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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 >>

Mill workers move for greater opportunities

During the early twentieth century, mill workers had a reputation for moving from job to job with great frequency. Durham explains why they did that and how companies tried to prevent that turnover of their labor force.

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

I was foreman there for twenty-five years and superintendent for seventeen, and that was a long time that I had the firing and hiring. I done all the hiring on nighttime, on the second shift. And if a body got to drinking or anything, they knowed not to do that. I'll tell you, you take a house and a job, and a job's kind of hard to find, you respected that a little bit. You just wouldn't go against it. Because if you got throwed out, why, you was out sometimes a long time. No telling when you'd. . . .
DOUGLAS DENATALE:
If people got thrown out of one mill, did they have trouble getting jobs at other mills?
FRANK DURHAM:
Yes. They'd call you sometimes. Now like Saxapahaw up here, I got a lot of calls from up here. "So-and-so's up here hunting a job. What do you think of him? What sort of fellow is he?" and stuff. They wouldn't put him on, unless you recommended him, hardly ever. But I never went against a fellow if he was out hunting a job; I never did while I was on. I'd say, "Well, he left us." I'd try to fix it so he could get a job, and maybe it'd be all right But if I'd say, "Well, he's no good. Let him go," why, he wouldn't put him on. And mills at Pittsboro would call you.
DOUGLAS DENATALE:
People moved around a lot, didn't they, from one mill to another?
FRANK DURHAM:
Yes, they did sometimes.
DOUGLAS DENATALE:
Was there one period of time that they did that more than others?
FRANK DURHAM:
I don't know as there was here special times, but the mill here had some qualities the other ones didn't have, and they lacked some. They didn't pay as much as they did in mills in town, but it cost you a little more to live there with rents and things. They didn't ever pay as much. They could get by here not paying much. One thing was the privilege, the privilege of being out when they were going out to smoke and stuff like that. A lot of mills wouldn't let you out at all, you know. And here they was allowed to go out and smoke, and if they'd catch up their work, go out and talk around once and then come back. Well, that was worth a whole lot. It sure was. You could work for less money, and you took that into consideration when you was hunting a job or fixing to change jobs.
DOUGLAS DENATALE:
Did people from one mill ever go to another mill and try and get workers?
FRANK DURHAM:
Yes, they would.
DOUGLAS DENATALE:
Was that ever a problem down here?
FRANK DURHAM:
Yes. A lot of the time, the foreman was out hunting sometimes, and they'd come around the mill hunting help sometimes. Especially if they knew you had a good bunch of help, they'd come around here and try to hire them. And sometimes they'd go, but most of the time they didn't. I know people from Siler City come up here a time or two trying to hire people, and out of Carrboro. There used to be two mills at Carrboro, two nice mills. Belonged to the Durham Hosiery Mill.
DOUGLAS DENATALE:
Was there anything you could do about that when people. . .
FRANK DURHAM:
No, sir, except that you could run them off company property, you know. [Laughter] They couldn't get on it. A lot of the time, they would get off theplace and not even know where they was at. They'd get off the property. Go on the other side of the river. Near about had to. That was about as near as you could get. They'd come up thisaway on the other side of the river and park, and we have known them to do that. And send for folks to come over and see them; sometimes they would, and sometimes they wouldn't. But that hasn't been on in there in a long time. But you take during World War II, there was right smart of that going on then.
DOUGLAS DENATALE:
Because there were less people to work in the mills?
FRANK DURHAM:
That's right, yes. And everything was on the boom. Everything was moving fast. There was a lot of work going on in this country then, more than there's been in a good while. And a lot of the people moved out to other jobs besides the mill. They got out of the mill, a lot of them did, when they had an opportunity.