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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Clay East, September 22, 1973. Interview E-0003. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Tension between the Southern Tenant Farmers Union and farm management

East addresses the nature of opposition to the Southern Tenant Farmers Union in rural Arkansas. East describes how the planters and farm managers "had a way in the country" and how they used their public clout to have one union advocate arrested for his declaration that the union had enough power of numbers to target the managers. His comments are revealing of the nature of tensions between the union and farm management during the mid-1930s.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Clay East, September 22, 1973. Interview E-0003. 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

SUE THRASHER:
What happened in Marked Tree, then?
CLAY EAST:
I wasn't there.
SUE THRASHER:
Well, do you remember what happened?
CLAY EAST:
Yes, I know. They had a talk…now, Ward, naturally, was considered an outsider and he was of course, a strong socialist, and I guess he, I don't know what his ideas were and so forth, but I know that he got up at that meeting and…he was a rabble-rouser. He liked to stir up trouble, it seemed to me and I just didn't go along for that stuff. I, at the time, I felt like that thing could be worked out peacefully, but that was before they started shooting up the meetings and so forth. However, I realized from the very beginning that we was going to have a lot of trouble with these rough guys…element. These managers for these farms and they had a way in that country, just like old man Sloan, he's a big politican, so he can go over there and tell Harve Landers, "I want a deputy card for so-and-so", and that was all they was to it…"Why sure, Mr. Sloan, here you are." And they'd go in and make it out and hand it to him. That's all they had to do, just go in there and ask for it.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, why was Rogers arrested?
CLAY EAST:
He got up and made this statement that he could get a group of these union members here and go out and hang a bunch of these planters right now. Got up and made that statement at a meeting up there and a bunch of these folks…and the prosecuting attorney Stafford, was there and he was one of the worst in the country, and had a secretary there, taking all this down and Ward get up and make a statement like that. That was stupid.
SUE THRASHER:
He made this statement at a meeting of the union?
CLAY EAST:
It wasn't at the union, it was out on the street as I remember it. They had a square out in the center of town, and that's where I understand where it was.
SUE THRASHER:
Was it some kind of rally or meeting?
CLAY EAST:
Well, more or less. They didn't have any trouble getting there. Any time at night, they'd just say there was a speaker there and well, they'd tell one or two union members and they'd get word around to the rest of them before you'dknow it.