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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Nelle Morton, June 29, 1983. Interview F-0034. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The Fellowship's position on industrialization and unionization

In this excerpt, Morton addresses aspects of social justice, other than racial progress, that the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen embraced. In particular, Morton offers her thoughts on the Fellowship's position on industrialization and labor organization in the South. Having grown up in Kingsport, Tennessee, Morton describes her own experiences with the industrializing South. In general, she explains that even in retrospect she had trouble sorting out the interconnected reasons why some southern workers resisted unionization. Regardless, support for the rights of rural and working people were part of the Fellowship's broader agenda.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Nelle Morton, June 29, 1983. Interview F-0034. 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

DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
You mentioned several things that were on the Agenda at Fellowship, ah, Labor, Rural work, Race, . . . were there other . . .
NELLE MORTON:
Well, every year, you see, at the Executive Committee, we examined itself and the whole situation . . . this is why constantly we were changing and dropping some things and pick . . . and this was the time when all over the South when small farmers were losing their . . . farms to loan sharks, also giving up their farms when these industries were coming in, to get people, and people were just leaving farms, and also that the Southern Tenant Farmer's Union . . . now I was not too closely associated with that . . . because that had already gone over the humps, so to speak . . . there were other issues and it was, and we supported labor, organizing, anywhere or that there was any problem, and that we tried to gather churches in areas where labor was trying to organize to interpret the whole meaning of labor organization. So the churches would support labor and this was the time when people like Hunt in Texas was giving big sums of money through industry to set up the offshoot evangelist tent meetings in areas where labor was organized, to preach anti-semitic, anti-labor, anti-race gospel. And I know the biggest one was Parson Jack Johnson who was an evangelist who was available for that sort of thing, and would move his tent to different places of the South, and of course a lot of Northern industries were coming in because of cheap labor, and they needed to be organized desperately.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Where did the Fellowship stand on Industrialization of the South?
NELLE MORTON:
Stand on what?
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Industrialization of the South.
NELLE MORTON:
Well, as far as I remember, there wasn't any particular opposition to it; it was the way it was done and the way so many came in, because they thought they could come in without labor organizing, and you see I grew up in Kingsport [Tennessee], it was planned, it was planned from the beginning to bring in certain industries there. They had the resources examined chemically to see what industries would, and industries were invited in, and all of these were promised they could get by without organizing, and the one person who held out and just didn't pay any attention to J. Fred Johnson who was then president of the Improvement Company who was against labor organizing, was Palmer, ah, what was his name . . . E.W. Palmer, who headed the Kingsport Press . . . 031 and he finally said he just couldn't possibly take the initiative to make decisions for so many people . . . the welfare of so many people.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
How do you explain the Southern working person's resistance to unions?
NELLE MORTON:
Oh! Lord have mercy! I think they have been so indoctrinated. When I grew up in Kingsport, before Eastman was there, George Eastman was brought to the public schools, he was brought to Sunday Schools, and introduced as a man, coming in there, to set up an industry to bring . . . 386 people down out of the mountains, to give them good wages for the first time, a decent place to live, and Johnson, who was head of the Improvement Company would take off his glasses, and tears would come into his eyes, you know, because all these wonderful people were coming there to build up our community, and there is a could all over Kingsport, you can't out loud, you know, say very much about this because it has been built into children all the way along. And when I went to Chapel Hill, even Odom and Brooks of the Sociology Department were pointing out this ideal city of industry that was building up by intention from the beginning. But I would have never known-I never would have gotten underneath this-I didn't understand what was happening, but I never would have gotten underneath this if I hadn't taught in the public schools there. And then in the case . . . you go back in some of these homes, and it was another shock to me to see how these good wages were nothing . . . how the homes a good place to live . . . it was just horrible . . . in so many of these all the houses were alike, the shrubbery planted in the same place, the houses painted just the same way, and it was just . . . it was a shock that I didn't understand until a long time afterwards. But now I think I'm beginning to realize how things way back are making sense, and building up with picture, a commitment to something . . . well, you come, your experience has made you what you are, is what I'm trying to say, has done an awful lot to . . .
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Recent experiences have helped to interpret those long time ago experiences.
NELLE MORTON:
Well they begin to bring them up, you know, and things make sense now that happened a long time ago you didn't understand at all. My work with the Fellowship was the most . . . probably the most satisfying . . . I am in the church . . . I . . . I . . . the Fellowship kept me in the church, I would have left the church then if I hadn't, because I was having so many problems within the Presbyterian Church both, um, peace, and race, and labor particularly.