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Oral History Interview with Ernest Seeman, February 13, 1976. Interview B-0012. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).
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  • Abstract
    Born in 1887, Ernest Seeman grew up in Durham, North Carolina, as the American Tobacco Company grew to dominate the tobacco industry. Seeman begins with an overview of his family history. Although his father had migrated to North Carolina from Canada shortly before settling in Durham, his mother's ancestors had lived and farmed in the area since the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Seeman describes briefly what it was like to grow up in Durham during the late nineteenth century. Around the turn of the twentieth century, Seeman left school to go to work for his father. In 1885, Seeman's father established Seeman Printery, and the younger Seeman spent his adolescence learning the family trade with his brothers. During the early twentieth century, the Seeman Printery worked closely with the Duke family, particularly one of Buck Duke's associates, C. W. Toms. Through several anecdotes about his father's business transactions, Seeman offers some interesting insights into the rise of the American Tobacco Company and its relationship to the community. Seeman describes the transition of the printery as it evolved from a small establishment to a larger, mechanized business. Eventually, the Seemans employed more than fifty printers. Ernest Seeman assumed control of Seeman Printery in 1917 and ran it until 1923. Two years later he was hired as the head of Duke Press, where he worked until 1934. During his time at Duke Press, Seeman helped to found the Explorer's Club and worked closely with students. By the end of his tenure at Duke Press, Seeman had cultivated a reputation as a radical on campus and was forced to resign following his support of Duke students who lampooned the University dean and president and participated in an uprising in support of labor activism. Shortly thereafter, Seeman moved to New York before settling in Tumbling Creek, Tennessee. Seeman devoted much of the rest of his days to writing, and published his novel American Gold (referred to as Tobacco Town in this interview) just before his death in 1979.
    Excerpts
  • Family heritage and grandfather's comments on slavery
  • Becoming father's apprentice during adolescence
  • Duke family's community influence in relationship to smallpox outbreak
  • Printing the poetry of local African American workers
  • Race dynamics within the tobacco industry
  • Establishment of the North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company
  • Strike at the Seeman Printery and tensions between employers and workers
  • Growing awareness of the plight of workers and support for labor organization
  • Student uprising at Duke University during the early 1930s
  • Learn More
  • Finding aid to the Southern Oral History Program Collection
  • Database of all Southern Oral History Program Collection interviews
  • Subjects
  • African American families--Durham--North Carolina
  • Strikes and lockouts--North Carolina--Durham
  • The Southern Oral History Program transcripts presented here on Documenting the American South undergo an editorial process to remove transcription errors. Texts may differ from the original transcripts held by the Southern Historical Collection.

    Funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this title.