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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Louise Young, February 14, 1972. Interview G-0066. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Description of the Highlander Folk School

Young describes the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee. During the 1930s, the Highlander Folk School was formed with the goal to organize labor in the South. Young recalls her own (limited) involvement with the school. Generally supportive of the school's aims, Young paid personal visits to the establishment and taught some classes there. In Tennessee, Young explains, there was visceral opposition to labor activism during this era and she eventually had to sever her association with Highlander in order to save her reputation. She saw her work at Scarritt College with race relations as more crucial and she feared any association she had with Highlander personally would be linked to Scarritt professionally. Her comments elucidate some interesting dynamics regarding issues of race and class during this era.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Louise Young, February 14, 1972. Interview G-0066. 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

ROBERT HALL:
What were they trying to do at Highlander Folk School?
LOUISE YOUNG:
They were trying to promote the organization of labor in the South. You know, trying to get these southern farm boys that went to town to get a job to be ready for union membership. That was a real party line as I saw it. And a woman gave them her home and farm up at Mounteagle and they settled in there and spread out, but they felt the depression. And I remember being up there, I was just up for a weekend in Mount Eagle with friends, and went over to visit them because I'd known about it . . . And we stayed for Sunday dinner. And it was black bread and maybe an egg or something. It was as beautifully served and as meager . . . I shouldn't say meager, as inexpensive a meal as I ever sat for. And a long polished table with no cloth or anything don't you know.
ROBERT HALL:
Do you remember the year?
LOUISE YOUNG:
No I wouldn't. It was in the thirties, but that's all I could tell you. And Jim Dombrowski was, they were criticizing very well and he said, they say we're dirty. Now he said, I wish you would just look around here and see if you see any dirt. I couldn't see a speek. Oh it was wonderful. It really was clean living and high thinking if I ever saw it. And we had dinner with them. And after that, when Jim Dombrowski came to town he often stayed with us, making his speeches you see. I liked him very much. Now this is pure gossip, but the time came, I literally don't know what it was all about, but was he married or wasn't he married and what about his wife and so on and so forth? And there really were strange silences and I hadn't the slightest notion, I don't remember much. And that was his dear friends here said, JIm's just been in New York too much with the Communists. And I don't . . . that's just as vague as it is to me now. I don't know at all what it was about.
ROBERT HALL:
There was a lot of antagonism toward Highlander in Tennessee.
LOUISE YOUNG:
There was a great deal, a great deal.
ROBERT HALL:
Violence?
LOUISE YOUNG:
Yes, a good deal of violence, yes indeed, and it really in my judgement is rooted in the labor work not in their race work.
ROBERT HALL:
Although they did have integrated gatherings . . .
LOUISE YOUNG:
Of course it turned when the race question became more pronounced in the south. It turned to race almost wholly. But they already had the antagonism of capital in a big big way. And of course they could play on the ignorance of the mountain people around there. YOu know they had race prejudice and so on. But the thing is they couldn't really handle, in my judgment, is the way those coal people in Grundy County, that's a coal mining place, and the way the coal companies and the big folks felt about them. It's my judgment, in my judgment it's the thing they couldn't handle tied in with the prejudice of ignorant . . . the prejudice of the ignorant folks around them. But Jim then moved to Nashville. I was away that summer and this was his head-quarters for promotion I suppose, and the B so the story was just ran him literally out of town. The National B you know is very illiberal and that they went after him so hard that he moved down to New Orleans I believe, or Atlanta. I forget where he moved. And I've seen him hardly at all since. I understand he's in a wheel-chair with arthritis or something, but I haven't seen him for over twenty years I reckon. But I think he's a very gifted man and a very charming man, whether he's a Communist or not search me. I taught at Highlander. I led discussion groups up there and was on their list. I don't know what you'd call me, but anyway I would appear on their publications and was directing this that or the other thing. And I said, and this shows you how I am, that that's alright. Just so you don't involve Scarritt. But of course as soon as it was put in the paper I was identified as a Scarritt teacher. I should have known better. But . . .
ROBERT HALL:
Did that cause any . . . ?
LOUISE YOUNG:
I know that it did but I thought it was unfair because Highlander was in such a mess, you see, so much disapproval that I didn't think I had any right to put that sort of burden on Scarritt along with the other things that were . . . So I ceased to go up there when I found that my going was giving something for Scarritt to struggle over. I didn't think that anything I did up there was important enough.