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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Mildred Price Coy, April 26, 1976. Interview G-0020. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Coy's work for the YWCA in Lynchburg

Though the female shoe workers were mistreated by their employers and willing to befriend the YWCA secretaries, they did not show interest in forming a union. Coy continues to describe her time in Lynchburg and the tenor of the club for several more minutes.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Mildred Price Coy, April 26, 1976. Interview G-0020. 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

MARY FREDERICKSON What was the program like at Lynchburg? Were you setting up the first industrial program there?
MILDRED PRICE COY:
No, they had some people before me. But they left; they didn't stay long. We had classes in trade unionism. I don't know that we had any classes in race. It was sort of to get the industrial workers interested in the world, mostly shoe workers in Lynchburg. And we'd go on hikes, and we had plays so we could raise some money to go to the next conference. And every conceivable activity. We had classes every Thursday night. They'd come there, and we'd have discussions and classes. And to this day I've been afraid of Thursday night, because I was always afraid nobody would come on Thursday night. [Laughter] MARY FREDERICKSON How many people usually came?
MILDRED PRICE COY:
I guess around fifteen or twenty. MARY FREDERICKSON How did they react to trade unionism? Did most of them belong to unions?
MILDRED PRICE COY:
No. Oh, Craddock-Terry owns the whole shoot; at least they did then. Owns the whole business in Lynchburg, and they were scared to death of unions. But we didn't urge them to start trade unions. They were scared to death they'd lose their job. It was a ticklish business. But we just. . . . What they were, you know, and sort of general trade unions. MARY FREDERICKSON So it was really very elementary, like "There is this thing called a trade union"?
MILDRED PRICE COY:
Yes. MARY FREDERICKSON "You might think about it "?
MILDRED PRICE COY:
Yes. And of course we didn't have anything to do with blacks. The blacks had their own YWCA. MARY FREDERICKSON Did you ever do anything together?
MILDRED PRICE COY:
Yes. The black secretary used to come over to our staff meetings. Oh, she was so pretty. She was so lovely. And a friend of mine was a Girl Reserve secretary. And I was so afraid, at even that time, that this black secretary would call me by my first name, that I continued to call her "Miss Whatever-her-surname-was." I was so scared she'd call me Mildred. And this secretary, who was a William and Mary graduate, called her by her first name, because she had far less race prejudice than I did. I still had race prejudice, you know. But Anita Rucker, this girl that I lived with. . . . She lives in Westchester County now. MARY FREDERICKSON You lived with her in Lynchburg?
MILDRED PRICE COY:
Yes. And my mother came up and lived with us one year. Anita said, "You know, I like the negroes. The only thing is, I wouldn't want to have a little black baby." I remember she said that. "That's the only thing I wouldn't want to do, is have a little black baby." MARY FREDERICKSON How did you react to that?
MILDRED PRICE COY:
I thought she was right. I wouldn't either. MARY FREDERICKSON [Laughter]
MILDRED PRICE COY:
I didn't say anything, but. . . . MARY FREDERICKSON But she would even think of intermarriage?
MILDRED PRICE COY:
We didn't mention intermarriage. She just mentioned that one day. I'm just trying to show you how long it took me to get myself straightened out. It just took months and months and years even. MARY FREDERICKSON How did your mother react when she lived with you during that year, to what you were doing?
MILDRED PRICE COY:
She didn't see any blacks. MARY FREDERICKSON Was it all right for you to be working with factory workers?
MILDRED PRICE COY:
Yes, anything to make a living. I was paid fifteen hundred dollars, I think, a year there, and I thought that was a princely salary. Anita and I sold candy and everything to try to raise money for the activities of the YW. And then there was a family there in Lynchburg that liked me, the Woodsons. Mr. Woodson had a candy factory. And they had one daughter who helped with the YW volunteer work. And Mrs. Woodson would say, "I like the negroes"—I don't know whether she said "niggers" or "negroes"—"I like them. I think they're all right. I think we should be very kind to the negroes." People in Lynchburg on the whole were very conservative, but they were a little bit more educated than the people in North Carolina about race. MARY FREDERICKSON Do you think some of that came through the church, maybe? Was it a Christian sort of thing?
MILDRED PRICE COY:
No, the church absolutely never did anything about race. Never. I hate to say it, but they didn't. MARY FREDERICKSON Did you develope a close relationship with the factory women you were working with?
MILDRED PRICE COY:
Yes. Oh, we had a very close relationship. MARY FREDERICKSON Were they about your age?
MILDRED PRICE COY:
Yes. There was one much older. All of us called her "Miss Lily." And I had a very bad case of appendicitis my first year at Lynchburg. And I called the girls "the girls," or "my girls" maybe I said. So one day the doctor was there, and Miss Lily, a great big tall woman—she was at least twenty-five or thirty years older than I was—came to see me. I introduced her. I said, "This is one of my girls," and I thought the doctor would die laughing. Miss Lily. [Laughter] Nobody ever called her by her first name. She was always "Miss Lily." MARY FREDERICKSON Were these women unusual in their community?
MILDRED PRICE COY:
No, they were just shoe workers. MARY FREDERICKSON I mean, were they leaders among the shoe workers, do you think? Why did they come to the YWCA?
MILDRED PRICE COY:
No, you couldn't be a leader among the shoe workers. There was no organization. They came to the YWCA because they wanted to do something interesting, something different. We had classes. MARY FREDERICKSON Did any of them really change their ideas or get disgruntled with the situation they were working under or become very unhappy about the wages they were making?
MILDRED PRICE COY:
No, they didn't. I remember Edith McDonald was one of them, and she and I were very good friends. She said, "Craddock-Terry's good to us. I can't say that we need a union. Craddock-Terry's good to us. They are good people." I didn't try to argue with her. But there weren't any unions in Lynchburg.