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(transcript) Oral History Interview with Emma Whitesell, 1977 July 27. Interview H-57. 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 27, 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.
An audio file with the interview complements this electronic edition.
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[Interview conducted] by
Original transcript on deposit at
The Southern Historical Collection
Louis Round Wilson Library
Cliff Kuhn: This is with Miss Emma Whitesell. Why don't you tell me a little bit about where your family came from and what they did, what their names were.
Emma Whitesell: My mother and father came from Rockingham but they moved to Haw River, and they were married at Haw River.
CK: Were they farmers in Rockingham?
WHITESELL: Yeah, I think so.
CK: Do you remember that at all?
WHITESELL: Oh no, that was before they married. And then, poppa bought a farm down in the country below Haw River, about eight miles below Haw River. Some of us children was born down there and some of 'em was born different places. But we moved back to the mill to work.
CK: Did you grow up on a farm?
WHITESELL: No I left the farm when I was twelve years old.
CK: Do you have any memories of what it was like on the farm?
WHITESELL: Yes. We had to carry water a long ways, and momma done all the washing and ironing and sewing for us, and she had thirteen children--raised ten of us. Some of 'em would work at the mill, they'd move to Haw River--two of my sisters and my daddy would live up there--and the rest of us would stay on the farm and farm.
CK: So your daddy was still living on the farm though, and working in the mill?
WHITESELL: Yeah, he was still living--but he had a house, him and the two girls kept house you know. So he'd work and then come home on the weekends and my oldest brother would've begun the farming.
CK: Why did he decide to go into the mills in the first place?
WHITESELL: Well, we couldn't make it on the farm.
CK: What kind of farm was it?
WHITESELL: I forget how many acres we had. We just raised vegetables and things like that, we didn't raise tobacco--poppa didn't raise tobacco. It was kinda hard to have that many children and keep up with just what farming we'd done. We raised wheat and hogs and we always hogs and cows and horses.
CK: Which position were you among the kids?
WHITESELL: About midway. Let's see, I have three sisters older than I am and two brothers and then I have four sisters, I believe, younger than I am and three brothers. So I was kinda in between.
CK: Big family.
WHITESELL: Yeah. 'Course momma didn't raise but ten of us, three of 'em died--one of 'em died when she was a year old and the other two was born dead.
CK: So, how old were your two older sisters when they went in to help your father in the mill?
WHITESELL: Oh, they was about twelve years old I reckon.
CK: Do you remember any of that, when they first went into the mill?
WHITESELL: Yeah, because I would go up there sometimes--and one of my sisters would stay at home--and I'd go up there and stay with the other sister. And I'd go in the mill with her in the morning, and I'd thred shuttles for her. I wasn't big enough to hang 'em up, she'd have to hang 'em up for me. Then, at eleven o'clock I'd go home and warm up the dinner--she'd have the dinner already cooked.
CK: As a little girl what do you remember, or what did you think about the mill?
WHITESELL: Well, I liked it, I've always liked the mill. But, it had changed so much during that time. She was running six looms I think, and my older sister stayed at home.
CK: And your father.
WHITESELL: He was working.
CK: Which department was he in?
WHITESELL: He was a loom fixer then.
CK: Had he had mechanical experience beforehand?
WHITESELL: Well, I don't know, I don't think so. Just the mill work I think. He went in as a young man and come off a farm.
CK: Did he have regrets, having to go into the mill?
WHITESELL: He never did like it, he liked the outdoors. But he had to do it to raise us children. So that was about the time--I don't know whether you ever heard tell of the wreck that they had, the train wreck they had at Haw River?
CK: In 1918? Or was it before then?
WHITESELL: Oh, it was way back around 1910, eleven, something like that.
CK: Do you remember that?
CK: You didn't see it.
WHITESELL: No, I was in the country then. Poppa went down and sawed a colored man out.
CK: Well what happened. I don't know the whole story.
WHITESELL: The wreck, it pinned a colored man in there. And my daddy, and I don't know who else, went. But they went down there from the mill, and poppa took his saw and things that he had, and sawed the nigger out. They begged him not to go down there, 'cause he risked his life--and the nigger did die. And then they fired my daddy because he went down there and done that and was off his job.
CK: The mill at Haw River.
CK: Which mill was that?
WHITESELL: I don't know the name.
CK: Then what did he do?
WHITESELL: Well he come back home, stayed awhile, and then he went backwards and forwards, and go get in the mills.
CK: Did all of your brothers and sisters go follow him into the mill?
CK: What did some of them do?
WHITESELL: Well, my oldest brother, he farmed awhile. When he left home he went to a farm in Efland. Then, he come to Burlington and when they started up streetcars he was a conductor on a streetcar. Then, I don't know what all else he done, but he worked at wholesale houses you know. And then--I don't know whether you know anything about the Dixie Mill--well, he worked there at that flour mill for awhile. Then he went to Texas, and I don't know what all he done out there. But I don't think he ever did work in a mill.
CK: But he was the only one who didn't, or did anybody else stay on the farm?
WHITESELL: Well, some of the rest of 'em, they worked in the mill but they went to some other job. My brother that I'm next to, he went to the Navy yard, he was in the service first world war--he was a soldier. And he stayed over there--they sent him over there first 'cause he was in the standing army--and then he stayed a year after the war and helped clean up. Then he come back home. And then he worked in the mill, he worked in the Navy yard. He was a plumber, when he retired he was a plumber. But I don't know what else he done.
