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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Frank Durham, September 10 and 17, 1979. Interview H-0067. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Effect of the credit system on southern workers

Durham explains how the credit system could drive a farming family so deeply into bankruptcy that they would have to surrender their farms and go into the textile mills. Other rural workers were similarly vulnerable, even small merchants and gin owners.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Frank Durham, September 10 and 17, 1979. Interview H-0067. 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

DOUGLAS DENATALE:
I heard there was a lot of singing in town, though. I've heard people used to get together in houses to do singing.
FRANK DURHAM:
Oh, yes, they did, over there in the village. Yes, all around here. Yes, they'd have singings a whole lot. Little old parties and candy pulling and stuff like that in the wintertime and singings. There wasn't nowhere else to go much, except to entertain yourself in your own. . . . Well, way back there was no way to go much. There was no transportation to amount to nothing. I can remember when the first car that ever was in this place. I was just a boy. My uncle and a store owner bought it together, a Model T in 1912, I believe it was. Or '14, somewhere along in that day. There weren't no cars, nothing but a horse and buggy. A lot of them, horses and buggies and mules was working. The blacksmith's job and the grist mill and all that stuff going then that's gone now. They had a big old grist mill down here that ground wheat and stuff, run night and day in the fall, never stopped. It would rush.
DOUGLAS DENATALE:
Who is it that ran the grist mill?
FRANK DURHAM:
Atwater and Lambeth's store. They run a sawmill and grist mill and a cotton gin. And they were big for a little old place. They were said to be the largest general store in Chatham County. They handled everything. They advertised "from the cradle to the grave." They handled all sorts of caskets, and cradles they had. They did; they handled them; I've seen them.
DOUGLAS DENATALE:
They went bankrupt, didn't they, eventually?
FRANK DURHAM:
They did.
DOUGLAS DENATALE:
How come?
FRANK DURHAM:
guano broke them, they said. Letting the farmers so much of that guano, and them guano people, they'd break you; they'd close you out.
DOUGLAS DENATALE:
I'm sorry, I didn't understand.
FRANK DURHAM:
Guano, you know that stuff you put in the field?
DOUGLAS DENATALE:
Oh, yes, fertilizer.
FRANK DURHAM:
They said they broke him. It had to be paid, and they got him in such bad shape that they finally closed him sometime in the thirties.
DOUGLAS DENATALE:
So they used to give this to people on credit.
FRANK DURHAM:
Yes, let out. Yes, they had an office manager. Mr. Atwater run the office. Mr. Lambeth run the store with his help; he had help in there. Mr. Atwater looked after the office. And they'd let farmers have one year, and maybe they just couldn't make it quite that year. Pay a little of it, and then they'd carry it on over into another year, until the first thing you know, they just couldn't do nothing. They'd have a bad crop, and they'd make no headway at all on their debt, and they just went under and finally closed up.
DOUGLAS DENATALE:
What happened when a farming family went bankrupt?
FRANK DURHAM:
It was sad, I mean. Well, they got in such bad shape that they couldn't even get nothing to eat, hardly. And the merchants would carry them, this one, this merchant, this outfit would carry them, hoping to get paid in the fall when they'd sell their cotton. Mostly cotton was what they was raising, and they got mighty poor cotton. There wasn't nothing in cotton. I mean it got to where it weren't nothing, five, six, seven cents a pound, and you couldn't make nothing at it. If you had a wonderful crop year, you still couldn't make no money. That's about the only money crop there was. And then they got into this tobacco; it began to come around. That took the place of cotton; there's no cotton raised around here at all now. There used to be cotton fields everywhere. There were at one time thirteen gins in this county. I don't reckon there's one in it now.
DOUGLAS DENATALE:
I doubt it.