the supervisors are scared to handle a colored person. They do anything they want to do and they scared to do anything about it because they afraid they'll get into trouble themselves. That's exactly the way supervisor've been for the last few years.
C. K.: Any other reasons why you wouldn't want to be a supervisor?
Pharis: No, that's the biggest reason. If you run a job, if you think your right, you got to run it like you think. You can't let other people run it for you.
C. K.: Do the people you talk to say there's a difference in the kind of work that people do?
Pharis: Not no difference in the work, some in the amount of it. The only criticism I ever hear about something like that is lots of textile plants where colored person gets by with anything and the white person can't. That's what I hear.
C. K.: Why do you think that is?
Pharis: I don't know. One thing it's bound to be is because the supervisor is scared. He's scared to run the job and treat everybody just alike. That's the only reason I know.
C. K.: Now during your time in the textile industry which was from about 1910 to when you ended in the fifties, right?
Pharis: No, I stayed in South America two years and then I stayed over here at Glencoe about eight months.
C. K.: That was in 1952, or when was that?
Pharis: Yeah, fifty-two when I was at Glencoe.
C. K.: In the forty years that you were involved in the textile industry, what kind of changes did you see?
Pharis: Oh my gosh, I've seen alot of changes and all for the better.
C. K.: Like what?
Pharis: Wages for one thing. I can remember when general semi-skilled labor in the textile plant, what you call a semi-skilled mechanic, was making seventy-five cents a day. I never will forget when they give a general raise of five dollars a week. Eighty-three and a third cents a day, and boy, they said things was getting right then. If you got a five cent raise then, why, you was happy. I know one time during call it the depression right after WWI textiles had gotten pretty bad and we were on three days a week for about a year. Sears Roebuck offered the company a big order at a price they would pay. Not a price that the company would ask. Well, the company got a hold of the help and says, "We can start up and run this order provided you all take a cut in wages." Everybody says, "Yes sir, we'll take one."
C. K.: What other changes? You mentioned before the number of looms went up.
Pharis: Oh yes, looms is triple what they was back in them days. I can remember when four and six looms was a job. But the people back in them days didn't have to work--they worked eleven hours a day--but they didn't have to work as hard. I don't suppose they work less hard on the job. Anything you done, you got rest. You had spare time, you could keep your job open with as small amount of machinery as you had to run and get rest on it.
C. K.: In general, how about relationships between supervisors and the people who worked under the supervisors--how have those relationships changed?
Pharis: Back in older time and now?
C. K.: Yeah.
Pharis: Quite a difference. You used to work for the supervisor because you were scared. I seen a time when I'd walk across the road to keep from meeting my supervisor on Sunday, Saturday or Sunday now. They was a hat stomping kind. If you done anything, they'd throw their hat on the floor and stomp it and raise hell. I never will forget after things got better while I was in the Carolina Council, I made a talk to the Carolina Council. They had me on in the music department at that time. And they had me to represent the music department at the Carolina Council. I made a speech and I brought that out. Awhile before then, a good while before then, they sent me around--me and a bunch of people--all the plants to go through all the plants and see what we thought about the way things were going. Well, some of the plants that I went to some of the old supervisors were still there. When I went through the plant, they were just as nice as they could be. They didn't even have on a hat. The hat would be off and I brought that out in my speech and you talking about getting a hand. [laughter] But some of the same people that was the hat stomping kind back under the old rule, they in there now and working with the people. Everything looks so much nicer. Everybody was well-pleased, seemed like.
C. K.: And you feel this continued?
Pharis: Kept on continuing up until the present time. Labor, they got more to do now than they had then but they got a easy way to do it. They treated nice by the supervisor. That driving out of supervisors is gone. There's no more of that, that I hear.
C. K.: Over your work in textiles or over your life in general,
do you have anything you're particularly proud of?
Pharis: Well one thing--I'm proud of still living at eighty-five.