CK: And the others?
WHITESELL: Well, I had one--he worked in the mill weaving a while, and he moved houses, this construction work, and he was a deputy sheriff for a long time--collected taxes you know. He was a policeman first
though, and then he was deputy sheriff.
CK: He was deputy sheriff for the whole county?
WHITESELL: Yeah, Alamance County. So, he's retired now from being a deputy sheriff and he does a little truck farming.
CK: Did any of them stay on the farm, stay farming?
WHITESELL: No. (Interruption: her sister comes in the room)
CK: So none of them stayed in farming at all?
WHITESELL: No. My brother, he might have farmed some after he went to Texas. But he worked in a oil field and when he was retired he was selling cars. He was my oldest brother and he passed away in sixty nine I believe.
CK: What do you remember about your schooling?
WHITESELL: I didn't get no schooling.
CK: How much did you get?
WHITESELL: I went to the third grade. I wouldn't get to go to school--when we lived in the country you know, we lived so far--I wouldn't get to go on the bad days, I'd have to stay at home and help momma. Then, they didn't make you go to school.
CK: Did you go to the same school as the kids in the mill village?
WHITESELL: Oh, yeah, after I moved to Haw River. But I was living in the country then. So when I was about fifteen was when they compelled 'em to go to school if they wasn't but fourteen you know--under fourteen. I come over here and I skipped the fourth grade and went into fifth.
CK: Is that here at Broadstreet School?
WHITESELL: Here at Broadstreet School. But in the meantime I'd went to Haw River School and I went to Elmira School. Just a little bit, not much. Back then they didn't promote you, when you thought you could go up, you went up.
CK: Is that right?
WHITESELL: Yeah, and I never did have confidence in myself. I was afraid I wouldn't make it, and I didn't want to go up and then go back. So I just finished the third grade. And so I come over here in, I don't know, it was about 1916 I reckon. But anyway I skipped the fourth grade and went to the fifth. And then I had to work teeth and toenails to keep up. Then my mother got sick with the flu and I had to stay out with her and I knew I wouldn't make it if I went back, so I quit.
CK: About that flu, did that affect a lot of people, the flu that came around that year, in 1918?
WHITESELL: Oh yeah, people'd just die going and coming. Some houses there'd be two and three deaths in one place.
CK: How old were you at that time?
WHITESELL: Well, I was about sixteen. It was 1918 wasn't it? Well I was seventeen.
CK: You told me that when you were twelve you started working in the mill. Is that right?
WHITESELL: Yeah, we moved to Lakeside.
CK: Why did you go in. Did they want you to go in or did you want to go?
WHITESELL: Well, my daddy put me in. He had made a little machine to take bad filling and make good filling out of it. And he put me on that, paid me fifty cent a day to run that. Well, I run that awhile and then my brother got sick--he was carrying filling. He stayed out so my daddy put my younger brother and me in there carrying filling. So then when he went back somebody had stayed out of the finishing room--I mean the cloth room. And poppa put me out there inspecting cloth. I was doing a woman's job.
CK: And how old were you?
WHITESELL: I was about twelve. So I worked out there until the woman got well and come back. I had to inspect the cloth and sew it on the machine if they run it through and folded it--you know, in the yard--fold. And then I had to take it--a man done that, run that machine--but I had to sew the cloth together. Then, when it'd come out he'd lay it over on the table and I had to fold it two ways, you know, just to make a bolt about like that. And packet it both ends, twice. I done that, then somebody stayed out or went off, something, and poppa put me out there running looms. I had two looms. (chuckle) They didn't have no drop eyes then. It was just a plain loom. If a thread broke it would be mat up and if you didn't watch it, it would make a mess. And you had to thread your own shuttles.
CK: So he was the weaver supervisor by that time?
WHITESELL: Yeah, he was. Well they called him Boss Weaver, that's what they called him, then they called him Supervisor, but they called him Boss Weaver then.
CK: Had he had experience weaving before?
WHITESELL: Oh yeah, fixing looms. He could do anything mostly--I thought he could do anything. 'Cause one time--I don't know whether this is interesting or not--some weaver give him a moustache cup. It had a place on it you know, so your moustache wouldn't go down in your coffee. They don't have 'em now I don't think. And so, he give him a cup and saucer. Well, we had butter on the saucer and I went to cut the butter and I broke the saucer. I said, Poppa can fix it. (laughter) It didn't scare me none--I said poppa could fix it. Now that was when we first moved to Lakeside. That's about all I done down there.
CK: That sounds like a lot of different things that you were doing.
WHITESELL: Yeah. Then poppa went back to the country and took the children smaller than me back with him. So then we moved to Aurora.
CK: So the rest of the family was here and he moved back to the country?
WHITESELL: Well, he took momma and the smaller children and they went to the country. And then we was at Lakeside so my sisters got a
job weaving at Aurora and so we moved down there.
CK: So you were staying with your sisters then?
CK: And you were thirteen, fourteen?
WHITESELL: Well, I was about, between eleven and twelve. No, I believe I was eleven years old the day we moved to Lakeside, in February.
CK: You stayed at Lakeside, maybe a year?
