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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Phillips Russell, November 18, 1974. Interview B-0011-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The Black Mountain College Institute of the Textile Workers of America

Russell discusses the nature of education at the Southern Summer School and the Black Mountain School. The Black Mountain School was run by the Textile Workers of America and, according to Russell, this made the school more geared towards the needs of workers. He describes some of the activities that the workers participated in at the Black Mountain School and offers some vignettes regarding the kinds of workers who attended.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Phillips Russell, November 18, 1974. Interview B-0011-3. 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

MARY FREDERICKSON:
In the article that you wrote on the Southern Summer School for the Carolina Magazine, you spoke of the practical experience that the students had, of how important that was in the program of the school. How did the students react to the classes that Huberman and Mildred Price taught? How did they tend to react?
PHILLIPS RUSSELL:
Well, they were very respectful towards anything that was supposed to help them, but I thought that you could pretty well tell that they were not always very excited about it. They took these things as routine, more or less. They didn't talk about it very much after the classes were over. It is just that this school I'm thinking of now was Mary McLaren's school at Asheville College in Asheville. Now, we had another one that I liked much better and got more from that was at Black Mountain this side of Asheville. There, the union people from all over the South, as far away as Texas, took control of their own affairs and ran them pretty much as they liked.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Even in the school itself?
PHILLIPS RUSSELL:
Yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
At the Southern Summer School, at Mrs. McLaren's school, what was the relationship between that school and labor organizers?
PHILLIPS RUSSELL:
Well, it was very friendly. Labor organizers used to come by the Southern Summer School, pay a visit or deliver a lecture, something like that to show their interest and friendship. But the other, at Black Mountain, was strictly a textile workers union, you see and they organized it and ran it. A chap named Larry . . . I forget his last name, it will come to me in a minute . . .
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Rogan?
PHILLIPS RUSSELL:
Yes, Rogan, that's right.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
He was running the textile school?
PHILLIPS RUSSELL:
He was running it for the union, yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I see.
PHILLIPS RUSSELL:
He was a very lively, energetic fellow and we had a very interesting school of it. Well, there was quite a difference between the Southern Summer School and this textile workers course that I am speaking of. For instance, to give you a few illustrations of the difference, one of my first assignments as a teacher was, I said, "Write me a little account of your visit here, your leaving home and climbing into a railroad car to bring you here. Don't put too much detail but give me an account of the important happenings and the effect made upon you and so on." Well, I could tell that they all liked that. I tried to think of subjects that they would be naturally interested in, not anything too dry or formal or too abstract. Well, all the members of this class turned in a paper except one man who was a member of an Alabama union. He was a middle-aged man, rather well dressed with . . . I would say that you would judge him to be a middle-class business man if you saw him walking by. Well, he didn't hand in a paper and he didn't the second day. So, I called him aside and asked him what was the matter because everybody was due to hand in a paper. Well he said, "Mr., I might as well tell you, I can't read or write." What are you going to do? You ask a man to write a paper and he says that he can't even read or write. This Alabama delegation had some of the prettiest . . . well, if they had moved some of these girls into the fellows' course in New York, they would have been accepted right away. Lovely girls, nice manners and everything. They were typical southerners and so on and plenty smart, smart enough to keep up with what I gave them and so on. We tried to divide the time up equally into studies on one hand and recreation on the other. We had dances every evening and we had baseball and track contests and so on. There was something going on all the time. A lot of these people blossomed out like flowers, as it were. As soon as they got over their fear that something bad was going to be done to them, they just enjoyed it.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
How closely involved was the faculty of Black Mountain, were they running the school or helping to run it? The regular faculty of the college?
PHILLIPS RUSSELL:
Well, Larry Rogan was the head of it and he picked his own people, some of them came there for only one day or two days or maybe three days, something like that. Others, just one or two, stayed there regularly. We had one meeting here with the textile workers after we had all returned to Chapel Hill. There were quite a few of them from the Durham cotton mills. Quite often, when I would go to Durham, somebody would call my name from the streets and it would be one of these delegates that had grown up since I had last seen them.