Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Harriet Herring, February 5, 1976. Interview G-0027. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Tenant farmers are not too promising

Herring describes mill town residents as relatively sedentary people and tenant farmers as "not too promising." They did, however, place a high value on family.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Harriet Herring, February 5, 1976. Interview G-0027. 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:
If you had to describe a typical worker in Spray in the twenties, what would you say? You were saying most of these people were from Virginia?
HARRIET HERRING:
Yes, in the mountains, and some of them from the northern mountains of North Carolina.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Had most of them been either tenant farmers or mountaineers?
HARRIET HERRING:
A great many of them had, yes. But, see, tenant farming didn't pay much; the cotton mill didn't pay a lot, but it did pay more than that. And like one man said to me—I would ask in this interview "Where did you work before here? What did you do? How long did you work at that?" to get some idea of their experience . . . . And they'd use that too, if he had done a different kind of job he could be transferred on it if they needed him, you see, with that skill. And one man kept telling me, "I worked in such-and-such a mill, Washington mill up and so-and-so;" he mentioned all the way around us, you know. And I said, "Well, you really have worked in a lot of places." And he said, "Yes. Seeing the world." And it was about a diameter of twenty miles [laughter] .
MARY FREDERICKSON:
[laughter] I wondered if you perceived any differences in the lifestyle or the families or the movement of people who came from the mountains as opposed to those who had been tenant farmers before?
HARRIET HERRING:
Oh, well, they were just so much better. This crowd at Kinston, you see, had been tenant farmers, and they were not too promising people. You could drive through the village; it just looked sort of sodden, you know. No, a lot of those were very alert. And there was one woman, one of my very best friends: she was highly intelligent and one of the best weavers in the mill, and she took a part when we had a fair or some special thing. Although she worked she could find time to help me with all that. And she couldn't read and write—a very intelligent woman.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well, back to the question about the mountain people: could you tell if someone, maybe, had been raised in the mountains or if their family had been from the mountains?
HARRIET HERRING:
Well, I don't know that you could just by looking at them; they were all the same kind of general blood.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did they have any more money, perhaps? Were they more sure of themselves? Did they have closer family ties?
HARRIET HERRING:
Well, my recollection is that they were just terribly interested in their families, and very distressed when anybody was. That's why when I was in Pomona I had to visit so much; if anybody was sick I just had to go see them.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did a lot of the people who came to Spray and Leaksville from the mountains go back? Was that one reason for turnover?
HARRIET HERRING:
No. Like the man that was seeing the world, they'd go somewhere else. I don't know that they went back; there wasn't anything to go back to, except if you lived in Wilkes County and made whiskey. If you came from there you probably were skilled in making whiskey.