WHITESELL: Three years, we stayed there three years. Well that'd make me about fourteen years old. So, we didn't stay at Aurora but a year, and we moved to Elmira. But during the time we lived at Aurora it was hard to get a job, you know, a young girl like that. So I went to Haw River(?) Hosiery Mill to learn to top. (Interruption) Then I didn't stay over there but three weeks. I was learning to top--you had to put the top on you know, and ravel it. Well, I hadn't learned to put the top on but I learned to ravel it. The one who was learning me--somebody stayed out and they had to give this girl more machines. And they'd give me what come off one machine to ravel for her. And I couldn't keep up--just learning you know. I made thirty three cents--my machine stood most of the time. So, I quit. (chuckle)
CK: Even though it was hard to find a job you quit after a few weeks.
WHITESELL: Yeah. Well, I wasn't making enough money. I never was interested in a hosiery mill. So then I went and learned to spool.
WHITESELL: At Aurora. They didn't need nobody but I learned anyway. So I went to work up at--on Main Street they had a sewing mill--and I went up there. I worked, I went in learning and I was putting button holes and buttons and buckles on overalls. They paid me two and a half a week when I first went in. Well, some of the rest of 'em was doing the same job that I was doing and some of 'em getting three dollars a week, some three and half, and some four dollars. And so I asked the boss man for a raise, and he said that was all he paid. I said, well I can't pay my board for that--'cause board was about three dollars a week then. He said you don't have to pay board do you. And I said no, but I don't know when I will have to pay for my board. So my mother had told me to ask for a raise and if he didn't give me one, then quit. So I quit. And I went home, momma said, Emma you can't quit, you have to go back. Poppa said, no she won't either, you told her to quit. (chuckle)
Then I went to King Cotton Mill and I got a job over there winding. And I made about a dollar a day. But the job run out. So I didn't have nothing. So I went home and went down to the--what was the name of that hosiery mill--Sellars Hosiery Mill down close to the coffin factory. I started down there that morning and something
happened to the power and they couldn't start up. And before they got started up my brother come down there on a horse and said they want you at Aurora spooling. And I run every step of the way home. I was living right there at Aurora, living right at the mill. (chuckle) From then on I spooled at Aurora. I could make a dollar a day, most times a dollar and ten cents a day. They give us checks for a box of spools, you know. Well I'd keep those--five cents a check you know--well I'd keep two of 'em and wouldn't turn 'em in 'till Saturday. Then we'd work 'till twelve (Interruption - person wanting to use phone) work 'till twelve o'clock on Saturday and I'd turn the extra ones in you know, so I'd make a dollar a day. And that was six dollars a week. That was at Aurora. But I didn't live there but a year.
CK: How did your brother find out--he was living in the country, right?--how did he find out that they needed you at Aurora so that he could come down on his horse and tell you.
WHITESELL: Well, he was living there with us, we was all living there then. Poppa had done left the farm and come up there.
CK: Oh, he had come back by this time.
WHITESELL: Yeah. So momma, when we moved down there, she come back from the farm. So we stayed there for a year, but we had a horse and cows and hogs.
CK: Right here in town.
WHITESELL: Yeah, down in Aurora. But when we moved to Lakeside, I don't know how many hogs we had, we made a big block, put 'em up there you know. We kept hogs and cows and horses.
CK: Did a lot of people do that.
WHITESELL: Yeah. You could raise hogs--after we moved to Plaid Mill you know, you could raise hogs up there, but they finally cut it out. Chickens, we had chickens, now these people don't have 'em.
CK: So you worked at Aurora until when?
WHITESELL: Oh, I've forgotten when we moved to Aurora. We didn't live there but a year. We lived three years at Lakeside and we lived a year down there. And we moved to Lakeside in 1912, stayed there three years, that'd have been 1915, and we stayed there a year and it would have been about 1916 when we moved to Elmira.
CK: So the whole family moved.
WHITESELL: Yeah, the whole family moved to Elmira.
CK: And you all were together by that point again.
WHITESELL: Yeah. We never did--'course one of my brothers had done left home, he was in Texas.
CK: He was in Texas already by that time?
WHITESELL: Yeah, and my next oldest brother was in the army.
CK: In World War I, did he fight overseas.
WHITESELL: Yes. He went in the standing army before the world war.
CK: But did he fight overseas too?
WHITESELL: Yeah. He was the one that I said went over there when it was first beginning and he had to stay a year after the war was over, helped clean up.
CK: Did the war change him over there, being over there, as far as you could tell?
WHITESELL: Oh, I don't think so. 'Cause he seemed like the same boy.
CK: And he came back here.
WHITESELL: Yeah. But he, instead of working here, he'd go to New Jersey, Norfolk and all. He worked at, I don't know what he done, in New Jersey. But he worked in the Navy yard at Norfolk.
CK: So then at Elmira what did you do?
WHITESELL: I was spooling. But I would spool awhile and then they'd need me somewhere else. And I doffed, the next boys job. (Interruption)
CK: Now, you said you did some boys job at Elmira, what was that?
WHITESELL: That was doffing. I doffed awhile, 'course I didn't do it long. I had learned to spin in that time. My daddy wouldn't let us work in the spinning room.
CK: Why was that?
WHITESELL: Well, I'll tell you, way back then the spinning room was awfully rough. There was rough people working in there. 'Course they were good as ours I reckon. But he just wouldn't let us go in.
CK: How did you learn to spin then?
