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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Eula McGill, February 3, 1976. Interview G-0040-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Southern labor activist loses job for participation in WTUL convention in D.C.

In this excerpt, McGill describes her invitation to participate in a convention in Washington, D.C., for labor unions in 1936. McGill was asked to attend on scholarship as a representative for the Women's Trade Union League because of her work as a volunteer organizer. Eleanor Roosevelt was, at the time, a member of the New York League and she had invited the New York and Alabama delegates to be her guests at the White House. Because of this, McGill had breakfast at the White House during the convention and also had the opportunity to meet Franklin Roosevelt. One aim of the convention was to push for more organization of the League in the South, although McGill argues that the League never made extensive gains in the region. Though this specific incident garnered recognition for McGill's volunteer organization activities, she ultimately lost her job at the Selma Manufacturing textile mill due to local publicity of the convention. Although her boss had granted her permission to take time off, once the story hit the Birmingham newspapers, she was fired for her involvement in local unionization.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Eula McGill, February 3, 1976. Interview G-0040-1. 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

You went to a convention in Washington?
EULA MCGILL:
Yes, during this time.
JACQUELYN HALL:
To the '36 convention?
EULA MCGILL:
I wasn't a delegate from the chapter; they gave me the trip, they called it a scholarship. The national League brought me because of my activity as a volunteer organizer in trying to help; they brought me up there kind of as a little bonus, I guess, to give me a little special attention. Polly Brown and Miss Morris and my sister went from the League, and Miss Mollie Dowd. I went along as the guest being paid for by the national organization.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I see. And what was that trip like for you?
EULA MCGILL:
Well, that's, you know, when I got fired for making that trip. When I got back I got fired, but I never regretted it. I lived hard a year afterwards; I had a real tough year after I got fired. Well, needless to say, for a kid that never had been anywhere in their life. . . . I remember we drove up there in my sister's car, and I wanted to stop at every historic road sign and read it. I never had been. I remember going through. We drove it, and we started like at six o'clock in the evening, and we drove as long as we could and stopped to spend the night. And I never had been in South Carolina. Of course, going through that Piedmont region seeing all them big textile mills lit up at night (I never had seen such big textile mills in my life) impressed me. We went through the Piedmont region, you know over highway eleven right up through there. We started about six o'clock in the evening (it was in May) and I believe we drove . . . I don't know whether we stopped to spend the first night. But we got a room in a tourist home, they called them-a house that rented rooms to tourists. And I remember the next morning when we started out we went the wrong way. The road signs weren't marked as good as they are north and south, and we were to change highways at this particular town. And the next morning we drove fifty miles the wrong way on the road [laughter] before we realized we were not going towards Washington. And I can't remember, but it seems that we drove to in the morning, and we slept 'til about seven or eight o'clock and then finished driving into Washington the next day. We arrived in Washington about seven o'clock on the second night. It seems like we just spent one night on the road. And we met down at the hotel before we went up to the White House (because Mrs. Roosevelt had invited the Alabama and the New York delegations to be her guests at the White House, because she was a member of the New York League). We had breakfast with her every morning and chatted with her. The first night we were there we were welcomed by the president himself, and we had a nice chat with him. And that was the first time I knew that he was in a wheelchair; you know, I did not know that he had to be in a wheelchair. And his youngest son John was with him. Although I had known he had had infantile paralysis, I didn't know that he was that bad-crippled. And it was quite an experience.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What did you think about the convention itself?
EULA MCGILL:
Our main thing right then was trying to get the Textile Bill passed, which was a minimum wage law for textile workers. We had already accomplished, you know, getting prison labor work out of the prisons, with the labor movement and other groups (not primarily union groups, but other groups).
JACQUELYN HALL:
Do you remember discussion at that convention about whether to put money into organizing the League in the South?
EULA MCGILL:
Oh yes, yes, and to help in organizing the unorganized, yes-to do what they could.
JACQUELYN HALL:
They were pulling back from the South really, though, at that time. The League was not. . . .
EULA MCGILL:
It hadn't made its gains in the South; no, it never did-mainly around New York, Chicago and places like that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So how did it come about that that caused you to lose your job?
EULA MCGILL:
Well, you see, I knew I was going, and I had gone and asked my boss if I could be off. I didn't tell him why I wanted to be off, but I went and said, "I'd like to be off the week of so-and-so"-whichever week in May this was. And he said, "Well, wait 'til nearer the time and come and ask me again, and if I can possibly do without you I'll let you go, let you be off." So about a week or so beforehand I went and said, "Remember, Joe, I asked you I wanted off the week of so-and-so?" And he said, "OK." I never told him why; he never asked me. But when all this came out in the paper about us being guests of the White House and everything, when I got back I didn't have a job because of my union activity.