Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Wilbur Hobby, March 13, 1975. Interview E-0006. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Father's work as a bricklayer and experiences with African American workers

Hobby describes what it was like to work with his father, briefly, following World War II. Hobby's father worked as a bricklayer, and as such, he experienced more dynamic interactions with African American workers during the 1930s and 1940s than workers in other settings in the South. As Hobby explains, many African Americans were employed in this profession in Durham, and his father usually had several "helpers" at a time. Hobby also explains how although his father was a skilled work who excelled at his profession, he often lost his money through business endeavors of ill repute.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Wilbur Hobby, March 13, 1975. Interview E-0006. 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

My father became a union member, but he wasn't an active union member, Bill. I think he was a union member because he needed a job and the unions in the building trades were at that time strong, much stronger than they are now. So, to do some of the work, he needed to be in the union. He never influenced me in the union at all.
How about his work with black brick masons, was that outside the union mostly? Do you know, or were you too young?
That was a little bit of each. I don't believe that he was in the union when he first worked with black brick masons. I think that blacks had taken up that trade because it was hard work. That's a hard job and my father used to be a hard taskmaster on that. I worked with him some as a kid and like I say, he was one of the hardest working men I ever knew. He wasn't afraid to work, of all his shortcomings, that wasn't one of them. He, in fact, had sort of an assembly line. We talk about the automobiles having an assembly line. My father was an expert brick mason and he hired expert brick masons and he hired a man to help and if my father hired someone and was working and reached back for that second brick, there better be a damn brick waiting to be stuck in his hand by a helper. If it wasn't, he would holler to them as he did to me as a kid, "Dollar waiting on a dime." Because you paid a brick mason a good wage and a helper made just a little wage and if a brick mason who was making what he called a dollar and the other guy was making a dime and didn't put the brick in his damn hand, he got one there quick. He kept enough helpers. I guess that it would take three or four people to keep my daddy working at laying bricks. You know, you had to have one making mortar all the time and one carry bricks and one to hand him bricks. So, it took at least three people to keep my daddy on. He was good and he built fine buildings. He could have made millions of damn dollars in brick contracting if he hadn't tried to make money the easy way by running cafes and bootleg joints and whatever, but he made a lot of money and lost a lot of money.
Did you ever work in cafes and stuff like that too?
Not much, no. He made money during the war by running a lot of cafes, while I was in the navy. I came back and was going to put all I had saved in the navy, ?1500, into what was going to be a dinner club. He was living with this woman and during an argument, she shot him right through the knee and they put her in jail. I stayed at his house and he was doing a little brick work and I put my whole ?1500 into the thing and we were going to be partners and I told him, "If you ever see that woman again, we are through." Money gave out and we had to have money. So, he contracted some brick work and while he contracted the brick work, I ran the job for him with a couple of masons and we had some real good jobs where we made about ?400 a week and I wasn't taking anything but what I was getting fed. I had an old car and had this guy driving him around, he could prop himself up in the back seat of the car and have his leg extended and I came to find out that while he would drive off occasionally, he was going to see the woman that shot him. He later married her. So, he and I had a big argument over it and I just left and I won't ever forget it, I guess.