WHITESELL: I would go and tear some ends down when we our roll, if it were denim, and then I'd go back in there and twist 'em up. I learned to spin that way. So they'd put me to spinning, my daddy didn't know that I was spinning 'cause he was upstairs fixing looms. Then they had a thing that you sprinkle filling--a great long thing, you put the filling in there and you'd run it through a sprinkler. I run that, and then they had put me in the draw-in room. I couldn't draw-in but I could hand-in. Then you had a hand-in woman and a draw-in woman and you'd have to hand it in to her. (Interruption) So I would run that machine and then they put me in the draw-in room. Then they put me in the cloth room. But where we inspected cloth wasn't in the regular finishing room, and I'd inspect cloth. And then I'd go down there in the finishing room and work down there. I'd do anything, inspect, back-up, pack, run the tending machine. They used to have different things to get done, you know. Run through a [unclear] calender or something, steam it. Well, I'd do anything down there.
CK: Do you prefer any sort of work to other kinds?
WHITESELL: I'd rather weave than do anything I've ever done.
CK: Why's that.
WHITESELL: But then they didn't have redraw, you had to spool. This was at Elmira that they had this. And I've done that. Then I was weaving at Elmira too, I run six looms. They was old wood's looms--I don't know whether you ever heard tell of 'em or not. Didn't have no drop eyes or nothing on 'em, had to fill your own shuttle. So I'd run six and eight; I have run eight looms.
CK: Were you working under your daddy?
WHITESELL: No, poppa was loom fixer then. Lakeside was the only time that he was a supervisor. But he was a loom fixer at Elmira. Of course I worked on his section, and he had to fix my looms. This girl who come in here just now, she has run ten looms. But back then you know, a ten-loom weaver was a good weaver. 'Cause you had to keep up with it, no drop eyes or nothing, you had to keep up with 'em and see that they didn't make a bad place. And if you made a bad place you had to pick it out, and you had something like a comb--it was wire--and you'd pick it out. So, I wove over there until I got married--I was weaving when I got married. And I smashed. When they'd have a break out you know, they'd have to have somebody to put that break out in and draw in all them threads. Sometime it'd be about that wide. So I've done that.
CK: When did you get married?
WHITESELL: In 1919.
CK: Do you remember how you met your husband, was he also working at Elmira?
WHITESELL: He was working there when we got married. But he was in service, and me and his sister were great friends, and he was in service then. We run together all the time, we was just like sisters you know. I lived on one side of the railroad and she lived on the other. Well, we dressed alike and all, just like sisters. And I loved her as good as every one of my sisters. So, I was going with another boy when he come home. He would call me, and him and this boy were good friends--and he would call me sometimes and tell me things that this boy said about me. And I didn't believe a word of it. (chuckle) Then, this girl and myself would go places, and her sister would tell me if I'd go with her she'd stay up until we got home and then she'd go home with me. They both would go home with me, you know, 'cause I had to go across the railroad and all. So one Sunday we went to the Reform Ch . . .
WHITESELL: My husband had just come in. Of course I had done met him then, I don't know how I met him, just going over there to his sisters. So, his sister--she talked real coarse--and she called him Tick. "Tick, come on go home with me." So, we started out, he said, you don't have to go, he said I'll go with her. So when we got to the railroad, that's as far as it goes 'cause we live right around the corner. And I thanked him for coming with me. He says, I'm going all the way. (chuckle) So he went all the way with me. Then, I still run with his
sister, didn't think nothing about him. So one Sunday they went on a swing over the river, a bunch of boys. And he had a ring--it was a white sapphire, it looked like a diamond. He had it made out of a Mexican diamond--they called it, you know it was a rock. So when he come home his sister missed that ring. She says, where is that ring? And he says, I gave it to my wife. And she said, well if you give it to two certain girls, she said, I'll cut it off of their hands. So, he had it in his watch pocket. So somehow or another he slipped me that ring so she wouldn't see it. I tried to give it back to him and he never did take it back.
So then one day--you know girls had to be awful particular then--you never heard tell of a girl going to a boyfriends house then. Now they go stay all night, and all. (chuckle) So my mother said, if you're going with Everett you got to quit going over at Jules, she says you got to give one of 'em up. I said, I'll give Everett up. (laughter)
CK: So, your husband name is what?
CK: His name is Everett. (chuckle) O.K., so you said you were going to give him up.
WHITESELL: Yeah, I told her I'd give him up. I said I don't care nothing about him, I said, we just talk and all. But she told me if I went with the other one I couldn't go with Everett. Then he went in the service again. See he was in the service before then,
in the Mexican war. Well, then he went to Germany. So, he asked me before he left and went in the service if I'd correspond with him and I told him yes. So I corresponded with a lot of boys. When he come home, he come home on Easter and we was getting a little serious then. So then we married in November. He come home Easter and we married in November.
CK: Right near the armistice day. (laughter) Was that when you moved out of your house.
WHITESELL: I moved out of my home over there and I went to live--we got a room with his grandmother and took meals at his mothers' for awhile. Pauline's daddy moved in to the bigger house and he said if we'd furnish the room we could live with him. So we could take meals and room at the same place. We stayed there from February to June and then moved over to the other side of Hocutt Memorial Church. We boarded with a woman.
CK: Was that Miss Denny's house that you were boarding with.
WHITESELL: No, it was over there close to Hocutt Memorial Church across the railroads. It was Sybl Forbes. [unclear] Then, I went to work at the Southern Hosiery Mill, I had quit Elmira. So one day I decided I didn't want to do that work. 'Cause I was clipping and then they put me clipping and inspecting behind the machines and them niggers would just cuss me out because I'd throw
some of their work out. I had to do it. I said I couldn't take that. So I quit--I didn't quit, I got off for an hour, and went across the railroad. They had a, oh what is it you call it--where the train come in--a sidetrack. The Plaid Mill wasn't that big then. So when I got there at that gate where the train goes in, I met this girl that come in here, you know, my sister. And she was coming over there--she had done married you know--and she was coming over there to get her a job and I'm going over there to get me a job--at Plaid Mill.
