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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Lacy Wright, March 10, 1975. Interview E-0017. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Strike at White Oaks Cone plant in early 1920s

Wright describes a strike that occurred at White Oak years before the workers were officially organized. Sometime in the 1920s, a group of workers, including Wright, decided to walk out on the job when the company bosses implemented technology and wage changes. He describes how they came to the decision, the actions they took, and he stresses the unorganized nature of the strike.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Lacy Wright, March 10, 1975. Interview E-0017. 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

But what happened: they were changing the style of yarn that they were going to make. They were making coarse yarn and fine yarn. Your fine yarn was really filling And the warp was for the war. They were going to make it all on the speeder the same size. Now they had for years, when they were filling speeders, a two cent difference in the amount you got per hank, because it was fine work. And on the warp you made two cents more per hank. Well, when you run fine work on a speeder in an eight-hour period the speeder wouldn't run as many hanks on fine work as it would coarse work. Well, they made the change, and they was going to make the hank price uniform. Now the filler men wasn't going to be hurt too bad; but the warp men, that was on the warp speeders, we were going to be cut. We was getting about fourteen cents a hank, I believe it was. And it was running ten hours a day in those days, and we run 24, 26, 28 hanks in a day. Well, when they made the change and put it on fine, they were going to drop us to about twenty hanks a day, and cut the price of our hanks two cents too.
WILLIAM FINGER:
To twelve? To twelve cents?
LACY WRIGHT:
So everybody got all worked up about it. And it was a funny thing: I went on vacation—back in them days they didn't give you no vacation pay, they just shut down. On vacation. It was all worked up before vacation. So I come back the morning after vacation; I was already a week behind in my grocery bill, you might say. They said (they were all out on the supply floor, all of them together): "What are we going to do?" And it was right funny, I didn't have too much to say into it. I was always young man then, you know. They said: "We're going to shut it down. We're going to get old man Tom Gardner (he was superintendent then), we're going to get him down here and talk to us, and if he don't raise the price of the hank, we ain't running no speeders." And I just thought to myself: "What am I going to do? I don't feel like I should go against them fellows, and I don't feel like I can afford to be out of work." So he come on down there and talked to us. He said: "No, absolutely not. We're not going to do one thing." Now he said that right to start with, to show you how you can irritate a bunch of men that's already mad. That was the first thing he said when we told him what we wanted: "No, that's all we're going to do. Now you can take it, or you can leave it." And some of the fellows pretty badly cursed, and they said: "Well by God, we're going to leave it in the speeders too." And they walked out, every one of them but one. There were twenty-six speeder hands, and part of somewhere else too.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You walked out with them?
LACY WRIGHT:
I walked out with them.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Had people talked about this during vacation?
LACY WRIGHT:
Oh, a long time before vacation, and during vacation too, you see.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And had they planned it out? Had they planned to walk out together?
LACY WRIGHT:
Well, I can't actually say that… In other words, there absolutely wasn't no organization in what we know of organization.
WILLIAM FINGER:
It wasn't formal.
LACY WRIGHT:
It was each man making up his mind what he was going to do, don't you see.
WILLIAM FINGER:
There was no union.
LACY WRIGHT:
No. Neither was there anybody that even attempted to lead the group or do anything like that. So we walked out, and they wouldn't let us go out the gate that we had come in at. They made us go out up at the office.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Oh.
CHIP HUGHES:
Oh.
LACY WRIGHT:
All went out at the office [laugther]. Had the office way on back over there at where they closed the Holiday Inn on Fifteenth Street—Sixteenth Street, 1100 Sixteenth Street, that's over by the Post Office. And right near that Holiday Inn over there. So I walked on out and we (all of us) stood around and talked a little bit. All of them said: "Well by God, let them fire us. We'll just go somewhere else and get us a job." So I went on home. Before I got home they done sent the constable over and had my wife all tore up, and told her I had to get out of the house. She was crying; she didn't know no better, she was a'crying. I said: "Now wait a minute. [laughter] They ain't going to run me out of this house until I get a place to go somewhere else." She said: "Well, I know." She said: "Do you know what they done at Revolution, don't you?" I said: "Yes, I know what they done at Revolution." I said: "But I'll find a place to stay." So we hadn't been out more than two hours and they shut down. Shut the whole plant down.