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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Paul Green, May 30, 1975. Interview B-0005-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Growing awareness of southern mill workers

Green describes the rise of southern mill towns and mill workers' growing awareness of their working conditions. He relates the rise of the mill barons, their control over mill workers' lives, and the way in which northeastern labor unions and World War I experiences in Europe motivated workers to push back against their employers.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Paul Green, May 30, 1975. Interview B-0005-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

You mentioned the rebellions that went on in the '30s, against the poverty and the whole sweep of industrialization by the working people, who gained this certain kind of self-consciousness and a certain kind of understanding of where they were and began to try to organize. There were many different kinds of things that happened in the '30s. Could you kind of talk about this … the Burlington Dynamite Case, for example? Some of the incidents of labor organization that you got personally involved in?
Well, in the South, the labor union, the trade union movement was slow and they never got started. Some of the reasons were that the people who came out of the Civil War depression and gradually awoke, like the Reynoldses, the Grays, the different people around and got the South started again. All around the South, the Carolinas, Georgia, a local fellow would get the idea and he would build him a little factory and then he would expand it. So, these were sort of landlords with a landlord's point of view and I know that down at Erwin, North Carolina right near where I was born, when I was a little boy, I would go by there with my father and we saw a lot of Negroes sawing and cutting down trees. We said, "What's happening?" and they said, "We are going to build a cotton factory." And the Dukes and Mr. Erwin, they changed the town's name, it was called Duke but it is now named Erwin, and that was early in the century. So, more local industry began to spring up everywhere and the people behind that, Mr. Erwin, was a good Episcopalian and he gave the money and helped build this Episcopal church down here, the new one and they were all, every darn one of them, good church members. Some of them taught Sunday School, like John D. Rockefeller, Sr. did. Each one of them also had that possessive point of view about his factory. He herded in these people, cheap labor. At Erwin, I used to go by and see these children at the noon hour come out of the factory all yellow. I tried to deal with it a little bit in that novel you just mentioned. Well, gradually, when the war came on, a lot of these mill people went to Europe and were treated with this doctrine and so on and saw some new things in the world and then the impact of the labor unions in the North and the Middle West began to seep in. Now and then, there would be a young man in the labor group here in the South who would speak out and later they began to rebel. Like at Burlington and Gastonia and all around.