We went on around to the office--there was an office and Mr. Walt Williams lived in the back of it. Well I reckon Mr. Robin had told you that. And he had his office in there. So we went in there and he gave us both a job. But he couldn't give us both a house because neither one of our husbands didn't work there. My husband was working on construction in there here roads, you know, between Elon and Glencoe. So he give us a job and give us a house together. So me and my sister moved over there--it was in June, 1920.
CK: And that was when you went to work at Plaid Mill?
WHITESELL: Yeah, that's when I went to work at Plaid Mill.
CK: Was it easy to get a job in those days?
WHITESELL: No. But I always find something, you know, if I couldn't get it here I'd go somewhere else. But he give me a job and we was running--I don't believe they had drop eyes then--but he give me a job running six looms as a kind of spare hand.
And so I worked there weaving and I raised my family there. When I quit, when I got ready to go back, well I went back to weaving. But the last time I went back I couldn't get a job weaving, I got a job on re-drawing. I learned to re-draw. So, from that I worked in the re-draw room and the drawing in room threading heddles and things like that, drop eyes. I caked(?) line and combed (coned?) and creeled, cleaned up the bad yarn, just anything they wanted me to do.
CK: How many kids did you have?
WHITESELL: Five. I got four living, my baby didn't live but twelve hours.
CK: When were they born?
WHITESELL: Well, my oldest one was born in twenty one, my second was born in twenty two and my third one was born in twenty five, my fourth one was born in twenty seven, and my baby one was born in thirty--thirty four I believe.
CK: So you took off time, for how long?
WHITESELL: To raise my family, just however long and I'd get a colored woman to come and keep house for me.
CK: Did a lot of people have colored women to keep house?
WHITESELL: Oh yeah. A lot of women worked and raised their families.
CK: Could you see your children, which shift were you working during that time?
WHITESELL: All three of 'em. I worked some on the first, some on the second, some on the third.
CK: Could you ever get across the street--were you living across the street, or which street were you living on?
WHITESELL: When I was working at Elmira, I was living on Elmira Street down below the mill--their office is there now. Then I moved down on Logan Street and lived there until they shut down and they sold the houses and I moved over on Trollinger Street.
CK: Was that the house Mr. Walt Williams got for you?
WHITESELL: No, that was up there close to where I'm living now. Well, it's Wildwood Lane now. But my mother lived in the house that I'm living in now. So we lived just around the corner and her back lot ran into my daddy's side lot. I moved from there up on the corner 'cause it was a Plaid Mill house and the one on the corner was a private home, and I knowed I couldn't live in the Plaid Mill house and not work you know. 'Cause my husband wasn't working over there. So I got that house--that was before my first one was born--it was a little two room house up there. I moved in it. So I lived there until I moved over on Elmira Street. And my husband was working at Elmira then and he was a overseeing the carding and spinning. That's the way I got the one down on Logan Street. Then when they sold them houses, my husband had to get another job. He worked in a cash store on Logan Street for a long time as a clerk there. Then he went into the insurance business.
CK: When was that?
WHITESELL: That was, I reckon, about twenty six.
CK: He started selling insurance?
WHITESELL: Yeah, Virginia Life Insurance. He sold insurance and he worked at Swepsonville, and then he went to work--he quit the insurance business--and went to work at Oneida.
CK: In Graham?
WHITESELL: No, White's, White's in Graham. I worked at Oneida. I don't know, he worked at all of them places. Then they sent him from Trevor Number 1 to Haw River--Trollingwood--Trevor Number 2, and he worked there until he retired.
CK: He was the overseer all that time?
WHITESELL: Yeah, he was overseer of the carding and spinning.
CK: How much time did you take off when your kids were growing up, like when one child was born.
WHITESELL: Well it was just according. (chuckle) I just--some time. They'd always take me back you know. I went to work at Plaid Mill before my oldest one was born and I worked there off and on. But I worked at Glen Raven one day.
CK: One day?
WHITESELL: One day. I couldn't get a job at Plaid Mill so I went to Glen Raven and got a job. I went up there and they made tent and
army material. So the day I went up there it snowed and the snow was that deep. Next day I couldn't get back up there. They cleaned the streets off and I went over to Plaid Mill, I was living on Logan Street then--I don't whether you know the street. Well, I went over there at Plaid Mill when they cleaned the streets off and asked Mr. Greg if I could come and work 'cause, I told him I had a job but couldn't get to it. And I said, I know you've got help that can't get here and if you'll let me work I'll work 'till they come in. He said I'll give you a job shoveling snow. (laughter) From then on I worked there, only when they'd send me to different places. They sent me to Swepsonville one time.
CK: How would they do that? They were all owned by the manager?
WHITESELL: They was all run by the same management.
CK: So, how would you go to Swepsonville?
WHITESELL: I drove a car, and would ride with some other people, we'd pool car you know.
CK: So people would move around from the different mills according to where they sent you?