C. K.: That's something to be proud of.
Pharis: Yes sir. And that my health's as good as it is. Still driving. Not many people driving that long. Don't know whether I'll have to give it up. One thing, if people would just realize it, be happy, with things like they are. Somehow I think the more people get, the more they want. I'm satisfied of that because people should be happier now than they ever was before in their life, so far as the United States in concerned, because there's no wars, no potential wars now, and people making more money than they ever made in their life. And everybody's living high. When you travel around, you see people that used to didn't even have a car to ride in with two or three cars standing in the yard and a big five thousand dollar boat standing beside them and all that stuff. People got nothing to worry about now. The health outfit in the United States is in better shape now. I'll tell you, you don't want for nothing now if you let people know it. You know that? I think they overdoing the thing, somebody's overdoing it to get more than they deserve but there's nobody that I know anything about that's nothing like we used to be. I'm telling you the truth. I've seen a time if you couldn't get credit, you didn't get nothing. You get a credit, pay a dollar payday. That's the way you got it--pair of shoes, suit of clothes, anything else. There's very little credit now. People got money to pay for what they want and people's making enough money now that if they want something pretty expensive all they got to do is shut down for several months and they got it
. . . about people striking, making five or six dollars an hour. Stay out on strike a month or two. Why they do it, I can't see to save my life. Can't understand it.
C. K.: How has the community of Burlington changed?
Pharis: Well, it's better. Burlington has got better law enforcement. Lots of things better now in Burlington than there was when I came here. People . . . Of course, stealing is bad now. Vandalism and stuff like that but outside of that, there's nothing. I know when I first come to Burlington [laughter], I was looking for a fellow here in Burlington and one Sunday morning I was over on Main Street--you know anything much about Burlington?
C. K.: Um, hum.
Pharis: A dairy castle they call it over there. A taxi stand behind it.
C. K.: Yeah. On Main and Front Street, right on the corner.
Pharis: Yeah. I stopped there one Sunday morning to find out where this fellow lived and when I walked in the taxi stand right in the main part of town the fellow says, "What kind you want?" I didn't know what he meant. And I says, "What do you mean?" He pulled his drawers open, and says, "This." He had a chest of drawers there about that high, four or five drawers, and everyone of them was filled to the brim with liquor, bottles of liquor. I says, "No, I don't want any whiskey. I just want to find out if you knew where a certain party lived." I give him the name. That was right in the main part of town. You don't see anything like that now.
C. K.: Do you enjoy living in Burlington? Have you enjoyed it?
Pharis: Well, yes. Yes I do. I always said that I'd never live here and I built here and I reckon I'll die here. But so far as being
fond of Alamance County, I always let Rockingham take that. [laughter]
C. K. Why is that?
Pharis: I don't know because I was raised there, I guess. Started my life there and all of my fond, biggest part of my fond memories is around there. But it changed, too. Go back up there, you don't hardly know it.
I just built this house here . . . You know, a funny thing happened. Years before I come to Alamance County, then I didn't like Alamance County. I used to hear so much from it. I felt like everybody in Alamance County was pretty crooked. This used to be, you might say, the headquarters of rooster fighting and stuff like that. I know you remember that. I'd hear about that and that was the reason I didn't like it. One time I had a car. Me and a bunch of fellows came to Burlington. They didn't have no hard surface streets in Burlington. I was coming down this road right here and I was telling people in the car how I didn't like Alamance County. Then, right here on the top of this hill just about where this house is, there was a big high bank out there between here and the road. It was that high. And I made the remark to them--and I says, "I don't like Alamance County but if I had to live in Alamance County, I'd like a home right there." And I got a home today right here I said I'd like to have one.
C. K. Looking back on your eighty-five years, are you proud of the way you've lived your life?
Pharis: Yes, I don't think it's too much different. I've always been able to get along with people. I like people and there's nothing I like to have any better than to have friends. I never was a bad guy and I never was too good a guy. I believe in the Lord and I always try to live a decent life although I'm not too much of a [unclear]
church man. So many things have happened that I feel if you've lived a good life, you're just about as good on the outside as you are on the inside, if you live the right kind of life. That's the way I've lived mine.
C. K.: Great. Well thanks.
[End of Interview.]