Remembering a gruesome work accident at a textile mill
Norman remembers a gruesome workplace accident, when a woman had "every speck of the meat" ripped off her hand. After the accident, the company installed guards on its machines. Norman herself suffered an injury to her arm that prompted her supervisors to get rid of the high stools their employees worked from.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Icy Norman, April 6 and 30, 1979. Interview H-0036. 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 MURPHY:
Let's go back a little. You were going to talk about people
getting hurt in the mills.
- ICY NORMAN:
I guess it's been maybe seven or eight years. Wilma Clemmons,
do you know her? She's not retired, she's still
working. She was running the front of the warp mill. Well, on that warp
mill it didn't have no stop motion. If the end broke down,
she had to stop it off. I was creeling up there in the corner of the
mill. I was helping another girl quill her mill. My mills was running.
Wilma was over there. All at once I hear something scream out. I turned
to Mary Dell and said, "What was that?"
She says, "It's somebody pranking."
About that time I heard them scream again. I looked and I said,
"Lord have mercy, something's happened to
Wilma." I flew under the end and I flew to her. That roller was
taking her whole arm up. She had one of them great old big thick wedding
bands, real thick. She had that on. That mashed that wedding band as
flat as a flatter and it tore every speck of the meat off of this hand.
She didn't have no meat on there. I run to her. I
didn't know how to stop it off, not that one. Had it been one
of the others I could have stopped it.
I screamed to Buster, "Buster, run here quick and stop this
mill." For I knowed it was going to take her whole arm. He run
over there and he stopped it. About that time the boss men come. They
went running to the machine shop and they got some iron poles that big
that was bent flat on one end. They had two of them things on the front
prying that roller and two at the back, with men, two on each one of
them, doing their best to pry that roller up. And there she stood.
Shirley she come running. "Shirley," I says,
"Wilma is going to pass out. Run and get
her some ammonia." She run and got some ammonia. By the time
she got back and give her the ammonia, they got that roller up enough
that they could slide her hand up. It wasn't nothing but
bones there. Oh Lord, it made me so sick. They grabbed her, called the
ambulance and rushed her to the hospital. You know today that poor
thing's like that. She can't use that hand. She
ain't got no feeling. You can feel of that hand and
it's like a chunk of ice. They kept her over here a long
time, I forget how many weeks. Then they sent her to Chapel Hill. She
can't hold a broom to sweep her floor. When she come back to
work they put her out there in the cloth room, something that she can
pull the cloth with one hand. She can't use that hand.
- MARY MURPHY:
That wasn't too long ago then.
- ICY NORMAN:
It's been about seven or eight years ago.
- MARY MURPHY:
Do you think that machinery lately is more dangerous than it used to
- ICY NORMAN:
No, uh-uh. Since then they went around and put them stop guards on all
the machines. But them others, them high speed, if an end come down on
them, when it run up to where that end fell out, it would stop. But this
one, she had tied the ends and went to start it up. Some way or another
that thread wrapped around her finger and took it on in.
Oh yes, it's much safer. I know I was creeling, helping them
change the high-speeds. They had a stool just like that but it was this
high. Them high speeds is higher than this house. I couldn't
reach the top. I couldn't reach them two top ones on a stool
this high. Lunchtime, Lena got down and she started and says,
"Icy, let's wash our hands. It's time to
I said, "Lena, I didn't know it was that late. Time
sure did fly." We had all the yarn took out of the mill and
starting creeling the pieces back on. The mill was empty with them
spindles sticking out. I went to come down off of
that high stool. My foot slid on the second step and I just went right
down between the middle of that mill. It hurt this arm. By the time I
got up it hurt me so bad. It didn't bleed. By the time I got
up my arm was as black as a nigger. It hurt me so bad I
didn't know whether I broke a bone or not. Lena turned around
and looked and I was crying and holding my arm. I looked at my arm and
it was just as black. Instead of going to the bathroom to wash I went on
up there to the first-aid room. Pat was working on somebody's
eyes. She turned around to me and says, "Icy, what in the world
I says, "I fell off of that stool. I started down that high
stool and I missed the second step and I fell down between the warp
Well, she run over there and she checked it. She says, "There
ain't no bones broke." She went to putting ice on
it. She called Milton and Milton come straight on up there. It scared
him. He wanted to know how it happened.
I told him, I said, "Lena got down off of her stool I started
down mine. She said it was time for us to go wash and eat. I told her,
‘The morning sure did pass fast.’ I missed the
second step. Spindles was out and I fell right down, down
It scared him, he thought I'd broke my arm. Pat told him,
says, "I checked her. Ain't no broken bones. But she
does have a terrible bruise."
He says, "You stay up here with Pat."
They was all working and I still hadn't eaten no dinner. She
kept that ice on me there about two hours. Then she rubbed some kind of
medicine on it and she wrapped my whole arm in that wide—like
that you wrap your leg or something in. It hurt me so bad. Milton says,
"Icy, you can go home if you want to."
I says, "No, I'll stay and do what I could. I
couldn't reach up with this arm I put the cones on where I
could tie. I didn't lose no time.
It wasn't but about a week until they come down and measured.
Pat, she come. Pat and the personnel man and another man come down there
that evening and looked. They talked.
I said, "What you all going to do?"
She said, "We're going to get rid of them stools. We
ain't going to have nobody else fall. We're going
to have some made just like bannisters with a rod back there and two
rods down the side and down the steps."
I said, "That will be in the way of creeling."
So they made two for every warp mill. I never did use one. I
couldn't. It seemed like it hurt my back. I'd have
to reach over to put the yarn on like this I still drug my little stool.
Milton would get after me. I said, "I ain't going to
use that old stool for I can't do it. I wouldn't
have fell if you wouldn't have made me go over to that old
"Well," he says, "we didn't want
you to fall."
But they changed the stools. They put them rods then a handle you could
hold to go down.