WHITESELL: Yeah, if they didn't need me here you know, they'd send me somewhere that needed me. So they needed me down there and I went down there and the re-drawing had run out--we just worked on Saturday re-drawing. I never did understand that. But all week we wouldn't re-draw, but on Saturday we'd have to go in and re-draw. And through the week I learned to top. They didn't pay me nothing,but I'd go down
there and learn to top. One time, while I was working down there--they didn't allow you to sit down--they wasn't paying me nothing, I thought it would be alright for me to sit down and eat my dinner. And the boss man come around, he says, you can't sit down. I said, how come I can't. He says, well, they don't allow you to sit down. And I said, well, they're not paying me nothing. So me crazy like, got up and stood there and ate my dinner. They wouldn't even let you lean up against the post. Well, I just done what they said to do you know. I could've went outdoors and ate my dinner, but I didn't. But they cut that out. You know they used to have straps and benches at the looms that you could sit down when you got your looms running and all. But they cut that out and you couldn't sit down.
CK: When was that, do you remember?
WHITESELL: Well, no I can't remember.
CK: Was it before World War II?
WHITESELL: Oh yes, it was before that. It was while I was working. They wouldn't let you sit down so the health or something come around and they cut that out. 'Cause they made 'em put the benches back for people to sit down and all. And they couldn't stop a woman from sitting down.
CK: Did other people in the plant protest about not being able to sit down?
WHITESELL: Well, they did in a way, but they couldn't get nowhere with it until they come around. I don't know who started it, who got 'em to come around and check it. But that was awful, you went in that mill, you didn't sit down.
CK: You weren't working looms, you were re-drawing.
WHITESELL: Yeah, I was re-drawing. But I did weave at Plaid Mill some when they'd run crepe, I run that. I was weaving three different times at Plaid Mill.
CK: Were you working there during the depression, up at Plaid.
WHITESELL: Yeah, I reckon I was working there.
CK: What do you remember about how the depression hit Burlington?
WHITESELL: Well, the mills were hit pretty bad, the people didn't have nothing. I was working there when they started paying you twenty five cents an hour. I think it was--what president was it?
WHITESELL: Roosevelt. He made 'em pay us twenty five cents an hour. But I worked there a long time. But the depression didn't hit us--I didn't feel it too much. Because my husband was an insurance man, looked like, though, it would have hit it pretty hard then, but a lot of people, I heard 'em talk about depression but it really didn't bother me that much. 'Course I never have had nothing no way.
CK: Did you still have cows and pigs at that time?
WHITESELL: No, we didn't have 'em. We had chickens, and cows. But you couldn't have pigs, it's been a long time since they could have pigs.
CK: Somebody told me that they remembered when the Plaid Mill owned a wheat field right next to the mill. Do you remember anything--they'd harvest the wheat?
WHITESELL: Yeah, and they had horses and things. I don't know what they done with it but I remember it. 'Course I was little then.
CK: You had no idea why they had wheat?
WHITESELL: No, I never heard nobody say nothing about it. You see I wasn't working at the Plaid Mill then.
CK: Now, your family went to which church, they went to the Methodist church?
WHITESELL: Well, we went to difference ones. My mother and sisters and some of my brothers went to Hocutt Memorial and I went there to Sunday school and preaching--I'd go to Sunday school and preaching at Hocutt Memorial on Sunday morning. Sunday evening I'd go to the Presbyterian preaching and Sunday school. And then Sunday night I'd go back to Hocutt Memorial. But when I joined the church I joined the Reformed church and I stayed there until 1925 when my third baby was born. I joined the Methodist.
CK: Why did you join first the Reform and then the Methodist?
WHITESELL: Well, I liked the Reform and I just loved to go down there. I just loved it, I don't know why.
CK: And then the Methodist?
WHITESELL: Then the reason I went to the Methodist--my husband went to Hocutt Memorial and so he said that his brother said he could join the Methodist if he would. I said, well if you want to join the Methodist, I said, you go on. 'Cause all his people had joined, and it was right down below his mother's house. I said, you join, and when I get to where I can go to church, I'll join it. So I went to Reform church one more time after my third baby was born and told 'em that I was going to move. I said, now I'm not mad, I would love to come here but I feel like I could go there more, with my husband and my children. So that's the reason I'm a Methodist.
CK: Did the management at Plaid Mill encourage people to go to Hocutt Memorial?
WHITESELL: Oh no. Mr. Walt Williams, he was a wonderful person. Everybody loved him, well not everybody, but all of our family did. I just loved Mr. Walter Williams. He had been a friend like nobody's business to our family.
CK: How had he helped out the family?
WHITESELL: Well, he'd give us a job, and when my sister in law was dying with cancer he hired--his wife did--hired a nurse to go over there an wait on her. If we needed any money--'course I never did borrow no money from him--but if we needed any money he'd let us have it. He was just really a good person.
CK: That's what I've heard from a lot of people about Mr. Williams.
WHITESELL: He really was a nice man. It wasn't just our family, it was other families too.
CK: Did things change at the mill after he left?
WHITESELL: Oh, that's when they got where they wouldn't let you sit down. (laughter)
CK: That was at Plaid Mill too?
WHITESELL: Yeah, that was at Plaid Mill too. Plaid Mill, Mayfair and I don't know whether they had Belmont then or not--I reckon they did--and Swepsonville.
CK: Did that have anything to do with Burlington Industries coming in or was that before. Do you remember when Burlington bought up Plaid Mill.
WHITESELL: I believe that was after Burlington Mills bought it. But, I don't know, Mr. Copeland was the superintendent.
CK: After Mr. Williams.
WHITESELL: Manger, yeah, after Mr. Williams left Copeland took over. And this thing happened after he took over.
