Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Eula and Vernon Durham, November 29, 1978. Interview H-0064. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Integrating smoothly at a textile mill

Eula Durham climbed the employment ladder at her cotton mill, moving from winding to spinning to doffing, and eventually to a supervisory position. She remembers training new hires and one new employee who simply could not learn the trade. This employee was African American; African American workers took jobs inside the mill, as opposed to outside in the yard, in the early 1970s. Integration went smoothly, the Durhams recall.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Eula and Vernon Durham, November 29, 1978. Interview H-0064. 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

JIM LELOUDIS:
What was your first job?
EULA DURHAM:
Winding. And I went from winding to spinning. And I spun for years and years and I went on third shift—they put a third shift on down there—and I went to doffing. Then I doffed a while, then they got another new man down there on third, he put me a section hand, running a section. And I run that, six months.
JIM LELOUDIS:
What is that?
EULA DURHAM:
Keep all the frames, you know—bad rollers and things that the hands would take out—put in, and something the matter with the end or something they couldn't make run, they'd break it back and you had to fix it. All the dirty work. Then that new company took us over and they hired all them colored people, hadn't none of them been nowhere but in a cotton field. And you talk about a mess, honey, I had to learn all of them. Lord have mercy! Some of them would learn it; you didn't have a bit of trouble in the world with them. And some of them you could stand there and show them till judgment day and wouldn't know a bit more what you said than he did when you started. There was one old big fat colored woman down there. She'd been down there about four weeks and she never had got to where she could put up ends. She told me one night, said, "What's the matter with me?" I said, "I don't know—me or you one is dumb, I don't know which one it is." She left, she never did come back no more. But some of them made good hands, and they're still down there.
JIM LELOUDIS:
When did blacks first start working at the mill?
EULA DURHAM:
When this company took over—when was that?
VERNON DURHAM:
Yeah, on the inside. First time they worked on the inside. They had some on the yard, but that was the first time they went on the inside.
EULA DURHAM:
What year was that?
VERNON DURHAM:
It was 1973. 1972 was when they took over. 1972.
EULA DURHAM:
Some of them was good and some of them—well, they still got some good ones down there that was leanred, you know, when the mill started.
VERNON DURHAM:
Frank worked with one or two up in the opening room before they come in, but in the spinning room—no, they never done spinning.
EULA DURHAM:
Oh yeah, Lois Wilson, you know, she was the first colored woman that come in there to work. And they put her to sweeping.
JIM LELOUDIS:
When was that?
EULA DURHAM:
About '72, weren't it?
VERNON DURHAM:
'72 was when Tuscarora signed the lease for it.
EULA DURHAM:
Well, this here was before Tuscarora took over, when this gal come to work.
VERNON DURHAM:
Yeah, they started putting them in, because John started working some. Equal rights—equal opportunities—they was going to complain about it.
JIM LELOUDIS:
How did the rest of the people in the mill react to that?
VERNON DURHAM:
Well, they done pretty good, didn't they?
EULA DURHAM:
Yeah, they done pretty good. Never did have no trouble with them at all, as I know of. I don't know of any of them ever had and trouble with any of them. They was nice, and all the whites treated them nice. They got along good.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Did any of the whites complain?
EULA DURHAM:
No, I never heard none of them complain at all. Got along mighty good, I think.
VERNON DURHAM:
Yeah, and they do now, down there.
EULA DURHAM:
Well, I tell you, that's a pretty good bunch of black ones that works down there. All of them. A pretty good bunch.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Where do most of them come from?
EULA DURHAM:
Around Pittsboro, around in the country.
VERNON DURHAM:
Don't any of them live around here in Bynum, do they?
EULA DURHAM:
No, they all come from out on Siler City Road, and around Pittsboro, and back up here in the country toward Chapel Hill.
JIM LELOUDIS:
So most of them are driving in, I guess?
EULA DURHAM:
Right. They're oh, pretty good, I think. Never had no trouble with none of them.