CK: Do you remember what kind of changes took place when Burlington Mills took over the Plaid Mill?
WHITESELL: Well, they changed different things--they put spinning in, and re-drawing, that run out and they put other things in there to take care of that. Winding, I don't think they had any winding much when they shut down. They put in different machines to run. They used to run--they had a warp room, they'd run warp and then they'd run it and dye
it and everything, and then they'd run it through some kind of machine. They'd run it on beamers and then it'd go through the draw-in. Well they don't do that now, they slash it, something. I don't know whether they had slashers or not at the Plaid Mill when they shut down. They had warp mills, they called 'em I think, cause my son in law run a warp mill.They've changed so much, I really don't know.
CK: Do you remember when they had that strike in thirty four, when the National Guard came in?
WHITESELL: When they bombed it?
CK: When they bombed it, yeah.
CK: What do you remember about that?
WHITESELL: Well, I was just scared 'cause I was living on Trollinger Street then and I wasn't working at Plaid Mill at the time.
CK: Where were you working?
WHITESELL: I wasn't working anywhere. It was about the time my baby was born. I forgot what month it was, but my baby was born and died in July. That must have been thirty four. I would walk up there towards the stores you know, every evening, and they'd just throw rocks and all at cars coming out of the mill. It was kind of scary.
CK: Did you know any of the people involved at all?
WHITESELL: Well, I didn't know who was throwing the rocks, but some of the people that was working I did, yeah. But I don't remember who they were.
CK: What did you think about the unions?
WHITESELL: I don't know, I didn't think much about it, 'cause it was kind of scary. And I don't think anybody ought to have a right to tell the other one what they can do and what they can't do. Them people that went in there and worked would just risk their life, going in working. 'Cause they didn't know what they was going to do and they'd throw them great big old rocks. They're liable to went through a windshield and hurt somebody. But nobody didn't get hurt I don't think.
CK: No, I don't think so either. Well, what do you remember about the bombing?
WHITESELL: It just went off. (chuckle)
CK: You didn't know any of the people involved?
WHITESELL: No, well, I've forgotten, but I did know some of 'em I reckon that they said was involved in it, but I didn't personally.
CK: Then you worked at the Plaid Mill pretty much until, when did you retire?
WHITESELL: In sixty three.
CK: Sixty three. And you pretty much worked there steadily from 1920 to 1933.
WHITESELL: I went to all these other places. Except the Glen Raven, they didn't send me--(laughter)--but I didn't work there but one day.
CK: How had things changed over that time?
WHITESELL: Oh, I just can't tell you. They just changed all completely.
CK: What were some of the ways?
WHITESELL: The machinery ain't like it used to be, and you'd have to run so many. They had looms, you had to run about a hundred and some looms. They had shelf fillers--people to fill shelves, and ones that control the looms. The warp mills, they changed them--they not exactly like it. 'Course the material they make is different.
CK: Do you think it's a better place to work than when you started, or worse?
WHITESELL: Well now, they ain't working there no more.
CK: But I meant, textiles in general.
WHITESELL: I don't know whether it would be or not. People have worked there, they really give it down the country, say they have to work so hard. But we've always had to work hard. When you do a job you got to work hard. (Interruption)
CK: You were talking about work, you said you always have to work hard.
WHITESELL: Well, I've always had to work hard in the mill. Or anything else you go at, if you do a good job you've got to give 'em eight hours of work, or ten hours of work--when I started to work, they had to work ten hours a day. But people say it's so hard now, they can't make production or something. But I've always found it about the same--you had to work, if you made anything, if you was on production. And I'd always rather work on production, I've worked both, but I'd always rather work on production.
CK: How about the neighborhood of West Burlington, how has that changed?
WHITESELL: Oh (chuckle), it's just all turned around. I used to know everybody at Plaid Mill and Elmira and now I don't know my next door neighbor.
CK: What would neighbors do with each other back then?
WHITESELL: Well, back then, when I moved over there where I'm at now--well not in the same house, my mother lived in there. Well, the neighbors would visit in the morning before they even washed their breakfast dishes they'd go visit one another. My mother come and lived with me in sixty two. She said to me, Emma you ain't got no neighbors. And I'm living in the same house she was living in. I said, Momma I got good neighbors, but they don't bother me. And I said, if you need 'em they're there. Other times, they're busy about their things. Television hasn't done a whole lot for the neighborhood, 'cause if you go in and they're looking at a program they don't want to stop and talk to you. (laughter) But I told my momma, we got good neighbors, I said, the neighborhood . . .
WHITESELL: . . . poor fellow, he ain't got nobody to do nothing for him and his sister said he needed some outside help, and she told me to call him. So, this morning I come by the light place and the water place and the telephone and paid his bills 'cause he's got nobody.
His sister and her husband--two sisters--lives at the same place and ain't one of 'em able to wait on the other one.
CK: Well, you said when your mother got older she moved back in with you, right?
WHITESELL: No, she moved over on West Davie Street. They built a home over there and when they moved over there, I bought the home--Plaid Mill sold the home--and I bought the one that she lived in. Her and myself's the only one ever lived in there. So, she lived over there, I think, I don't whether it was about fifteen years or not. But when my daddy died she stayed there. My brother moved in--he bought the home. It burned down when poppa got near about done and so he couldn't finish it, he'd had all of his savings in it. After raising all of us ten young 'uns. So my brother took it over and let him live there as long as he lived, you know. Him and momma just lived there and my brother rented it and let them live there.
CK: So you all took care of your momma?
WHITESELL: No they took care of their self. They took care of their self. Momma worked at Swepsonville until she was seventy four years old and poppa, he worked. They was working and they were too old to pay social security you know--if you were sixty five you didn't pay social security. Well, they was working then, and they didn't take it out of 'em. Well then they worked until it come out that everybody worked had to pay. And so they went back and paid their social security. Paid up to date you know. So they had social security. Momma and poppa,
he done odd jobs, you know, he had a good lot over there. He's got a whole block near about. He farmed, he had a garden. So they took care of their self until the last few years. My brother was in the army and he sent 'em a lot. Then he got married and had a baby and so he cut their allotment out. And then us children went in and paid what the government had been giving them, until my daddy died. They took care of their self and then my brother moved in after poppa died, and momma lived with him eight years and then she moved in with me. She stayed with me for about, I don't know, over a year--two years. But anyway, my husband had retired and he was sick a lot and I was working, and my two sisters that you met awhile ago, they came over there and took her to my older sisters' home. She was a widow and my younger sister--younger than the oldest one--she stayed with her. And she had to stay with me awhile. 'Course momma wasn't disabled, she could wait on herself, but I was afraid to leave her.
I come home one time and she was sick and had had the doctor and there was two or three of the neighbors daughters in there, she lived right next to me. I said, well I couldn't work like that. So we got together, and my sister had done that kind of work, so we got her to come and stay. And we paid her to come there and look after her--all of us children did. Now that's the only time we had to do anything for 'em. They got their social security.
CK: Your mother must have lived to be quite an old woman.
WHITESELL: Ninety two years old. And she was operated on for cancer when she was fifty four. She worked until she went to the hospital. So she was bad off for about six weeks, they was doing something for her, had nurses around the clock and all. And she begged 'em to make 'em leave her alone. She wanted to die, she didn't want 'em to punish her like that. She said they were just trying to keep her alive 'till all her children got home. But she made it, and she lived to be ninety two, and the cancer didn't kill her away.
CK: Well, that's great. Anything else that you have on those notes there.
WHITESELL: I don't think so. I just jotted down--I think I've said about all of it. About weaving and material, I done told you about that.
CK: Any final things you'd like to say about how you view your life?
WHITESELL: Well, my life's been wonderful. I've had a hard life. I had a lot of sickness and I lost my husband--be ten years in September. But I raised four children and they all got a high school education and they've all got their homes and their families and they live close around me. Two of my daughters live right across the street from me. Well, I've just had a wonderful life. Me and my husband, after they retired me--I didn't want to retire--and I told them they'd done me the greatest favor. I had four years that we just went wherever we wanted to and enjoyed life. We didn't have as much money, but we enjoyed
life. We both loved to fish. We'd go to Texas and Florida, and to Morehead and Surf City. Just had a wonderful life.
CK: What were the best things about working in textiles and what were the worst things?
WHITESELL: Well, I don't know. I just enjoyed it and I really can't say.
CK: What did you want your kids to do when they grew up?
WHITESELL: Whatever they wanted to do. And, all of 'em work in hosiery mills.
CK: All of them went into hosiery.
WHITESELL: All of 'em went into hosiery. (chuckle)
CK: How about your grandchildren, what have they done?
WHITESELL: Well, I've got eleven grandchildren, and one--my oldest grandchild--she works in a hosiery mill. The next oldest one is manager of Rose's Store at Kinston, he's the one that had cancer--he's doing just fine. Then, Dennis, he's going to college in South Carolina and he works in Eckerd's in his spare time until he finishes college. Wayne, he's the next one I think, and he's--I don't know what you call it--he works for the telephone . . . he draws. . . .
WHITESELL: Yeah, that's what he is. Then I got, who's the next one (chuckle), I can't keep up with 'em. Oh, Linda Sue is a--she's in Kentucky in college--and she's studying, I don't know what you call it, but she works with the law. But she moves around, you know, abused
children, and things like that--child abuse, dope, things like that. She's in her second year--well, her last year. She took four years at Chapel Hill, but she couldn't get any of that kind of--her master's degree, she's working for that. Then I got a granddaughter, works at Duke Power. Let me see, I got a granddaughter who teaches school at Camp LeJeune. My other granddaughter, she just tends to her baby. (chuckle) And I got one that works at a place up towards Elon, my grandson. They make combs or something. Sunoco place, I believe that's what the name of it is. I thought it was a filling station, but it ain't. And I got a grandson that works down below Haw River that makes hose pipe(?) [unclear] , I don't know what to call that. He's working and going to school too. He's getting married in August. I don't know what he's going in--he's studying the same that my other grandson that works Bell Telephone--he's studying that. He's finishing, I reckon, before he gets married. And, I believe that's about all of 'em. I got one that's not old enough to work yet, he's going to school.
CK: Here in Burlington.
WHITESELL: No, he lives out a mile this side of Townsville.(?) So, I don't know what he'll do.
CK: Well, that's a good record. Sounds like you're all doing well.
WHITESELL: But I had so much sickness, but I overcome it. My husband was sick just about all the time--he was gassed in the army, in the war--and had shrapnel in his legs too. He never did get nothing out of it, I believe he could've if he'd tried. But we made it anyway, we made it all right. Sometimes we didn't know where the next meal was coming from, but we got it. (chuckle)
CK: Great, well thank you.
END OF INTERVIEW